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Author:  Master Artisan (follow this link for previous authors) [link to history, see bottom of article for address]

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Guilds are sometimes said to be the precursors of modern trade unions, and also, paradoxically, of some aspects of the modern corporation. Guilds, however, were groups of self-employed skilled craftsmen with ownership and control over the materials and tools they needed to produce their goods. Guilds were, in other words, small business associations and thus had very little in common with trade unions. However, the journeymen organizations, which were at the time illegal, may have been influential.

The exclusive privilege of a guild to produce certain goods or provide certain services was similar in spirit and character with the original patent systems that surfaced in England in 1624. These systems played a role in ending the guilds' dominance, as trade secret methods were superseded by modern firms directly revealing their techniques, and counting on the state to enforce their legal monopoly.

Some guild traditions still remain in a few handicrafts, in Europe especially among shoemakers and barbers. Some of the ritual traditions of the guilds were conserved in order organizations such as the Freemasons. These are, however, not very important economically except as reminders of the responsibilities of some trades toward the public.

Modern antitrust law could be said to be derived in some ways from the original statutes by which the guilds were abolished in Europe.

References

  • Dolven, Arne S.: Vocational Education in Europe in Dolven, Arne S. and Gunnar Pedersen (eds): Fagopplaeringsboka 2004, Oslo: Kommuneforlaget 2004 (in Norwegian)
  • Eggerer, Elmar W.: Sworn Brethren and Sistren — Britische Gilden und Zünfte von der normannischen Eroberung bis 1603, München 1993 (in German)
  • Söderlund, Ernst: Den svenska arbetarklassens historia — Hantverkarna II frihetstiden och den gustavianska tiden Stockholm 1949 (in Swedish)
  • Rouche, Michel, "Private life conquers state and society," in A History of Private Life vol I, Paul Veyne, editor, Harvard University Press 1987 ISBN 0-674-39974-9
  •  Thomas Weyrauch: Handwerkerorganisationen in der vorindustriellen Stadt. Wettenberg/Germany (VVB Laufersweiler) 1996 ISBN 3-930954-02-8
  • Thomas Weyrauch: Craftsmen and their Associations in Asia, Africa and Europe. Wettenberg/Germany (VVB Laufersweiler) 1999 ISBN 3-89687-537-X
  •  Craft, Trade or Mystery: Part One — Britain from Gothic Cathedrals to the Tolpuddle Conspirators By Dr Bob James (revised 2002)