Wage Systems and Industrialisation in Europe, Eighteenth to Twentieth Centuries/les systèmes salariaux et d’industrialisation en Europe (XVIIIe au XXe siècle)

Symposium organized by Peter Scholliers and Leonard Schwarz from 6 to 12 April 1999.



Enriqueta CAMPS (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), Harald DECEULAER (Vrije Universiteit, Brussel), Henny GOOREN (Katholieke Universiteit, Nijmegen, Netherlands), Sakari HEIKKINEN (University of Helsinki), Michael HUBERMAN (Université de Montréal), Pat HUDSON (Cardiff University, UK), Paul JOHNSON (London School of Economics), Steven KING (Oxford Brookes University), Ad KNOTTER (Maastricht University), Craig MULDREW (University of Exeter, UK), Gilles POSTEL-VINAY (Laboratoire d’Economie Appliquée (LEA), Paris), Iorwerth J. PROTHERO (University of Manchester, UK), Reinhold REITH (University of Salzburg), Carmen SARASUA (Departament d’Economia I d’Historia Economica, Barcelona), Peter SCHOLLIERS (Vrije Universiteit, Brussels), Leonard SCHWARZ (University of Birmingham, UK), Pamela SHARPE (University of Bristol, UK).



Many historians presume that at the centre of the breakthrough of industrial capitalism during the second half of the eighteenth century was a process called proletarianisation, i.e. a growing number of people who were primarily involved with wage labour in the workshop, the factory, agriculture or services, and who were paid in cash. These historians detect a shift from a society where non-wage labour and income in kind prevailed towards one largеly dominated by wage work and monеtary relations. Such a transition would have directly affected factors as varied as the allocation of time and work, the way people were paid and how this was viewed, the household and its use of resources, gender relations, and the identity of individuals and groups. Needless to say these are important questions.

Wishing to address questions a little less broad than the nature of European industrialisation or proletarianisation, but still aiming at obtaining a handle on some of principal aspects of these processes, we (i.e. Scholliers and Schwarz) proposed to focus on the systems and forms of remuneration for labour during a period that was so full of change. In current historiography this theme is somewhat neglected. Historians of the eighteenth century have given it some consideration, concentrating on payment in kind, entitlements, the definition of wage labour, and guilds. Their colleagues of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries have, however, left the theme largеly aside, focussing on industrial relations and on calculations of the purchasing power of the wage. In view of the attention by contemporary philosophers and economists such as Ricardo and Marx on factors such as piece rates, time wages and efficiency wages, and the even greater attention ­amounting in some cases almost to fixation – of practitioners such as Taylor on these matters – the failure of historians of the later period to discuss these topics is a matter of sonie surprise. By organising this colloquium we hoped that the attention for wage systems and forms in Europe since about 1750 would allow a better understanding of the place and the meaning of the (monеtary) wage in the last three centuries.



Wage systems in the past are a complex matter. Systems and forms of wages are not the sole domain of the factory, but reflect all spheres of society. Explaining pаy systems and their changes involve economic, social, political and cultural questions, such as technology, work organisation, the calculаtion of output, industrial relations, consumptive norms and aspirations, charity, social welfare schemes, custom, tradition and ideology. It may therefore not come as a surprise that the papers presented at the colloquium addressed a wide field of themes and problems which continuously circled around the central theme of pay systems and forms. Twelve historians were invited to present a paper; Hennie Gooren and Hans Reger produced a joint paper, so there were eleven papers in total. Quite intentionally, these historians had diverse specialisations with regard to period, approach, geographical area or domain. Five other historians were invited to comment on the papers. The immediate air of the meeting was to have solid discussions on all the papers and in particular to bring out and explore some underlying themes, which would in turn lead to a publication with a clear internal coherence. The superb conditions of the Domaine des Treilles formed an exceptional stimulation to achieve this goal. The luxury of having sufficient time for discussion proved to be inestimable, while the amiable reception embraced all the amenities one can think of.

Enriqueta Camps presented a paper on « Wage structures in the absence of welfare. The Catalan textile sector, 1850-1925 ». Her paper made use of micro data of Catalan textile workers’ families to compare traditional to modern labour markets and work organisation. She emphasised the different wage development according to age (or marriage) cohorts, gender and geographical origins for two periods (pre-1890 and 1925). She pointed to the importance of the specific situation in the labour market, the consequences for wage differentials, family income and income strategies (e.g., taking in of lodgers). Her conclusion was that implicit contracts and informal internal labour markets operated prior to 1914, but that modern internal labour markets were at work by the 1920s. In his comments, Ad Knotter questioned the concept of the modernisation of internal labour markets. Hе suggested that there mау be an inconsistency in comparing « real life courses » in the nineteenth century to « virtual cohorts » in 1925. Then he addressed the matter of women’s employment, their wage curve and the family cycle. Finally, he dealt with the structure of the household in the absence of welfare: was there no charity up to the 1920s, and was taking in kind as lodgers exclusively an income strategy ? The general discussion dealt with methodological aspects, the concept of modernisation, the nature and the meaning of implicit contracts, household income strategies, and the development of the wage according to geographical origin, gender and age.

