Zlín’s Young Women and Men of Baťa

Trail begins Náměstí T. G. Masaryka 1279
First object Name: 2nd Boys' Dormitory - Morning Rush
František Lýdie Gahura, 1937
Public transport: Památník Tomáše Bati (BUS 53)

In 1925, a professional corporate school for T. & A. Baťa was established, known as the Baťa School of Work. It was designed for boy employees aged 14 to 18 yearsold. Four yearslater, girls were accepted as well. From the very beginning, young people had their special place in the hierarchy of Baťa employees and were specially addressed; boys were called young men, girls were called young women. This was to create the idea of belonging to the adult world. Being responsible for their future, they were to work hard on their personal ascension and, despite their youth, were able to earn a living from the very beginning.Addressing them as a young man, or a young woman, similar to calling adult employees “co-worker”, was a significant indicator of an ideal society where everyone has the same chance and conditions to succeed.
Interwar Zlínsociety was influenced by a specifically-shaped corporate industrial culture. Its aim was not just to create a new worker; its demands went beyond the work space, focusing on the education of a new person. The character of an idealised Baťa employee possessed specific qualities and skills that resembled the strongly idealised features of an American pioneer from the times of Western settlement. Like the American pioneers, this character was open to new experiences, future-orientated and possessing complete confidence in the scientific management of industry and society. At the same time, he also had considerable self-confidence. Work was pivotal to his life not only as a source of wealth and a foundation of social status, but also as a means of moral self-improvement and social emancipation.
It was the young employees from areas with low industrial traditions that would ideally meet the demands placed on the education of a new person. They were more at ease than adults to accept the tough discipline, they were less demanding in terms of comfort, almost as efficient and considerably cheaper. The preference for underage workers in Baťa's business was thus in line with the principles of economic rationality. In the company, where the principle of wage differentiation of adult workers and apprentices (as well as men and women) applied, this group became an irreplaceable workforce because of its lower financial demands.
Institutional influence and mandatory rules in corporate culture clearly categorised gender roles. The hierarchy of these roles was based on biological predispositions of men and women and the social differences derived from them, and on the assumption of differences in values, preferences and roles in the family. This was most noticeable in different educational programmes. While the future of the male graduate was to be tied to the company (the training was to make him well qualified for work with a view of the position of the manager), the education of women was more practical with immediate effect for the needs of the company.
According to the generally shared Baťa concept of an ideal family, women had very limited career opportunities. Their retirement after the birth of the first child was required and in fact permanent. However, their position in the Baťa community was still irreplaceable: within the family they were supposed to provide services for men to achieve better work results while educating the next generation of Baťa employees.
Training young people in the harsh conditions of the factory and the apprentice school was supposed to help raise a qualified and loyal working class. Young women and men acted as a kind of business signboard. They showed its ability to create a new man, a "self-made man" - a man capable of adapting to the rapid pace of production and trade, hardened to combat competition - and his wife, a home carer and a representative of her husband's public success. During the apprenticeship, the youngsters learned in 8-hour shifts the technology of their industry. The aim was to enable the graduate to take up any position within the established production stream.
The work consisted ofthe mechanical repetition of simple operations performed at a fast pace, on a production line. Although manual labour was publicly respected, apprentices often tried for administrative work. The repeated bans on employing apprentices in workshop management testify to the fact that youth and business management had different ideas about their careers. The employed youth were to work exclusively for the company. The administration of their income was regulated by educators. The apprentices paid for all the necessities of life, and necessary expenditure (food, accommodation, clothing, work and school supplies), and all other expenditure, including a small amount of pocket money, was subject to strict control. At the same time, they were encouraged to be thrifty, which was also a career indicator.
The Fordist system introduced in Baťaalso meant a different approach to everyday life compared to previous practices. The day-to-day supervision of the work and private life of the future Baťa pioneer ensured a systematic link between school, factory and boarding school. Taking a person away from their family environment strengthened the dependence on the company and at the same time ensured the obedience of the apprentices. In the interwar period, staying at the factory boarding-house was one of the conditions for studying at Baťa's Labour Schools. There were no exceptions granted to employed youth. Collective dormitories were also populated by applicants whose families lived in the town where the school's headquarters were.
The company management built the first of the standardised boarding schools near the newly-transferred Malenovská Street (today's TomášBaťa Avenue). Later they turned their attention to the slope above the plant, where a boarding district was established- in the western part there were boys’ dormitories, in the eastern part girls’ dormitories. Despite efforts to stabilise the accommodation of apprentices, due to the economic boom or due to a lack of vacancies in the boarding houses, temporary make-shift accommodation had to be established in the existing industrial premises. These temporary rooms could occupy up to half the floor even in peaceful years, and as shown in the 51st building, up to 260 tenants crowded inside on double-decker beds.
Any action related to hygiene, discipline and work could be subject to supervision and evaluation. Not only violations of work discipline, but also absence from school or non-compliance with accommodation rules were among the punishable offences, which led to expulsion from school and thus from employment;the ideological control of youth was not limited to the time of work.
The formation and confirmation of Baťa's collective identity took place at various levels and on a variety of occasions. Young employees were acquainted with the idealised figure of a Baťa employee (referred to as a pioneer, Baťaman, racer, self-made man, leader, etc., as needed) and would have learned its values in public speeches, on Labour Day, or on the occasion of Welcoming Heroes Workers celebration. Since the founding of the school, young men and later young women were immediately involved in all Baťa holidays. They have decorated every Baťacelebration: huge May Day celebrations, sporting events and other occasional celebrations. Crowds of marching youth dressed in uniforms and carrying banners Youth Forward symbolised a new, modern, dynamically developing and yet orderly Zlín.
Baťa's corporate culture not only influenced the appearance of a person, it also actively co-created the physical and social landscape of the city. The movement of large crowds was thought of when designing the streets, accommodation facilities and public spaces of the rapidly-developing Zlín. The space the young employees occupied during the day was not large. They returned to the same places several times, organised activities repeatedly, according to their daily schedule. A walk through Baťa’sZlín of young women and men will show particularly those parts of the city that were most associated with the daily movement of apprentices. The walk is framed by the second half of the 1930s and early 1940s.
Taking into account the relocation of institutions in a dynamically developing industrial city, the tour will not be related to a specific date, but rather to an ideal stratification of these institutions. The tour is accompanied by texts generalising knowledge about some phenomena regarding the life of an apprentice in a factory town. These texts should primarily serve as a support for unknown, complicated or obscured topics. Another important tool for knowing the daily life of working young people in an industrial city are written, visual and audio sources, which reveal the world of thought of the actors, making their interests present in various and different perspectives, and last but not least bring alive the everyday experience of the industrial city.
The theme of everyday life in Baťa’sZlín will not only be part of this walk, but in the course of next year it should also be included in the Zlín sport’s tour as well as in studies concerning the Baťa school and education system.