Changes in the Industrial Economy between 1750-1900 prompted wide reactions among governments, organizations, and individuals, which lead to political, social, educational, and urban reforms.
The Industrial Revolution produced major problems for workers. In addition to income inequality between factory workers and factory owners, workers were placed in dangerous working conditions, and they were asked to work long hours. Many of them were unskilled and had little bargaining power, so they could not do much about their In response to this harsh context, workers formed labor unions to collectively (together) demand better pay, safer working conditions, and fewer working hours. They also aimed to improve the overall social and economic status of workers and their families. Additionally, unions were a way for workers to come together and advocate for workplace democracy and fair treatment and to address issues that affected their working conditions.
These unions often used strikes and other forms of collective action to exert pressure on employers and governments, leading to the establishment of legal protections for union activity and the widespread recognition of unions as a legitimate representatives of the interests of workers. Labor unions achieved these goals to varying degrees, but they did achieve in helping ban child labor and creating public education systems. Other achievements included:
Securing shorter working hours: Unions were able to negotiate with employers to reduce the number of hours that workers were required to work each day and each week. For example, the National Labor Union, one of the first national unions in the United States, successfully campaigned for a reduction in the workweek from 10 to 8 hours in the 1870s.
Improving working conditions: Unions were able to push for safer working conditions and better treatment of workers in the workplace. They also advocated for laws and regulations to protect workers from exploitation and abuse by employers. Other reforms included establishing parks in urban areas for workers to enjoy after working hours.
Increasing wages and welfare: Unions were able to negotiate higher wages for their members through collective bargaining and strikes. This helped to raise the standard of living for many workers and their families. Germany, in the late 1800s, established state pension plans and public healthcare for the working class.
Advocating for workers' rights: Unions were able to advocate for a range of workers' rights, such as the right to form and join a union, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike. These efforts led to the establishment of legal protections for union activity.
Improving job security: Unions were able to secure job security for their members, through the creation of collective bargaining agreements that protected workers from arbitrary dismissal, and ensured fair treatment.
Expanded suffrage: More not-as-wealthy males could now vote: Great Britain and the U.S. both expanded suffrage to non-land-owning males in the 1800s.
In addition to laborers expressing discontent over industrialization and the inequality that results from it, alternative ideologies emerged to replace capitalism and the free market. Utilitarianism, created by John Stuart Mill, advocated for the “greatest good for the greatest number of people.” This essentially means decisions (economic, political, social) should benefit the majority of the population instead of just factory owners.
Karl Marx, along with Frederick Engels, wrote the Communist Manifesto, which details how capitalism would always lead to class warfare. In fact, according to Marx, all of history is a struggle between the upper class (Bourgeoise) and the working class (Proletariat). The only way to break the cycle of struggle is to overthrow the upper class and have no more class distinctions. Marx saw that capitalism provided space for the upper class, which owned the means of production, to exploit the working class, which had to be a part of the means of production. Later on, communism became associated with government ownership of industry.
Karl Marx. Image courtesy of Wikimedia
The countries that first industrialized were Great Britain (and then the rest of Western Europe), Russia, Japan, and the United States. Other states, such as the Ottoman Empire and the Qing Dynasty, did not industrialize immediately. However, over time, they attempted to industrialize in order to calm internal and external pressures, especially from the already industrialized nations. These government responses were met with varying degrees of success.
The Ottomans, led by Sultan Mahmud II, reformed the military and tax collections, built roads, and created a postal service. After Mahmud, the Ottomans attempted more reforms, which came to be known as the Tanzimat Reforms. These included decreased government corruption, a secularized (non-religious) education system, codified laws that favored transnational businesses, and an updated legal system to emphasize equality before the law. Unfortunately, women were not included in most reforms, so the practice of patriarchy continues. The Ottomans, in their attempts at reform and industrialization, were too late to keep pace with more developed countries regarding industrialization. Sultan Abdulhamid ended the reforms and exiled Young Turks, which were the primary advocates for reforms. Additionally, this sultan was responsible for massacring hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Assyrian Christians.
The Qing Dynasty, which controlled China since the early part of the 17th century, experienced a great deal of internal and external pressure. European nations were carving up China for trade rights, and Great Britain battled China for the sale of opium. This all led China to look for reforms. The Self-Strengthening movement sought to modernize China for the industrial age. They abolished the civil service exam, sought to eliminate corruption, and reformed medical practices. However, some in China did not like the new emphasis on reform and on the Qing Dynasty; and the increasing foreign influence within China. The Boxer Rebellion (1900) was an uprising against all things foreign in China, especially foreign religions and customs. Their desire was also to protect traditional Chinese culture. The Boxers saw the Qing Dynasty as weak; thus, they wanted to overthrow the Qing as well as banish foreign influence from China.
In response and influenced by a desire to keep the lucrative Chinese market, the U.S., Great Britain, Japan, and others sent troops into China to put down the rebellion. This led to the further weakening of the Qing Dynasty and greater foreign influence. The Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911.