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The Industrial Revolution, it could be said, was responsible for the beginning of the notion that “Time is money”. Not only were there massive changes in the means of production, but also in the working lives of most of society. Not least of these was the transformation of working practices from agricultural and cottage industry to full scale factory systems with their need for “workplace discipline”. In this essay I intend to take a brief look at the background to the Industrial Revolution, the need for change and how a workforce was created and disciplined for both the factory system and the domestic system.
I will then go on to discuss how these changes influenced society and the effect they had on the lives and welfare of ordinary people. Although it was not as instantaneous as it sounds the Industrial Revolution did however bring about drastic changes to society, both economically and socially over a relatively short period of time. The transition which began in the mid eighteenth century, from hand tool manufacture to mass production by machine, although generally viewed as progress, also had some dire consequences.
Along with mass production came Capitalism. The invention of machines to speed up and increase production also took away the livelihood of many craftsmen and agricultural workers and with it their control over their own means of subsistence. The new way put control squarely in the hands of those who owned the means of production; the wealthy industrialists who owned the factories and the machinery therein. In order for the new factory system to operate there was a need to create and discipline a cheap work force.
The enclosures of the late seventeenth century had already forced many peasants off the land and into the cities in order to find employment. This, added to the population boom at that time, increased the amount of cheap labour available but also meant an increase in the number of women and children at work in factories. However the former peasant or artisan found an enormous contrast in the life and work style in the town compared to his former occupation. Previously activity was determined by necessity without the need to rely on synchronised time.
The rhythm of his work was quite often influenced by nature. In agriculture, certainly, it would be determined by the weather, seasons, the needs of cattle and so on. Traditionally there would be periods of intense activity but also lulls, which allowed for relaxation. Because of his involvement in the many stages of production, from ploughing the land through planting and tending to harvesting the crops, he could set his own timetable according to his needs. The notation of time which arises in such contexts has been described as task-orientation.
It is perhaps the most effective orientation in peasant societies….. it is more humanly comprehensible than timed labour. The peasant or labourer appears to attend upon what is an observed necessity. (Thompson. 1991 p. 60) This contrasted sharply with monotonous pace in the factory and the transition was not an easy one. External and internal discipline had to be used to effect the mutation from artisan/farmer to factory fodder. The principal feature of the industrial revolution was the number and diversity of inventions at that time.
Primarily intended to increase production of goods, perhaps one of the most effective developments in that area was the increased distribution of efficient timepieces. In order to offset the expense of the machinery it was essential for factory owners that workers maintained high productivity for long periods of time and for very little reward. As well as structured hours of work along too came the development of time and motion studies. How much could a worker be realistically expected to produce in a given period of time, and how much money was required to keep that worker at subsistence level?
By calculating wages in this way the factory owner forced high productivity from his workers and, because of the dependence of the worker on his wage it was one of the most effective forms of external discipline. It was necessary for… men who were non-accumulative, non-acquisitive, accustomed to work for subsistence, not for maximisation of income, to be made obedient to the cash stimulus, and obedient in such a way as to react precisely to the stimulus provided. (Pollard 1963, p. 254)
Another form of external discipline were middlemen such as foremen and managers who were employed to keep close watch on workers and to implement disciplinary procedures for misconduct, bad timekeeping, poor productivity and so on. In his performance of this task the watcher was aided by the clock which regulated when a worker should be at the machine, when the worker could stop and for how long. That restriction, along with the attention required by the machine, kept the worker in one place and made observation of their work easier.
“When a mantua maker chooses to rise from her seat and take the fresh Air, her seam goes a little back, that is all; there are no other hands waiting on her”, but “in cotton mills all the machinery is going on, which they must attend to”. It was “machinery (which) ultimately forced the worker to accept the discipline of the factory”. (Pollard 1963, p. 258) The layout of the factory, which was similar to that of workhouses and can be seen in many factories today, also aided in the identification of idlers.
Workers were situated close to each other in wide open spaces which made it possible to observe the entire factory floor in one glance in order to identify those not working at full capacity. Discipline was administered in the form of fines and other punishments including, in some cases, beatings and corporal punishment. Often these punishments would be applied for minor acts of self-indulgence such as drinking water, despite the heat in the factory, or talking to colleagues. Despite the different image conjured up by the name, similar conditions existed in the domestic system.
In this system production took place in the homes of workers and the merchant would pay a wage for the production. That old fashioned industry has now been converted into an outside department of the factory the manufactory, or the warehouse. (Marx. 1867) This system was very common in the woollen industry as the diversity of yarns and production techniques meant it was difficult to mass-produce. Until the mid eighteenth century the worsted woolcombers had enjoyed a limited amount of power partly through the speciality of their trade but also because of a union organisation which ensured fair pay and conditions.
