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What Efforts Did Workers Make to Better the Harsh Working Conditions of the Early Industrial Revolution? How Successful Were They?

By mtljohn Oct 21, 2011 908 Words
During the early Industrial revolution, the workers had to work in very harsh working conditions. They were exploited by new factory owners. They weren’t provided with any safety equipment and were paid very little wages for the dangerous work they did. All family members worked more than 12 hours a day in the heat and were physically exhausted. Although they went through hard times, conditions of workers improved over time with the help of reformers who gradually managed to force changes in working conditions. In the early stages of this revolution, the Luddites (Handicraft workers), the Chartists and the labor unions protested against the way that workers were treated. The workers were successfully able to enforce many reforms which provided them with healthier working conditions.

One of the efforts that the workers made to better the poor working conditions was the creation of labor unions. In the early stages of this revolution, workers quickly understood that individual bargaining would not improve their conditions in the labor market. Therefore they gathered and formed labor unions. Until 1824, the trade unions were banned under the combination acts, which passed in 1799 and 1800 . During this period unions were illegal, although some unions continued to exist underground and held meetings at Francis Place’s parlour. Francis and his friend Joseph Hume were important figures during this period as they helped abolish all laws against trade unions. Early in the eighteenth century, the formation of a unions enabled workers to successfully bargain collectively for higher wages, fewer working hours and for safer workplace to the employer. In order to achieve their goal, workers went on strike and refused to work until their demands were met. Another man who influenced the trade union movement was Robert Owen. He was a cotton-mills factory owner who wanted changes to the way factories were run. To do so, he joined the trade Union and later, created The Grand national Consolidated Trades Union in 1834, in order to give more power to the workers . The effort made by the formation of trade unions gave workers power to fight for their interests against bad employers. Secondly, the Chartists, who were followers of a movement for political and social reform, hoped to improve working conditions through political changes. They asked for greater political power and the right for working class males and females to vote. They usually rioted in order to represent their interests to the government. Even after the passing of the reform bill of 1832, only a very small number of England’s male population could vote. Unhappy radicals with the reform bill of 1832 because not everybody was given the right to vote, decided to publish the people’s charter in 1838, which outlined important objectives of this movement. They demanded for universal male suffrage, annual elections, equal electoral districts, and payment for members of the House of Commons. In addition to the people’s charter, the Chartists also collected millions of signatures on a petition, which were all refused by Parliament. Confrontation between workers and soldiers were occurred after the refusal of their claim and several leaders were also arrested. In 1842, a second petition was rejected and the refusal of the final petition in 1848 brought an end to the Chartists movement. Although Chartism failed to gather support in the parliament, many of their demands were answered in the series of reform bills passed between 1867 and 1918. All males and females had gotten the right to vote by 1928 . Finally, another group of workers named the luddites were effective in bringing significant changes to unkind working conditions. They were mainly skilled textile workers who were threatened by the employment of new machinery. They simply directly took action rather than negotiated their common interests. Theirs battles began in 1811 as they attacked the manufacturing sector and destroyed new machines that threatened to take over their employment. They smashed the machines in the hopes of improving their working conditions by reversing the trend towards industrialization. The machine-breakers were continuously destroying new machinery. They attacked the stocking-frames in Nottingham, burned a steam-loom factory at Westhoughton and destroyed a shearing-frame in Yorkshire. Many luddites were caught during these riots. Some of them were hanged and others were sent to prison in Botany Australia . To sum up, the trade unions and the Chartists were very successful in enforcing reforms which gave workers better working conditions, while the luddites failed to accomplish their goals. Even if the “machine breakers” were unsuccessful, they gave hope and courage to other groups to continue to fight for better working conditions. Some of the laws that the unions was able to enforce were: the factory act of 1819(limited the hours worked by children to a maximum of 12 hour per day and prohibited employers from hiring children under the age of 9 in the cotton factories), the factory act of 1883(limited the working hours of children aged 9 to 13 to a maximum of 9 hours a day and for 13 to 18 years to 12 hour a day. It also prohibited employers from hiring children under the age of 9 in textile factories), the mine act of 1842(banned women and children under the age of 10 to work in the mine industry) and the ten hour law of 1847(limited the hours worked by children and women to maximum of 10 hour) .

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