i) Early centuries
Treatment of workers in the Roman Empire
Ancient Rome was a slave society. Hopkins was the first to assert that Rome was one of only five slave societies in recorded history, a view adopted quickly by Finley.
Wages vary in a labor market by skill as well as by location. Almost all workers have skills, basic skills of agriculture and often more advanced skills as well. Economists call these skills human
capital. Most ancient workers had few skills, including the ability to read, that is, little human capital. Craftsmen and some agricultural workers had competencies that did not depend on literacy and would receive a higher wage in a rural labor market for them. But these skills would not earn much, if anything, in urban areas.
Wages in such a system would not reach equality for similar skills, and most workers would not feel free to look around for a more lucrative activity. Free urban workers in the early Roman empire were paid for their work and were able to change their economic activities. Hereditary barriers were nonexistent, and Roman guilds do not appear to have been restrictive. Workers in large enterprises, like mines and galleys, were paid wages, as in more modern labor markets.
Workers engaged in more skilled and complex tasks received more elaborate compensation, probably for longer units of time than those doing wage labor, again as in more modern labor markets, even though explicit long-term contracts were not yet established. The force of competition under those circumstances probably brought wages and labor productivity into the same ballpark.
Some of the work in the early Roman empire was done for wages and some under the duress of slavery.
Treatment of slaves
Slavery in ancient Rome differed from its modern forms in that it was not based on race. But like modern slavery, it was an abusive and degrading institution. Cruelty was commonplace. In hard times, it was not uncommon for desperate Roman citizens to raise money by selling their children into slavery.
When the Romans conquered the Mediterranean, they took millions of slaves to Italy, where they toiled on the large plantations or in the houses and workplaces of wealthy citizens. The Italian economy depended on abundant slave labor, with slaves constituting 40 percent of the population. Enslaved people with talent, skill, or beauty commanded the highest prices, and many served as singers, scribes, jewelers, bartenders, and even doctors. One slave trained in medicine was worth the price of 50 agricultural slaves.
Roman law was inconsistent on slavery. Slaves were considered property; they had no rights and were subject to their owners’ whims. However, they had legal standing as witnesses in courtroom proceedings, and they could eventually gain freedom and citizenship. Masters often freed loyal slaves in gratitude for their faithful service, but slaves could also save money to purchase their freedom. Conditions for slaves in Rome gradually improved, although slaves were treated cruelly in the countryside.
Some harsh masters believed in the old proverb “Every slave is an enemy,” so that while humane legislation prohibited the mutilation or murder of slaves, outrageous cruelty continued. Like the Stoic philosophers, Christians taught the brotherhood of humanity and urged kindness towards slaves, but they did not consider slaves equals in status.
For example, Saint Augustine opposed the principle of slavery, but did not see how the practice could be abolished without endangering the social order. Thus he regarded it as another necessary evil resulting from humanity’s fall from divine grace. Other bishops were less troubled, and the early Christian church actually acquired its own slaves.
Slavery in the Roman Empire did not suddenly end, but it was slowly replaced when new economic forces introduced other forms of cheap labor. During the late empire, Roman farmers and traders were reluctant to pay large amounts of money for slaves because they did not wish to invest in a declining economy. The legal status of “slave” continued for centuries, but slaves were gradually replaced by wage laborers in the towns and by land-bound peasants (later called serfs) in the countryside. These types of workers provided cheap labor without the initial cost that slave owners had to pay for slaves. Slavery did not disappear in Rome because of human reform or religious principle, but because the Romans found another, perhaps even harsher, system of labor.
All slaves and their families were the property of their owners, who could sell or rent them out at any time. Their lives were harsh. Slaves were often whipped, branded or cruelly mistreated. Their owners could also kill them for any reason, and would face no punishment. Although Romans accepted slavery as the norm, some people.
Slaves worked everywhere – in private households, in mines and factories, and on farms. They also worked for city governments on engineering projects such as roads, aqueducts and buildings.
Slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the economy. Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions. Accountants and physicians were often slaves. Slaves of Greek origin in particular might be highly educated. Unskilled slaves, or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills.
Monasteries and convents
In English usage, the term monastery is generally used to denote the buildings of a community of monks. In modern usage, convent tends to be applied only to institutions of female monastics (nuns), particularly communities of teaching or nursing religious sisters.
What was a Monastery?
A monastery was a building, or buildings, where people lived and worshiped, devoting their time and life to God. The people who lived in the monastery were called monks. The monastery was self contained, meaning everything the monks needed was provided by the monastery community. They made their own clothes and grew their own food. They had no need for the outside world. This way they could be somewhat isolated and could focus on God. There were monasteries spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.
Why were they important?
The monks in the monasteries were some of the only people in the Middle Ages who knew how to read and write. They provided education to the rest of the world. The monks also wrote books and recorded events. If it wasn’t for these books, we would know very little about what happened during the Middle Ages.
The Monks Helped People
Although the monks were focused on God and the monastery, they still played an important part in the community. Monasteries were a place where travelers could stay during the Middle Ages as there were very few inns during that time. They also helped to feed the poor, take care of the sick, and provided education to boys in the local community. Monks and nuns performed many practical services in the Middle Ages, for they housed travelers, nursed the sick, and assisted the poor; abbots and abbesses dispensed advice to secular rulers. But monasticism also offered society a spiritual outlet and ideal with important consequences for medieval culture as a whole. Monasteries encouraged literacy, promoted learning, and preserved the of ancient literature, including the works of Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, and Aristotle. To beautify the celebration of the monastic composers enriched the scope and sophistication of choral music, and to create the best environment for devotion, monasticism developed a close and fruitful partnership with the visual arts. The need for books and buildings made religious houses active patrons of the arts, and the monastic obligation to perform manual work allowed many monks and nuns to serve God as creative artists.
Daily Life in the Monastery
The majority of the monk’s day in the Middle Ages was spent praying, worshiping in church, reading the Bible, and meditating. The rest of the day was spent working hard on chores around the Monastery. The monks would have different jobs depending on their talents and interests. Some worked the land farming food for the other monks to eat. Others washed the clothes, cooked the food, or did repairs around the monastery. Some monks were scribes and would spend their day copying manuscripts and making books.
(ii) Middle Ages
Craft guilds /unions in Europe
Guilds are defined as associations of craftsmen and merchants formed to promote the economic interests of their members as well as to provide protection and mutual aid. As both business and social organizations, guilds were prolific throughout Europe between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. A significant part of the skilled labor force in medieval cities was structured around the organization of guilds, which provided economic, educational, social and religious functions. The study of guilds provides opportunities for teaching several key economic concepts in a historical context, including specialization, division of labor, productivity, human capital (skills or education), monopoly power, economic systems, and labor unions.
Functions of Guilds
Guilds served a wide variety of economic, social, and religious functions. An overview of these functions is provided in Table 1. Guilds helped to advance and expand the economies of the era by providing education and training for apprentices and by helping journeymen improve
their skills. The specialization within a trade provided by the guild structure, along with the training and skills, led to increased productivity, increased wages, and higher standards of living. Guilds became a major source of employment for workers in cities, and guild membership was widespread.
Guilds functioned as local monopolies. In classic monopolistic style, they sought to raise wages through increased profits by limiting the quantity of goods and services produced and by controlling prices. Guild membership was limited so as not to flood markets with products and cause prices to fall. In hard economic times when demand was low, fewer journeymen would become masters and fewer apprentices would become journeymen. When times were better and demand for goods and services was higher, promotions within guilds were more common.
Guilds also controlled the quality of goods produced, realizing that it was in their self-interest as well as that of consumers to produce high quality products. Guilds relied on cooperation among their members to achieve their common goals, and low quality products were not tolerated because all guild members would suffer.
