LABOR MOVEMENT IN THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
A labor union is a group of people within a particular job or industry that join together to fight for improved working conditions. Throughout history, labor unions have played a vital role in the relationship between workers and owners and have helped to improve conditions for working-class people. The labor movement first began during the time period of the Industrial Revolution, in the 19th century. At the time, working-class people were often exploited by wealthy owners and treated horribly. To better understand the situation facing people in the Industrial Revolution, it’s first important to understand the political and economic views of the time. The dominant ideology of the Industrial Revolution centered on individualistic values such as classical liberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. Both of these systems promoted the idea that the government should play as little a role as possible in the economic lives of the people. As such, there were very few government regulations in place to protect workers and the wealthy owners were allowed to exploit them in various ways. For example, during the Industrial Revolution, working-class people faced horrible working conditions, such as: crowded and cramped workspaces, dirty and dangerous factory and mining operations, poor levels of pay, long hours of work, and a lack of basic healthcare, education and rights. Out of this emerged different socialist movements that focused on improving the lives and conditions for industrial workers. For example, Marxism and utopian socialism both sought to stop the exploitation of the workers by the owners and create more balance in society. At the same time, the idea of labor unions became popular across industrial societies. Workers formed and used unions in order to protest for a variety of things, including: shorter hours of work, higher rates of pay, safe working conditions, basic education and healthcare.
Many of them achieved these goals, by pressuring the government to step in set regulations on different aspects of industrial work. For example, as the Industrial Revolution progressed, the British parliament passed a series of laws limiting child labor. The first major legislation created to place limits on child labor were a series of Factory Acts passed by the British parliament throughout the 1800s. These acts limited the number of hours that children could work and placed regulations on workplaces in terms of safety and cleanliness. For example, by 1819, the Factory Acts limited the workday for British children at 12 hours. By 1833, child labor was further regulated when it became illegal for children under 9 years old to work, and children over 13 were not allowed to work more than 9 hours a day. The labor movement obtained more victories for working-class people in the form of minimum wage laws, caps on hours worked, mandated lunch breaks, and regulations on health and safety. As well, once child labor was banned, governments across the industrial world were persuaded to establish public education systems in order to teach youth that were too young to work. All of the victories combined to improve the overall lives of working-class people.
In the decades that followed, labor unions continued to provide an important role. For example, throughout the 20th century, labor unions played fought for improved conditions for workers facing the realities of the Great Depression, outsourcing and economic hardship. Today, Labor unions remain an important part of many modern democratic societies. They continue to fight for the same things that workers did in the Industrial Revolution, and have played a vital role in improving life for workers.