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Socialism and Labor Movements in the 19th Century

Industrialization in Western Europe from the late 18th to early 19th century was a glorious feat and was a big leap towards development. But society and the growing working classes had to pay the steep costs of Industrial Revolution. With the fast expansion of industries, companies competed savagely without ordinance. Exploitation against industrial workers was rampant, as they had no protection under the law.

Workers had to work round the clock under unimaginable, inhumane conditions. Industrial machines caused accidents and senseless waste of lives of workers, environment was polluted, and food in the new industrialized areas was in short supply and of poor quality. Women and children were absorbed as well into the labor force, as their day’s worth of work was cheaper than men’s. To put it bluntly, capitalists became greedy with their newfound power to create their own wealth.

Industrialization had its positive contributions, but, progress was too fast, and yet society and the government, without its proper regulations and systems of control, were slow to catch up with it, thus, only the adverse effects of industrialization were magnified. The industrialized society was a picture of social injustice, misery and even poverty. The worsening events and living conditions especially in the urban areas caused about by Industrial Revolution gave rise to socialism, and eventually, labor movements advocating socialist ideals emerged.

Generally, socialists advocate controlled management of the economy for the benefit of all citizens. They believe industries must be efficiently run for stability. They uphold cooperation – not competition. They ascertain that properties should be shared for the common good such that, private ownership of either land or industries is eradicated in a socialist country. Many 19th century socialists believed that it is the working classes that create wealth, not the capitalists. For them, these wealthy capitalists simply do not deserve their riches.

19th century socialists saw only poverty and misery, and drove their ideals of equality, cooperation, democracy and shared wealth. Socialistic ideals eventually spread and not only was it appealing to 19th century wealthy idealists and intellectuals, but even the ordinary working classes embraced socialism as their goal. Capitalists may have suppressed these labor movements as their “cohesion” posed threat of uprising. The “Marxists,” on the other hand, welcomed the labor groups’ socialist platforms, as these were believed to be the only viable vehicle for radical change.

Despite unimaginable difficulties, labor group members, often imprisoned, beaten or shot, with much determination, successfully waged campaigns to advance their rights and improve their working conditions. 19th Century Women Lives of women in English speaking countries in the 19th century are simply hard to imagine. Women’s social status, rights and lifestyle today are far different back then. In the 19th century, women lived in an era characterized by gender inequality. They had very limited social, political and legal rights.

They were barred from higher institutions of learning, and had very limited occupational choices as well. Women were expected to remain obedient to their fathers and husbands. Middle and upper class women generally remained home to care for their children and manage the household. Either their husbands must have supported them quite well financially and they never had to do paid work, or, these women were just lucky enough to have been born with an independently rich family, and could be daughters of professionals and wealthy merchants.

On the other hand, lower class women, out of necessity, often did work outside the home, but usually as domestic servants. Notwithstanding, they still had to do their domestic duties for their own families as well. Due to industrialization and fast economic growth in the urban areas, a certain percentage of women from this class eventually worked in factories and mills, but they had to contend with poor wages. Generally, these women who worked for wages were known as the working class. For distinction, they were further classified either as upper or lower working class.

Those in the upper working class aspired gentility, were better educated, and these were the governess or lodge housekeepers, women with skills or trade. Those in the lower working class had no pretensions of gentility, were considered to have less education, and simply had less opportunities and choices. Born without a penny, they must have started working since they were eight years old and continued until marriage. If their husbands earned enough to support their families, they may stop working.

Otherwise, women from this class generally had to work all their lives. Usually they were left with jobs requiring more physical labor than those of the upper working class. These women worked as domestic servants (waitresses, barmaids, chambermaids, washer), nurses, peasants, seamstresses, and, unlike the upper working class who could rent shops, they were often found in the streets selling flowers, ice creams, cold drinks, etc. Some even did the most odd jobs like fortune telling, while others drifted into prostitution.

If the working class had to work for wages and maintain their own household at the same time, women of prominence and wealth “spent their time promenading on the sea front, visiting reading-rooms and libraries, shopping, enjoying rural carriage-rides, holding musical soirees and dinner parties. They attended lectures and concerts at the Public Hall and Assembly Rooms. ” Obviously, they had all the time (and wealth! ) to keep themselves busy with various improvements for the poor like churches, schools and educational or charitable institutions.

“The wealthy socialized only with others of their class, but lived in constant domestic and trade contact with the working class. The relationship between a lady and her personal maid was often very intimate, yet socially they were a world apart. ” Women of this era from the upper and middle class lived in luxurious villas or comfortable houses while their maids lived in cramped quarters. Their houses were fully furnished, and had the amenities for a more comfortable lifestyle. On the other hand, it was not until after the 19th century when those from the working class could afford a modest lifestyle.

In the mid 19th century, lives of women from the upper class and those from the working class, were worlds apart. If they had any common denominator, they enjoyed fewer rights than their male counterparts. Beginning in the late 19th century until the early 20th century was a period of industrialization, urbanization and vibrant economy. It was a picture of excitement, challenge, opportunities and change. Eventually, women’s roles and society’s expectations from them have been transformed. Women of today have not earned their rights the easy way, and with that, they very well deserve our respect!

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