On 3 October 2020, the Research Institute for Direct Democracy FIDD organised an academic conference, headed by Dr René Roca, in Elm. The conference papers are available on the FIDD website. The subject was “The canton of Glarus as a promoter of direct democracy”.
One group of contributions focused on the Landsgemeinde (direct democratic cantonal assembly) itself. Some political theorists criticise the fact that in the case of a close vote, the votes are not counted, but the Landammann (the chair of the governing council in any of several swiss cantons) estimates the majority, possibly together with his colleagues in the Regierungsrat (cantonal state council). For the people of Glarus, this procedure is a sign of confidence in the elected government and has gone with the territory since the beginning. Former Landammann Kaspar Rhyner once said: “The pope and the Landammann of Glarus are infallible. Their decision cannot be challenged!”
Another point of criticism was raised by the speakers at the conference: people who are sick or old cannot attend the meeting, as it lasts several hours. In contrast, the author argued in his presentation that the “integrative power” of the Landsgemeinde compensates for such weaknesses by far. Moreover: this force has always formed the basis for the economic framework of Glarus and explains to a large extent its “economic miracle” unusual for a mountain canton. History is a reliable proof of this thesis. Historian Georg Thürer, who grew up in the canton of Glarus, says: “If history is to educate, then it must not be suffocated in a mass of data of all kinds, but rather the presenter, including the teacher, must pick out from the abundance, even overabundance, what deepens the insight into the connections that have led to the culture of the present”. (Thürer 1998, p. 40)
The Landsgemeinde in Glarus is very old, so we have to include the time around 1291 in our considerations, when the confederation was founded. Then freedom was not the only issue at stake. From an early stage, the confederation of the three original cantons of 1291 had an economic background. The Gotthard pass is the shortest connection across the Alps. The Romans had not yet managed to use this route; they crossed the Alps over the Grisons passes. The Schöllenen gorge in front of Andermatt was still an insurmountable obstacle for them. But around 1250, the pioneering act succeeded: capable craftsmen built a bridge over the Schöllenen, so that a shorter trade route to the South was available over the Gotthard. The farmers in Uri and Schwyz quickly seized their opportunity. They formed freight haulers’ cooperatives, developed the route and set up overnight accommodation. They soon benefited from a lively trade and thus came into contact with the “world”. It goes without saying that the farmers were not willing to lose grip of this North-South connection. it is also not surprising that the trading cities on the North side, such as Lucerne, Zug and Zurich, quickly joined the union. They, too, had recognised the importance of the Gotthard. Only a little later, Bern joined in, controlling the trade routes and the economic area to the West.
During this period – in 1352 – the confederates also conquered the county of Glarus, which was admitted to the confederation with limited rights (lesser confederation). Glarus controlled a northern section of the trade route, that led from Zurich over lake Walen into the Rhine valley and over the Grisons passes to the South. Glarus also had access to the Gotthard route via the Klausen pass. So, in a short time, the confederation had grown into an economically potent and compact area which, together with the associated towns in the regions of St. Gallen and Grisons, controlled both trade routes to the South and had great prospects for the future.
It is not surprising that the great powers and princes of the time recognised this fact and did everything they could to regain control of these areas. Major conflicts could not be avoided. Here some keywords are the battle of Morgarten in 1315, and the battle of Sempach in 1386; in both of these the confederates were victorious. The people of Glarus fought on the side of the confederates at the battle of Sempach and were subsequently recognised as equal members of the confederation.
First “Landessatzung” (cantonal constitution) of 1387: the people of the county decide for themselves
A few months later – on 11 March 1387 – “Amman und Landlüt gemeinlich ze Glarus” (government chairman and people of Glarus together) met for their first Landsgemeinde as a free country and gave themselves a constitution - the first cantonal constitution. It came about with the “Gunst und guotem Willen der wissen, fürsichtigen, unser lieben Eidgenossen […] dieser nachgeschribnen Stuken überein gekommen syen (favour and good will of the knowledgeable, prudent, our dear confederates ... have come to an agreement about these subsequent treaties“. (quoted from: Davatz, p. 42) 15 judges were elected in Glarus every year to judge every matter fairly “bei Armen und bei Richen (for the poor and for the rich)”. If a violent quarrel should arise, everyone was to enjoin peace. Then the disputants would have to desist from the fight immediately. Further provisions regulate marriage, inheritance, guardianship and the punishment for insults and theft. – When the compatriots came to a decision, the minority had to follow the majority. The same principle applied in the communes – with these provisions, the people of Glarus laid the foundation for today’s democratic constitution (Davatz, p. 42).
