As the Industrial Revolution began to pick up steam in the early and mid nineteenth century, reformers and working-class activists began to publicize the dangerous conditions that the laboring class confronted. As a result, Parliament began in the 1830s and 1840s to examine the living and working conditions of laborers in industrial occupations. One of the most significant such investigations was Lord Ashley’s Mines Commission of 1842. This testimony brought to light the truly wretched condition of mine work, and the fact that women and children as young as five years of age were employed in dangerous coal pits. Parliament consequently passed the Mines Act of 1842, which banned the employment of women and boys under the age of thirteen in the mines.
Questions for Consideration and Discussion
- Please list six hazards faced by mine workers.
- Why did Thomas Wilson oppose government regulation of the mining industry?
- What solution did he propose to the issue of women working in the mines? Do you think that his solution would work?
- Based on the testimony and what you have read in your textbook, did the mineworkers have much of a choice with regard to their career? In other words, did they have any realistic employment alternatives to their present work?
- Why did the coal-pit owners prefer women workers to men?
- What would John Stuart Mill think of the miners’ plight? Explain.
- How would Marx and Engels view the situation in the mines? What solution would they have for the miners’ troubles?
- How would you have solved the miners’ situation? Why?