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Post-Reform England

The Reform Act of 1832 fully satisfied the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie which was set to consolidate its gains. On the other hand the Whigs who were in power and expressed the interests of the industrialists were eager to pacify the country as the workers realizing that they had been cheated stepped up their struggle for economic and social rights.

It was within this context that ensuing reforms were introduced by the Whigs. Under the pressure of the workers the parliamentary Act of 1833 placed a minimum age limit of nine years for factory workers, required children under thirteen to attend school part of each day, restricted their hours of labour, and provided a system of inspection.

However, the act affected only textile workers, but another law passed in 1842 extended jits provisions to mine workers. Still another law (1844) required child workers from nine to thirteen years of age to attend school half of each day, while a later act forbade women to labour more than twelve hours daily. However, it was one thing to pass an act and another to implement it. In 1851 there were nearly 5 million children of school age. Of these, 600,000 were at work, over 2 million were in school, and the remainder were neither at work, nor in school.

Parliamentary sittings became open to the public and a special gallery in Parliament was open to the press and public.

The Whigs made another gesture. The law of 1834 abolished slavery in the colonies, decreeing that slaves then living should be apprenticed and freed gradually and that others born later should be free born. However, the West Indian planters, the Boer farmers in South Africa and in other regions received a huge compensation of 20 million pounds as value for the freed slaves. One must emphasize that the law did not work well in practice, though it spelled the doom of slavery in a large portion of the world.

The Whig-Liberal government of Lord Grey revealed its true class nature when it passed in 1834 the ill-famed Poor Law Amendment Act which proclaimed poverty a crime and punishable by imprisoning the destitute in specially created workhouses called by the workers as 'Bastilles for the Poor',

The Poor Law affected the life of a labouring man at its most tender spots. In times of distress caused by unemployment, sickness, old age and death, he and his family were under strain and most in need of help. Yet this was the last thing to be expected under the Poor Law Act. The new Poor Law was basically an attempt to punish the workers for the conditions which the capitalists had created for them. There was much resistance to the enforcement of the Poor Law which was, however, overcome by the 'liberal-minded' government. The relief which the poor had formerly received through the local parish was now abolished.

In 1837 William IV died, and his eighteen-year-old niece, Victoria, became queen (1837 1901). Her reign of more than sixty-three years was the longest in English history. It was a period when England attained industrial and financial supremacy. Many traits of life of the English well-to-do classes such as snobbery, conservatism, an imperial outlook, humbug and hypocrisy are associated with the name of Queen Victoria.

The thirties and forties of the nineteenth century marked the final stages of the Industrial Revolution which set in motion a train of changes in all aspects of English life.

With the development of industry in England, the distribution of the population changed. A steady stream of workers migrated to the new industrial districts in the north and the west. About half of the population lived in towns and only about 35 per cent of the economic active population was occupied in agriculture. Textile industry took the lead followed by coal mining, steel production, machine-building and manufacturing.

The Industrial Revolution had already brought an era of canal and road building, and it popularized the public stage coach. An American inventor named Robert Fulton now applied the principle of steam engine locomotion to his ship, the Clermont (1807), and five years later a Scotchman named Henry Bell steamed down the Clyde river. Soon steamers were crossing the Atlantic, and regular steamship service was established.

Steam engines were first used to pump water from mines; but an Englishman George Stephenson, made an engine that would draw coal wagons on a track. Presently the Liverpool and Manchester railway became a reality for hauling both passengers and freight. By the middle of the century Britain had six and a half thousand kilometres of railway tracks.

In 1844, F. Engels thus described the industrial gains of England: 'Sixty-eight years ago England was a country like every other with small towns, few and simple industries and a thin, but proportionally large agricultural population. Today it is a country like no other, with a capital of two and a half million inhabitants, with vast manufacturing cities, with an industry that supplies the world....

In connection with the development of large-scale industry, the conditions e artisans who were being ruined were appalling. Those who went to work in the factory also suffered greatly. They worked 1618 hours a day and received a pittance for their labour. The emergence of the working class was associated with new types of protest more highly organized, sustained, political and, above all, class-conscious. As always, the change from one type of social action to another was not sudden and complete.

The disappointment of the working class with the Reform Act of 1832 and the open betrayal of their interests by the bourgeois radicals made the workers seek other forms to defend their rights. Though the National Union of the Working Classes ceased to exist, Owenism attracted support among working men. The trade union ferment of 182934 was dominated by Owenite theories. Attempts were made to unite the working class and their unions which emerged after their legalization in 1824. In 1834 the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union was formed in order to unite different trade unions in the country. However, this union was a short-lived one because the Utopian ideas of Robert Owen which influenced the rules of the union were inadequate as to the immediate practical tasks which the union was to tackle.

In the meantime the working class in the course of struggle for its rights was gaining a mature sense of class consciousness. This was well reflected in the Tolpuddle Martyrs case. In March 1834 six agricultural labourers from the Dorsetshire village of Tolpuddle, who formed a trade union lodge, were sentenced to seven years' transportation (i. e. sent as convicts to Australia). The labourers tried to get the support of other farm workers in their struggle for better wages: George Loveless, their leader, contacted Robert Owen's Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, and as soon as the significance of the sentence was realized the GNCTU organized a sustained campaign of petitions and mass demonstrations. Two years later the Tolpuddle Martyrs, as they were called, were pardoned. However, the event as such displayed the great outburst of trade union militancy of the working class. It also prompted the idea that industrial organization and strike action were the only remaining options left to the workers to defend their economic and social rights. It was within this atmosphere of social disillusionment and discontent that! the great political and soqial movement of the working class was gaining momentum in England in the first half of the nineteenth century known as Chartism.

Date: 2015-02-03; view: 1225

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The Struggle for Parliamentary Reform. The Reform Act of 1832 | Chartism and its Main Trends. The Historical Significance of Chartism
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