GHDI logo

Ernst Dronke: Excerpts from Berlin (1846)

page 8 of 9    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Some of the workers do not earn more than 2-5 silver pieces a day; it is obvious that this is not enough to live on in Berlin. But even if it were enough to live on, it would not have the slightest impact on the conditions of the proletariat. They work every day without rest to earn their existence. But what kind of world is this that takes away the right to live, a right given by nature, and says you have to earn this right through the hardest of work? Those who are in a position to earn something consider themselves lucky and are happy about it. With the masses growing as they are, work has become a game of chance. The wages which we present here are for the luckiest, most fortunate ones. It is assumed that they are the ones who have been given the opportunity to earn their existence; it is assumed they are young, strong, and have no family cares; it is assumed that they find work and through the mercy and nobility of their bosses, they are given life. The next level of these happy, independent people, who have to work from morning until night just to exist, is made up of those without any kind of stable work or who are handicapped because of an illness in the family. The first of these are the so-called small masters. These people are not like the journeymen, who are given a fixed income. Nor can they move on when a job doesn’t work out. The masters are bound to their workshops and have to be there week in and week out to receive their money. Thus the small masters work through the week without any security, but just with the hope that at the end of the week they may be able to sell their work. They are forced to buy their right to live through work. Furthermore, they are forced to deliver their work by the end of the week, because most of them have to pay back creditors and suppliers. If this is not possible, then they have no work and no existence the following week. They try to sell their work to traders Saturday evening, if they haven’t filled orders or already sold it all during the week. These traders of some means do not work but rather put their money into trading. They know these small masters and their hard circumstances very well. They know that these unlucky masters have to sell their work at any price, so that the journeymen and the materials can be paid; so they offer a dirt-cheap price for the masters’ work even as they complain about their hard times and show their well-filled storerooms. The master is always forced to sell his goods at the offered price and when he has paid the journeymen and for the materials he has barely anything left to feed his family. The following week starts off with the same sad song, assuming he doesn’t have an accident. His work must be perfect if he doesn’t want to lose everything; a single illness, baptism, or death of a child can put him in a position of hopeless misery without any bread whatsoever. In Berlin there are 4000 self-employed tailors of all kinds, two-thirds of which do not receive enough orders. There are, however, 206 clothing traders who get their inventory from the poor masters at dirt-cheap prices. The competition expands in some months through so-called worker companies; the government also competes if the stores for the military are already full. The worker companies are then disbanded and these people, who can work cheaper than any others, offer themselves to the traders and masters at dumping prices. For the finishing on a pair of pants they only ask 4-5 silver pieces, and so the journeymen and masters can forget about working during these times. The number of self-employed shoemakers is 3000, and their relationship to the traders is very similar to that of the tailors, if not exactly the same. There are 837 silk workers who work for 113 traders or so-called manufacturers, which exploit the uncertainties of this industry through their trade capital. The number of carpenters, who are also at the mercy of traders, is 2000: In addition to these, there are also 123 furniture traders and between 3000-4000 journeymen. There are 20,000 weavers and these people cannot live from their income, even in the best of cases. Other businesses, like chimney sweeping, have their pre-determined number* which is controlled by the police and magistrates and cannot be increased.

* Fifteen.

first page < previous   |   next > last page