Näfelserfahrt ... and winning freedom
However, the people of Glarus still had a difficult test ahead of them. The Hapsburgs, defeated in Sempach, returned only one year later – in 1388 – with a great army to reconquer the county of Glarus. The people of Glarus immediately sent envoys to Central Switzerland and to Zurich. But the Hapsburgs were quicker, and the people of Glarus had to defend themselves alone, at the Battle of Näfels. The attackers broke through at the Letzi, the protective wall in the North of the county, and advanced into the interior of Glarus, confident of victory. But then they came – the people of Glarus – and they did not rest until they had driven the Hapsburgs back once again and thrown them out of their county.
The Landsgemeinde then decided that the population should meet every year on the first Thursday in April, pray for the fallen who had lost “Lib und Leben (their body and their life)”, and thank God and the saints for this victory. The victims of this battle lie in the cemetery of Mollis. – This event was the beginning of a long tradition that is still maintained today. On the Näfelserfahrt (the Näfels trip), the people of Glarus every year visit – in a silent procession – the various places where the battle took place. In 2019, the current mayor, Marianne Lienhard, gave the “Fahrtsrede” (the speech held on the occasion of the Trip) in Schneisingen, where the main battle had taken place. The journey then continues to the trip site in Näfels. Every year, alternately a Catholic and a Protestant clergyman preach a sermon there. Then the historical letter of the Trip is read aloud. It describes the events with the names of the fallen, which are engraved on the parapet of the church gallery.
The Näfels Trip is much more than a historical event. It is a commemorative and unique history lesson. It aims to protect freedom and preserve peace. While the Landsgemeinde is a public event, today visited by many guests from Switzerland and abroad, the people of Glarus are among themselves at the Näfelserfahrt – for their inner reflection. Both events are of great importance for cohesion, as I will now show.
Perpetual peace with France in 1516
Peace did not return to the Confederates after the battle of Näfels. The attacks did not stop in the decades to come. To tell the story in a somewhat abbreviated form: the Burgundians under Charles the Bold attacked from the West and failed three times – at Grandson, Murten and Nancy. In the Swabian War, the German emperor attacked on a broad front from the North - also in vain. With Fribourg, Solothurn, Basel, Schaffhausen and Appenzell, new members joined the Confederation. Now the Confederates were on their way to becoming a great power and went on a campaign of conquest themselves. And in 1515, at Marignano in Lombardy, the Confederates suffered their first major defeat, against the great power of France with its king Francis I. Here, too, the people of Glarus were present.
This event also was to be of great significance for Glarus, i.e. not the battle itself (which was lost), but what followed. The French king Francis I was a wise king who did not imagine he could dominate the Confederates. In the peace negotiations that followed, he demanded nothing – no money, no concessions and certainly no cessions of territory. Instead, he made the Confederates a tempting offer with the Treaty of Perpetual Peace of 1516: he offered a free trade treaty with France, so that they would be able to import their products duty-free, and another treaty that gave France the right to recruit mercenaries. The Confederates accepted the offer. Both were to become very important for Glarus and for the entire Confederation. It was a historical turning point and a first step towards neutrality (Thürer 1965). “Don’t make the fence too wide”, Niklaus von Flüe had advised.
The path to a new era
The free trade treaty with France was favourable ground for early economic development. Also important were the military contracts. Glarus, as a mountain canton, did not have enough fertile soil to feed its growing population off its own land, so some of the people of Glarus emigrated early on. Thus, we find their traces on the Volga, in the Crimea and also in New Glarus in the US state of Wisconsin (Davatz 1980, pp. 233-239). The mercenary contracts gave the young men a chance to earn money abroad and to get to know the world. Pay and plunder were tempting. Free trade agreements opened the way to selling one’s own products abroad.
On the importance of the Landsgemeinde for agriculture
One of the great riches of Glarus were and still are its more than one hundred alpine pastures. Most of them still belong to the communes or corporations. The people of Glarus raised cattle and often had many more animals on their alps than they would have been able to feed with their own hay in winter. They sold the animals to the “Welschland” (historical for Romandy). At that time, the “Welschland” comprised Ticino and northern Italy. In autumn, large herds travelled over the mountain passes to the cattle markets in Lugano, Bellinzona and Milan. The Glarus people also used the route over the Panixerpass near Elm into the Rhine Valley and from there over the Grisons passes to the south. They were on the road for about ten days and housed their animals in rented stables at night. Added trade goods were cheese and the so-called “Ziger” made of whey.
