The Harsh Conditions of an Industrial Worker in Nineteenth Century England

blog post hist 107

The working conditions endured by these workers were absolutely not ideal to any human. These children and adults were subjected to strenuous working hours and horrible conditions in the factory. The factories were without any air conditioning so it was a very heated atmosphere.[i] This caused harsh conditions because each worker was subjected to one position for the duration of their work day. In children, this caused serious growth issues. A child sitting in one place for thirteen hours a day caused the spine to become deformed and bulge out laterally. It also caused children to develop bowed legs due to the stress the pelvis was under when the spine became deformed.[ii] These conditions were not ideal to children but it was necessary for some children to work to help provide for their families.

With working conditions not very appealing to adults or children, factories needed workers and workers needed money to provide for their families. Workers never had the option to demand any increase in pay or demand better working conditions. Factory owners were very strict in the sense that they saw every worker, no matter if it was a child or an adult, as expendable. This was a time period where everyone was looking for secure work so if a worker was going against the management of the factory that person was expendable so management just found another person willing to work with the provided conditions.

[i] The Physical Deterioration of the Textile Worker

[ii] The Physical Deterioration of the Textile Worker

Richard Oastler on the Industrial Revolution of England

Author: Richard Oastler was born in England in 1789. He became well known for his work to improve the working conditions of the lower class (especially children). Oastler struggled at different points in his life to keep his property, he found that he was not able to make enough money to pay his rent despite working.
Context: In 1830 Richard Oastler wrote a document known as “Yorkshire Slavery”, he was writing during the midst of the Industrial Revolution of England. As farmers moved from the countryside into the cities of England there was a sudden boom in cheap labor resources. This boom allowed entrepreneurs to pay people almost nothing to work in factories which had no workers rights priorities at all. In order for a family to survive off of the wages offered at these factories most of the time the entire family had to work; “the entire family” included the children.
Language: Oastler wrote “Yorkshire Slavery” in order to help the people of England realize that they should not have to endure the horrors that they did in the factories for the amount of money they were making. The language in his piece is persuasive and explanatory, and the prose are simple enough for the common man.
Audience: Oastler was writing for the working class in England at the time, he kept his writing clear and persuasive for his audience.
Intent: The intent of this piece appears to foremost be education. He wants to educate the people of England of the problems in their labor system. Secondly, Oastler appears to want to persuade people that the conditions that they are living in are not the conditions that they must live in. If they take action things can, in fact, change. He actually became part of the change when a movement he helped run lead to the “Ten Hours Act”.
Message: Oastler’s message is quite clear, the working class of England is suffering under unfair circumstances. Possibly the most powerful part of his message is that the children of England are being trampled the worst in the new industrial system. They are being taken advantage of and cannot defend their rights on their own. He also makes a point of how child labor is ripping apart the families of England and it is not healthy for the country. Oastler’s message is that it is time for change.
Why did Oastler bother? Oastler appears to believe that there could be change to the industrial system of his time. He saw first hand the affects that it had on the families and children who had been been subjected to the terrors of the factories. Their stories appear to have inspired him to take action for change.

Physical Deterioration of Textile Workers

Author:  there are multiple authors for this article, all writing about experiences in English textile factories and the workers there.

Context: All articles are written in the 1800s, some earlier in others. This is after the industrial revolution and the harm coming from all the work and production is coming to the surface.

Language: Though their are multiple authors, each used medical language as to describe the state of the bodies of the workers.

Audience: They were trying to talk with the owners of the factories. The owners were the ones subjecting their works, children and adults, to this harsh work that physically changed their bodies and lives.

Intent: To change the working conditions for the textile workers in England. They wanted to spread the word on what working in the factories was doing to the workers,

Message: They were explaining what was happening to the workers, how work had changed them. In the last article, the author even wrote about how the conditions changed, suggestions someone had been listening.

Why: These articles were written to show the dark side of industry, darker than what Saint-Simon, Owen, and Marx were writing about. They wanted to show the factory owners and upperclass what the new industry was doing to the workers. They wanted change for these workers because , even though they were workers, they were humans that deserved a good life just like anyone else.

ACLAIM: Hobson, Imperialism 1902

Author: John A. Hobson; English economist and critic of imperialism. Born into upper-middle class family. Hobson was highly educated and associated with several different political groups after moving to London in 1887. He had rather extreme views concerning imperialism and was ultimately outed by the academic community for the overly forward nature of his writing.
Context: 1902; English production begins to be rivaled by Germany, the United States, and Belgium. These states encroach on international markets previously monopolized by Great Britain. The rate of production outmatched the rate of consumption and England needed to find other markets for the surplus of goods. Hobson emphasized his theory of underconsumption.
Language: Intellectual language; not meant for average working class, however also not filled with economic jargon.
Audience: Educated middle and upper-classes; clearly not written to be understood by a borderline illiterate working class.
Intent: To analyze and critique the causes and effects of imperialism. Hobson considered the state of international economics, especially international markets previously dominated by the UK. Hobson critiqued the underconsumption that results in surpluses. Lower demand, higher supply, lower prices, lower profit margins.
Message: Imperialism is the result of production outpacing consumption. Imperialism would not be necessary if domestic consumption increased to match the rate of production. “So long as England held a virtual monopoly of the world markets for certain important classes of manufactured goods, Imperialism was unnecessary.”

