Labor Dispute during the Industrial Revolution

This essay examines the political economy of 18th Century England with a special focus on labor unrest.

The case of Leeds Woollen Workers and the Leeds Cloth Merchants is a classic case of labor dispute between workers and management (Harrison qtd. in Halsall While the case happened over two hundred years ago, the issues that both sides had raised still resonate today.Harrison claimed that the workers had clamored for job security and the maintenance of the worker benefits that they had been enjoying regularly. Their chief complaint was the threat posed by the machines that were being utilized by the Cloth Merchants to upgrade production capacity of their respective factories.

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The workers were arguing that the machines contributed heavily to the unemployment that was being experienced then by a huge number of workers in the Leeds area. The workers also pointed out that this would require them to seek retraining in another craft so as to guarantee their employment in the future.The workers were reluctant to change their careers because they worry that technology may develop to the point that new machines can also replace the skills for which they retrained themselves. This of course will waste their efforts to acquire newer skills that can solve their unemployment concerns. The workers were also apprehensive about the future employment of their children.  They worry that the use of the machines would likewise lessen the chances of their children to find gainful employment.

As a result of this, their children would become idle, thereby making them more susceptible to leading a life of crime (Harrison qtd. in Halsall

html).Harrison saw the Leeds Cloth Merchants advocating for the greater use of the machines.  They had raised the issue regarding the need to increase the competitiveness of the British economy by introducing machines in the production line. The owners had argued that machines enable the manufacturers of the Kingdom to compete with other economies in world whose production costs were lower due to lower taxes and more importantly lower wages that the workers receive in the other countries.

  The merchants also pointed out that the use of machines had dramatically increased the production capacity of some of the Kingdom’s industries. They reasoned that Britain could improve its balance of trade position vis-à-vis other countries if they can use these technological innovations in a product such as wool which is abundant in the Kingdom instead of just using it only on imported products. The merchants also tried to assuage the fears of workers by stating that workers now enjoy higher wages due to increase levels of productivity. (Harrison qtd. in Halsall

html.  In a way, one can appreciate the foregoing discussion as the precursor of the development of future government policies like the laissez-faire approach and welfare state approach to deal with such problemsWork CitedModern History Sourcebook: Leeds Woollen Workers Petition, 1786. Aug. 1997 FordhamUniversity 23 April 2008.


Author: Eva Cummings


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