The Alps were therefore often the subject of discussion at the Landsgemeinde. The number of animals on each alp was limited. In 1861, the Landsgemeinde passed the first comprehensive alpine law, which regulated not only the use of but also the care for the alps.
The importance of the Landsgemeinde for the mercenary system
The people of Glarus managed the mercenary system as independent entrepreneurs. The best-known example is Colonel Kaspar Freuler in Näfels. Freuler concluded contracts with the king of France. Such contracts were never a purely private matter. They were approved by the Landsgemeinde. Part of the money went into the coffers of the county government. Sometimes a small sum was paid to each individual citizen.
However, the Glarus mercenaries of that time cannot be compared to the mercenaries of today, who are fighting in Afghanistan, in Libya or even Syria. They were highly respected personalities whose voice had a certain prestige back home.
As a soldier entrepreneur, Kaspar Freuler selected his officers, recruited his soldiers and equipped them. He usually conveyed them to France. For this he received a large sum from the king, from which he had to pay for everything. If he organised an enterprise of this kind well and also had a bit of luck, there was a profit - sometimes a big profit, as his palatial house in Näfels testifies. But it wasn't just about the money. Freuler and the other soldier entrepreneurs, if you want to call them that, created an actual military culture that was strongly connected to their homeland. Their soldiers were considered particularly reliable and loyal. Colonel Freuler may have spent most of his time in Paris – but his family lived in Näfels. The county of Glarus remained his home. The Freuler Palace is now the “Glarus Regional Museum”.
Glarus companies belonged to the Swiss Guard, which the French king enlisted for his personal protection and for representation, similar to the Pope in Rome. During the French Revolution, they heroically defended the king in the Tuileries against the onslaught of the enraged Parisian masses. Many of them died. Guard Major Karl von Bachmann from Näfels, who had organised the king’s defence, was sentenced to death by a revolutionary court and died on the guillotine, like the king. Today the Lion Monument in Lucerne commemorates these events (Winteler, pp. 244-45).
The Glarus companies were not only involved in France, but in many European countries – for example in Spain, Portugal, Italy or even in Prussia and Russia. Zwingli fiercely fought against “Reisläufererei”, i.e. the mercenary system, but Reformed congregations also sent their soldiers, especially to Holland. Some were also in the service of the East Indian Company, so that the young men travelled as far as Indonesia. – This orientation towards the world and worldliness was undoubtedly favourable ground for later industrial development, which was promoted early on, especially in the Reformed congregations (Davatz, pp. 91-99).
The mercenary system also had its dark sides. Many men lost their lives. Numerous soldiers returned home impoverished, some with permanent damage to body and character. They were hardly able to work properly and provide for their families. The common soldier in the 18th century earned no more than a home worker or a factory hand back home, so soon, there were better and less dangerous ways to earn a living.
The Landsgemeinde during the Reformation
Huldrych Zwingli spent ten years in Glarus before he went to Zurich and set the Reformation in motion in 1517. Eighty percent of the population in Glarus chose the new faith. The Catholics were only a minority of about 20 percent. The question arose, as it did in many cantons in Switzerland at the time: Can we still live together? What will happen to our Landsgemeinde? There was a danger that the majority of the Reformed would constantly outvote the minority of Old Believers. How could this problem be solved without causing a split?
The people of Glarus found a way. They did not go to war and they did not divide their country: they set up three cantonal assemblies: one week before the joint Landsgemeinde on the 1st Sunday in May, the Catholics met for the Catholic Landsgemeinde and the Reformed for the Protestant Landsgemeinde. Here they discussed their own affairs. Then – one week later – they met for the joint Landsgemeinde. For this Landsgemeinde, there was a special regional contract stipulating a rotation of the important offices. A Protestant Landammann held office for three years, and a Catholic Landammann for two years. The “Säckelmeister” (treasurer) was elected for six years from the ranks of the new believers and then for three years from the ranks of the old believers.
Some of the administration and the judges were allocated likewise. In this way, the Confederates mediated, as already mentioned in the Federal Charter of 1291. The Catholic minority had good advocates in Lucerne and Schwyz. So, the country stayed together. Some communities, however, split up. Thus, even today, mainly Catholics live in Oberurnen and the Reformed in Niederurnen. But: Contrary to the reformed Zurich which dissolved its monasteries, in Glarus, which is also in its majority Reformed, the exact opposite happened: a new Capuchin monastery was founded in Näfels, which still exists today.
Why was this approach successful? I think tradition had forged bonds that endured. Both sides had never forgotten fighting together for their freedom. That is why they never butted heads over beliefs or even divided up their country. – In other places in Switzerland, the religious conflict was more difficult to solve.
