Modern World History 3.6 Exploitation Station

Death by fire. Death by machinery. Death by collapsed coal mine. The workers of the Industrial Revolution couldn't catch a break. 

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Transcript

00:18

And the faster and more efficiently

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those people worked, the better.

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Enter the assembly line. The bosses of the Industrial Revolution

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would put a bunch of workers in a row, and these workers

00:28

would perform a single task, over and over and over, and over, again.

00:33

So kind of like a bunch of real life Sisyphuses.

00:36

Was this horrifically boring for your average factory worker? Sure.

00:41

However, with every worker in the assembly line focused on doing his or her specific task,

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products could be built much, much faster, which ultimately meant much, much more money for manufacturers.

00:51

Of course, it didn't take long for companies to start to view their assembly-line workers as easily replaceable parts rather than people.

00:58

The specialized nature of factory work, where

01:00

one person was assigned to one repetitive task,

01:03

meant a worker could get the boot without the boss-man having to worry much about finding

01:07

someone else to learn the gig and take over the job.

01:10

The same reasoning applied when a worker got hurt on the factory floor. And hoo boy, did people get hurt often.

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A laborer could lose a finger, a hand, or an entire limb to a machine.

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Because workers stood on their feet for hours without a break,

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foot, ankle, and knee injuries were really common.

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People also got sick from breathing in pollution and dust on the factory floor.

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And then there were the industrial accidents.

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New York City's worst was the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911,

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when nearly 150 people, many of them teenaged girls,

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got caught on the upper floors of the Asch Building.

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Those who didn't die jumping from the windows to the street below, died of smoke inhalation or burned to death.

01:50

Factories weren't the only bane of working-class existence.

01:53

The Industrial Revolution ran on coal,

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which could only be pulled out of mines by—you guessed it—lots of poor people.

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Many of the mines were unstable and full of lung-clogging coal dust.

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There were also a bunch of weird singing dwarves who liked to whistle while they worked. All in all, lots of dangers.

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At least factory workers had the option of ditching their jobs for, well, something other than getting shredded by a machine.

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Slaves weren't so fortunate, and as we discussed in an earlier lesson,

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the invention of the cotton gin actually

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reinforced slavery in the American South.

02:25

However, on the tea-drinking, scone-eating side of the Atlantic, change was afoot.

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The British decided that slavery was totally uncool and

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inefficient, and they got rid of the institution in 1833.

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The laborers used by the British were all free men and women.

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However, they were so dependent on their wages to survive that many critics believed the

02:44

Industrial Revolution in England had banished

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one kind of slavery simply to replace it with another.

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Death by machinery. Death by fire. Death by collapsed coal mine. Death by irritating, whistling dwarves.

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The workers of the Industrial Revolution just couldn't catch a break.