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Maybe someone will be interested to know where the name of the company ZECHE came from. Our pretentious goal has served as the bases for the name of the close corporation “ZECHE” – to unite professionals in its entity to fulfill complex technological projects, elaboration and manufacture of advanced technology products, company’s promotion to the various markets of “undermining” innovative technologies.
Thus, ZECHE (germ. Zeche – union, association), in its broad meaning – a sort of corporation, or association, created to stand for its members’ interests. Such companies already existed in the early history of Mesopotamia and Egypt. In China zeches held a leading position in the economic life for a long period of time. Corporations of traders and craftsmen, engaged in one and the same type of work, were widely spread in Ancient Greece, and also in Hellenistic empires of the south-western Asia and Egypt. Zeches included all the crafts, the most powerful united sea-captains and ferrymen in coastal cities. During the epoch of the late Rome Empire, zeches became the object of governmental regulation. The membership in zeches became compulsory, as the law demanded of the sons to continue their fathers’ business. During the ancient epoch all the zeches followed both social and economic goals, they stood for economic and political craftsmen’s rights.
At first, craftsmen were allowed to enter merchants’ guilds, though they occupied lower stages in the social hierarchy in comparison to merchants. The small towns’ guilds quite met the interests of both craftsmen and merchants, especially as there were no clear boundaries between them. But in big cities, the development of trade and industry lead to the increase in the quantity of workers and to the craftsmen specialization, who started uniting according to their crafts and creating their own corporations on the analogy of merchants’. These new corporations were named zeches. The zeches organization process became easier as the people, engaged in one and the same craft, tended to settle in one and the same city area, or in one and the same street, where they held workshops and right there sold their products.
The merchants’ guilds, which, as a rule, were at the top of the municipal government, were usually interested in the zeches’ self-government. At the same time, the merchants strived to reserve their power over the craftsmen. However, zeches, with time, obtained independence. The king or any other governor could grant this or that zeche exclusive privilege. Almost all the zeches exercised such kind of privileges. By the XIII century, they were settled in all the cities of North Europe and England and reached the peak of their development during the following two centuries. As the specialization of the production went on, the new zeches separated from the old ones. Thus, for example, the zeches of carders, fullers, dyers, spinners, and weavers appeared in the textile industry.
In some countries, especially in Germany, municipal officials reserved their right to regulate the zeches’s activities and to appoint their directors. In other countries, and first of all, in France and Netherlands, where the cities started developing earlier and reached a great maturity, zeches by all possible ways tried to achieve a complete independence; they even tried to unite with the merchants’ guilds, to control the municipal government. The zeches goal was to guarantee the monopoly in the field of products’ production and sale. But it was possible to preserve monopoly as far as products were meant for the local market, and everything was much more complicated when it came to other cities or craftsmen from this city, but who were not the members of the zeche. In the interests of their own members and consumers, zeches had to control the prices, salaries, work conditions, and production quality. Toward this end, zeches prohibited the night work, as bad light and the absence of the proper control might have lead to a careless work, and also because off-hour work gave advantage to one zeche over the other.
Zeches included foremen, having their own workshops and trade shops, journeymen (work-hands) and trainees. Journeymen had a restricted suffrage, trainees were completely devoid of it in the zeche’s business. During the period of zeches’ flourishing foremen paid great attention to the shift’s training, that is why a talented and hard-working trainee could count on becoming a foreman in a while.
Any volunteer could become a trainee to master a definite craft. But, according to the settled rules, only those who underwent the stage of trainees, could be accepted to a zeche. Even the son of a foreman, who had the right to inherit his father’s business, had to undergo the stage of trainees, learning the craft either from his father or any other craftsman. Later on, the foreman’s son began to exercise a privilege when entering a zeche. A trainee lived and worked together with the foreman on the contract bases, signed by a boy’s parents or step-parents. Usually, a trainee promised to be hard-working and devoted, to obey the foreman implicitly, to preserve his property and the craft’s secrets and follow his interests in everything. He also promised not to get married till he finishes the studies, not to become a regular attendant of taverns and other hot spots, not to commit improper acts, which could cast a shadow on the foreman’s reputation. From his part, a foreman promised to teach a boy a craft, providing him with food, shelter, clothes and pocket money, and also to exercise control of the boy’s morality and, if necessary, resort to a punishment. Sometimes, parents used to pay a foreman for these services. If it happened so that a juvenile ran away, he was returned to a workshop and strictly punished. From the other side, a foreman himself was liable to a punishment in case he abused his power or if he neglected his responsibilities.
Both zeches and city authorities were interested that those trainees who frequently exhibited outrage and other vices, in a while became foremen and respectable citizens, thus they conjointly set rules of trainees accepting . Attention, at that, was drawn to the factors of different kind - to the moral appearance, age, the studying period, the quantity of trainees with one foreman, etc. Usually, young men in the age of 14-19 became trainees, and the studying period differed greatly depending on the place and epoch. In England and some other countries, a boy usually became trainee for 7 years. Later on, zeches started to enlarge the studying period purposefully, to reduce the number of candidates for the foreman’s position. For the same reasons it was forbidden for a foreman to keep more than a definite quantity of trainees. It was done also to escape the situation when using a cheap juvenile labor, some foremen could receive an advantage over the others.
