Human Rights and the Industrial Revolution
The era of Industrial Revolution is the period in history which fundamental altered many aspects of society. With the introduction of new systems that developed with the mechanization of various agricultural processes as well as the introduction of textile manufacturing. The specialization of labor to support these processes had many implications for the culture and the daily lives of the individuals living through this period. The major industrialization begins in Great Britain during the late 1700s and early 1800s and the effects of this industrialization world over a very short period of time. With industrialization a new dynamic emerged between labor and the owners of capital. This power struggle was initially presented by the owners of capital having massive amounts of power in which they abused in many cases. Therefore, the industrial revolution had a dehumanizing effect from the perspective of viewing people as merely assets to be used to further build capital. In response to this trend there was a counter-development from the side of labor that began to make the case for a system that included a level of minimum human rights that should be granted to the least fortunate in society.
Advantages of Industrialization
The industrial revolution proved to be incredibly beneficial in regard to the establishment of what many would consider a modern economy. Although there was specialization of labor before the revolution, this specialization became even more prominent with new systems of production. For example, before the industrial revolution a worker might be an expert in a certain field such as farming or iron working. However, the effects of the revolution broke down the production process into individual tasks that required very little expertise to perform. The assembly line style of production provided great gains in the level of productivity in which workers could perform.
Some argue that the situations which lead to the development of the industrial transformation were due to many factors such as the control of the population in terms of numbers. There were various checks on the population growth such as individuals getting married later and the clergy members being celibate who helped keep down the growth of the population. Therefore, the population was able to support more individuals who did not have to work in traditional jobs such as farming, artisan or trader roles (Pomeranz 2000). Other societies, such as China, had to employ a great percentage of their populations in the traditional trades so that they could support their growing populations. However, with a slower population growth in Western Europe, the population had more of an opportunity to experiment and develop new methods of production.
The new methods of production that developed proved to be highly effective. Through the specialization of labor the population was able to produce goods and services far beyond what was needed to sustain life. Many people for the first time could engage in activities such as fashionable consumption. Further the surplus made it possible to export goods to other nations for trade. This introduced many opportunities for consumers to have foreign items that they could never have purchased previously.
Throughout this era, there were many inventions that also helped to improve productivity and expand manufacturing. This in turn provided an environment in which there was more demand for labor in these specialized roles. Therefore this creating more employment opportunities for people and there was a flood of people being introduced to factory life. Specialization provided fast and inexpensive ways to produce goods and the processes and the machinery continued to evolve to this end. From an economics perspective, the outcome of this period proved to be very positive and this provided the foundation for all modern economies in the contemporary period....
When Adam Smith wrote about such development in the eighteenth century he came to the conclusion that the division of labor and the widening of the market economy encouraged technological innovation which certainly seemed to be the case during this period (Landes 1998).
Negative Aspects of Industrialization
Although there were many advantages that occurred as a result of the industrialization, these benefits were not shared equally throughout the classes in society. There became a marginalized urban class that is often overlooked by much of history. This class can be defined by the struggles to support their families and many people were forced to work for low wages and under horrific conditions. The workplaces were unsanitary to say the least and fostered the spread of sickness and disease throughout the workforce. Laborers generally received no vacation days or sick days if they did contract an ailment in the workplace. There was no safety net for individuals who became unemployed and these workers would not be compensated for sickness or even an injury that that was the responsibility of the employer.
Often times, even children as young as five years old were obligated to drop out of school or their family responsibilities on order to run dangerous machinery in the factories. There was a total lack of safety devices on any of the equipment or machines and accidents were commonplace. Although many accidents were minor, there were also many that left people seriously injured and incapable of supporting themselves or their families. In many cases the accidents were fatal. Factory workers worked 12 or more hours a day and a seven-day work week. Employees were not entitled to vacation, sick leave, and unemployment compensation. In 1882, the average of 675 laborers was killed in work-related accidents each week (McDougal 2000). Between 1890 and 1910, the number of women working doubled from 4 million to more than 8 million.20% of the boys and 10% of the girls under 15 held full-time jobs. Those jobs for children and women paid the lowest wages.
As the industrial revolution progressed and the working conditions remained horrific, the laborers began to look for innovative solutions to mitigate the problems they were facing. The labor class realized that there power lie in the fact that they had greater numbers relative to the capitalist class. The people went to the Parliament with an answer to their situation which was the power to form labor unions. A labor union is an organized group that can orchestrate a collective effort to combat the power that the owners of capital possessed.
In 1824, the right to form unions was created in Parliament. The objectives of the labor unions were to make the working conditions less dangerous and cruel, and more sanitary. The labor unions were able to establish rules that reduced the amount of hours women and children could work in the factories as well as addressed various safety and sanitary regulations. One of the most substantial acts that were passed prohibited using the labor for young children and was known as the Factory Act of 1833. This act required that children had to be of at least nine years old to work in factories. Furthermore, children between the ages of nine and thirteen years old were not allowed to work over nine hour per day and children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen were not allowed to work more than twelve hours in any day. These were extremely important acts and the power of the labor unions was able to foster more equitable and fair class divisions within the emerging capitalist system.
The working conditions for the labor class during the beginning of the industrial revolution were horrific. Although many portions of the society reaped the advantageous of industrialization, these benefits were not shared equally and a large number of laborers were marginalized. The industrialization of society and the machination of many industrial and agricultural processes created a situation in which inequality flourished. For the laborers there were no minimum wages, no age limits…
Landes, D. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. New York W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.
McDougal, L. Workers of the Nation Unite. 2000. https://sites.google.com/site/theindustrialage/assignments/workersofthenationunite (accessed March 26, 2013).
Pomeranz, K. The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.
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