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Workers, Collectivism and the Law

Grappling with Democracy

Laura Carlson

Workers, Collectivism and the Law offers a captivating historical account of worker democracy, from its beginnings in European guild systems to present-day labor unions, across the national legal systems of Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Analysing these legal systems in light of a Habermasian concept of participatory democracy, Laura Carlson identifies ways to strengthen individual employee voice in claims against employers.
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Chapter 2: The golden age of the English guilds

Laura Carlson


The fourteenth century saw the rise of the English guilds and the sixteenth the beginning of their demise. The Reformation, with its acceptance of profit and the Crown’s need to control corporate bodies, paved the way for dissension between masters and journeymen that eventually resulted in legislative control of wages and work conditions. The delicate internal balance that had been democratically achieved within guilds, with equal rights and the consideration of the positions of apprentices and journeymen as future guild members, was abandoned for a structure where guild leaders, at least in the London Great Twelve, no longer even needed to have had practiced the trade in order to attain leadership. Freedom of trade and production as well as profits became the focus. The commodification of labor began, sowing the seeds for the modern understanding of employment. Journeymen organized to provide the mutual aid once given by the guilds.

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