A worthy candidate did not face any obstacles when entering a zeche. Such a candidate was a craftsman in the age of 23-24, who underwent a full studying course, ready to open his own workshop and deduct the dues to a zeche’s treasury. Later on, a candidate was asked to do something outstanding. If he underwent studies in another city, he had to find guarantors in a zeche, he aimed to enter. A trainee, who married his teacher’s daughter, became his father-in law full partner and, sometimes, started a new business with his help. Not having such advantages, a trainee, in order to save a capital to open his own workshop, had to be employed, wandering around the cities in search of better job. As the industry advanced, more and more capital was needed, thus the trainee’s stage became inevitable and, with time, compulsory. In England it was necessary to work during 2-3 years as a trainee before becoming a journeyman.
From the XIV century zeches started avoiding the redundancy of competing foremen on the confined market. as journeymen had no possibilities to make any considerable savings from their beggarly salaries, many of them did not ever become foremen. At the same time, the most enterprising foremen started making without prolonged trainees teaching, they gave preference to hiring journeymen, who could be trusted to fulfill special operations and did not require a protracted training. As the result a class of constant work-hands appeared, and alongside with it – a hereditary industrial aristocracy, based on the property owning, resulting from the considerable industry investments. The later had many similarities with the hereditary aristocracy, which haâ already appeared in the sphere of ancient merchants’ guilds. This craftsmen-capitalists layer at first spoke out about themselves in the export fields, and later, with the trade advance, singled out in all industrial spheres.
Excluding of the journeymen from the full members, the loss of any influence on a zeches’ business resulted in their own independent associations’ creation since XIV century. This process was the most active one in the continental Europe, where the journeymen associations gained in more significance than the “yeomen unions” in England. The workers organization forms were different, but all these associations struggled for the salaries increasing and exploitation reduction, all were in opposition with the developing capitalistic economy. Many associations worked out the subtle system of secret ceremonies, related to the one existing among the freemasons, which sometimes caused persecutions from the part of the church. The journeymen associations practiced different forms of struggle – they organized strikes, street disorders and lock-outs. In particular, they were against the foreigners’ and untrained workers employment. As the answer, foremen, using their influence on the city authorities, banned officially the journeymen associations and started persecutions. It was like this in many cities of Flandreau and Italy. The authorities tried to prevent journeymen, who had a constant job, from taking an extra work, opening their own workshops and keeping trainees. More often the frictions rose in those spheres, where many work-hands were engaged. On some stage workers could have won, but it more often happened so, that the opposite party won – the union of employers, zeches’ members and city authorities, who had a political and economic power.
During the period of late Middle Ages, zeches became more bound, the membership in some of them became hereditary, they firmly hold to their privileges, though the capitalistic production growth in other cities had already reduced their significance. They preserved their functioning only on the local markets’ scale, and only where they were supported by the authorities.
The development of capitalistic production. By the beginning of the XVI century the system of zeches did not meet the needs of capitalistic production, broad market oriented. Those zeches, which manufactured export products out of an imported raw material, found themselves in a beneficial situation. They gained control over the small local manufactures. Thus, for example, in the textile production in Florence and Flandreau, the capitalists supplied craftsmen with wool and yarn and then bought ready-made cloth from them. Small manufactures, who did not have an access to the raw materials source and to the markets, were practically turned into the work-hands, who were employed by the rich merchants.
In the second half of the XIV century a wave of city revolutions went through many Europe areas. In Florence, the lower production zeches, which were supported at the time by the masses of non-organized workers, excited a rebellion against the merchants’ guilds, exercising a power in the city. In a number of cases these rebellions lead to the tyrants’ regime (in the ancient meaning of this word). They acted as upholders of the peoples’ business, like Florence Medici. The rebellions of 1323-1328 in the Flemish cities, resulted in the Flandreau earls’ regime, and in the result – a French king.
The system of restrictions and never ending conflicts with manufactures forced capitalists to search new ways to release from this dependence. At the end of XV century the Flemish textile merchants stopped buying yarn and cloth in the cities warned out by constant disorders, and turned their attention towards small towns and villages, where no one heard about zeches and the expenses were less there. The peasants were given a raw material and a spinning-wheel and worked at home. Their work was paid price-rate. The out-work was quite suitable for a textile industry and peasants were familiar with it, not that difficult to master in comparison with the other crafts. Soon, the out-work system started to be used in the other spheres of industry, and as the result, many ancient industrial cities started loosing their significance, so that only majestic zeche buildings reminded of their passed eminence.
Zeches continued their existence during some centuries, though they never stopped loosing their economic significance. For some time they tried to maintain monopoly in the cities, but their claims on exclusiveness contradicted the new economic conditions. In France the zeches were dismissed in 1791, during the Great French Revolution. In Prussia and other German countries they gradually disappeared during the first half of the XIX century. In England the remaining zeches were liquidated by the acts of 1814 and 1835.
The name of our company – is the tribute to the forgotten, once strong zeche traditions. We want to borrow all the best from the zeches’ culture, excluding their weak points, which do not meet the contemporary demands and the goals placed in front of us, those weak points which caused the extinction of the previous zeches generation.