However the Worsted Acts introduced the second half of the eighteenth century gave an incredible amount of power to the worsted masters in controlling their workers. The post Industrial Revolution domestic system differed from cottage industry before industrialisation which was made up of independent workers working on their own materials who were therefore themselves merchants on a small scale. As in the factories, poorly paid workers under took production in the domestic system in return for meagre level of subsistence.
The worsted trade was not composed of independent workers working on their own materials, but rather an army of domestic wage labourers or, as one historian put it, “an army of wage dependent domestic workers who virtually formed a rural industrial proletariat”. (Jowett. 1991, p. 8) Added to the hardships that this caused was the squalid, sometimes dangerous, conditions in which they were forced to live. The trade of woolcombing had become synonymous with poverty, death and disease, the latter because of the poisonous fumes given off by the heated wools before combing.
In the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1844 the average age of death was 26 years whereas the average age of death of a woolcomber in Bradford, the worsted capital of the world, was 16. (Bradford Woolcombers Report of 1845) Discipline within the worsted trade was levied by an inspectorate whose main role was to act as an “industrial police force” (Jowett. ) in the merchants attempts to combat alleged embezzlement of wool by the woolcombers, accusations of which were often completely unfounded.
The Worsted Acts, and their enforcement, were aimed mainly at militants and were undoubtedly used as a means of controlling an already cowed labour force. External forms of discipline such as these, although relatively effective, were expensive to administer as they were a means of forcing a person to do that which he resists. What was needed was a change in attitude and this was achieved by a gradual instillment of capitalist ideologies which led to the creation of a false consciousness in workers. Central to this was the popularity of religions such as Methodism, which encouraged the work ethic.
By manipulating the teachings of such influential institutions the worker was anaesthetised against his miserable lifestyle in the notion that his work was actually his own calling. The growth of Sunday Schools at that time added to the internal discipline effected by passing on this new logic and by training the poor in the habits required for monotonous factory life. Practises such as attending classes on time, doing as you are told, following rules and accepting supervision and discipline from a teacher helped to lay the foundations for good work habits.
Children were taught the principles of paid labour and that time is money, therefore to remain idle was, in effect, stealing from the person paying the wages. It was also commonly accepted that “the Devil makes work for idle hands” and that industriousness was a godly trait. Powell in 1722, also saw education as a training in “the habit of industry”; by the time the child reached six or seven it should become “habituated, not to say naturalised to labour and fatigue”. (Thompson. 1967 p. 84) The needs of the industrial revolution meant that life had to change drastically.
People were living crowded, unhealthy conditions and had to be programmed into working long hours in poor conditions for very little pay. These circumstances brought about an increase in attempts by socialists to improve the quality of life. Reformers such as Robert Owen, a textile mill owner, raised pay, limited child labour and improved conditions for his workers. These improvements, which were seen to be directly linked to a consequent reduction in the rates of crime and disease, may have been influential in the passing of numerous factory and mines acts by parliament which forbade the abuse of child and women workers.
As widespread capitalist exploitation grew, socialists such as Karl Marx became significant voices in the class struggle. There were early attempts to develop trade unions, which although initially unsuccessful led to the Peoples Charter and Parliament was eventually forced into the Second Reform Bill. The harshness of the Poor Law of 1834 underlined the failure of the Reform Act to end the supremacy of the landed Gentry… They turned once more to projects of reform, projects which would reshape the country’s representative institutions to ensure the will of the people prevailed.
Economic distress, social conflict, and political idealism culminated in The Chartist Movement. (Derry 1968, p. 38) The workers also began to realise their own significance in the industrial cycle and began to organise themselves on a work level. New Model Unions developed in the mid nineteenth century which, although limited membership to skilled men, led to the successful growth of trade unions for all workers. The power of these organisations eventually led to the birth of what we now call the Labour party.
There were changes too in art. Romanticism had concentrated on uncontrollable emotions such as love, religion and beauty whereas the growth of realism attempted to depict the reality of life with all its sadness and difficulty and encouraged people to work to change what was happening. It is difficult to deny the inevitability of the Industrial Revolution and the resultant increase in technology, wealth and power, but at what consequence?
It is almost impossible to imagine the extreme transformation it wrought in the lives of the majority of people, however the revolution shaped modern society into what we now recognise. The resultant increase in the rights of workers today, improvement in health care and welfare all have their roots in the changes that occurred at that time, the cost being the intense suffering of at least two generations of people. If it is true that civilisation spoils people then is it not also true that people spoiled civilisation by turning society into a clock watching army of worker ants.