Social Implications of the Industrial Revolution Term Paper

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Social Implications of the Industrial Revolution

During the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution, which had its beginnings in England, spread across Europe and the Western World. The era of industrial capitalism saw the establishment of a new empire of machines and the rise of the factory system (Faissler & Hayes, 1966). The revolution in the method of power production, transportation, and communication left in its wake an upheaval in the life style and social fabric of society, which had never occurred before quite so rapidly, or radically, except perhaps, as the aftermath of protracted warfare or natural catastrophes and disasters (Faissler & Hayes, 1966). Some of these fundamental changes and their implications will be presented in this paper.

The Industrial Revolution brought about a migration of workers from the land to urban centers, when production by hand was superseded by power driven machinery (Kowalick, 1989). These machines were too expensive and heavy for home use, and could only be housed and maintained in large industrial factories.

Before the subsequent advent of steam engines, factories were located near streams, which provided the water necessary for their operation. Workers had to leave their homes in the country and settle in factory towns, where they earned their livelihoods

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Garraty, 1975). The small workshops of individual craftsmen and laborers had to give way to the modern factory. Many men who once made a comparably good living as weavers, for instance, were out of work once textile mills and factories became equipped for power weaving. In order to earn a living, they had to join the migration to the factory towns and industrial centers.

New Hardships of Industrialization:

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Life was difficult in the new industrial cities, which consisted of many factories around which workers lived in cramped, unsanitary houses that were far worse, and potentially unsafe and unhealthful than anything they had ever experienced living in the countryside and on the farms from which they had migrated to find work in the new industrial economy (Kowalick, 1989). These workers and their extended families gradually evolved into a slum-dwelling proletariat.

In the industrialized city centers, they had to contend with fould streets, a smoke laden atmosphere, lack of clean water or sanitation facilities, which made them highly vulnerable to the ravages of disease within their densely populated living quarters. Women and children had no choice but to toil for meager wages and long hours in the factories that provided the income necessary to survive, and the threat of sudden unemployment was ever-present. When factories closed without warning, workers and their families were exposed to sever hardships and deprivation.

Nowadays, we are far more aware of the harmful effects that the toxic byproducts of the industrial manufacturing processes, and strict laws protect workers from dangerous working conditions. Occupational disease during the first decades of the Industrial Revolution shortened the lives and compromised the health of workers to a degree that would be unimaginable, today.

One of the most serious and long-lasting consequences was the evolution of a deep-seated antagonism between the two new classes of society, the "working class" and the "capitalists," (or owners) of the "means of production" (Kowalick, 1989). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this antagonism, enmity and animosity would split much of world society into warring camps, dividing nations internally, as well as pitting nation states against each other on the international arena.

Early Reforms:

The social consequences of the Industrial Revolution were summarized succinctly by Arnold Toynbee, in his Lectures on the Industrial Revolution, according to whom it "produced wealth without well-being." To alleviate the harmful effects upon workers and their families, governments tried to intervene by introducing the first legislation and supervision of industrial working conditions. In Britain, the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, and the Trade Union Acts of 1871 gave workers the legal right to band together to form trade unions for the protection of their economic interests against the demands of factory owners, whose goal had always been to exploit workers toward the goal of maximizing production at a minimum cost, and for minimum wage (Burchell, 1968).

The Factory Act of 1833 sought to regulate the labor of children and young persons in the factories of Britain. It outlawed the employment of any worker under the age of eighteen for more than twelve hours a day, or more than sixty-nine hours in one week; it also established the minimum age of nine for employment in factories

Burchell, 1968).

The Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1842 forbade the employment of women and girls in the mines and collieries, as well as the employment of boys under ten years of age. While these earliest attempts at protecting workers were praiseworthy, they nevertheless were wholly insufficient to protect, or bring social justice to the exploited masses of working class people of the time. In D'Israeli's words, there still existed "two nations: the Rich and the Poor" (Burchell, 1968).

Government action was severely limited and handicapped by the general outlook of the times, which gave unquestioning allegiance to the new, revolutionary concept of "laissez faire" philosophy of Adam Smith, who maintained that a person intends only his own gain," and "neither intends to promote the public interest"

Burchell, 1968). Generally, governmental attempts at protecting workers failed, primarily because the owners of capital held influence and power and they adhered religiously to their beliefs and resisted industrial legislation at every turn. As a general rule, factory owners and capitalists continued exploiting workers for their own benefit and wealth throughout the nineteenth century. Working conditions prevailed that would be considered unimaginable and violative of every modern standard of ethics and public safety that we know today.

There was steady pressure for necessary reform from humanitarian groups and even from "progressive" members of the upper classes, which did relieve a certain degree of the worst types of exploitation of the working classes, but the most effective measures for improving their desperate lives only became possible through trade unions and political (labor) parties. Organized strikes and gradually increasing political pressure mounted by larger and larger groups of workers succeeded in achieving the first meaningful protections for workers and some measurable improvement in their lives, and the lives of their families, in the last decades of the nineteenth century (Hayes & Faissler, 1966).

England and Germany: Different Responses to the Same Human Problem:

Because England was the industrial pioneer in the Western World, the social consequences of the industrial Revolution were worse than they were in "virgin territories" into which it later expanded. England was the first nation to experience the modern benefits of the Industrial Revolution, and also the first to experience the devastating hardships and privations that unfettered technological advances represented to the workers on whose labor it depended. To a large extent, this was a function of the rapid evolution and transition from an agrarian and individual craftsman-based economy to one dependant upon technology and mass production.

From a historical perspective, it is understandable that society was ill-

equipped to cope with the negative elements associated with modern industrialization, simply because there had never before been anything like it upon which anyone might have predicted or anticipated its worst problems. In Germany, the reforms instituted by Bismark after Germany's unification serve as a model of what should have been done from the start.

Historians consider it to have been motivated more by his political motivation than by genuine concern for the working class, but he declared that "the state is not only an institution of necessity, but also one of welfare" (Burchell, 1968). While we consider the "welfare state" to be an invention of the twentieth century, Bismark

did pioneer a whole series of social reforms to benefit and protect the "propertyless"

classes that remained unequalled by any nation for several generations well into the twentieth century.

Among other things, Bismark instituted a series of parliamentary insurance acts against illness, accident, and old age. By the turn of the century, Bismark's reforms had grown to include laws regulating virtually every aspect of industrial life, including wages, hours, time off, grievance resolution, as well as safety measures and standards established for the proper location and numbers of lavatories and windows within factories. By comparison, England lagged far behind, suffering untold thousands of worker injuries, illnesses and death from preventable, work-related causes in the first half of the nineteenth century. In retrospect, many of those lives might have been spared had legislators in England expressed the same concern for its working classes as had Bismark in Germany.

The Industrial Revolution in Historical Perspective:

The Industrial Revolution made modern society possible, and there is no doubt that the world, as a whole, is far better off for all the technological progress and advances made possible by industrialization and mass production introduced during the eighteenth century. The modern world that we know today would have been impossible without the transition from an agrarian economy into the industrial economy which evolved as a natural progression from industrialization.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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