Thursday, May 31, 2012

Statutes of Laborers

Controlling the Workforce

After the Black Death (1348-49 in England), the workforce was radically reduced. In a culture where 90%+ of the workforce was involved in agriculture, and every bit of it done by manual labor, this was potentially disastrous for lords who relied on peasants to plant and tend and harvest crops. The obvious solution was to offer better wages if peasants would leave their homes and settle in the lords' villages that had been deserted by the Pestilence.

This competition for labor did not sit well with most of society, who saw it as a disruption of the way things had been for centuries. The first Ordinance of Laborers was established by Edward III in 1349 to try to prevent the disruption of society that a "free market" could create. It stated:

  • Everyone under the age of 60 must be willing to work
  • Employers must not hire more workers than they need
  • Wages must remain at pre-Pestilence levels
  • Food prices must not be increased
Did it work?

  • 1350 saw the Stature of Laborers that fixed the wages of laborers and artisans.
  • 1356 saw regulations placed on the trade of masons. (Freemasons use this as proof that Freemasonry has been fighting "the Man" for centuries.)
  • 1368 saw the Statute of Laborers reaffirmed.
  • 1377 saw an act restricting the freedom of serfs to move from domain to domain.

Clearly, the laws had to be re-enacted because no one was listening. The attempt to suppress the freedom of the lower classes continued for the next two centuries; however, we will only concern ourselves with these few decades, because they led to the first occupy movement. I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

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