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Positive Social Consequences: The Industrial Revolution

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Poor conditions in factories, coal mines and the environment were a negative social consequence; supporting the view that industrialisation was not good for the proletariat in Great Britain. Factories were built with poor ventilation, were noisy, and workers in these factories were subjected to extreme conditions, harsh consequences, low wages and a large amount of the workers were children forced into labour. Workers were whipped or beaten with rods if the machines were not maintained and operated to the adequacy of the foreman of the factory and were required to work for extensive periods of time, which included anything up to sixteen hours per day. The long hours resulted in the decrease in importance of the family, as they were spending less time together. For minor offences such as whistling, strident fines were given and wages were low and mostly consisted of tokens to be used at the shop, which was amalgamated with the factory. Industrialisation led to the gradual degradation and pollution of the environment and the release of large concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which result in the decrease in quality of the air and global warming, and this issue thus far remains uncontrolled. In addition to this, children, mainly of the working class, composed the majority of workers in factories, as they were employed at cheap or free rates and still expected to work in the same conditions as all other workers in the factory. This resulted in a generation of children who were ignorant, had minimal education, had health conditions and diseases and an increase in infant mortality rate. Such was that case that in the 1840's, 57% of children working in factories did not reach the age of five. In 1832, a supervisor commented on the cruelty in a certain mill, stating,

'there was a young woman deserting this mill; and she was brought back… to make up for the lost time and the expenses incurred. One day I was alarmed by her cries. She was lying on the floor, and the master had her by the hair of her head, and was kicking her in the face till the blood was running down.' [2] 

However, not all workers in factories were subjected to such conditions and some factory owners prohibited the employment of children, fines for minor offenses, whipping and beating with rod as punishment and reduced working hours. In 1800 one factory owner, Robert Owen, employed workers on such conditions [3] . And despite these negative social consequences, industrialisation resulted in the gradual increase in standards of living, as even the workers in factories, on average, were becoming increasingly active consumers and spending a greater amount of money from a greater income on comforts such as food, heating, clothes and household utensils than the previous agrarian and rural workers. However, this was achieved at a high cost and negative social consequence: the poor conditions in factories, coal mines and environment. Thus it is evident that although industrialisation was good for the proletariat in Great Britain, in the short term, poor factory, coal mine conditions and the environment suggest otherwise. Hence, it is evident that the poor conditions in factories and coal mines were a negative social consequence and suggest that industrialisation was the proletariat in Britain only to a moderate extent, as the positive final outcome was achieved at a high negative expense in the short term.

In contrast to the poor factory and coal mine conditions and the environment, the Labour movement was a positive social consequence; supporting the view that industrialisation was good for the proletariat in Great Britain. Industrialisation caused an increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and thus the emergence of the proletariat; the working class who worked in factories and gave motion to the Industrial Revolution. Contrary to previous times, where Great Britain was an agrarian society and the population was scattered, industrialisation sculpted towns where the majority of the population were the lower and working class seeking employment. The lower and working class, with the impetus of being together in large numbers in industrial centres with advanced communication, were able to gain political power and attention from the higher classes. As a result of this impetus, trade unions were formed which supported the needs of the lower and working class for self-betterment and allowed them protection and expression, eventually leading to the formation of the parliamentary party, the Labour Party. These factors allowed for the establishment of a working class culture, such that during the period of the Industrial Revolution, the proletariat rejected various churches, rather supporting the Methodist religion, which complemented their aspirating goals. However, despite this positive social consequence, political and social equality were not achieved in the short term, rather, the Labour movement planted the seeds for long term change. As the gap between the rich and poor increased, more of the lower and working class were left unemployed and unnoticed. Those who were rich gained more riches and those who were poor became even poorer. Such was the case that in 1842, the working class Labour movement pressured the Parliament to review and accept the People's Charter, which explicated the political and social inequalities of the proletariat. However, this was unsuccessful and was rejected by the Parliament. Thus it is evident that the Labour movement was a positive social consequence which suggests industrialisation was good for the proletariat in Great Britain to a moderately high extent, as it was more effective in the long term rather than the short term.

