The industrial revolution of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century produced a huge change in all scenarios of the Britain society. It is well known that the industrial revolution was characterized by a series of elements that makes it renowned worldwide; manufacturing, machinery, factories, productivity, child lobour, textile manufacture, iron metallurgy, steam power, coal mining among many others. This revolution not only has transformed the economy of Britain and standards of living, but also the traditional societies around the world. However, the "social revolution" is the one that felt stronger and makes us reflect about the society; the people for whom this industrialization was possible. Does the end justify the process? For that, this essay pretends to summarize the most important features of the industrial revolution in Britain; causes, historical context, and a more depth analysis and reflection of the social issues regarding housing, trade unions, and child labour.
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There are several factors regarding the causes of the industrial revolution all of them allowed the beginning of this process. First of all, it is important to mention the change from an agricultural to an industrial Britain. At the beginning of the eighteen century, the majority of the population lived in the countryside and their principal activity was farming, so out of the land they made a living. This meant that weather was very important for agriculture especially summer. If any unexpected event took place, such as smaller harvests than usual or any losses, winter could be very hungry for them. Due to this fact, the cottage industry was developed for the people with free time who could work in this type of activity which meant producing quality textiles at low prices. What happened is that a family raised sheep for wool and then they transformed this raw wool into cloth which would be sold or exported. The cottage industry kind of prepared the road for the upcoming industrialization by increasing the English economy through trade, high quality and low prices exports. Another theme is the new farming techniques that improved the cultivation of certain crops. This in the long run generated more food, so more healthy people, more workers, more business, and more money to spend on machinery; hence it is a cause-effect situation.
The other cause is the population growth that allowed the incensement of the work force. There was more knowledge of medicine and bacterial treatment, so people were vaccinated against diseases. There were better living conditions and cholera, a disease that killed lots of people, was controlled. The marriage among young couples led to higher birth rates, allowing a large young population. The result of this situation was a great labour force consisting of children and women.
England was perfect for the establishment of the industrial revolution because of its historical and economic situation. Since England was an island made it ideal for trade and soon it possessed control of the seas. The exportations were mainly tobacco, sugar, tea, and slaves. Its water transportation system made possible business with Asia and Europe and also the possibility to obtain natural resources for manufacturing. Due to the period of peace Britain was living, it was possible an economic stability. The civil war was over and the feudalism system was ended as well. This led to a period of economic growth, so we are talking about a wealthy country that could start developing all the elements the industrial revolution needed. All the products that were made in the home or in small workshops began to be manufactured in the factory. As a consequent, people had to migrate there in order to have better work opportunities. So, manufactured goods productivity and technical efficiency grew dramatically. Instead of wood, coal replaced it as an energy source and trade communication improved throughout the world. This phenomenon called for new ideas and specialized knowledge on how to produce and sell goods.
The last factor is the development of transportation that without it the industrialization would not have been possible. Transport was improved by new inventions such as steam ships, roads, and trains. Railways became the principal method of transportation and made possible a quick commercial expansion. Raw materials were transported around the country more easily through the canals. Transport by sea was also possible because of the invention of steam ships. The improvement of sea traveling, with the building of docks, was very important since allowed trade which was becoming a profitable source of income for England.
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The historical period was under the Victorian era often characterized as a long period of peace, economic, and industrial consolidation and also famous for the employment of children in the factories. The Victorian rule was a period of prosperity for the British people mainly because of the profits made by the overseas trade. In terms of culture, the gothic architecture became important and an opposite answer to the classical style. Photography also emerged resulted in significant changes in Victorian art. In fact, Queen Victoria was the first monarch to be photographed. The Victorian rule was interested in arts, theatre, and music. Casinos were established together with gambling, prostitution and drinking. That is why religion, through reform and evangelical movements, arose in order to stop these bad habits. About communication, it could be said that all types of transportation facilitated the movement of people, raw materials, goods, and trade. Communication methods like telegraph, aircraft, cinema, cars, and telephones had a strong impact in this period. Sanitation was a big concern. There were many crowded, dirty cities, and as a response for that the sewage system was created connecting this system with the streets sewers. Medicine progressed due to the existing anesthetics, nitrous oxide and chloroform and the medical sanitary habits were introduce such as using gloves, washing the hands and the medical instruments. Victorian period was a close witness of the population increase and the urbanization of the industrial revolution. More and more people moved from the countryside to the city in search of better opportunities, but this migration overpopulated the already crowded cities, so poverty and disease became widespread. In this scenario is where child labour felt strong. Children were working on the factories or mines to help their families. The payment was very low, the working conditions dangerous and the time children spend at the work place was too much for them. A famous writer of this era, Charles Dickens, observed this situation and used it to write his urban novels. The most remarkable was David Copperfield a novel that narrates David's struggles to become a man in a cruel, industrialized world with little money a few people to help him.
