|WORKING CONDITIONS IN THE EARLY 20th CENTURY
1. How were the factory owners able to staff their new factories?
2. Describe the living conditions of many factory workers and new immigrants.
3. What were some of the hardships faced by the factory workers?
4. Why did owners hire women and children to work in the factories?
The years between 1900 and 1910 saw the output of Canadian industries more than double and the creation of many jobs in the factories. However, working conditions in the early 20th century were very harsh. Because of the introduction of electricity, newer and even faster machines were developed to increase productivity. This in turn created even more demand for a cheap labour force.
Conditions around 1900 existed to provide this ready work force. Fewer workers were needed on farms because of improved farming methods. This resulted in many workers moving into the cities to look for jobs in factories. In addition, thousands of immigrants arrived in Canada looking to own farms. However, most immigrants could not afford the supplies needed to set up a farm and were forced to move to the cities in search of jobs.
The rapid increase in the population of the cities meant that there was not enough available housing, often resulting in slum-like conditions. Sometimes whole families were forced to live in single rooms under terrible conditions. There was a lack of safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and high levels of sickness.
By contrast, the owners of the factories were usually well off. There was a huge disparity between the lives of the rich and the poor. The rich lived in large, spacious houses and could afford the new luxuries that were available such as washing machines, bicycles, and vacuum cleaners. The factory owners enjoyed these luxuries because of profits made by the efforts of their workers, while the welfare of the workers was frequently ignored.
As a result, the conditions in most factories were very harsh. Workers were paid low wages and worked very long hours: It was not uncommon for a person to work for 12 to 14 hours a day. The factories were often dark, poorly ventilated, unheated, and unsafe. The machines were developed for efficiency, not safety, and there was no compensation for people who were injured or maimed at work.
Women and children who had formerly remained at home also sought work in these harsh conditions to support the family. Women were paid less than men and children were paid even less than women. It was not uncommon for children as young as six to be forced to work under the same conditions as the adults. Children were often treated very poorly and could be beaten for making mistakes. Fines were handed out for things such as talking too much on the job, working too slowly, or getting too many drinks of water.