‘From Artisan to Worker: Guilds, the French State, and the Organization of Labor, 1776-1821’ By Michael Fitzsimmons

Artisan to WorkerA caveat here: Fitzsimmons was one of my professors in college.

I had to get my reader card for the Library of Congress to find a copy of this book (it’s irritatingly difficult and expensive to get copies of academic works) and, of course, I had to read it in one of the Library’s reading rooms (not the cool one, but a smaller one, but closer to the stacks where this book was stored, so delivery was faster).

One of the less written about consequences of the French Revolution was the dissolution of the guilds and worker managed corporate entities (though, not all workers – just ‘masters,’ as opposed to apprentices). Without overromanticizing the guild structure, it’s hard not to view this as a loss for working people. He never uses the words, but in the titular move from ‘artisan’ to ‘worker,’ it’s hard not to think of Marx’s famous alienation of man from the product of his own work.

An early anecdote about a man who tried to get around the guild system in the expansion of his wallpaper manufacturing business is illustrative of what would be lost without guilds. Jean-Baptiste Reveillon wanted to streamline and unite all aspects of production, from papermaking to printing – and to do so outside of the guild structure. He succeeded, at least for a while, and at the height of his success, he used his wealth to push for a decrease in the daily minimum wage to something roughly equivalent to the cost of a loaf of bread.

A few little bits that struck me:

Paris is the center of France in a way that is not true of many of other countries’ capitals and largest cities. In my own experience, Bangkok might be an exception.

Even as early as the Bourbon Restoration, the Chamber of Commerce opposed the concept of organized workers.

For better or for worse, mechanization would proceed unimpeded by guilds or regulations, generating greater social injustice than the system of corporations had engendered…

Note: in this case, corporation is meant in a different sense than in modern English and refers to various guilds and professional/worker associations.

Labor & Sloth

Jesus was a carpenter, but don’t read about him making anything in Gospels. In fact, he is always calling people away from work. And think about the early desert fathers, especially the Stylites, perched up high. They specifically removed themselves from traditional labor and work to revere the Lord.

Thoreau, in Walden, writes about the pleasure he takes from hoeing his rows of beans in the morning, but that to do it all day would be ‘dissapation.’ Work can be dissapated. Overwork or being a ‘workaholic’ is the opposite of work, in this formulation. Being a workaholic is, in fact, slothful. It is an avoidance of spiritual and more necessities.

His Holiness and his predecessors have been outspoken in support of trade unions. Unions, as the bumper sticker proclaims, are one of the originators of modern leisure, which allows one to avoid the slothfulness of overwork. I am, of course, referring to the bumper that states: Unions: The folks that brought you the weekend

Speaking specifically of artistic and, in particular, poetic work, John Ashberry once said that a ‘wasted time’ is absolutely critical. And, he emphasized, it must be well and truly wasted. Not structured for value in the guise of wasted time. The creative process dependent upon specifically ‘unused’ and unstructured time. Creative work, or creation or generation. In other words, ‘making things.’

Catholic Labor

Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers… The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past…
Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate

Midweek Staff Meeting – Unpopular Philosophies

Michael Oakeshott and  the ‘politics of mortality.’

Books and bookstores are an essential social good. So say the French. Can you really disagree with them on this?

Amazon invents a library. That costs money to rent books.

Just because I love poetry, does not mean I appreciate sentimental blather about poetry.

My all-time favorite reply to the question “What is the one thing you like least about reading in print?” came from an American: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.” Isn’t careful reading what academe was designed to promote?

A union for bookstore employees!

Please note: this is from the organizing campaign. Book Culture employees are not unionized and the store rehired a bunch of fired workers.
Please note: this is from the organizing campaign. Book Culture employees are not unionized and the store rehired a bunch of fired workers.

Monday Morning Staff Meeting – New Media, The Internet, Crowdfunding, Etc, Are Not A Replacement For Existing Cultural Institutions, But Are Add-Ons, At Best


The history of Historical Materialism.

This is what a clay envelope looks like.

This sucks. Is this true? Does no one read Henry Miller anymore? Seriously? Why not?

Let’s not overstate the promise of participatory democracy to drive, direct, and fund our culture.

Art in the service of labor.

Monday Morning Staff Meeting


No news here. Just awesome pictures of college libraries. I’m a big fan of the early ones.

Philosophers in, at. and about the movies. Also, Zizek and Chomsky totally have  a kung fu fight. Chomsky and Zizek aren’t really philosophers, though, are they? They are the more general breed, the ‘public intellectual.’ Chomsky, who had done important work on linguistics earlier in his career, but now more of a leftist critic of society. And Zizek is a sort of professional ‘enfant terrible’ of the cultural scene. Not bad things to be, either of them, but not practitioners of philosophy, the way an Adorno was  a practitioner (thinking of someone also engaged in issues of mainstream culture).

Dear grad students, F–k you. Respectfully, your professor. 

Sometimes, the life of the man’s skull is more interesting than the life of the man. I don’t know. What was Swedenborg’s life like? Was it action packed and interesting?

What’s Wrong With Working For The Good Guys

The Jacobin published a good and not very surprising piece about how many union organizers are treated by their employers.

I, of course, work for a labor union and I will say that the union local I work for treats its organizers respectfully and takes its obligations to them seriously (though I should also add that I part of management, so perhaps I am not to be trusted?).

The thing is, this is actually something endemic to the progressive movement as a whole. There is a certain attitude too often taken that because one is working for the progressive movement, that one should not therefore need nor want better wages or sometimes, even decent ones.

Though my current organization doesn’t, but I have worked for orgs that do and there is nothing more frustrating than listening to someone who makes six figures explain why you it’s okay for you to make less than 40k.

Another effect os this is that is severely limits who is able to join the progressive movement. While those who hold progressive beliefs are very likely to be people of color and lower income, those can afford to work for the progressive movement are too often only those whose parents can afford to subsidize them, which is to say, predominantly middle and upper class white children.