Factory Reform in Britain

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Factory Reform in Britain

1.
Reform of the early factories and mines in Britain was considered necessary for many reasons.

Firstly, in Britain, the mistreatment of women particularly in factories helped reform to start taking place. Women (and children) were used for fundamental jobs in textiles factories which involved manoeuvring into places that men could not manoeuvre into. Women often had to work very close to running machines, and since there were no machine monitors at this time, several accidents occurred. Despite the fact that they were considered to be vital to factory production, word soon spread about the dangers these women had to face in factories.

However, the main reason for early factories and mines reforms in Britain to be considered necessary was the mistreatment of children. They also had to do dangerous jobs in factories and mines such as wriggling into crevices or crawling under running machines to clean up looms because of their slighter build. Many humanitarians strongly opposed the exploitation of children in factories and mines. Activists such as Richard Oastler and Michael Sandler (who were Tory churchmen and factory owners) pushed the idea that child labour had to be reformed. They published many complaint letters to contradict this mistreatment, complaining about the long hours children had to work and their lack of time to rest and eat.

As a result of these complaints made by humanitarians like Oastler, parliament was persuaded to appoint a commission of enquiry into factory conditions. A report was produced, supporting humanitarian views about child labour in factories and mines, lead by Michael Sandler. These reports said that children had to work for the same number of hours as the adults, and that these exhausting, sometimes 16 hour days of work had permanent and devastating effects on the children’s health. Disease spread quicker through these small children who were sent to work from just four years old. These diseases would usually kill the children, who had very weak immune systems due to lack of nutrition and rest. They had no time to be educated or even to learn basic morals. Also, as highlighted in this report, all of the earnings these children obtain are then passed to the guardians and parents, who forced their children to work almost as slaves to them. This report encouraged parliament, who was moved by these facts, to introduce necessary factory and mine reforms.

In addition, working conditions started becoming better known by not only the average population, but also by more and more activists and government officials. Few curious Members of Parliament went out and interviewed many factory owners about working conditions for all workers. Sometimes, shocking facts about these conditions, such as the brutal punishments and short rest intervals, pushed these Members to start thinking reform was necessary in factories and mines in Britain. Even in some extreme cases, reform was thought to be necessary to prevent the idea of a revolution of the workers against their employers.

Finally, certain ‘enlightened factory owners’ such as Robert Owen and Robert Peel started to prove that improving working conditions did not decrease profit made by factories. These owners treated their workers in a much more civilised way, gibing them decent housing and working environments and shorter hours. They also limited child labour in their factories. This spread the optimistic view that factory and mine reform was necessary to even increase profits and to make workers happier.

2.
Several arguments against such reform in Britain were put forward.

Firstly, the British government had a strong ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards everything, and particularly towards reform. Parliament didn’t think that it had any duty or responsibility to interfere in the economy or in matters between employers and their workers. Therefore, the government opposed factory and mine reforms strongly....
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