The social revolution is the one that felt stronger and allowed a profound reflection of this industrial revolution. Topics like housing, trade unions, and child labour are taking into consideration. The change from an agricultural society to an industrialized one set the parameters for the social effects. Factories were growing in the cities, so people from the country migrated there in search of a better life. The wages of a farm worker were each time lower and lower and there were less work on the farms since the invention and use of new machinery. Many workers were needed to work in the factories operating the machines, so factory owners built houses for workers that were near the working place. People arrived to already crowded cities especially in London which was not prepare, like the other cities, to receive that amount of people. Rooms were rented to entire families and sometimes several families. If the rooms were rented people stayed in lodging houses. These houses were built quickly, badly, and cheaply. Most of them had two or four rooms downstairs or upstairs to receive large families with four or five children. The sanitary conditions were very poor. There was not running water or toilet, so neighbors had to share a toilet that was outside their houses, on the streets. Towns were very dirty and unhealthy; all the rubbish was thrown out to the streets. This situation made perfect the spread of diseases like dysentery smallpox, cholera and typhus. Many houses were built close to one another, without windows at the front and without a backyard. However, some improvements were made regarding this issue. A public health act was introduced dealing with things such as sewage, hygiene and the establishment of some boundaries upon the construction of houses.
The majority of the work force was children. They were separated into two groups. The free labour children and the parish apprentice children. The first group lived with their parents at home, but they had to work in the factories because it was another source of family income. The other group of children was mainly orphans or children who were not care for anyone. Children at factories were not treated very well and they were just kids; some of them were seven or eight years old. There are several reasons why factory owners hired children. In the first place, they could be paid little wage, they were not well educated to complain with the owners, and their physical appearance fit with the work they had to do. Their hands were small, so they could reach tight fitting machinery that adults cannot. They were small enough to get coal from the deepest coal mines. Very soon children worked in all types of industries. But why children were not attending school? It is simple; education was too expensive for a working family to pay. This was not a problem for parents since they were in agreement with having their sons working in a factory mainly because of higher incomes. A direct consequence of this was the increase in birth rate. Children also worked at the cotton mills. The owners hire orphans to their workhouses. These orphans lived in the mill and they work very hard. They spend most of the time at the machines sometimes cleaning them with almost no time for eating or for fresh air. Children were exposed to serious accidents such as hands crush, scalp when their hair was caught in the machine and even some died when they went to sleep and fell into the machine. There were a series of reforms from 1802 to 1878 that took into consideration the working class testimonies. Obviously, human rights abuse and terrible working conditions were found. Hence, with the passage of time the working hours and the ages were decreasing up to the point of the prohibition of children and women employment. The factory acts was the first law against the children's work. It stated that children younger than the age of nine were not allowed to work, they were not permitted to work at night, and the work day of youth under the age of eighteen was limited to twelve hours. Employers had to provide decent cloth and some sort of education. In order to obey this law, factory inspectors supervised the correct execution of it. About ten years later, the employment of children and women in mining was forbidden. Robert Owen was a reformer and pioneer in struggling for the improvements of the workers' working conditions. He was successful in the textile industry with a large fortunate, but he was also really concern about the plight of the workers. That is why Owen provided excellent working conditions to his employees, schools and non-profit stores. He was considered the father of the British socialist movement.
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Another issue that needs to be said is the organization of trade unions that helped to move forward the interests of the working people. This was a serious problem for employers since they had two options; they give the union what they demanded or they will suffer the cost of the production loss. The principal method used by the workers was the strike. This had effect for both sides; the unions and the management. But, like always in history the unprotected can do much against the powerful; a legislation called Combination act prohibited workers to form any kind of unions because this will affect the productivity.
