Freeguilders

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Logo of the Freeguilder Movement
Freeguilders (Poláček: Volný cech; Saratov: Освобогильдцы, Osvobogildtsi) is the name given to a range of economic and social systems characterised by a desire to do away with antiquated and/or authoritarian forms of employment and regulation, as well as the introduction of workers' self-management of their labour. Some variants of the Freeguilder ideology advocate for public, collective or cooperative ownership of the means of production, though this is not necessarily the case of the more mainstream tendencies of the movement, whose main concern lays in labour regulations and relations between the workers and society as a whole.

Freeguilder economic theories can be divided between those that advocate for the continuation (or at least the existence) of the market as the leading element in labour relations versus those that promote the substitution of the free market by a system of social and technical calculations that would, in theory, better serve the necessities of the working class and society as a whole. Some of the latter theories go even further, usually inspired by the development of songian communism, arguing that only a top-down economy can avoid the excesses of the capitalism system and ensure the prevalence of social justice.

On the other side, market-minded Freeguilder theories do not necessarily call for the establishment of authoritarian forms of administration nor the elimination of profit, but instead promote the concept that a competition-driven economy can still generate a social dividend to be enjoyed by all strata of society. Yet more extremist forms do away with the idea of the State and claim that only complete and total self-regulation on all fields of life, including both labour and the self and as expressed through purely voluntary association, can lead to true progress.

History

Background

The Freeguilder movement originated in Poláčekia during the late XVth century, mostly as a direct response to the system of guilds then in place. The guilds, politically-recognized associations of merchants and/or tradesmen, were the only accepted form of social and political interaction between the commoners as a class and the nobility, operating under letters patent granted by the Imperial or regional governments. These letters allowed them to enforce the flow of trade to their self-employed members, and to retain ownership of tools and the supply of materials; furthermore, they also allowed the guilds to retain the 'right of license', that is to say, be the only body with the privilege of granting the right to exercise a certain trade or industry within a given territory.

The guilds, generally meant to understand a trade guild, worked under a system of apprenticeships. An apprenticeship was a life-long career path in which the apprentice, usually the son of a member of the guild, would work under another member and learn the trade and craft, eventually gaining the right to be paid for their work as a craftsman, a journeyman and, if their skill or influence was such, a master or grandmaster.

The guilds also maintained funds in order to support infirm or elderly members, as well as widows and orphans of guild members, funeral benefits, and a 'tramping' allowance for those needing to travel to find work. Most guilds also operated orphanages as part of their civic duty towards society; children that entered these institutions (in the case of males) were often, if not always, introduced into the craft and trade, though their prospects of achieving the higher ranks within the organization were usually nil. Females, on the other hand, could be married off to the non-firstborn sons of a member, allowing the guild to avoid inbreeding and other ailments common to closed-groups.

In general, guilds limited women's participation, and usually only the widows and daughters of known masters were allowed in. Even if a woman entered a guild, she was excluded from guild offices. This was not the case with all guilds, however, as some professions were considered to be women's work (for instance midwifing and wet nursing) and thus women generated their own formal or informal associations to regulate their field.

Workers whose activities fell under the purview of a guild and were not allowed within their ranks did not enjoy any of these benefits. In most cases they were legally relegated to menial or unskilled labour, back-breaking and often underpaid, no matter what their origin or education. This was in addition to the imposition of long standardized periods of apprenticeship, that made it difficult for those lacking the capital to set up for themselves or without the approval of their peers to gain access to materials or knowledge, or to sell into certain markets, an area that equally dominated the guilds' concerns. For example, a peasant locksmith who had escaped from his lord's lands to live in a city or another fief, would not be allowed to exercise his craft and, indeed, would be punished if he attempted to do so unlicensed.

Naturally, there were those who had the means to either pay the cost of a license or fines and join the guilds, as well as others who managed to continue their profession in secret. These were a minority, as the guilds often had well-developed "intelligence apparatus" that tipped them off to illegal workshops or unlicensed labour. In such cases the response amounted to no more than a hard beating, the destruction of the property and tools of the offender, and a stern warning not to do it again. Repeat offenders were dealt with harshly, often by the legal authorities who did not want to create dangerous precedents or earn the enmity of the powerful guilds.

Punishment notwithstanding, this growing mass of skilled yet underutilized labourers came to be known as Freeguilders, that is to say, someone who is 'free from a guild'. This did not mean that the people themselves were against the concept or guilds or would not have liked to form part of one, just that they were trapped outside of a system designed to be closed and self-sustaining and thus had little hopes of bettering their lot in life.

Late Middle Ages

Early Modern Era

Modern Era

The 1840 Act of Reform

The end of the Preko-Poláček War of 1833 with a total Poláček defeat, including the loss of Ivanovo, led to the immediate collapse of Poláčekia's conservative-run government and practically the entire administration. For a country that had marched to war confident in its chances of success and the favour of Oswin, the two month long conflict proved to be disastrous, with the Army sustaining loss after loss in a never-ending retreat fraught with incompetence and often absent or outright criminally-stupid leadership.