I would like to add a particularly curious episode here: in 1582, Pope Gregory had introduced the Gregorian calendar, which was later to become generally accepted and which is still valid today. The Reformed held on to the old Julian calendar, so that it came to the amusing and remarkable situation that the Protestant congregations were still looking forward to Christmas when the Catholics had already begun their New Year.
On the significance of the Landsgemeinde for industrialisation
As early as the early 18th century, there were simple spinning mills that exported their products to European countries. However, industrialisation began in earnest in Elm: slate slabs were mined in the Plattenberg near Elm very early on. They were framed with a wooden frame to form writing tablets and quickly became widespread as writing tools in the region. However, it did not stop there. Soon a carpenter had the idea of using the slate slabs as table tops. This was the beginning of the great story of the so-called “Blatten-tables” (slate-slab tables), which made Glarus known far beyond its borders.
It was here that in my research, I first came across the Jenny family from Ennenda, a family of entrepreneurs: Melchior Jenny and his eight brothers began to sell the slate-slab tables to faraway countries. Fridolin Tschudi is considered the father of Glarus historiography.
As early as 1714, he wrote: “Various country gentlemen, most of them Ennedar, took the journey themselves and began to export the tables, which were packed safely in crates, to many foreign places by sea and land. Up to now, they have been transported not only to Germany, but also to France, Holland, England, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Moscow, Spain and Portugal, and for a short while also to Italy and Rome. (Davatz, p. 190)
How did the eight Jenny brothers get the idea to sell the heavy “Blatten-tables” all over the world? There was not even a road down to Glarus. The Jennys had to carry their heavy load down. But as if that were not enough, how did the tables get to Norway, England and all the other countries, by horse and cart and ship? – It truly took a particularly daring and bold entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit to take on such a risky venture.
A little later I came across a report from 1797 by the German doctor Johann Gottfried Ebel, who wrote: “The various peoples living in the Alpine mountains have remained shepherds to this day, and are exclusively engaged in cattle breeding and dairy farming. Alone the people of Appenzell and Glarus have deviated from their paternal customs and sought new paths of activity. Whoever travels through the valleys of Glarus will, as it were, pass through a large factory with the liveliest activity. These poor shepherds hidden among fearsome rocks [...] present the striking spectacle of one of the most industrious peoples.” (Davatz, p. 193) It all began with simple cottage industry, then simple spinning machines were added, and later the first textile factories.
What did the Landsgemeinde contribute to this? Not only did it hold the country together in the time of the Reformation, it also provided support for the daring factory owners and the merchants who travelled to the ends of the “earth” with their products, so that they never forgot that Glarus was their home.
The Jennys in Vienna, in Trieste, in Ancona ...
It did not stop at the slate trade (Davatz, p. 200). In the middle of the 18th century there were already 13 mechanical spinning mills in operation, which mostly exported their products. Around 1750, the Jennys went to Austria and set up their headquarters in Vienna, establishing business contacts in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and as far as Russia. There was also a branch in Trieste on the Adriatic. The great era of the textile industry had begun.
Let us stay with the great entrepreneurial family of the Jennys. Together with the Blumers from Schwanden, the Jennys built up what was then, ie at the beginning of the 19th century, the largest industrial enterprise in the state of Glarus. It began with the spinning mill in Schwanden and the weaving mill in Luchsingen. Fabric printing was soon added. With its factories in Ennenda and Haslen, the family became the largest employer in the canton. There were branches in Ticino and abroad – for example in the port city of Ancona, which handled sales in Italy. In 1831, the first consignment of goods went to Rio de Janeiro, and in 1832 to Calcutta in India. Conrad Blumer went on a business trip to India and Indonesia. His business partner Peter Jenny travelled to Manila in the Philippines. They brought back precise instructions for the patterns and colours in demand there. Other factory owners did likewise. In 1840, Kaspar Jenny wrote: “The owners of the printing and dyeing works were for the most part themselves engaged in trade and sales [...]. These goods find a a small market in Switzerland itself; the most important part goes to Italy, European and Asian Turkey, Egypt and the Barbary states (North Africa), South and North America, the Spanish, British and Dutch colonies and even to Canton in China” (quoted in Kaufmann).
