Guilds and the system City organisation

The appearance of guilds, craftsmen organisations, in Polish lands was connected with the foundation of towns and cities under German law. The oldest documentation concerning Kraków guilds comes from the beginning of the 14th century. During the peak of economic prosperity in Kraków there were about 30 guilds including almost 40 specialist activities within the guilds.
Guild membership was obligatory and not only defended the interests and rights of their members, but also imposed some limitations concerning the production or sale of their merchandise. They were also the first body to decide over disputes on such matters as work practices, debts, partanina - that is work outside of a guilds influence, disagreements and safety. Guilds were also social and religious organisations and protected their members and their families in case of illness or other misfortune, and in times of conflict it was their duty to defend the city against an enemy. Each guild had its own patron saint and an altar or a chapel connected with the saint in a church. The guild members participated in religious processions during church holidays, in the funerals of their colleagues and the mourning masses for the repose of their souls.
Guild Statutes settled questions connected with the learning process of an apprentice, liberation, that is becoming a journeyman, and the rights and obligations connected with becoming a master. A master was not only an employer, but also a protector of his apprentices and journeymen who, in a sense, belonged to his family. He was to ensure them accommodation and clothing, to look after them in the case of illness, ensure their good manners, correct dress and teach them the trade properly. Apprentices and journeymen in turn were to obey the master and be loyal towards the association. If they violated these rules, they were summoned before the guild court. The most often used punishment was a fine equalling one week’s pay, this to be paid in wax or candles, the so-called wachlon.
Craftsmen’s guilds were rich and elaborate in their customs. Guild meetings, elections of guild elders, settlement of disputes, placement of apprentices, division of orders, holiday feasts, guild celebrations and the liberation of a journeyman as well as weekly meetings all took place in the guild’s inn.
In the 16th century guilds went through a crisis connected with the cheaper production of goods made outside the guilds by the so-called partacze. In order to counteract this problem of competition, guilds tried to obtain confirmation of their rights and statutes from their rulers.
This crisis was also connected with the attempt by the nobility to limit the autonomy of the cities and even led to the abolishment of the guilds in the years 1538 and 1550, by royal proclamation. It was, however, due to the unclear language used in both these documents that the guilds managed to survive until today.

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