Ye Olde Armourer and a short on Guilds and Union

...and on the eighth day, God created the horse in perfect image to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

Not so much about horses, more about guilds, with a dash of politics thrown in:

The percentage of workers who belong to unions during the year 2012, has dropped to the lowest level since WWII, according to federal figures released in mid-January of 2013. These figures pertain to public-sector jobs and the difficulty that unions are experiencing in organizing workers.

In 2012, Unions lost 400,000 members, more than half from the public sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the Labor Department. (1)

Union officials cite outdated federal labor laws that make organizing too difficult, along with the economy and state-level collective-bargaining wars.

Why have a union?

Let’s first look at the origins of guilds and associations.

A guild is assembled in a particular town, where artisans controlled the jobs and practices of their particular craft, such as glassmaking or metal working. Other organizations included textile workers and masons.

The earliest guilds were confraternities, or brotherhoods of workers, and were a combination of secret society, cartel and trade union, and they held the exclusive rights to work in each of their respected cities.

They depended on a king or other monarch to ensure and enforce their authority and keep commerce flowing.

They had self-employed members and retained ownership of materials and tools. The guilds guarded the way to work and ply their trades, along with the technology of their art.

The original members were free and independent Master Craftsmen, who hired apprentices.

Trades guilds sprang up around the 14th century AD as craftsmen united to protect their jobs, tools, technology and interests. Guilds obtained their name because of the gold they deposited in their common funds.

The members took sworn oaths to support one another in business ventures or feuds and different crafts classified themselves together: Metal workers included lockmiths, nail makers, blacksmiths or chain forgers. An armourer included the helmet makers, harness makers and harness polishers.

Since horses were the only means of transportation, other than walking or traveling by boat, there were many, many blacksmiths and harness makers and polishers.

Bits and saddle parts had to be fashioned, along with horse shoe nails, and all were used within the industry.

Guilds helped to shape how labor, production and trade progressed, along with following an apprentice’s pathway to journeyman, and onward to Master and Grand Master.

Journeymen had to go on a 3-year voyage, called the Journeyman Years; this practice still exists in modern-day Germany (2)

The guilds had a type of symbiodic relationship with the European monarchies in that the kings wanted to impose unity, control production, monitor the business structure of the merchant guilds and receive the benefits of tax revenue. The guilds enjoyed the authority of the monarchy and its enforcement of their policies.(3) .

Later, struggles began when outsiders pointed that out that there were "haves," and "have nots," within greater and lessor guilds.

Perhaps this can be compared to the modern-day "right to work," or non-union trade shops.

During 2011 and 2012, in the United States, states that were strapped for cash started eliminate public sector jobs and Republican lawmakers have steadily chipped away at collective bargaining rights.

In 2011, the state of Wisconsin, led by Governor Scott Walker, passed a law that eliminated many bargaining rights for teachers or public administration workers, along with giving them the option or not joining a union or paying dues.

Taking away collective bargaining rights seriously weakens organized labor or a union’s strength.

Unions are not pro-actively organizing recently, but politicians and legislators have stepped up their efforts to promote non-union labor.

Despite a rise in employment figures, manufacturing is dismal, with union memberships dwindling.

Public sector employment is poor, thus low numbers in union membership.

Says chief economist for the AFL-CIO, William Spriggs, "unions are succeeding in adding Hispanic members and workers in fast growing sectors of the economy, such as some parts of the health care industry."

Weak union rights in some states are chipping away at organized labor’s overall political strength, and democrats are big backers of public sector unions.

Labor officials would like stronger labor laws and protection from assaults on collective bargaining rights, saying that this would help the ailing middle class along with the economy.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says that, "unions will seek innovative ways to organize workers and will be reaching out to young people and immigrants."

(1) Wall Street Journal

(2,3) Wikipedia