"Here at last," said he, "is an institution for the benefit of the workingclasses! Now-a-days the workman out of employment has to go from door to door as if he were begging, which is simply shameful in a world that pretends to be civilised. In future we shall be spared at least this worst humiliation. We shall be able to go to our Labour Exchange and choose our places, and even dictate terms to the masters."
-- Freedom: A Journal of Anarchist Socialism I, no. 12 (Sept. 1887), p. 4. (author unknown).

An employment agency, or a place where jobs are advertised, especially one funded by the government or a non-profit organization. Labour exchanges help people find work, provide career advice, and often administer benefits to the unemployed.

The first labour exchange was started in America, by Josiah Warren in Cincinnati in 1828. It was different. He called it a time store, and it worked in the opposite direction than the later labour exchanges in England. He had a store, and allowed people to buy things from it with notes that they signed promising to work for a given number of hours. He had boards on the walls where people could post what services they were looking for or had to sell. It worked pretty well, but it never spread beyond the three cities in which Warren set up shop.

Labour exchanges were brought to England in 1832 by Robert Owen and his followers, who had heard of Warren's work. They also printed 'labour notes', a currency based on number-of-hours-worked. One hour was deemed to be worth sixpence, judged to be the mean between the highest and lowest paid laborers. The first labour exchange was opened on the Gray's Inn Road, near King's Cross, London, on the 3rd of September 1832. Things started well, and a number of tradesmen accepted the labour notes as valid currency. Eventually, the notes failed, largely due to the lack of distinction between skilled and unskilled labor. Owen's labour exchange closed in 1834.

Labour exchanges of various sorts popped up here and there, in Europe and America, with varying degrees of success. they became more and more like our modern labor exchanges, and most did not publish their own currency. (It may not surprise you that the history of labour exchanges is spotty at best.)

And then... After a few false starts, the Labour Exchanges Act of 1909 was passed. Labor exchanges had been doing pretty well in Germany, and England figured it was time to try and make a go of a national system of exchanges. The act defined a labour exchange as:

...any office or place used for the purpose of collecting and furnishing information, either by the keeping of registers or otherwise, respecting employers who desire to engage workpeople and workpeople who seek engagement or employment.
-- www.1911encyclopedia.org
This act gave the Board of Trade the power to establish and maintain government funded labour exchanges as they saw fit, and to collect and provide information to employers and workers. They could also authorize loans to help with relocation costs. The first official labour exchange appeared in England in 1910.

In 1911 another act was passed, making registration at a labour exchange necessary for the receipt of unemployment insurance. Provisions were also put in place to disqualify the voluntary unemployed from receiving funds, and in 1924 a test of "genuinely seeking work" was designed. By the 1960s, the labour exchange offices had been renamed Job Centres. The Employment Service (part of the Department for Education and Employment) started taking over a lot of the work of helping the average person find employment, while the Job Centres dealt more and more with the chronically unemployed. In 1974, the function of Job Centres and Benefit Offices were split, but it became apparent that this was not effective (It was becoming easier and easier to collect benefits regardless of wether or not you were actually searching for a job). So, in 2002 the Employment Service and the Benefit Agency were merged in Jobcentre Plus, which remains today.

Labour exchanges can be found all over the world (although they usually have their own names in their own languages). America also has some labour exchanges, but they, of course, spell it 'labor'. Weirdos.


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