The latter issue formed the core of Paul Johnson’s paper, « The impact of age and gender on manual workers’ wages in Britain since 1850 ». He investigated whether stability or flexibility had been the main characteristic of British wages during the past two centuries by examining wage differentials by age. The author used data from four separate periods between 1830 and 1995, on which he applied earnings function estimates (focussing on 1830 and 1930). He found exceptional long-run stability in the relationship between age and earnings. Theoretically influential factors such as education, demography, labour organisation, pay systems, laws, occupation, and demand changed radically during this period, but these do not seem to have influenced the stable relationship. The author concluded prudently that custom did play a role. Hennie Gooren chose three aspects to criticise. First, she questioned whether it was possible to compare the data: for 1830 these relate to textiles, but for 1930 to London. She then asked about the precise meaning of the estimation of standard Mincerian earning functions. Finally, she suggested that « custom » has only a weak explanatony value that is in danger of being called upon when all other explanations seem to fail. The general discussion entered the wide field of institutional factors that might, at these two different periods, have determined wage development by age and gender (such as unions, legislation, collective bargaining) as well as morbidity, marnage patterns and fertility. In addition, the use and the significance of the statistics were discussed.

Wage differentials as related to gender were also discussed in Pam Sharpe’s paper, « Women’s earnings in English agriculture during the industrial revolution ». The author considered the expansion and contraction of female labour in English agriculture between 1700 and 1850, taking issue with some of the conventional chronologies. She touched upon the difficult issue of estimating the rate and volume of women’s paid labour and the levels of female wages and incomes. Sharpe argued that wages were « sticky », and had been so for centuries, which she explained by custom rather than by market conditions. At least some large farms paid widows more than wives. She suggested that women’s work may well have increased because of falling real female wage rates, that lowered production costs. This view disputes the conventional one (the « release of labour from the land to the mills »). Ad Knotter’s comments addressed two main issues. The first embraced regional differences and local « culture », taking note of specific, regional labour markets in agriculture, interactions between (local) agrarian and industrial rural labour, and the absence of linear trends in women’s work and wages. The second issue dealt with the « peasant ecotypе », a concept from the anthropologist Lёfgren, that includes economic and cultural features. This concept implies a « yеarly labour cycle » that forced (poor) peasants to engage in « occupational pluralism » during the yеar. Anу important change in these components compelled major compensations, such as emigration or changes of sexual roles, and local variations were therefore critical. Women’s work, wage differentials, paternalism vis-à-vis widows (« female breadwinners »), the general tendency towards stickiness of female wages in at least the Southern half of England for most of this period, as well as family income and work strategies were dealt with in the general discussion.

Sakari Heikinen’s paper, « Unnatural recompense for labour: wage systems in Finland, c. 1850-1910 », developed the theses that more female labour entailed more piece wages, and that paymеnt in kind gave waу to monetary wages. Hе presented the employment pattern of slowly-industrialising Finland, referring to the difficulty of defining wage work, and introduced the importance of legislation as an influential factor for wage systems and wage evolution. Hе then survеyеd the various pay systems according to type of industry and work between 1850 and 1910, pointing to the great variety of forms and systems. The movement towards more piece wages and wages in cash, however, was neither linear nor uniform. Hе argued that monеy mattered, because it allowed wage-earners greater freedom to buy a wider range of goods. Carmen Sarasùa, bringing a Southern European perspective as discussant, doubted that Finland was a particularly late comer, and questioned the stress on agricultural employmеnt. The weight of the legal framework with regard to wages was her next point. She then proceeded to question the causal relationship between the growing number of women workers and the success of piece rates, asking whether the growing monetarisation of wages was primarily caused by the workers’ striving for more consumption, and finally, she suggested that the understanding of the rive from wages in kind to wages in cash should consider rates of inflation. The discussion picked up these comments, and particularly the causal relation between piece work and female labour, and the importance of legislation, as well as the dangers of relying on legal forms, which tend to produce an excessively static picture.

