Factory Reform in Britain 1. Reform of the early factories and mines in Britain was considered necessary for many reasons. Firstly, in Britain, the mistreatment of women particularly in factories helped reform to start taking place. Women (and children) were used for fundamental jobs in textiles factories which involved manoeuvring into places that men could not manoeuvre into. Women often had to work very close to running machines, and since there were no machine monitors at this time, several accidents occurred.
Despite the fact that they were considered to be vital to factory production, word soon spread about the dangers these women had to face in factories. However, the main reason for early factories and mines reforms in Britain to be considered necessary was the mistreatment of children. They also had to do dangerous jobs in factories and mines such as wriggling into crevices or crawling under running machines to clean up looms because of their slighter build. Many humanitarians strongly opposed the exploitation of children in factories and mines.
Activists such as Richard Oastler and Michael Sandler (who were Tory churchmen and factory owners) pushed the idea that child labour had to be reformed. They published many complaint letters to contradict this mistreatment, complaining about the long hours children had to work and their lack of time to rest and eat. As a result of these complaints made by humanitarians like Oastler, parliament was persuaded to appoint a commission of enquiry into factory conditions.
A report was produced, supporting humanitarian views about child labour in factories and mines, lead by Michael Sandler. These reports said that children had to work for the same number of hours as the adults, and that these exhausting, sometimes 16 hour days of work had permanent and devastating effects on the children’s health. Disease spread quicker through these small children who were sent to work from just four years old. These diseases would usually kill the children, who had very weak immune systems due to lack of nutrition and rest.
They had no time to be educated or even to learn basic morals. Also, as highlighted in this report, all of the earnings these children obtain are then passed to the guardians and parents, who forced their children to work almost as slaves to them. This report encouraged parliament, who was moved by these facts, to introduce necessary factory and mine reforms. In addition, working conditions started becoming better known by not only the average population, but also by more and more activists and government officials.
Few curious Members of Parliament went out and interviewed many factory owners about working conditions for all workers. Sometimes, shocking facts about these conditions, such as the brutal punishments and short rest intervals, pushed these Members to start thinking reform was necessary in factories and mines in Britain. Even in some extreme cases, reform was thought to be necessary to prevent the idea of a revolution of the workers against their employers.
Finally, certain ‘enlightened factory owners’ such as Robert Owen and Robert Peel started to prove that improving working conditions did not decrease profit made by factories. These owners treated their workers in a much more civilised way, gibing them decent housing and working environments and shorter hours. They also limited child labour in their factories. This spread the optimistic view that factory and mine reform was necessary to even increase profits and to make workers happier. 2. Several arguments against such reform in Britain were put forward.
Firstly, the British government had a strong ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards everything, and particularly towards reform. Parliament didn’t think that it had any duty or responsibility to interfere in the economy or in matters between employers and their workers. Therefore, the government opposed factory and mine reforms strongly. Secondly, factory owners did not agree with such reform. They believed that if working hours for adults and children were reduced, profits would decrease as well.
As the discipline of economics was undeveloped, these owners, encouraged by skilled academics such as Nassau Senior, thought that the profits in a factory were made in the last few hours of work (which is a theory that has today been proven inaccurate), and that as a result of a shortening of hours, less profit would be made. These factory owners backed up their arguments by stating that less profits made by the factories resulted in more business failure and more wage cuts for the workers. Factory owners strongly opposed reform, and went as far to say that the inquiries from parliament were biased and exaggerated.
Also, factory owners thought that they were doing society a service by employing children. The longer they worked, the less they would be on the streets stealing and disturbing adults. They declared that if hours and days were shortened, crime would dramatically rise and children would wreck havoc in society. Sunday schools were even set up to limit the free time children had to play on the streets. This question of peace and civilisation among children opposed reform in Britain at this time. In addition, workers themselves were usually against such reform in Britain.
They were convinced that if child labour was age-restricted and children’s working hours were shortened, they would earn less therefore each family (especially big families) would have less income. The parents would therefore have to work even harder just to keep themselves alive. This fear of even more poverty was very common among mine and factory workers. Finally, there was a belief that if factory profits fell, the price of goods would rise, and therefore the home trade would be extremely affected.
Not only would social and economical problems rise amongst the average British population, but less goods would be supplied to foreign nations, therefore the national profit vital for the survival of Britain’s economy would be lower. Many manufacturers and factory owners used this argument to oppose reform in Britain at this time. 3. Many reforms had been made by 1850 in Britain. These reforms were all industrial, concentrating on working conditions for women, children and sometimes men in factories and mines. The first main reform was the Factory Act in 1802, introducing several legislations by which factory owners had to obey.
Among these legislations were restrictions on the working hours of children and adolescents (maximum 12 hours a day for children working), obligations on the cleanliness of factory rooms, the tending of infectious diseases and the education of young children working at these factories. However, this Act wasn’t considered to be specific enough to stop factory owners from breaking the law. After this reform, the Factory Act of 1819, applying only to cotton mills, prohibited the employment of children under 9 years old and restricted the hours of 9 to 12 year olds to 12 hours a day.
The next factory act in 1833 applied to textile factories. It limited the age of child labour to 9 years old and limited the hours of 9 to 13 year olds to no more than 9 hours a day and the hours of 13 to 18 year olds to no more than 12 hours a day. Also, in 1842, the Mines Act was introduced to abolish all female labour in mines and to prohibit boys under 10 from working in mines. Inspectors were appointed to guarantee that these measures were being taken. Ashley’s Factory Act in 1844 applied to all factories.
Children under 13 were limited to 6 hours and a half a day. In addition, workers under 18 and females were limited to 12 hours of work a day. The 1847 Fielden’s Factory Act (also called the Ten Hours Act, named after the movement that campaigned to have this act passed) further reduced the working hours of young men and all women to 10 hours a day. Finally, the Grey’s Factory Act of 1850 gave factory inspectors greater power in the factories. This enabled more reforms to take place, and working conditions were strongly improved throughout all these factory acts.
This reform was very gradually achieved, mainly in the 19th century. Even though this age is still referred to as an ‘Industrial Revolution’, many question whether this was really a revolution in Britain, since the changes were very slow and reluctant to take place. Many of these reforms and acts were passed as a result of complicated and fruitful debates between Parliament and multiple humanitarians. However, this reform during the 1800s affected the working conditions in factories and mines and attitudes towards workers and their employers greatly.