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Division of Labor in Industry

Division of labor is a basic tenet of industrialization. In division of labor, each worker is assigned to a different task, or step, in the manufacturing process, and as a result, total production increases. As this illustration shows, one person performing all five steps in the manufacture of a product can make one unit in a day. Five workers, each specializing in one of the five steps, can make 10 units in the same amount of time.

Industrialization brought to the United States conflicts and stresses similar to the ones encountered in Britain and in Europe. Those who had a stake in the traditional economy lost ground as mechanized production replaced household manufacturing. Often, skilled workers found their income and their status under attack from the new machines and the relentless division of labor. Businesses had always enjoyed considerable power in their relationships with the labor force, but the balance tipped even more in their favor as firms grew larger.

In order to counter the power of business, workers tried to form trade unions to represent them and bargain for rights. Initially they had only limited success. Occasional strikes, sometimes violent, appeared as signs of underlying tensions. Until the Great Depression of the 1930s, skilled craft workers were almost the only groups able to sustain unions. The most successful of these unions were those in the American Federation of Labor. They did not seek fundamental social or economic change, such as socialists advocated; instead they accepted industrial society and concentrated on improving the wages and working conditions of their members.

Eventually the United States digested the tensions and dislocations caused by the coming of industry and the growth of cities. The government began to enact regulations and antitrust laws to counter the worst excesses of big business. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was created to prevent corporate trusts, monopoly enterprises formed to reduce competition and allow essentially a single business firm to control the price of a product. Laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, mandated worker protections, including the maximum 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek. Above all, the rising incomes and high rates of economic growth proved calming. Material progress convinced most Americans that industrialization had been a positive development, although the challenge of balancing business growth and worker rights remains an issue to this day.


After the first appearance of industrialization in Britain, many other nations eagerly pursued similar changes. In the 19th century the Industrial Revolution spread not only to the United States, but also to Germany, France, Belgium, and much of the rest of western Europe. Often, skilled British workers and knowledgeable entrepreneurs moved to other countries and taught the manufacturing techniques they had learned in Britain.

Change happened somewhat differently in each setting because of varying resources, political conditions, and social and economic circumstances. In France, industrial development was somewhat delayed by political turmoil and a lack of coal, but the central government played a more active role in development than Britain’s had. Both countries created railroad networks, for example, but the British did so entirely through private companies, while the French central government funded much of its country’s railways. Craft production, in which people make decorative or functional items by hand, also remained a more significant element in the French economy than it did in Britain. In some industries, such as furniture manufacturing, the extent of mechanization was not as great as it had been in Great Britain.

In Germany the central government’s role was also greater than it had been in Great Britain. This was partly because the German government wanted to hasten the process and catch up with British industrialization. Germany used its rich iron and coal resources to develop heavy industry, such as iron and steel manufacture. It also proved to be an environment that encouraged big businesses and cooperation among large firms. The German banking sector, for example, was dominated by a few large banks that coordinated efforts to increase industry.

In Russia, the government made repeated efforts to enable industrialization, sometimes hiring foreigners to build and operate whole factories. On the whole, however, industrialization spread more slowly there, and the Russian economy remained overwhelmingly agricultural for a long time. Even in largely industrialized areas, such as western Europe and the United States, some areas lagged behind in industrial development. Southern Italy, Spain, and the American South remained largely agrarian until much later than their neighbors. In Asia, industrialization varied, although as a whole it came much later than Western European development.

In Japan, the first industrial Asian nation, the central government made industrialization a national goal during the late 19th century. Industrialization in some areas of China began in the early 20th century and increased near the end of the century. Other Asian and Pacific Rim countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan, began to industrialize after the 1960s.

In Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, India, and much of Latin America—areas that were colonies of Western nations, or that were dominated by other nations for long periods—industrialization was much more delayed than in many other areas. The legacies of colonialism made widespread change difficult because the society and economy of colonies were heavily controlled by and dependent on the parent country.

Although different cultures produced distinctive variations of an industrial revolution, the similarities are striking. Mechanization and urbanization were central to each area in which the Industrial Revolution succeeded, as were accompanying tensions and disruptions. In most societies, the truly revolutionary changes came during the first 75 to 100 years after the process of industrialization began. After that, factory production dominated manufacturing, and most people moved to cities.


The modern, industrial societies created by the Industrial Revolution have come at some cost. The nature of work became worse for many people, and industrialization placed great pressures on traditional family structures as work moved outside the home. The economic and social distances between groups within industrial societies are often very wide, as is the disparity between rich industrial nations and poorer neighboring countries. The natural environment has also suffered from the effects of the Industrial Revolution. Pollution, deforestation, and the destruction of animal and plant habitats continue to increase as industrialization spreads.

Perhaps the greatest benefits of industrialization are increased material well-being and improved healthcare for many people in industrial societies. Modern industrial life also provides a constantly changing flood of new goods and services, giving consumers more choices. With both its negative aspects and its benefits, the Industrial Revolution has been one of the most influential and far-reaching movements in human history.


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 677

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