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Farm Labor in Schleswig-Holstein (1911)

This document testifies to the heterogeneous nature of labor in the countryside. It also shows the relationship between labor and management in the agrarian sector, where workers had only limited opportunities for self-improvement and enjoyed little protection or rights. Migration to the city was not final, however, because seasonal workers from the city came to the countryside in times of need.

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One can distinguish four different categories of workers:

a) Local agricultural workers who form the fixed corps of 6-10 men for some machines; it is considered undesirable, however, to stand by a machine as a gang worker.

b) Local workers from the city, some of whom are dissolute loafers and are feared by the master machinists because of their penchant for strikes and their insolence.

c) Migrant workers from the East, poorly educated, but diligent and undemanding.

d) Veterans of the road, shipwrecked characters who once knew better times, from all professions and walks of life, among them a few noblemen and academics who, unless the devil of drink is riding them, work diligently, are willing, and behave unassumingly at the table. Christian salvation work would not find this a hopeless field.

Here [in Schleswig-Holstein] threshing begins at almost the same time as the harvest, and the humming of the "steamers" gradually ceases in November. The threshing season thus comprises the four months of August through November, though it lies chiefly in the two middle months. Compared to former times, the threshing period has shortened progressively. In the late fall, the farm owners of the fens are busy exporting cabbage.

A threshing-machine – also called "outfit" [Garnitur] or "train" [Zug] – requires 18 to 28 men for its operation, 25 on average. The master machinist and the stoker hold a privileged position. These two share the farmer's table and are given a bed at night. As the chairman of the Association of the United Threshing-Machine Owners stated a few years ago, there were about 170 steam threshing-machines in the four districts (Norderdithmarschen, Süderdithmarschen, Steinburg, and Rendsburg), the operation of which required at least 3,000 workers. Although the number of outfits has risen considerably since then, there was an oversupply of machines last fall, and some of them stood idle for a while.

Here an hourly wage is generally customary, whereas in other parts of the province work is done by day wage. The hourly wage injects even more instability into the work. Moreover, it causes the work day to be unduly extended, since the owners wish to make full use of their machines. According to one police regulation, threshing can only be done until eight o'clock at night, but this regulation exists more on paper, since fines are usually low. Ninety hours of threshing or more per week are probably not unusual! On top of this, there are the moves from one farm to the other, from one village to the other. The workers, however, are paid only for the threshing hours, not for the moves. When free meals were provided, the hourly wage this summer was 25 pfennig; last year it was 30 pfennig, and in 1908 it was as high as 30-40 pfennig. If the workers have to feed themselves, because some farms are unable or unwilling to do so, they receive a supplement of 10 pfennig per hour, though for that they mostly buy only schnapps and perhaps a little bread. If the threshing is done in the open field, the hourly wage is 5 pfennig more, because some hours are lost due to the morning dew and rain. In addition to the stoker, the feeder [Einleger] receives a wage that is 10 pfennig higher.

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