In addition to the poor factory and coal mine conditions, living conditions and sanitation were also a negative social consequence; supporting the view that industrialisation was not good for the proletariat in Great Britain. Industrialisation led to urbanisation thus making the population concentrated in industrial cities. Such was the case that in 1800 towns in England and Wales that had over 20,000 inhabitants were numbered at 15, contrary to in 1850, where towns that had over 20,000 inhabitants were numbered at 63. This resulted in overcrowding and an increase in population density, and thus the proletariat had no other options but to live in the small, tightly packed and poorly built houses which lacked adequate facilities. As a result of this, facilities such as toilets and water supplies were public and communal, as private piped water was beyond the affordability of the proletariat. Due to the absence of clean water and plumbing, streets transformed into open sewers. These were connected to the river system and thus led to the contamination of water supplies. These issues of poor living conditions and sanitation resulted in epidemics of various diseases, such as the epidemic of the deadly disease cholera in 1831, which killed 22 000 people in the span of twelve months and was the result of contaminated water. Friedrich Engels [4] , in the early 1840s, commented on the housing an area in London, 'It contains 1,400 houses, inhabited by 2,795 families… and in this overcrowding it is nothing unusual to find a man, his wife, four or five children, and, sometimes, both grandparents, all in a single room...'. However, urbanisation and rapid population increase were already in motion before the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. Complementing this were the new technology and work organisation which led to an increase in production, thus allowing for the sustainability of the population and the supply of adequate food and other resources. Such was the case that Ireland, adjacent to Great Britain, simultaneously experienced urbanisation and rapid population increase however did not undergo industrialisation. Thus, the limited supply and high demand of the large Irish population inevitably led to starvation during the famines which occurred in the mid-nineteenth century. In addition to this, despite the poor living conditions and sanitation, the majority of houses owned by the proletariat were still more comfortable than the rural homes, which were also uncomfortable and cramped. Porter [5] states that the 'widespread poverty and constant threat of mass starvation…lessened, [and] overall health and material conditions of the populace clearly improved'. Despite these positive factors, epidemics of diseases and poor living conditions and sanitation continued until the late nineteenth century. Thus it is evident that, although industrialisation was good in the long term for the proletariat in Great Britain, the positive final outcome was achieved at a high price, especially to the proletariat who bore the grunt of the poor living conditions and sanitation. Hence, poor living conditions and sanitation were a negative social consequence to a high extent, and show that industrialisation, although being good in the long term, was bad especially for the proletariat in Great Britain in the short term.

In contrast to the poor living conditions and sanitation, reform was a positive social consequence; supporting the fact the view that industrialisation was not good for the proletariat in Great Britain. The negative social consequences associated with industrialisation allowed for reform, as the government began to see the plight of the proletariat and thus support their aspirations. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, a 'laissez faire' approach was taken by most governments, in which the belief was that the authorities should not interfere in matters between employers and workers. This resulted in the increase of power given to employers and thus they were able to establish their own working condition and wages. However, employers mainly sought profit and thus working conditions were poor, thus resulting in child labour and low wages which were widespread in industrial workplaces. As industrialisation led to the concentration of people in cities, matters dealing with poor working conditions attracted attention from the government and thus it began to pass laws which improved the social standards of the proletariat. Such was the case that in 1819, the government passed the Factory Act which prohibited the employment of children under the age of nine in textile mills. The aspirations of the proletariat gradually became fulfilled as the government introduced various laws such as those regarding pensions, medical care and the improvement of sanitation and living conditions. Thus it is evident that reform was a positive social consequence to a moderately high extent and made industrialisation good for the proletariat in Great Britain in the long term. However, reform was achieved over the long term and was achieved at a high cost; in order to gain attention from the government the proletariat experienced poor factory and coal mine conditions and poor living conditions and sanitation.

Thus it can be concluded that industrialisation was good for the proletariat in Great Britain to a moderate extent. This is due to the fact that industrialisation had many positive social consequences and was good for the proletariat in Great Britain mainly in the long term. The Labour movement, reform and other positive consequences were mainly effective in the long term and were achieved at a high cost in the short term. This high cost includes the negative social consequences such as poor factory and coal mine conditions and poor living conditions and sanitation. Thus, evidence suggests that industrialisation was good for the proletariat in Great Britain in the long term, however, was achieved at a high cost in the short term.


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