19Th Century Working Conditions In England Essay

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19Th Century Working Conditions In England Essay, Research Paper The Transformation of The Conditions of The Working Class in 19th Century England The pace in the Lancashire Cotton Mill is frenetic as cotton is transformed into cloth. In a picture of the female workers at the mill in 1900 a women sits just feet from the camera, her eyes gazing down at her hands as they guide fabric through the mechanized loom. 1 Behind her rows of women stare into the camera, their eyes perhaps transfixed for a moment before they return to their work amidst the buzz and whirl of the looms. The Lancashire Cotton Mill looks like a sweatshop, its walls are worn and its workers weary. But the working conditions in the Lancashire Cotton Mill in 1900 were a far cry from the working conditions of

workers in similar factories one hundred years prior. The women in the Lancashire mill were regulated by a plethora of laws governing everything from child labor, to factory sanitation. They had rights to organize in unions, vote in elections, and strike for better wages. The change in the protections and status of workers in the mills was due in large part to unionization efforts in the middle of the 19th century fueled by appalling conditions in factories in the early part of the century. Sanitation reports from the first half of the 19th century describe the living conditions of the working class in Lancashire as, “disgusting in the extreme.” 2 In reaction to these conditions the workers of Lancashire organized into unions. In 1800 Lancashire had no formal unions but by

1850 more than 2/3 of the workforce were unionized. 3 Lancashire was prototypical of the way in which workers reacting to intolerable working conditions in the early 1800’s formed unions which in the later part of the century were able to secure improved rights and working conditions. Prior to 1800 the lower class in England was predominantly concentrated in rural areas where it was unorganized and isolated. More than 40% of the population worked in agriculture 4 and what industry there was took place not in factories but in informal networks of cottages which doubled as workshops. 5 Unions were illegal but because of the isolation and lack of large scale business they were largely superfluous. This is manifest in the way in which unions were regulated in pre 19th century

England. Up until 1791 unions were not even outlawed because so few workers saw a need to form one. 6 The lack of large factories prevented workers from organizing and the cottage industry basis of most manufacturing made organizing against employers untenable. The turn of the century though profoundly altered the bedrock of English society. An urban working class emerged in the cities of England as people from the countryside flooded into the urban areas to work at factories which sprung up in the major cities. This working class was marked by holding no capital and working long and dangerous hours. By 1900 only 8% of the English population worked in agriculture 7 and the sizes of most cities had more than quintupled. 8 The transformation of England shattered the old ways of

life by bringing the lower classes together into densely packed tracts. These densely crammed urban areas created appalling conditions for workers that gave rise to the union movement. The influx of workers into cities to meet the demands of industry severely taxed the infrastructure of the cities. Sanitation records from the time describe six or more people living in a single room in cities like London and Lancashire. 9 Diseases and poverty were rampant. The influx of workers was fueled by a growing population which forced excess workers off of farms and into the cities in search of work. In the beginning of the 19th century these workers came to the cities and took what work could be had. One observer in 1824 tells of how factories acted as a type of forced slavery where