Condition of the Working Class in England



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The Industrial Revolution was a turning point in European society pushing countries to economically modernize and to achieve efficiency and productivity. The Industrial Revolution, developed from the Agricultural Revolution, which began in the eighteenth century, grew into the nineteenth century, developing innovative industrial improvements to increase growth and demand. With this rapid industrialization, urbanization became a major struggle within booming European cities, causing problems such as overpopulation, poor living conditions, and strong class tensions. Because of the Industrial Revolution’s economic success, Europe was able to set standards for economic leadership and prosperity; however, the harsh realities of the social injustices hidden behind the prosperity of the Revolution prove to outweigh the economic gains of the time period.

With the construction of textile mills in England many rural farmers flocked to new industrializing cities that offered promising jobs with wages. These farmers were pushed off their lands, haven “fall[en] victim to a process known as enclosure” (The Surge). These Enclosure Acts, beginning in the early 1800’s, forced displaced farmers to relocate into the growing cities. With this rapid urbanization cities soon tripled in size. England saw a mass increase in population “[growing] from 16.3 million to 20.8 million” (Kagan 745). Overpopulation became a huge issue for these developing cities. Thousands upon thousands of people were moving into the cities daily and they had no where to go. Many districts geared toward the poor, termed the proletariat, appeared specifically to house the factory workers. According to Friedrich Engels, the “workers [were] segregated in separate districts where they struggle[ed] through life as best they [could] out of sight of the more fortunate classes of society” (138). Engels, in his Condition of the Working Class in England, critiqued the harsh realities the proletariat faced daily and the extreme segregation they experienced from those superior to them. Although Engels was never affected by the struggling conditions of the working class, his philosophical look into human nature immediately showed the maltreatment of these innocent victims of the Revolution. The districts that sprouted everywhere were poverty stricken and filled with disease resulting from ubiquitous sanitation issues. Also, the homes in these districts were carelessly and quickly built to accommodate the large numbers of people flocking to the cities. The shelter they provided was inadequate for standard living conditions. Those of the bourgeoisie and upper class society saw these problems yet blatantly ignored them. The inferiority of the proletariat could not be overcome. The government acted in times of need however they “[attempted] to make reforms yet [were] really and truly unable to execute what they wish[ed]” (Perry 134). This shows a total lack of support throughout society. Written by Thomas Malthus, a political economist, his essay On the Principle of Population showed the problems with the rise in population with the proletariat. Malthus believed that population increases were affected greatly by the proletariat and that the proletariat would experience the most problems on a sharp decline in the growth rate. Being from a prosperous family, Malthus was brought up to regard the proletariat with much distaste and his trends readily show the way he was brought up. Reformers, such as Nikolaus Osterroth, pushed for a “prevent[ion] of the deterioration of [the] working class” acknowledging the truthfulness of the poverty and pain the proletariat underwent every day (200). However it was not until the end of the Industrial Revolution that the needed reform occurred. Due to the overpopulation of cities, the proletariat experienced hardships continuously throughout the Revolution, proving that the economic prosperity developed at this time did not benefit everyone, especially the working class.

The living and working conditions associated with factory workers were horrible. Residing in cramped housing districts, “sanitation and health problems became commonplace,” rapidly spread from door to door (Growth of). The proletariat was also run ragged from working in factories for sometimes up to “fourteen hours” (Perry 135). Slaving away in the factories all day, members of the proletariat had no time to care for themselves or their family. They needed to achieve a substantial salary to produce a somewhat self-satisfied success rate and thus underwent gruesome hours to acquire their needed wages. The factories also had horrible work conditions for workers as well, using children who began as early as “eight years of age” to perform dangerous jobs (Perry 135). Michael Sadler, in his Sadler Commission proved to society the horrors of the working class through interviewing innocent workers from the factories and textile mills. This report was officially published, proving to society the validity of the abuse the proletariat would receive both mentally and physically each day. Rules in the factories were so strict that even “workers arriving 2 minutes late [would] lose half an hour’s wages” proving the unjust factory systems that many subjected themselves into (Perry 139). Women also bided plenty of time working in the factories, suffering from unfair working conditions and spent sometimes “16 [to] 18 hours a day” working (Perry 204). Women in the factories also suffered a threat of “moral danger to which [they] were exposed from those in power over them” (Perry 204). M. I. Pokrovskaya, a Russian woman feminist, pushed to reveal the unfair treatment of women. Because of her political views, she rapidly pushed for equality and thus favored the complete acceptation and appreciation of women into society. The instability in the factories was unanswered after many pressing reform requests and the proletariat saw a strong disregard in society. A loss of family stability was present in the working class and they soon found themselves hopelessly decaying in the lights of large lingering factories and bustling boulevards. Due to the large increase in urbanization living conditions of workers were barely adequate to successfully achieve a healthy lifestyle. Around the proletariat economic achievements were rocketing sky high yet these poor exhausted workers never saw the direct and prosperous affects of the Industrial Revolution that produced daily in the factories.

The Industrial Revolution, although proving to be an economic achievement that stimulated growth in Europe, showed drastic changes in population within cities. Due to overpopulation in cities the proletariat, forced to work stringent hours in horrible factories, found themselves as the brunt of society. Throughout the prospering of this time the poor achieved little to no success and were forced to struggle in an unsanitary environment that proved to be inescapable. The proletariat found themselves fighting in a battle with no return. These working people left their life changing mark on the Industrial Revolution; however, they never found a way to escape the pain associated with it. They made the Revolution a complete success yet, found that they were never to achieve the desired dream, but only to make it achievable for others.
Works Consulted

"Growth of the Cities (Overview)." World History: The Modern Era. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 28 May 2008 .

Kagan, Donald, Steven Ozment, Frank M. Turner. The Western Heritage. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc, 2004.

Perry, Marvin, Joseph R. Peden, and Theodore H. Von Laue. Sources of the Western Tradition. 6th ed. Vol. II. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.


Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working Class in England. P 137 – 138

Factory Rules. P 139 – 141

Malthus, Thomas R. On the Principle of Population. P 132 – 134

Osterroth, Nicholas. The Yearning For Social Justice. P 198 – 200

Pokrovskaya, M. I. Working Conditions For Women in Russian Factories. P 203 – 204



Sadler, Michael Thomas. Sadler Commission: Report on Child Labor. P 135 – 137

"The Surge in Immigration (Overview)." World History: The Modern Era. 2008. ABC- CLIO. 28 May 2008 .


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