First Wage-labor Law (England, 1349)

Zodiac zodiac at
Sat Sep 2 05:26:32 MDT 1995

Every now and then, I'm again amazed at the simple elegance of historical

I was doing some research on labor (Labor Day is coming up and I'm
writing a piece on it -- more on that on a Monday post to list), and
happened across chapter 28 of Capital I again (which is in the M/E

It reads:

     "Legislation on wage-labour (from the first, aimed at the
     exploitation of the labourer and, as it advanced, always equally
     hostile to him), is started in England by the Statute of Labourers,
     of Edward III, 1349. The ordinance of 1350 in France, issued in the
     name of King John, corresponds with it. English and French
     legislation run parallel and are identical in purport."

That is, the first wage laws set a MAXIMUM (not a minimum) wage. The idea
was to secure employers a set surplus value. And they would stay on the
books until 1825, I believe...

I wondered what would have prompted such a thing, in 1349, and reached
for a general history book (called Timetables of History) and flipped to
1349. It breaks historical developments into several categories
(Politics, Science, Literature, etc.). Under "Daily Life", there is but
one entry:

     "Black Death kills a third of population of England."


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