However, the textile factories in Glarus and also in eastern Switzerland were at a great competitive disadvantage. They sourced their cotton from the southern states of the USA or later also from Asian countries. The ships from the USA were able to land directly in Liverpool or Manchester and deliver their goods to the textile factories there. But it was still a long way to Glarus. The entrepreneurs in Switzerland had to compensate for this disadvantage somehow. The only way to do that was through quality. They had to develop a high degree of workmanship, make their products durable and find special motifs. This is how the good reputation of Swiss quality came about – not only in Glarus, which spread all over the world. In Glarus it was mainly textile printing, in St. Gallen and Appenzell embroidery, in Zurich and Basel the silk industry and in the Jura and in Geneva clocks. This was followed in other places by the construction of textile machines and soon other machines, and much more. Everywhere, quality was and still is a priority.
The Jennys in Hard – the Tüchle (cloth or scarf) barons
Together with the Schindlers, the Jennys built a large textile factory in Hard near Bregenz in the Catholic Vorarlberg, and there specialised in artistic fabric printing, similar to what was done in Ennenda. They were successful, too. (Mittersteiner, pp. 174-175)
I would like to add a 19th century episode here as an example of where it was not possible to reduce confessional tensions: Half the village worked for the Jennys. Samuel Jenny was a good patron who did a lot for his workers and was also committed to Vorarlberg and the municipality of Hard. This was appreciated in the village. In addition, he was an imperial councillor in Vienna. But there was a conflict. The Jennys were Reformed and helped to establish a Reformed congregation in Bregenz. On some holidays – especially the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption – work was done at the Jennys’. The complicated work procedures with still a lot of manual work did not allow for individual employees to be absent. The Catholic priest in Hard massively criticised the patron: Samuel Jenny was an “exploiter and Stone Age capitalist with whom there could be no accommodation” (p. 174). Conversely, Samuel Jenny regarded the pastor as a “bigoted Ultramontanist” – a combat term of the cultural struggle of the time. When Samuel Jenny died and was buried in 1901, the church bells remained silent.
What was missing in Hard was the long tradition of the Landsgemeinde with its conciliatory and balancing power, which showed a way to the old as well as the new believers.
The Glarus Constitution of 1836
At the Landsgemeinde of 1836, the people of Glarus adopted a new constitution. It was characterised by the ideas of the Regeneration. Many things from the time of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution were revived in Glarus and other cantons – hence the name Regeneration. These ideas included liberties such as freedom of trade and commerce – “subject to such legal provisions as the common good may require” (Article 9). The Landsgemeinde thus set the course for the economic order in which we live today. In addition, there were reforms in the area of education.
Admittedly, there were points of contention: according to Article 8, freedom of faith and conscience as well as freedom of expression and of the press were guaranteed and: “The free exercise of Protestant Reformed and Roman Catholic worship” was guaranteed in all communities (Article 4). – The confessionally separate Landsgemeindes had contributed to internal peace for a long time. They no longer had a place in the new constitution. Their abolition succeeded after some turbulence. The Catholic minority thus lost power and influence.
The canton of Glarus was one of the first cantons to dare to take the step into the new era, thus laying the ground for a stormy economic development. It was undoubtedly crucial for success that not only the cantonal parliament and government, but also the Landsgemeinde, set the course. A few years later, there were to be serious tensions between the cantons over confessional issues and even a “Sonderbund” of seceded cantons and a brief civil war.
On the importance of the Landsgemeinde for social policy
In the first half of the 19th century, a few legal regulations did exist in some cantons – such as for the protection of children and women, but there was not yet an actual social policy. The factory owners in Glarus exercised their own responsibility as entrepreneurs and patrons and set up health insurance funds and in some cases old-age insurance. However, these were voluntary and financed, much like today, by deductions from wages plus contributions by the employer. Freedom for changing jobs was usually guaranteed. Housing was also provided. But everything was still very modest and, above all, voluntary and often varied. Benefits were still modest, plus workers had to accept earning a little less – which was not a matter of course considering their low wages. The communes and also the canton set up old-age, widows’ and orphans’ funds that everyone could join. The first savings banks were established. Donations and foundations from wealthy circles helped with financing (Winteler, pp. 396-397; Davatz, pp. 205-221). The numerous social institutions already existing in this early period of industrialisation are impressive.
In the second half of the 19th century Glarus experienced a golden age in textile printing – a veritable economic miracle. Wages rose and the workers’ self-esteem increased. They founded numerous workers’ associations, which joined together in 1863 to form the Central-Arbeiterverein (central workers’ union) and became politically active. In the same year, the Arbeiter-Zeitung (workers’ newspaper) appeared. In 1863, for example, the Schwanden factory workers’ association took up 280 members within a month.
