The Guilds of Volta
Guilds are an important part of city and town life in Volta. They are exclusive, regimented organizations created in part to preserve the rights and privileges of their members and are separate and distinct from the local government and nobility. Most manufacturing and trade occurs in the Barony of Zarkym and thus the Barony is where most Voltan guilds are located. As a result of the Barony's shared borders with the Duchies of Ashbury and Ravenholt and easy access via river and overland to the Duchy of Niman, numerous trade routes to these Duchies have developed over time with guilds established headquarters in the Barony as a natural business progression. By far the most well-known Voltan guild is the Voltan Brewers Guild, producers of Voltan Ale, famous as the the best ale throughout Evendarr.
Merchant guilds are formed for mutual protection of horses, wagons, and goods when traveling. Merchant guilds enforce contracts among members and between members and outsiders. If a merchant from a particular town fails to fulfill his part of a bargain or pay his debts, all members of his guild may be held liable. When in a foreign port, goods can be seized and sold to alleviate bad debts. Merchant guilds also protect members against nobles seeking revenue, who may attempt to seize money and merchandise from foreign merchants. Guilds have threatened to boycott the realms of such nobles. Since boycotts impoverish both kingdoms, which depend on commerce, and governments, for whom tariffs are the principal source of revenue, the threat of retaliation deters nobles from excessive expropriations. Merchant guilds tend to be wealthier and of higher social status than craft guilds in addition to wielding significant influence in local government affairs.
Craft guilds are the result of specialization within an industry. Guilds of victuallers buy agricultural commodities, convert them to consumables, and sell finished foodstuffs. Examples included bakers, brewers, and butchers. Guilds of manufacturers make durable goods, and when profitable, export them from their towns to consumers in distant markets. Examples include makers of textiles, military equipment, and metalware. Guilds of a third type sell skills and services. Examples include clerks, teamsters, and entertainers. Both merchant and craft guilds act to increase and stabilize members’ incomes, protect their members from outside competition, ensure fair competition between members, and maintain standards of quality for their product.
To attain their collective goals, guild members must cooperate. If some members slack off, all would suffer. Lowering the costs of labor requires that all masters reduce wages. Raising the prices of products requires that all members restrict output. Developing respected reputations requires that all members sell superior merchandise. Guild members must contribute money, time, emotion, and personal energy. To convince members to cooperate and advance their common interests, guilds have stable, self-enforcing associations that possess structures for making and implementing collective decisions.
A guild’s members meet at least once a year to elect officers, audit accounts, induct new members, debate policies, and amend ordinances. Officers manage the guild’s day to day affairs. Decisions are usually made by majority vote among the master craftsmen. Members agree to contribute certain resources and take certain actions that further the guild’s endeavors. Officers of the guild monitor members’ contributions. Members who fail to fulfill their obligations face punishments of various sorts based on the transgression, and the ultimate threat is expulsion.
A hierarchy exists in most guilds. Masters are full members who usually own their own workshops, retail outlets, or trading vessels. Masters employ journeymen, who are laborers who work for wages on short term contracts or a daily basis. Journeymen hope to one day advance to the level of master. To do this, journeymen usually have to save enough money to open a workshop and pay for admittance to the guild or receive a workshop through marriage or inheritance. Masters also supervise apprentices, who are usually boys in their teens who work for room, board, and perhaps a small stipend in exchange for a vocational education. Guilds regulate apprenticeships to ensure that masters fulfill their part of the apprenticeship agreement. Apprenticeships usually last from five to nine years.