A group of men founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to protest against the low wages. This group refused to work for less than ten shillings a weak. An answer by a local landowner did not take much time to arrive. He wrote to the Prime Minister to complain about the union. All the members of the union were arrested and founded guilty and they became martyrs and examples to follow for the working class. The Chartist was the first organized working class political and social movement that struggled for political equality and social justice. The support of this union was seen through a good amount of people's signatures however, it was rejected by parliament. There were also small unions, friendly societies the working people formed in order to support each other in these times of economic hardship. Little by little unions overcame the restrictions being able to begin a general strike which included cotton workers. This strike was capable of stopping production across Great Britain. With the passage of time, trade unions were established into effective political organizations which supported socialist parties that later on were recognized as the labour party.
Out of all these issues regarding the industrial revolution it is inevitable for me to reflect on the social situation especially child labour. It is very sad to look history and realize that whenever an important process take place, supposedly for the good of mankind, many people get hurt. I cannot imagine the suffering of the working class; children, women and men in this industrialization process. Why the managers or the factory owners did not pay attention to the workers' needs if they were the ones for whom the productivity increased and in the long run made Britain the workshop of the world? Of course they did not do that because their only concern was earn as much money as they could with little money to spend on salaries and safe living and working conditions. People were in some way forced to accept these conditions since it was their only option because otherwise they will die of starvation. All aspects of life were not good for the working class. In the working place, they were exposed to long hours of work sometimes from five in the morning to late at night. This should have been very hard for children. They were working too much, in terrible condition coal mines and steam factories with the danger these have that sometimes even killed them. Children of this time instead of been at school studying and having the life of a child; playing and all that, they were obligated to work and live in inhumane conditions. Orphans and street kids were very common. They were at the mercy of cruel managers or factory owners who made them work very hard. The literature observed this situation and portrayed it in the novels and books that were written in the Victorian age. As I mention in the historical context, Charles Dickens was the most popular writer in this period responsible for some works that were connected with the society he was immersed to such as Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Both novels take into consideration child labour and in general the difficult situation of children in an industrialized society. Dickens sympathizes with the poor and the working class and portrayed them as good, noble people because he was part of them. In fact, he worked in a blacking factory when he was twelve years old while his family was in prison. For that, he knew the social issues in depth. In David Copperfield, he illustrated the story of his life and also the life of the industrial society. Through David Copperfield's character he showed the suffering of a little kid without a family and in charge of cruel people that made him work and sometimes beat him. Dickens focused on orphans and women to show that exploitation was the rule in an industrial society. His characters suffer punishment at the hands of forces bigger than themselves which was really connected to what was happening at that time. The working class could not do anything about their bosses and factory owners. They were the ones with the power and children and women had to do whatever they wanted. The Victorian society believed that poverty was a symptom of moral decadence and that people who were poor deserved to suffer because of inherent deficiencies. Of course this is not something I agree on and it clearly showed not the moral decadence of poor people, but the moral decadence of wealthy and powerful people that were in control of all aspects in the lives of the working class.
As a general conclusion, I could say that all the issues discussed above allowed the existence of this complex event in the history of the world. The industrial revolution was inevitable because of the country's social and economic conditions; the change from an agricultural society to an industrialized one, the population growth that made suitable the work force, and the special features of the country like economic stability and the development of transportation. All these, among others, helped in the process of becoming an industrial Britain. The Victorian era was useful to understand what was happening in the country in all aspects, as a whole. However, the social revolution was the one that revealed the major problems of the world's biggest workshop. This was the part I was more focus on mainly because it is about the people, the working class for whom it was possible the industrial revolution. I think by improving all the aspects that made this revolution unfair for the working class like housing, child labour and working conditions among others, history would be different and the world would had been able to understand that people need to work together for the development of a nation. Having the working class in good conditions, with reasonable salaries and all the elements that a human being must have, the industrial revolution would had been even greater than it was. Answering the question I established in the introduction if the end justifies the process and after all I learnt, I think the answer is not. Becoming a wealthy and powerful country due to trade and the industrial activity does not justify the sad and hard process poor people had to suffer in order to reach that. A country should not be only concern and proud of its economy and political stability, but also especially worry about its people which in the end are the heart, the motor of a nation who make possible the success of a country.
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