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Essay: Reveal the Dark Side of the Industrial Revolution: Slavery, Robber Barons, Poor Working Conditions

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If the definition of failure means to create negative effects, than the industrial revolution indeed failed. It encouraged the use of slave labour, poor work conditions, and poor business practices. This was the age of the rise of the rise of robber barons and also the time where the top one percent controlled over ninety percent of the nation’s wealth. The industrial revolution did nothing to improve the global condition of slavery. The diversification of the British exports, and its economy rested heavily on the atlantic economy which depended on the slave-based sugar colonies (cite). While triangular trade did not take place at the same time as the industrial revolution, it still led into the beginning of the revolution. While slavery was not a driving force, it was still important for the industrial revolution. The scholar Eric Williams is quoted as saying the profits from the slave trade (triangular trade) were crucial to the Industrial Revolution. Specifically, it was the profits of sugar that Europeans focused on, and consequently used to start businesses. Sugar production was abundant in the West Indies, but extracting it required time and money. At the time, the elite were able to dominate sugar production because not only did they have the capital to do so, but they also had governmental support for doing so. (cite). Naturally, the labor for extracting sugar came from African slaves. Triangular trade was gone by the time the Industrial revolution began, but british merchants had no problem buying slaves from the American south. (cite). While slaves did help European growth, this growth was not dependent upon slave labor. Not only did the Industrial Revolution fail to improve the global conditions of slavery, but it also created poor working conditions. In both the Americas and Britain, the working class suffered. They were forced to work long hours and in poor conditions. The middle class were crammed into dirty and dangerous tenements by their bosses. Work dominated their lives, and should they get injured, or become ill, then they would lose their job. This all can be summed up with the name Mark Twain created for this “revolution”: The Gilded age. Gilded means coated with gold, and this name perfectly exemplifies what this revolution was. Perfect on the outside, but on the inside horrifying and ugly. The burgeiouse were forced to endure these conditions because of the Robber Barons. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a Robber Baron is a capitalist who became wealthy through exploitation, as of natural resources, governmental influences, or low wage scales. In other words, they exploit their workers to gain more wealth and power. The government (of Britain or the U.S) will not stop them; in fact, political favours went to the highest bidder. (cite). This condition wasn’t any better in Latin America. Actually, it may have possibly been worse. European foreign investors invested into that land with little regard to the native population. They created railroads to make exports to Europe more easier, and this in turn only strengthened the power of Latin elites. The harms of the Industrial Revolution outweigh the benefits, and this becomes clear when examining the various injustices committed against slaves and the working class by Robber Barons and corrupt bureaucrats.

The global condition of slavery was not improved by the Industrial Revolution. In fact, the roots of the Industrial revolution were established by triangular trade. Capital England gained from this trade were used to finance the Industrial Revolution. Figure 1 shows the three main countries that were apart of triangular trade. The scholar Eric Williams says that the cheapest labor supply came from the African slave trade. This, consequently, led into triangular trade. Eventually, shipping interests across Britain invested heavily in trading links across Africa and the middle passage that transported slaves to America and the West Indies. (cite). In fact, it would be incorrect to say that it was just England (at least in Europe) participating in the triangular trade. Frane and many other European powers participated in, and enjoyed the benefits of triangular trade. (cite). Once again, a quote taken from Eric Williams book Capitalism and Slavery illustrates this point. He writes “the slave ships sailed from the home country with a cargo of manufactured goods. These were exchanged  at a profit at the coast of Africa for Negroes, who were traded on the plantations, at another profit, in exchange for a cargo of colonial production can be taken back to the home country.”  The slave plantations provided the mother country (Britain) with various luxuries, such as sugar, tobacco, chocolate, and coffee. (cite). The British soon craved, and arguably became greedy for these various luxuries. This allowed the Triangular Trade to keep running. In fact, by 1750, there were hardly any manufacturing towns that were disconnected from the triangular trade. The british economy thrived due to this trade, and later allowed them to set up the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, slave labor from the West Indies were used as well. The profitability of sugar in this region of the world provided incentive to British merchants to invest into this land, and concentrate their resources on exporting said sugar. Shipping interests across Britain invested in trading links to Africa, and the middle passage. However, it would be misleading to say that slave labor in the West Indies was a driving force for the Industrial revolution. In fact, shipping interests soon shifted to the United States. (cite). After the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, America became an important cotton exporter in the late 1700s, exporting their products to mainly Europe. (cite). Not only was slave labour used in the Industrial Revolution, but the labor of a poor working class was used as well.

The middle class in America and Europe suffered heavily during the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most manufacturing was done at home. (cite). Demand for manufactured products increased during this revolution, and consequently a larger work force was needed to meet the demand. This does not mean, however, said workforce was treated fairly. The urban working class were crammed into dirty and dangerous tenements in Industrial areas. These homes were purposefully close to their job, as they needed to work constantly to provide for their families. There was almost zero privacy in these tenements as well. (cite). Families were situated right next to other families to maximize space. Not only this, but the heating in tenements were also subpar. (cite). Heating in tenements was provided by wood burning stoves, which was not enough for harsh winters. Work hours were long, and the pay was very low. Even children were used as laborers. Children as young as six worked 19 hours a day with a one hour break. They worked in unsafe factories surrounded by dangerous equipment. Many children were killed on the job, to the “sadness” of their bosses (because they lost labor). (cite).  During the 1750s in Britain, 14% of the workforce were children under 14. If a child were to make a mistake during work, they would get beaten by their bosses. They faced cruel and grotesque punishments, such as tying a weight on a child’s neck and forcing them to walk around the factory to serve as an example for others. This cruel treatment could last an hour. (cite). The Industrial revolution was clearly not revolutionary for the children dying in factories. There are still child workers today as a result of the Industrial “revolution”. This is clearly a negative consequence of the Industrial revolution. The people who gave the working class poor conditions were Robber Barons.

Robber Barons were those who craved wealth, and didn’t care if they harmed anyone in their path to wealth. Mark Twain’s famous nickname of this era sums up what it was: the gilded age. This means that on the outside the Industrial revolution, but on the inside it is rotten. In literal terms, it means that the Industrial revolution may seem like the age of technological advancements, but in reality it was the dawn of the age of unfair treatment. The working class were robbed of their rights so that these people may gain wealth. Robber Barons will often exploit the working class and force them to work in poor conditions. President Rutherford B. Hayes notes in his diary, “it was an era when government held the keys to corporate and private fortunes-land and subsidies for railroads, tariff protection for manufacturers, mountains for mining, and the U.S army regulars to break strikes.” As long as corrupt politicians had their pockets filled by Robber Barons, they were virtually unstoppable. Robber Barons were not limited to America and Britain. One of the most evil Robber Barons to have ever lived was Alfried Krupp. During the 1930s, he picked up laborers from Nazi death camps to use in his factories. In fact, he had forced laborers in almost 100 factories across Germany, Poland, Austria, France, and Czechoslovakia. The conditions in Krupp’s factories were not much better than those in the Nazi death camps. (cite). Many of his “workers” were beaten, starved, overworked

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