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What are eight examples of poor working conditions during the Industrial Revolution in England?

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Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Industrial Revolution elevated levels of productivity and technological innovation to unheard of heights. Without it, humanity would still be mired in economically destitute agrarian societies bereft of any of the lifesaving and time-saving developments of the past two hundred years. There is no question, however, that the Industrial Revolution also had, especially in its first one hundred years, deleterious ramifications for the health and well-being of many on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Those hired to work in early factories and distribution centers were forced to endure cruel working conditions that continue to exist in many parts of the world today. 

The poor conditions endured by many laborers in England during the Industrial Revolution were contributed by the following: the physical hazards associated with machinery developed for productivity—the designs and construction of which ignored the safety of those using it; the toxic residue of many manufacturing processes to which the working poor were regularly exposed; the brutally long hours and work weeks that preceded the rise of labor unions and the negotiation of labor agreements; the abysmally low wages that accompanied most labor; the abusive use of children, who were exposed to the same physical and mental hazards as adults; the dehumanization of individuals who functioned as nothing more than literal cogs in the manufacturing process; the transformation in how family units interacted; and the perpetuation of cycles of poverty as low wages and the use of child labor prevented any pretense of upward mobility for the vast majority of those employed as laborers. 

The Industrial Revolution presaged the advancement of humanity to unimaginable heights. The negative effects, however, should not be ignored. 

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Among the problems encountered:

  • The pace of work was determined by a machine; whereas during cottage industry work, the worker worked at his own pace.  He now had to keep up with the machine.
  • Work was monotonous and boring. No skill was required.
  • Hours were quite long. Twelve to fourteen hour days were the norm.
  • Child labor was quite common. Children not only worked in factories but also in coal mines under abominable conditions.
  • The work was dangerous. Machines did not stop automatically when an arm or other limb came in contact. Many workers were killed or seriously injured.
  • There was a loss of identity as workers were little more than numbers. Because there was no skill involved, they were easily replaced.
  • Workers were paid menial wages. Wages were so low that entire families (fathers, mothers and children) were often required to work in the same factory just to survive.
  • Children who worked in factories did not attend school on a regular basis. Those that did only attended on Sunday, the first (and true) Sunday School.
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