Working conditions for all workers, men, women, and children were terrible during the Industrial Revolution. What had to change? How would these changes impact the ideas of liberalism?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing developments were way ahead of ethical considerations. The workers, often times not only men and women, but also children, were treated as little more than a part in a machine. People could be forced to work twelve to fifteen hours per day in unsafe and unhealthy conditions for little pay and then cast off by the company when they got sick or could not work for any reason. Suddenly, it was possible to have worked a lifetime or until you were unable to do so and have little or nothing. The social problems caused by these conditions lead to some of the first ideas that are currently considered part of a liberal political and social ideology. 

The growth of labor unions occurred as a direct result of the conditions under which people were forced to work. These unions initially were built to give workers a voice in changing the working conditions instead of having to put up with often unreasonable and unsafe demands. Unions could go on strike, creating pressure on the company both my impacting productivity and by causing publicity for the problem that caused the strike. 

Along with the influx of workers for factories came a rise in demand for housing. Due to the demand for housing and the low payment that workers received, people began to live in areas described as urban slums. Often dirty and full of animals and excrement, often there was contamination to available water which caused diseases to spread. This called for social programs to create better living situations for those all who lived in this situation. 

Conditions were especially bad for children who were forced to work the same hours as adults and often used to get into places in machinery that were too small for adults to venture into. It was not unheard of for children to die on the job. While it seems unusual today, during child labor laws were unpopular until and even slightly past the end of the age commonly referred to as the prime of the Industrial Revolution. Often this was because families needed the extra income, even if they knew it was hazardous to the health and wellbeing of the child. 

In addition to the conditions that caused a more liberal outlook, the midst put forward by the revolution in and of itself changed the way people thought. Instead of what was needed in a certain area or a job at hand, people began working for the good of the corporation and later, the country. This broader way of thinking created a path to thinking about people in poverty or in poor conditions not only as people who were unfortunate and in need of assistance, but people who worked for the many and are in need of assistance from the many that they worked to supply. 

The living, working and idealogical conditions of the Industrial Revolution gave rise to many of the ideas and social programs that today are viewed as liberal in the political sphere. The fact that working hard was no longer a guarantee of a good life, or even a safe standard of living, as well as the fact that the companies were not held accountable for the treatment of their workers meant that larger scale intervention was needed for social change. Once the larger scale government programs began, other social programs such as welfare had a path to follow. 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team