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Essay: Workers: From Slavery to Respectable Pay – History of Labour Improvements

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Words: 1,359 (approx)
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  • Tags: Slavery essays

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There will and has always been work, and there will always be workers or laborers, Workers throughout time have ascended from being overworked, underprivileged, and unhappy slaves to the respectably paid and mostly enthused workforce we have in today’s time. Back in the day, workers were to be used and to be looked at as slaves, but in today’s society, not only does anyone and everyone have the right to work in any of the fields that they choose to, but now we have technological advances that even mechanizes and computerizes the tasks that individuals used to work on by hand. Furthermore, the equipment used back in the day does not compare to what workers use today as they are considerably different and advanced. Notwithstanding, the tools that workers used in the past lined the way to the equipment that we have in use now. Another major difference is the motivation and views of the workforce. Back then slaves and indentured servants were considered property and workers were working long hours and overworking themselves. Today, workers view their jobs or careers as a means to make ends meet, and a few even love their jobs because they have the opportunity to make decisions as to what field they wish to work in, but back then there was limited choice in labor positions which led to workers disliking their jobs and creating a disdain for labor (Silver 2006).

Ancient Times

Most of the job positions during this time, more specifically in ancient Greece, were filled by slaves. Slaves worked as policemen, hair dressers, dancers, cooks, farmers, and most other common jobs. Moreover, most slaves in ancient Greece worked in the fields doing farm work. More so during this time the advances in technology were in war machines and tactics. Slaves often worked in sweatshops that created military equipment such as weapons, armor, and boats. Some of the inventions during this time helped workers quality of life and works. Some examples of these inventions are the pulley system, rope, and the winch. In ancient times, inequality in power, freedom and the control of resources was an accepted part of life for workers and slaves during this time period (Cartwright, 2013). Slaves during this time were treated as the lowest class, even more so than free criminals (Cartwright, 2013).

Medieval Times

During the medieval time period workers were no longer referred to as slaves, but they were now known as peasants. Peasants during this time mostly worked for lords as servants or worked the fields as farmers. Peasants, much like the slaves during ancient times, were seen as the bottom of the feudal system and had to obey their local lord in which they also had to swear an oath of obedience on the Bible (Trueman, 2015). The church during this time was starting to become a major factor in how peasants worked. For example, peasant had to work for free while on a church’s land. “The Domesday Book meant that the king knew how much tax you owed and you could not argue with this – hence why it brought ‘doom and gloom’ to people ” (Trueman, 2015). There were some great technological advances during this time that directly influenced the peasants’ quality of life. Some examples are the heavy plow, the modern harness, and triennial crop rotation (Newman, n.d.). These inventions increased food production and also saved the peasants a lot of time and energy in their labor duties.

The Renaissance and Scientific Revolution

Compared to the ancient and medieval eras, workers were no longer referred to generally as slaves or peasants. The workers during this time were known as either tradesmen or unskilled workers. Tradesmen were masters of their craft. They were trained as apprentices, then when they reached the level of master they began to train their own apprentices then opened up their own workshops (Muscato, n.d.). Tradesmen also fell into guilds, which operated much like the unions we have today. The unskilled workers had a rough life, especially in the more rural farmland areas. Life on peasant farms was very difficult, and starvation was common. Men no longer accepted at face value the teachings of the Church. Now they wanted to study the natural world, to discover for themselves the secrets of the universe. Leonardo da Vinci pioneered the study of human anatomy and Galileo Galilei rocked the Catholic establishment by announcing that the Earth revolved around the Sun. (The Renaissance-An overview, n.d.)

The social class system more or less began to disappear as this time period went on, and humanism began to spread. Some specific examples are the advances in chemistry that led to the rise of gunpowder, and a new model of mathematics stimulated new financial trading systems and made it easier than ever to navigate across the world (The Telegraph 2015). Aside from all of these changes, the biggest change during this time was that prior to the renaissance, people mostly got their information from the church. Scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus began to pave the way for a more scientific and factual outlook on life (Seller 2012).

Industrial Revolution

Life for workers and laborers was awful during this time period. With lines of people willing to work, their employers could set wages as low as they wanted because workers were willing to do the work as long as they got paid (Poddar n.d.). During this time women and children were now a part of the workforce. Moreover, they held the same jobs and in many cases worked just as hard as the men did. Aside from all of the negative aspects, technology began to make a big impact on workers during this time. In 1769, a man named James Watt patented the steam engine and in effect created a new source of power and this eventually led to the invention of the steam powered train which increased production and transportation of goods and services. “With the start of the Industrial Revolution, machines began to perform work that once required human hands. With the use of machines, factories sprang up to replace small craft shops. This change was made possible by the concept of interchangeable parts, an innovation designed by Eli Whitney (Corday 2014)”. Assembly lines fundamentally made production faster by leaps and bounds, but were ran by workers and their jobs became much more repetitive and monotonous.

Workers Today

A look at laborers as compared to the past, they are extremely better off with the state of current working conditions and well as their living arrangements. Laborers today are guaranteed vacation time and have the freedom to learn a new skill or profession and work in that field. Wages and living conditions have substantially improved as workers now on average make enough money to sustain a family. Factories now employ automated technologies that decrease the workload for human workers, but this technology is also starting to replace human workers in more tedious and simple jobs (Zinn 2017). Moreover, the technologies today are making workers life much more simple and automated (Zinn 2017). (Seiler, 2014)


If you trace back the roots of workers to the ancient times it is easy to tell how much easier life has gotten for workers around the world. They are no longer called slaves or peasants, and they no longer fall under a social class system at the lowest level. Today people work to make honest money and to care for their families, while back then they served for lords and people with power. Another difference between now and the past is that the church does not control the workers as they used to. Workers no longer have to swear loyalty to their boss with their hand on a bible. Workers can now practice religious freedom and follow their own beliefs. The biggest thing to look at is how technology had come so far since the ancient times. Now we enjoy computers, smartphones, and other things that make life much simpler. Workers now work with automation to make their jobs easier and production levels much higher. The shift to how workers lived and how they were viewed previously to today is just shocking.

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