Women’s work and wages were also a concern of Hennie Gooren and Hans Heger, « Wage forms and wage systems in Dutch agriculture. Some evidence from the province of Groningen, 1800-1914 ». The authors emphasised the « invisibility » of women’s work, the importance of wages in kind, and especially the great variety of pay systems according to type of occupation (living-in servants, non-resident regular workers, and dаy labourers). Also, they stressed the importance of contracts and traditional entitlements, particularly gleaning. Their main finding dealt with the relationship between changing wage systems and the organisation of labour, applying the model of the sociologist Gowler. The authors suggested that the specialisation of local agriculture led to the increased demand for casual labour, which made employers prefer incentive wage systems to time wages. Gilles Postel-Vinay questioned the significance of contracts, and argued that the authors produced a static image of Groningen agriculture, without considering the labour market and mobility. Hе doubted that the categories of workers were fixed. Also, he suggested that the local labour market and wage may have had a non-monetary nature linked to tradition, while the non-local labour market and wage may have had a monetary nature linked to market conditions. The general discussion developed according to these comments; in particular, the prote em of assessing the value of wages in kind, and the relationship between wage systems and work control were discussed.

Reinhold Reith’s chief concerns were not the actual forms and systems of wages in the past, but the manner in which economists thought about them. In his paper, « Wage and efficiency in the context of the ‘Historische Sсhule’ in German economics », he explained the considerable interest of German historical economists in wage systems. Around 1900 the latter accepted without question that time wages dominated the pre‑and early-industrial period, and thеу argued that the modern era necessitated an efficiency wage that compensated exclusively for actually performed labour (i.e. output). The author, however, had found that in fact time rates remained the most common of remuneration in Germany, but that piece rate wages spread during upswings in the business cycle. Gilles Postel-Vinay put into question all the concepts of the modernity of the efficiency wage, the role of the state and trade unions, and the relationship between the success of piece wages and the business cycle. Also, he wanted to know more about the concept of the Nahrungsprinzip, or the « labour consumer balance » that regulated urban crafts and rural cottage industries with a clear preference for piece wages and leisure time. The ensuing discussion tackled the application of efficiency wages in the German industry in relation to the role of the ‘Historical Sсhool’, and the construction of stereotуpes by both contemporaries and historians (in casu the pre-industrial, irrational, modestly living, rural worker as against the industrious, rational, goods-orientated faсtory worker). There was no German word for ‘efficiency’. Lastung implied performance as well as effort; the interwar Rationalisierungsprozess was often described as the ‘efficiency movement’ in the United States.

Pre-and early industrial labour and wage relations were at the core of the paper by Harald Deceulaer, « Workers or entrepreneurs? Institutions, wages and labour markets in the Port of Antwerp from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries: a ‘path-dependent’ evolution ». His main thesis was that economic change did not simply dictate wage formation and work organisation, but that political structures and diverse institutions also influenced work and wages. The author examined the complex organisation of work in Antwerp under the Old Regime, an organisation that was characterised by the dominance of guilds and their subgroups (« nations »), the regulations of local authorities, and the presence of casual workers. After the freeing of labour in the nineteenth century, the inherited patterns of work and wages changed only slightly. Yet, a fundamental change was to be found in the greater recruitment of day workers by the « nations » after 1850. Pat Hudson questioned the functioning of the guilds, the importance of family ties with regard to recruitment, the method of equalising hazards of obtaining employment (dice rolling !), and the role of unions and strikes in the nineteenth century as well as the problems involved in defining wage labour, with its relations to subcontracting and to independent work. The general discussion addressed the wide question of the « weight of the past » with regard to wage systems, as well as of the buying of the membership of a « nation » (or the obtaining of a pension for old members), and of industrial relations, including the remarkable absences of recorded strikes at the Port of Antwerp for several centuries.

Industrial relations and wage bargaining formed the core of the paper by John Rule, « Collective wage-bargaining in eighteenth- and еarly nineteenth century Britain ». The author himself was unfortunately unwell and unable to come in person, but bis paper was circulated and discussed in his absence. It contrasted the cultural and linguistic view on crafts with that suggested by C. Lis and H. Soly, who emphasised conflicts, disputes, strikes and « placement control », which Rule seem to prefer. Pat Hudson questioned the thesis of Lis and Soly. Access to skill and aspects of the « moral economy » did matter. Moreover, she was doubtful about the chronology of the unions, the way workers perceived a labour market, and the « pureness » of economic protest (what about political airs?). Understandаbly, in the absence of the author the general discussion proceeded hesitantly.

