The Industrial Revolution led to a population increase. Industrial workers were better
paid than those in agriculture. With more money, women ate better, had healthier babies, who were themselves better fed. Death
rates declined, and the distribution of age in the population became more youthful. There was limited opportunity for education,
and children were expected to work. Employers also liked that they could pay a child less than an adult.
Politicians and the government tried to limit child labour by law, but factory owners
resisted; some felt that they were aiding the poor by giving their children money to buy food to avoid starvation, and others simply welcomed the cheap labour. In 1833, the first law against child labour,
the Factory Act of 1833, was passed in England: Children younger than nine were
not allowed to work, children were not permitted to work at night, and the work day of youth under the age of 18 was limited
to twelve hours. Factory inspectors supervised the execution of the law. About ten years later, the employment of children
and women in mining was forbidden. These laws decreased the number of child labourers; however, child labour remained in Europe
up to the 20th century.
The rapid industrialisation of the English economy cost many craft workers their jobs. The textile industry in particular
industrialized early, and many weavers found themselves suddenly unemployed since they could no longer compete with machines
which only required relatively limited (and unskilled) labour to produce more cloth than a single weaver. Many such unemployed
workers, weavers and others, turned their animosity towards the machines that had taken their jobs and began destroying factories
and machinery. These attackers became known as Luddites, supposedly followers of Ned Ludd, a folklore figure. The first attacks
of the Luddite movement began in 1811. The Luddites rapidly gained popularity, and the British government had to take drastic
measures to protect industry.
Organization Of Labour
Conditions for the working class had been bad for millennia. The Industrial Revolution, however, concentrated labour into
mills, factories and mines, and this facilitated the organisation of trade unions to help advance the interests of working
people. The power of a union could demand better terms by withdrawing all labour and causing a consequent cessation of production.
Employers had to decide between giving in to the union demands at a cost to themselves or suffer the cost of the lost production.
Skilled workers were hard to replace, and these were the first groups to successfully advance their conditions through this
kind of bargaining.
The main method the unions used to effect change was strike action. Strikes were painful events for both sides, the unions
and the management. The management was affected because strikes took their working force away for a long period of time; the
unions had to deal the loss of income as well as with riot police and various middle class prejudices that striking workers
were the same as criminals. The strikes often led to violent and bloody clashes between police or military and workers. Factory
managers usually reluctantly gave in to various demands made by strikers, but the conflict was generally long standing.
In England, the Combination Act forbade workers to form any kind of trade union from 1799 until its repeal in 1824. Even
after this, unions were still severely restricted.
In 1842, a General Strike involving cotton workers and colliers and organised through the Chartist movement stopped
production across Great Britain.
Effects On Labour
The movement of people away from agriculture and into industrial cities brought great stresses
to many people in the labor force. Women in households who had earned income from spinning found the new factories taking
away their source of income. Traditional handloom weavers could no longer compete with the mechanized production of cloth.
Skilled laborers sometimes lost their jobs as new machines replaced them.
In the factories, people had to work long hours under harsh conditions, often with few rewards.
Factory owners and managers paid the minimum amount necessary for a work force, often recruiting women and children to tend
the machines because they could be hired for very low wages. Soon critics attacked this exploitation, particularly the use
of child labour.
The nature of work changed as a result of division of labour, an idea important to the Industrial
Revolution that called for dividing the production process into basic, individual tasks. Each worker would then perform one
task, rather than a single worker doing the entire job. Such division of labor greatly improved productivity, but many of
the simplified factory jobs were repetitive and boring. Workers also had to labor for many hours, often more than 12 hours
a day, sometimes more than 14, and people worked six days a week. Factory workers faced strict rules and close supervision
by managers and overseers. The clock ruled life in the mills.
By about the 1820s, income levels for most workers began to improve, and people adjusted to the
different circumstances and conditions. By that time, Britain had changed forever. The economy was expanding at a rate that
was more than twice the pace at which it had grown before the Industrial Revolution. Although vast differences existed between
the rich and the poor, most of the population enjoyed some of the fruits of economic growth. The widespread poverty and constant
threat of mass starvation that had haunted the preindustrial age lessened in industrial Britain. Although the overall health
and material conditions of the populace clearly improved, critics continued to point to urban crowding and the harsh working
conditions for many in the mills.