Engels on factory conditions


Engels: factory conditions


  • Intro

    German writer and political theorist Friedrich Engels (1820-95) is perhaps best remembered as the co-author, with Karl Marx, of The Communist Manifesto in 1848. But Engels's view of capitalism as a doomed excuse for the rich to exploit the poor and uneducated had been developed in his first book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’ of 1844.


    In often revolutionary language, it draws on his experiences while living in Manchester, then at the heart of the industrial revolution. He gave up 'the dinner-parties... and champagne of the middle classes' and instead spent time talking to the workers. Engels was horrified by the child labour, environmental damage, low wages, bad conditions, poor health, death rates - and the 'social and political power of your oppressors'. Containing many important and ground-breaking early thoughts on socialism, the book is still widely read today.


    In the pages displayed here, Engels discusses the appalling conditions that factory workers were subjected to.


    Shelfmark: 0826.e.36

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    Engels on factory conditions

    The Condition of the Working Class in England by, Frederick Engels, 1844

    ..There are some branches of factory-work which have an especially injurious effect. In many rooms of the cotton and flax-spinning mills, the air is filled with fibrous dust, which produces chest and bronchial complaints, especially among workers in the carding and combing-rooms. Some constitutions can bear it, some cannot; but the operative has no choice. He must take the room in which he finds work, whether his chest is sound or not. The most common effects of this breathing of dust are blood-spitting, hard, noisy breathing, pains in the chest, coughs, sleeplessness – in short, all the symptoms of asthma ending in the worst cases in consumption. Especially unwholesome is the wet spinning of linen-yarn which is carried on by young girls and boys. The water spirts over them from the spindle, so that the front of their clothing is constantly wet through to the skin; and there is always water standing on the floor.

    .... Another effect of flax-spinning is a peculiar deformity of the shoulder, especially a projection of the right shoulder-blade, consequent upon the nature of the work. This sort of spinning and the throstle-spinning of cotton frequently produce diseases of the knee-pan, which is used to check the spindle during the joining of broken threads. The frequent stooping and the bending to the low machines common to both these branches of work have, in general, a stunting effect upon the growth of the operative. ...But apart from all these diseases and malformations, the limbs of the operatives suffer in still another way.

     The work between the machinery gives rise to multitudes of accidents of more or less serious nature, which have for the operative the secondary effect of unfitting him for his work more or less completely. The most common accident is the squeezing off of a single joint of a finger, somewhat less common the loss of the whole finger, half or a whole hand, an arm, etc., in the machinery. Lockjaw very often follows, even upon the lesser among these injuries, and brings death with it. Besides the deformed persons, a great number of maimed ones may be seen going about in Manchester; this one has lost an arm or a part of one, that one a foot, the third half a leg; it is like living in the midst of an army just returned from a campaign. But the most dangerous portion of the machinery is the strapping which conveys motive power from the shaft to the separate machines, especially if it contains buckles, which, however, are rarely used now. Whoever is seized by the strap is carried up with lightning speed, thrown against the ceiling above and floor below with such force that there is rarely a whole bone left in the body, and death follows instantly. Between June 12th and August 3rd, 1844, the Manchester Guardian reported the following serious accidents (the trifling ones it does not notice): June 12th, a boy died in Manchester of lockjaw, caused by his hand being crushed between wheels. June 15th, a youth in Saddleworth seized by a wheel and carried away with it; died, utterly mangled. June 29th, a young man at Green Acres Moor, near Manchester, at work in a machine shop, fell under the grindstone, which broke two of his ribs and lacerated him terribly. July 24th, a girl in Oldham died, carried around fifty times by a strap; no bone unbroken. July 27th, a girl in Manchester seized by the blower (the first machine that receives the raw cotton), and died of injuries received. August 3rd, a bobbins turner died in Dukenfield, caught in a strap, every rib broken.

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