Housing the Poor in England

In the documentary Housing Problems, directors Elton and Anstey attempt to document the living conditions of workers in the slums of England. As they document the current conditions and the current/proposed changes, there is an interesting trend to note: the involvement of the private sector in solving the poor’s issues. Rather than leave the government to design, build and construct new buildings designed to improve the living conditions of the poor, businesses such as cement firms and gas companies were promoting contests in which new living quarters were developed. While this is an interesting development, the real question is why are these business promoting these contests? How does it benefit them? Why are they doing such activities?

As we see these trends in inter-war Europe, we as students truly fail to contextualize the futurism that is promoted in the documentaries and where reality truly went. While all of the developments mentioned in the new “slum” buildings would have created a fantastic world, how many of these buildings were constructed in reality? We see the blip in the attempt to deal with poverty, but fail to grasp what these evolutions mean in the overall history of Europe.

Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier

Chapter IV of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier made many interesting points about poverty and housing conditions in Interwar England. Orwell developed a very in depth study of the living conditions and how this may have affected the psyche of the inhabitants.

The Interwar Period was very concerned with behavior and order, especially in the wake of the Great War’s chaos. Psychology was one way in which many scholars began to try to understand the actions of both society and the individual. This type of study also began to influence other academic areas, like History, Anthropology and Literature. Orwell demonstrates, in questioning the behavior of this group, how various areas of study had become more interwoven.

Orwell at one point in Chapter IV discusses how some impoverished families portrayed themselves as more economically comfortable. Many Corporation houses seem to have been filled with well-maintained furniture; these items seemed to belong in a more financially stable house—a family that is not living at or below the poverty line. Orwell argues “it is in the rooms upstairs that the gauntness of poverty really discloses itself.” (60) He believes that it is a matter of pride to protect the nicer, more valuable pieces of furniture so that the family can appear to be less impoverished. These had most likely been passed down within the family throughout generations. It is the items that need to be bought every few years or months that were more difficult for these families to afford (i.e. bedclothes), and therefore, fewer families in more desperate financial situations had access to many basic items, like bedclothes.

This excerpt shares some similarities with Leora Auslanders’s article “’National Taste?’ Citizenship Law, State Form, and Everyday Aesthetics in Modern France and Germany, 1920-1940.” Both pieces referred to the tendency to “keep up with the Joneses.” How did this idea, needing to present a better image to the public or society, reflect larger themes from this period? Was this a reaction to the chaos of the war? Or a reaction to the uncertainty of the period? Or would this type of behavior have occurred regardless of wars, death and economic troubles?

Eugenics in Interwar Europe

“Eugenics is the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage,” states Francis Galton in his article, Eugenics: It’s Definition, Scope, and Aims in July 1904. Eugenic ideas spread through out Europe following the First World War. While eugenics is supposed to be about race quality, it became prevalent in interwar Europe mainly due to fear, and the need to transfer blame.

In National Self-Sufficiency, John Maynard Keynes states that England’s vast trading network was “the explanation before man and the justification before Heaven of her economic supremacy.” This statement reflects the views of most European countries; their respective races were superiorto all others. After WWI, Europe began to lose control of its colonies. For example, the British were facing resistance to their rule in India. In addition to this, natives of those colonies were immigrating to the mother nations; there were Algerians in France and Chinese in England, to name a few. To nations that had been mainly of homogenous race up to this point, this immigration was a shock and an unwelcome change. Fear began to spread among whites of these people with different skin color, culture and language. Whites needed a way to establish themselves as the superior race and to keep their race pure. Thus, they turned to eugenics.

Not only was Europe physically destroyed by WWI, the global economic crisis of 1929 ruined its still weak economies. A general sense that someone needed to be blamed was felt through out the continent; who better to blame than these new races or less superior races within European nations? Especially in Germany, who shouldered the majority of the blame, according to the Treaty of Versailles, for WWI, this need was felt; the blame was placed mainly the Jews. During WWI, Jews held the majority of the seats in German parliament, and were the ones who agreed to a cease-fire. After the war, German officers came forward and said that they could have won if it weren’t for the armistice. This fueled hatred for the Jews. Eugenics became popular as a scientific way to justify this hatred. In this German eugenics propaganda poster, Germans are being told that they must take the burden for degenerates and those who are not as genetically fit. Taking these attitudes into account, it is not surprising that the Holocaust occurred.

Eugenics was a recognized science in Europe during the interwar period. Eugenists and those who supported eugenics were not extremists, but were close to mainstream thought. Eugenics was driven by fear and the search for an outlet for blame, and was itself an underlying factor in the Second World War.

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