Although replaced by more liberal-minded ministers, the Imperial and regional governments couldn't resist a new wave of Freeguilder resurgence that exploded into the public scene. After all, most of the soldiers came from poor families and it had been they, and not the aristocratic officer corps, that took the brunt of the casualties and suffering. This was not helped by the fact that the Imperial Post, one of the most efficient in Wallasea, had brought home a constant stream of letters from the soldiers, detailing the poor conditions and treatment they met at the front directly to their families. With the armed forces in disarray and the local polices refusing to suppress the protests, if not actually joining them, many Electoral-Princes were forced to offer concessions. These took the form of handouts, explained away as charity, but this did little to placate the crowds who saw these measures for the empty-handed platitudes they were.

Protests continued, sometimes degenerating into rioting mobs that tried to, and often succeeded, in vandalizing or destroying guild and government property, whom they saw as the architects of the defeat and the source of their misery. At this point in time Poláčekia was behind the rest of Wallasea in industrialization and urbanization, with the majority of the population still residing and working in the countryside, utilizing methods and tools that would not have looked out of place 200 years earlier.

By 1837 the situation had deteriorated even further, with half the nation on strike and the other on lockdown. The guilds were also unable to restrain their members or keep the Freeguilders from entering their workshops and factories, preaching for a total renewal of the Poláček social contract and the introduction of a quick modernization plan that would drag the country out of the middle ages and into the contemporary era. A single march to První, seat of the Imperial government and ruling House, drew an estimated more than 150,000 attendants, who attempted to directly petition the Emperor for a redress of their grievances, as was their right and custom.

Despite conservative opposition to any sort of compromise the new liberal government had been able to leverage the nobility's fear of social upheaval to pass several reforms, for example the opening of the officer corps and the public administration to all citizens regardless of social background, depending solely on merit, the establishment of a proper public school system independent of the Oswinist-run parish schools, and the formalization of the Imperiální Armáda Knížectví as the centralized force in charge of defending the realm, among others. These measures had proved popular with the population but were, in the whole, not considered comprehensive enough. Though subdued, protests continued to wrack the country apart.

Two years later, in 1839, rumours of open revolt had started to circulate, with some going as far as to call for an end to the monarchy and the establishment of a workers' republic. With this credible and tangible threat well in hand, Premiér INSERTNAME, was finally able to convince his fellows to draft and publish a reform plan titled: A proposal for the Reformation of the Emperor's government and the introduction of public peace and justice. The Premiér presented the motion before the Rada and the Emperor along with his resignation, warning them that if they did not approve the project he would quit at once, both the office and the country, and let the people do as they wished.

The 1840 Act of Reform or the Great Reform of 1840, as it would also come to be known, called for an almost total overhaul of the way Poláčekia was organized. It was inspired by similar existing documents, for instance the Saratov constitution of 1706 and, ironically, the Prekovar Provisions of Opava as well as the development of an inherently Poláček world-view. The Act of Reform included such salient points as:

  • The foundation of a Lower Chamber of the Rada, with the same rights and privileges as the now-Upper House, which would represent the interests of the Commoners, to be elected by them and amongst them.
  • Relating to the previous point, the introduction of universal suffrage for all male citizens over 20 years of age; women were not granted the vote at a national level though they were given the privilege of voting in local and regional elections.
  • The introduction of universal conscription; a two-year period of service for all male citizens starting at 18 years of age.
  • The introduction of a novel national tax to fund the Imperial Army.
  • Withdrawal of the letters patent from the existing guild organizations. From then onwards the only body allowed to give professional certifications and regulate labour would be the Imperial, or in a number of cases, the regional governments. This had the result of easing and lowering the costs of entering a trade or craft, not to mention helping increase the number of skilled workers, and therefore reduced the cost of labour.
  • The creation of Poláčekia's first Imperial Bank, an institution that would exist to promote the growth of industry, the arts and the development of new businesses in Poláčekia.
  • The formalization of the new state school system, including a secular curricula to be designed by a Minister of Education or similar authority and to be applied throughout the country.
  • The creation of public universities throughout the territory of Poláčekia, open to all male citizens regardless of social background.
  • The creation of a number of state-owned enterprises to encourage development and investment in key sectors such as ironworks and ship-building.
  • The introduction of a common and standard system of weights and measures.
  • The creation of a system of public hospitals, as opposed to the existing private/religious organizations, to be administered by a new Minister of Health, and funded through another national tax.
  • A standardization of the Lower Courts and a reform of the Justice system.
  • The foundation of a national police force.

Though this list does not cover all the changes introduced by the 1840 Act of Reform, these were considered to be the most critical points. Perhaps influenced by the Premiér's declarations, the Rada passed the motion unanimously. When news of this development reached the streets they were met by public demonstrations, with millions taking to the streets to celebrate this development and their newly obtained freedoms and rights. The prophesied revolution never came, with only the more radical elements of the Freeguilder movement grumbling about the lost opportunity. For now, Poláčekia was to endure.

Guilds after the Reform Act

Guilds in modern Poláčekia