Richard Oastler and “Yorkshire Slavery”

Author: Richard Oastler was a labor activist who set out to reform the terrible conditions seen in England’s factory system. He was born in 1789 and died 1861.[1] His activism helped shed light on the labor horrors of the factory system.

Context: As a labor activist, Oastler writes his piece “Yorkshire Slavery” in the heart of the Industrial Revolution. As increasing industrial practices swept through England, new knowledge on its societal effects were becoming known. These effects include children working in horrible conditions.

Language: He wrote “Yorkshire Slavery” to shed light on the horrors of industry. In order to inform everyone he could, he wrote in simple language that all could comprehend. He makes his points clear and definitive.

Audience: Since his writing is simple and comprehendible, his target audience is all those who reside in England.

Intent: To educated all English people on disturbing features that exist within the factory system. He wants parents of children who work long hours in factories to be aware of the hardships they face day in and day out.

Message: He sees the changes taking place within families that rely on their children to produce an earning to live on. He notices old-fashioned domestic manufacturers are beginning to be taken over by factory manufacturers. When he was a child, “there was filial affection and parental feeling”[2] within a family. When describing family life post Industrial Revolution, he says “it destroys the happiness in the cottage family, and leads both parents and children not to regard each other in the way that Providence designed they should”.[3] His work, “Yorkshire Slavery” is meant to shed light on the real life effects the Industrial Revolution is having on working class people.

Why? Oastler lived right in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. He saw first hand the effects industry had on people and wanted to reform practices to better the lives of people.

[1] Bloy, Marjorie. “Biography.” Richard Oastler (1789-1861). January 1, 2013. Accessed February 8, 2015.

[2] Report from the Committee on the Bill to regulate the labour of children in the mills and factories . . . 1832: Parliamentary Papers, 1831-1832, xv, pp. 454-5 [Added by Marjie Bloy, Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore]

[3] Ibid.

3 thoughts on “Richard Oastler and “Yorkshire Slavery”

  1. All of the readings focused on the unsafe and unfair working conditions posed by the mill owners. However, “Yorkshire Slavery” was the only one of the three readings that used specific anecdotes, such as recounting the disgust displayed over child labor by the slave owner in the West Indies. Rather than focusing only on broad themes, Oastler used specific stories to incite the public to demand changes in labor laws.

  2. The Industrial Revolution needed Richard Oastler. Without him, Great Britain’s economy would have been stuck in a brutal anti-worker state. This would have prevented any progress in the economy, and Great Britain would have hit a stand still.

    The labor reforms pushed by Oastler caused more productivity in the economy. Happier, and healthier workers lead to technological advancements and a more prosperous society.

  3. Oastler made a comparison between the current state of industrial workers in England and that of slaves on a West Indian plantation, stating that those on the West indian plantation had a better standard of living. He also stated that society must pay the social costs for taking care of crippled factory workers, whereas on a plantation the responsibility lies with the actual plantation owner.

    Obviously both practices are incredibly cruel, but do you believe that some people in this era attempted to justify slavery by arguing that it is a better alternative than working for a detached factory boss with no vested interest in you?

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