And they also received support – especially from the pastors and presidents of the parishes, who knew the situation well, and also from individual factory owners. Jean Jenny-Ryffel and Daniel Jenny helped found the Schwanden factory workers’ association. The workers even elected factory owner and employer Jean Jenny-Ryffel as their first president. This early and special form of social partnership was probably unique in the world. First activities included the founding of a consumers’ association and later the preparation of a ground breaking factory law. Both the Konsumverein Schwanden (Schwanden consumers’ association) and the Factory Act have gone down in the history of Swiss social policy.
The Schwanden consumers’ association
The Konsumverein Schwanden, founded in 1863, had a predecessor. As early as 1831, the idea of cooperative self-help led to the joint purchase of flour and the founding of an “Aktienbäckerei” (shares bakery). This “Akti” existed until quite recent times. The Konsumverein was to lead the way in the cooperative movement in Switzerland. Before that, consumer associations had often run their businesses according to the following idea: A cooperative as a self-help organisation is not profit-oriented. For example, it bought a greater quantity of potatoes and sold them to its customers and members at cost with a modest surcharge for expenses. However, it happened that the market price for potatoes dropped because a good harvest was expected. So, a consumer cooperative managed in this way had to sell at a loss and thus got into difficulties.
The Schwanden consumer association did things differently: it followed the principles of the cooperative pioneers of Rochdale in England, who were also commercially successful: As a self-help organisation, they too were primarily not profit-oriented. But they aligned themselves with the market, kept double-entry bookkeeping and calculated an appropriate profit. From this they built up reserves with which they could compensate for price fluctuations and other risks, and they used the profit to constantly improve their offer. If there was still a surplus, they paid it back directly to the members of the cooperative. Or they granted discounts to customers through a rebate system. This way was successful. Jean Jenny-Riffel had made himself acquainted with it during a stay in England (in this way English-language expressions were incorporated into the statutes of the Konsumverein of Schwanden).
The Konsumverein Schwanden became a model for other consumer organisations in the canton of Glarus and in the whole of Switzerland. A true success story began. Twenty-five years later, 34 consumer associations in Switzerland joined together to form the Verband Schweizerischer Konsumgenossenschaften VSK (Swiss consumer cooperatives’ union) – with Basel as its chairing city. After the First World War, there were already over 400 associations, in 1936 over 500 – and soon over 600. In 1969, Coop came into being, merging the numerous consumer cooperatives.
Glarus Factory Act of 1864
Let us return to Glarus. The factory owners Jean and Daniel Jenny had supported the workers in the Schwanden workers’ association in yet another important project. They helped to prepare a memorial motion for a factory law for the Landsgemeinde (Davatz, pp. 222-230).
Four factory workers from Luchsingen, Balz Knobel, Niklaus Zweifel, Emanuel Kundert and Peter Hefti, submitted a memorial motion. They called on the protection of the state to investigate whether it was not true that the mass of its citizens had to serve industry under a harmful influence, when it would be better served by fresh, vigorous workers: “It makes us proud,” they wrote, “that in our democracy, we workers have the opportunity to raise such important questions. We demand a reduction of working hours, possibly to eleven hours, regulations on the ventilation of the factory floors and the establishment of a factory inspectorate.” They received support from parish priests and mayors, who were well aware of the situation.
On 22 May 1864, more people of Glarus gathered in the ring than hardly ever before. When agenda item no. 13, the factory law, came up for discussion, the physician Niklaus Tschudi, mayor of Glarus, took the floor: “We are one family. We do not want to hinder industry; but to care for the well-being of the workers is our sacred duty. Only a healthy, strong people is a free people.” His speech drew cheers and exultation from the audience and ended with jubilant applause. An immediate vote was demanded. The law was passed by an overwhelming majority.
With the Factory Act, the canton of Glarus was the first state in Europe to introduce a standard working day of twelve hours for all industrial workers. At the same time, night-time work was completely banned. In addition, there were far-reaching protective provisions for women and children. Only a few years later, the Landsgemeinde further reduced the standard working day to eleven hours (Historischer Verein 2015, pp. 23-49).
