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Categories of Rural Workers in the Late Nineteenth Century

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But, if the young farmhand is continuously removed from the care of a benevolent employer during his free time, then the class of farm laborers no longer remains what it was and what it ought to be, as the large estates in northern Germany clearly reveal. They degenerate more and more into immorality. Thus, it is not surprising that employers increasingly resort to married farmhands, though they are more costly, or enlist permanent laborers.

Here, it is noteworthy that one cannot apply the yardstick used for the situation in central Germany to those areas where the workday still extends from 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning until sunset, i.e., to the eastern provinces. There, the farm laborer and the farm girl have the easiest work of all estate dwellers. In fact, the calculation goes as follows: rising at 3 a.m. and feeding the horses, going to the field at 5:30 a.m., ½ hour breakfast, 1½ hour lunch break, whereby ½ hour for harnessing, un-harnessing, and feeding the horses, etc., is quite common, ½ hour supper break, and then wandering home from the field at 9:00 p.m. or later, finally eating until 10 o'clock; that adds up to 18-19 work hours including 2 hours' rest. Accordingly, this amounts to 16-17 hours of work and is still supposed to be the most agreeable job? But working the fields in effect does not place heavy demands on the employees' work capacity, as many of the farm implements are equipped with seats. At harvest time, the farm laborer rides on the saddled horse of his team of four. Given the size and relatively extensive operation of the estates, the distances covered from the fields to the farmhouse are often very large. But, if the farmhand is supposed to help with mowing the grass in the summer, he does not have to look after his horses. Finally, one always hears about the long working hours in the summer, but nobody ever talks about winter work. During this season, work in central Germany begins at 6:00 a.m. and also ends at 6:00 p.m., with 3 hours set aside for mealtimes. On the estates in eastern Germany, even on the shortest days, work is restricted to daylight hours, that is, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; all the same, only the supper break is skipped. Having said all that, it is nevertheless desirable that working conditions in the East become easier, if only to deprive Social Democracy of the 17- and 18-hour workday as an effective means of agitation. [ . . . ]

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