For once, there were no child labor laws, nor working unions. The rights of employees were at the mercy of what was needed, and unexistant. One of the major harships was the exposure to pollutants, both by waterborn bacteria, air, smog, chemical reactions, and most importantly, fire.
The Industrial Revolution was a very contaminated and polluted, dark, snoky, dirty, ashy, and sick period of history.Factory workers had to shack up near the factory, sometimes bringing in their families, and living in what would be like military barracks, only dirty and unsafe. Poor hygiene gave space to a massive spread of cholera at the time, and the lack of time off taxed on the health of many workers.
Another hardship, especially for coal miners was the same thing we have now: implosion. Thanks to them the union or laborers formed to ensure some form of safety, and to forbid children and females to work in this field.
In short: it is a combination of physical and emotional pollution that took over the lives of these people who unfortunately depended entirely on those conditions to be able to "live".
If I had to narrow it down to one major hardship, I'd have to say it was how expendable the workers were. That is, as humans and workers alike, they were worth almost nothing to their employers or society at large.
Many of these workers were recent immigrants, often from southern and eastern Europe, and spoke little English, therefore the only jobs available to them were the low paying, more dangerous jobs with a long work day. If they quit, what would happen? They would find ten more immigrants just arrived that wanted the same position.
In this way, it became easy for factory owners to treat their employees as badly as they wished, and to invest almost nothing in their pay, training or safety.
As far as the major hardship, I'm not sure that there was just one. In general, the hours worked were too long, the pay was too low, and the jobs were often too dangerous. I don't know that any one of these things was more important than the other. Together, all of them made work in many factories very unpleasant.
One effort that workers made to organize themselves was the formation of the Knights of Labor. The Knights were a fairly radical union. They wanted the workers to be in control of the factories. Some, more skilled, workers formed the AFL (American Federation of Labor). This union worked for smaller goals -- they just wanted shorter hours and higher pay.
Neither of the unions was able to accomplish much, but the AFL was much more successful because its members were more skilled and weren't so easy for the bosses to replace. This made the bosses much more likely to give them what they wanted (of course, they weren't asking for as much either).
hat were the backgrounds of factory workers in the late 1800s