Perceptions by people of work and wages formed an essential composent of Stevеn King’s paper, « The economy of makeshifts and the place of the wage in the early modern North of England ». Rich narrative evidence, family reconstitution, and a statistical construction of the economy of makeshifts, suggested that (poor) people during the eighteenth century assembled a complex range of coping strategies incorporating wages, credit, charity both formal and informal, parish work and degrees of poor relief. Testimonies of workers and poor law administrators were pertinent, while the calculation of the « totality of resources » proved to be practical and very useful. For this particular study the village of Cowpe (in Lancashire) provided the data on which King’s statistics were based, although King has conducted other studies with conclusions that are not very different. The place of the wage (over­amplified in many historical accounts) needs to be revised, although King suggested that wages and work remained key features. At any point in time some 25 per cent of people, many of them in employment, would be poor enough to be receiving some poor relief along with their wages. For many it was not a question of the ‘male breadwinner wage’ as of seeing work as a means of closing the gap between other forms of income both in cash and kind, from intra-household transit and from poor relief and from charity. Kinship densities were very variable. Access to wasteland might well require permission, only granted to those considered deserving. Leonard Schwarz stressed that the quantitative data relate to individuals, not households. There were questions about intra­family transfers or income pooling. Also, he questioned the absence of the life cycle with regard to income: the importance of work and wages varied according to age. Finаlly, he addressed the problem of in-kind income. The general discussion encompassed these issues, and particularly the problem of the nature of the wage, its symbolic meaning, various non-wage resources in kind, the value of narratives for history writing, and the characteristics of « total resources » of specific categories (e.g. widows).

Craig Muldrew questioned the place of the wage in early modem England. There was a lack of cash in pre-industrial England, as his own research had cleаrly shown for the later seventeenth century, and as was exemplified by, for example the small amounts of ready money in probate inventories. Therefore credit inevitably рlаyеd a decisive role in the economy in general and in labour relations in particular. Money was a means of measurement. Consequently, stress was put on reputation, morality and bargaining, i.e. « cultural » factors, and this not оnly with regard to the better-off, but also with regard to the pour and the working class. Steven King asked whether this alleged absence of cash mattered at all, referring to the symbole value of money. If credit would be that important, what effect would it have on wages and wage bargaining? Hе also raised the problem of payment to women and casual workers, who were often paid by the day. The second commentator, Leonard Schwarz, was curious about « pools of cash » in Europe, referring to places like London or Rolland. He asked whether cash implied « modernity », and how in-kind wages fitted into the overall picture. The general discussion tackled the forms of cash and means of exchange, the influence of state taxes, the duration of the lack of cash in the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, and the social relations in general.

In « Shame and guilt in Lancashire: enforcing piece rate contracts », Michael Huberman presented a paper on two textile communities. Hе advocated the use of psychological concepts in explicative models. The author depicted Bolton, a fine spinning centre, as a ‘shame-based community’ with workers relatively indifferent to the situations both of their employers and of their fellow-workers, but developing strong craft unionism. Oldham, a coarse spinning centre, was viewed as a ‘guilt-based community’ with politically radical workers who were aware of their interests as distinct from those of the employers, and who developed a form of profit sharing through the « limiteds ». Different piece-rate lists mirrored the contrast between both communities. Iorwerth Prothero questioned the use of the concept of communities linked to industrial relations in the nineteenth century. Hе asked about the impact of the success of the limited companies on the attitude of the workers – shareholders. Also, he doubted very much whether the concepts of shame and guilt would offer useful help in explaining the different social relations in both textile centres. The discussion picked up the latter matter and, in particular, the origin of the alleged psychological features. Paternalism, piece rate lists, industrial relations, and the nature and influence of so-called blacklists were also thoroughly discussed.

Obviously, very diverse stresses appeared in each contribution. Wage differentials according to age, gender, occupation and family income, wage systems by age and gender, in-kind wages, contracts, the role of cash, the roles of tradition and custom in wage formation, guilds and unions, paternalism, perceptions of wage system and forms, wage bargaining, the economy of makeshifts, and credit were some of the issues that were tackled. To us, this showed the richness of the theme. Central to all papers was the place of the wage in the part. Monetary or not, piece or time rate, premiums or fines: it seems that wages were crucial to many people in Europe since the early eighteenth century. Wages and work regulated – or at least, influenced- the life of individuals and households, whether continuously or at particular moments of the life cycle. People had very diversified experiences of the wage during their lives and according to when and where they lived, and what work they performed. Perhaps, what this colloquium has made particularly clear is the absence of unilateral and uniform shifts or developments from one « wage regime » or « régulation » (to use Boyer’s term) to another. Modem wage systems (a monetary form, calculated by output, and obtained by a majоrity of workers) seemed to have existed alongside so-called tradicional ones with both payment in kind and time regulated labour existing side by side. The processes of industrialisation and proletarianisation did not entail a process of fast changing wage relations.


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