The physician Fridolin Schuler was factory inspector in Glarus. He had the not easy task of checking whether the law was really being observed. Not infrequently he was suspected of being in cahoots with the industrialists or with the workers. Fridolin Schuler reports on such a situation in the Glarner Heimatbuch: “An outstanding industrialist took me to task for my activities in favour of the eleven-hour day, and he told me that I had to bear the huge responsibility of ruining the Glarus industry. Anyone building another factory on Glarus territory belonged in a lunatic asylum. A year later we met at the same place. He was observing the progress of the construction of his new factory. So, you’re building, I remarked, without adding anything else. We could both not hold back our laughter.” (quoted in Glarner Heimatbuch 1992, p. 98)
The story has a sequel: Landammann Joachim Heer had presided over the memorable Landsgemeinde of 1864. He was elected to the Federal Council in Bern a short time later, and also there, factory legislation was a matter of concern to him. In 1878, the Swiss people approved the federal factory law that the councillors had passed based on the Glarus model. Joachim Heer succeeded in winning Fridolin Schuler over to accept the office of factory inspector also in the Confederation. – Glarus thus significantly determined the federal factory legislation and its implementation, and the model of the Landsgemeinde led to the introduction of popular rights such as the referendum and later the popular initiative at the federal level.
As early as 1899, the cantonal council prepared the creation of a cantonal old age and disability scheme. It considered this project the “most beautiful crown of our institutions”. The Landsgemeinde agreed. Financing was not easy, however, because the textile industry was going into a slump. Nevertheless, in 1916 – in the middle of the First World War – the time had come: the Landsgemeinde in Glarus approved the introduction of the cantonal AHV und IV (old age and disability scheme). As regards the Swiss Confederation, more than thirty years were to pass before, in 1948, the Federal Council was able to present today’s AHV to the people for a vote. Glarus thus once again took on the role of pioneer in social policy (Winteler, pp. 589-591).
Crisis and outlook into the 20th and 21st centuries
The heyday of cloth printing was a good time for the economy also in other respects. Early on, two private banks in Glarus issued their own gold-covered banknotes, which was possible at that time and was always approved by the Landsgemeinde. The Glarner Kantonalbank, founded in 1884, also issued its own banknotes for more than twenty years, with the bank president initially signing each one himself. The Swiss National Bank was not founded until 1907.
By 1900, the chemical industry had succeeded in making synthetically and much more cheaply those dyes, which had previously often been extracted from roots in a natural and undisclosed way. Fabric printing became “common” and fabrics were partly no longer printed but increasingly woven in colour. In addition, the era of the Belle Époque with its sumptuous dresses was coming to an end. Three quarters of the jobs in fabric printing were lost. The Jennys’ fabric printing shop in Ennenda had already ceased operations in 1906. However, they continued to run the weaving mill and the spinning mill. The business in Hard, Vorarlberg, closed in 1914, when many workers were drafted into the Austrian army.
However, the Glarus economic miracle continued after this crisis and subsequent ones. But it was and is an eventful history – a constant up and down. New branches of the economy emerged and continue to emerge. Today, for example, the Läderachs in Ennenda produce top-quality chocolate and pralines and sell them all over the world (Walcher, Fridolin, Beglinger, Martin, pp. 148-191).
Injection moulding machines are manufactured at “Netstal-Maschinen AG” in Näfels, which was founded in Netstal in 1856 and is now owned by Chem China. It currently produces machines that make pipettes, which are used to detect the Corona virus in laboratories worldwide (Südostschweiz newspaper, 30 October 2020). Glarus has remained an economic canton – even if there are few textile factories left.
The Jennys of Ennenda still exist. They still employ sixty people and continue to produce textiles of various kinds in Haslen. The Jennys in Ziegelbrücke (Jenny fabrics), who had worked with a Chinese partner company in recent years, ceased textile production in August 2020 after 186 years.
On the appreciation of the Landsgemeinde: two examples
In the more than 600-year history of the Glarus Landsgemeinde, there are only a few years without a Landsgemeinde taking place. When Napoleon occupied the then Confederation in 1798, Helvetia was set up as a unitary state (with large new administrative districts such as Säntis, Linth ...), which functioned after a fashion. There were no more Landsgemeindes. The six affected cantons put up armed resistance for a long time – including Glarus, but this ended in defeat. Yet after four years, Napoleon realised that a unitary state was not suitable. He invited the Helvetic government and representatives from all regions to Paris for a consulta. In his address, he spoke to the Landsgemeinde cantons with special respect: “It is they who distinguish you from all the world in terms of state law and give you intrinsic value in the eyes of the world.” The delegates returned with the Mediation Constitution, which restored the present cantons and also the Landsgemeinde (Thürer 1948, p. 37; Thürer 1950, p. 33). The dependence on Napoleon remained, however, and Switzerland – and Glarus in particular – became a battle zone for the great powers of the time.
