Human Rights During the Industrial Revolution


In the beginning of the 18th-century, people lived in small, isolated rural environments where they worked their farms. Families looked after their farms and grew what they needed, from which they got subsistence. Because they were small, everyone knew each other. Wealthy landowners began to enclose these rural lands, forcing farmers to emigrate to the cities. Here, the farmers thought, they could find work and create a new life. Factories were beginning to replace farms as the source of energy and production. The spreading use of coal improved these factories, making them more plentiful, but also more dangerous. As more people moved to the cities, and as factories began popping up by the tens, the cities became massive centers of civilization, increasing substantially in size from the 1750’s to the late 1800’s. The Industrial Revolution was dramatically harmful to human rights because, although it provided opportunities for work and a new life, it violated people’s rights to social services and work more so than it did to further them.

During the process of industrialization, people’s right to social security—being secure in their lives—and service were being infringed upon because they could not support themselves. According to Elizabeth Gaskell, those living in industrial Manchester lived sordidly in cheap, low-quality apartments called tenements in which the conditions were unsightly and barely suitable for humans (Gaskell, A Tale of Manchester Life). This book was written by Gaskell in the middle of the industrialization of Manchester for audiences outside of England so that they could read about the horrors of living in the city. She was a writer, so it was her job to write objectively yet entertainingly. She has a negative attitude towards the living conditions of the people as evidenced by the fact that she criticizes the homes in which the people lived, pointing out how hastily made they were, Unknown-1.jpegsuch that they posed a danger to those living in them. This supports the idea that social security was not present in Manchester, because everyday people could not afford to live in a safe home. In comparison to their previous lives on their farms, the people were miserable, having moved to the city, for they could not support themselves with the meager wages they made during the day. Because residents could often not pay for education or for a nice home, it confirms that social security was lacking during the Industrial period. says in a documentary that residents in Manchester were crowded into tiny spaces and shared bathrooms along the river, which propagated cholera. Cramped together, they got each other sick and could only afford shabby houses crudely built. The documentary’s description confirms the terrible standards of living in Manchester. Confined to small spaces, which are not good for full families, and susceptible to diseases, residents’ lives were always in danger, whether inside or out. Despite advances in medicine from the agricultural days, the people were less prone to diseases before moving to the city. After moving, though, they lost their rights to comfortable housing, affordable medical care, good food, security, and livelihood.

Unknown-2.jpegFactories were the powerhouses of the Industrial Revolution, and the workers who worked them were deprived of their rights as laborers. Flora Tristan wrote that in Manchester, the workers were in bad condition: Poor, starved, choked, unhealthy, and forced to labor all day, they lived miserable lives. Half of the day they spent working, only to return home with an empty stomach and without proper comfort (Source J). An activist and defender of women’s rights, Tristan wrote her journal as a response to the industrialization around her, to the rapid changes which were occurring in 1842, the focus being on how people were treated. Her journal was published, so it was most likely publicized with the intent of letting people know why working conditions in Manchester were abhorrent, or maybe with the intent of getting more reforms to help out. Based on her background, it is clear she would have looked down upon industrialization, particularly on how it debased human rights. As such, it was a plea for help in order to make workers’ conditions more humane. Tristan attests to the poor treatment of workers, who, before living in the city, were their own bosses, worked their own hours, and got their respective pay. The work in the factory was long, tedious, and demanding, yet the workers were not paid fairly, according to their work; as a result of their unfair wages, workers were not given their right to a dignified existence from their work, but had to go home to a run-down apartment, sparse in furniture, lacking clothes, and filled with Unknown-3.jpegalcohol forced upon them by their unfulfilling lives. In the article “Why did Great Britain Industrialize 1st?”, it says that industrial England had no unions and actively banned them, meaning workers could not come together and argue for their rights; hence, entrepreneurs could do whatever they liked with them. The article reveals the unfairness and inequality with which workers were treated, because workers guilds were able to keep workers from being exploited, established to create representation for them; but when the city banned guilds, it left them open to exploitation, and they were in the hands of rich business owners. This supports the idea that workers were deprived of their right to form a union because unions themselves were discouraged and disbanded; therefore, workers could not represent themselves as they had in the past, but had their rights violated at the hands of the government.

In order to industrialize effectively without impinging on human rights, it is necessary to go slowly and thoughtfully, and not to rush. Industrialization requires that businesses are made so the economy can prosper, and also that more jobs can become available. All of these things are vital to making progress, as they improved human rights. But when unions are removed, exposing workers; when houses are made quickly and without thought, close together and dirty, dark and dank; when factories are built in the tens, with no supervision, then industrialization turns into a nightmare. Hence, it is important that an industrializing nation take into account the coordination and planning involved in creating a nation that helps, not hinders, the people.

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