Jakob Heer, pastor and teacher, was faced with a difficult decision in 1816 after the numerous wars of the Napoleonic era as well as a famine: he had the choice of teaching as a mathematics professor at the cantonal school in Chur or taking up a position as a pastor in the mountain community of Matt in the Kleintal. He chose the pastorate and came to a mountain village in dire straits: “It is horrible to see emaciated human skeletons devouring the most disgusting, unnatural dishes with ravenous hunger. [...] The few rags they still have on their bodies hang on them day and night until they fall away by themselves [...].” Heer knew what had to be done. He reorganised the work in the Plattenberg and made sure that money came back into the village and that a road to Schwanden was built.
His main concern, however, was the school, which he ran entirely in the spirit of Pestalozzi. He founded a private institute with a vicar and an additional teacher, so that a large number of pupils soon brought life into the house. Civic education was important to him: every year he took his pupils to the Näfelserfahrt and to the Landsgemeinde. The boys were allowed to stay at the feet of the Landammann during the proceedings and thus received direct visual instruction (which is still the case today, now also for the girls). Later, he campaigned for the construction of school buildings and for the training of teachers. Jakob Heer is one of the greats in the canton of Glarus who lived his conviction in a way similar to that of Pestalozzi: “Political freedom is an absurdity for a spiritually immature people. Inevitably, this will either fall under the tutelage of a caste that often knows how to direct it for its own special purposes, or it will mostly get up to a load of nonsense. Only a people ripened to maturity through education and upbringing will preserve their freedom and use it wisely to promote their true happiness.” (Thürer 1986, pp. 115-128)
Jakob Heer also knew how to gradually place the his pupils’ education in their own hands: thus, from 1823 to 1826, four 15-year-old schoolchildren, including one girl, established a “learners’ state” in the vicarage with a Landsgemeinde consisting of these four pupils. They enacted numerous laws and ordinances. Heer mostly let them have their way. They regulated the numerous duties and offices accruing in the large household – but not only that. They also dealt with questions of decency and teaching.
One law, for example, regulated reading aloud: “When one person begins a chapter or a book, no other may laugh at him obstinately or insult him in other ways.” (Brunner, p. 67) Central was the provision: “Whoever demands the abolition of the Landsgemeinde shall pay a shilling.” (p. 27) – To date, such a motion has only been made once (2002) at the cantonal Landsgemeinde in Glarus and was rejected without even one request to speak.
The integrative power of the Landsgemeinde as the key to understanding the Glarus economic miracle
The Landsgemeinde has its weaknesses. But I think its integrating and unifying power compensates for these weaknesses by far.
The free market economy in which we live today has proven to be very efficient overall – despite fluctuations and crises of various kinds. It too has its systemic weaknesses – especially in the problems arising out of power and the social question. What we need here is a regulatory framework that has a balancing effect and reduces tensions. Glarus makes it evident that the regulatory framework and thus also the economy function all the better if this framework is supported as directly as possible by the population – that it is embedded in its culture and its traditions. In more recent times, we come to the same conclusions looking at the whole of Switzerland and its direct democracy (Wüthrich 2020). – It is today in particular that questions of this kind take on a special significance, because the dividing and segregating forces are becoming ever stronger worldwide. However, this is not new. When Karl Marx called for class struggle in the 19th century, the question of power had already been resolved to some extent in Glarus: at the memorable Landsgemeinde of 1864, several thousand textile workers had stood on equal footing against a small group of perhaps two or three dozen “factory owners” – mostly family entrepreneurs like the Jennys, the Blumers, the Schindlers, the Trümpys. Probably nowhere else in the world did the workers have so much power. They could easily have laid down the law. They did not, because they had not only their own interests in mind, but that of the entirety. The workers of Schwanden even elected a factory owner as the first president of their factory workers’ association.
At that time – in 1864 – the physician Niklaus Tschudi opened the debate on the Factory Act with the sentence “We are one family.” However, such a sense of group-identity had first had to be established and nurtured, so that it would remain alive and strong. And this is exactly what happened in the tradition of the Landsgemeinde and the Näfelserfahrt, which has been cultivated over centuries, and it is still happening today: Landammann Andrea Bettiga opened the last Landsgemeinde in 2019 with the following words:
“Here in this place, the people of Glarus come together to decide on their own future. The ring, a symbol of togetherness and solidarity since time immemorial, unites us. The Landsgemeinde forms part of the Glarus identity. Independent of social origin, religion and political convictions. We listen to each other and strive for solutions. We accept the views of others and, in the end, bow to the majority. Each and every voter can contribute, has an audible voice. [...] That is Landsgemeinde. That is us. We are Landsgemeinde!” (Südostschweiz, 30 July 2020)
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