Guilds often had a great deal of influence over local governments. Guild leaders, especially those of powerful merchant guilds, frequently also served as local government officials. This situation enabled guilds to have legislation passed in their favor. Guilds also helped member families in need, and performed functions such as paying for burials and dowries for poorer families. When the Black Death caused the population of Europe to plummet during the fourteenth century, guilds became extended families for plague survivors. Guilds also served
important religious functions for their members. They worked to achieve eternal salvation for members by encouraging prayer for living and dead members, church attendance, and pious behavior.
(iii) Industrial Age (18th – 20th)
The Industrial Revolution, which took place from the 18th to 19th centuries, was a period during which predominantly agrarian, rural societies in Europe and America became industrial and urban. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in the late 1700s, manufacturing was often done in people’s homes, using hand tools or basic machines.
Industrialization marked a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production. The iron and textile industries, along with the development of the steam engine, played central roles in the Industrial Revolution, which also saw improved systems of transportation, communication and banking.
- Due to a high unemployment rate, workers were very easily replaceable and had no bargaining power with employers. There was an increase in population and landowners enclosed common village lands, forcing people from the country to go find work.
- Wages were very low, women and children received less than half the wages of men and had to work the same amount of time.
- There were no unions that could represent workers and the Combination Acts outlawed unionizing or protesting for better Industrial Revolution working condition
- Most people worked between 12 and 16 hours per day, six days a week, without any paid holidays or vacation.
- Safety hazards were everywhere, machines didn’t have any safety covers or fences and children as young as 5 years old were operating them. Iron workers worked in temperatures of 130 degrees and higher every day. Accidents on the job happened regularly.
- People did not have many break times, there was usually only one hour-long break per day
- Factories were dusty, dirty and dark – the only light source was sunlight that came in through a few windows. Because the machines ran on steam from fires, there was smoke everywhere. Many people ended up with eye problems and lung diseases.
- Small children had to work in coal mines without candles (if the family was too poor to buy candles) and were beaten by miners if they fell asleep. Young girls had to pull sledges or carts with coal all day long, deforming their pelvic bones and causing a lot of deaths during childbirth.
- Children did not get any sunlight, physical activity (apart from work) or education, which led to deformities and a shorter than average length.
- Should someone get injured on the job and be unable to work, they would be abandoned, wages would be stopped immediately and no medical attendance would be given to them. Injured workers usually lost their jobs and did not get any compensation.
- Unlike the country life they were used to, work in a factory was fast-paced and focused on production. No chit chat was allowed and those who still had family in rural areas could not head home to help with the harvest if they wanted to keep their jobs.
The role played by some Christians to improve working conditions during the industrial age
Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury 1801-1885, a philanthropist, was the eldest son of the sixth earl, and of Anne, fourth daughter of the third Duke of Marlborough. He was born on 28 April 1801 at 24 Grosvenor Square, London, his father being then a younger brother of the family, but when his father succeeded to the title and estates in 1811 his home was at St. Giles in Dorsetshire, the family seat. He was educated at Harrow, and at Christ Church, Oxford, and obtained a first class in classics in 1822. In 1832 he took his degree of M.A., and in 1841 he was made D.C.L.
He entered parliament as Lord Ashley in 1826 as member for Woodstock, the pocket borough of the Marlborough family, and gave a general support to the governments of Liverpool and Canning. He was returned for Dorchester in 1830 and 1831, and sat for Dorset from 1831 to 1846. His first speech was an earnest pleading in favour of a proposed grant to the family of Mr. Canning, after his sudden death.
The first social abuse that roused the interest of Ashley was the treatment of lunatics. In 1828, Mr. Gordon, a benevolent member of parliament, obtained a committee to inquire into the subject; Ashley’s interest was awakened, and he was himself named a member of the committee. Not content with official inquiries, he did much by personal visitation to ascertain the real condition of lunatics in confinement, and saw such distressing evidence of ill-treatment that next year he brought in a bill to amend the law in one particular. All the rest of his life he continued, as one of the commissioners in lunacy, to interest himself in the subject, and before his death he had secured a complete reform of the Lunacy Acts, and effected an untold improvement in the condition of the unfortunate class who had formerly been treated with so much severity and cruelty. This may be ranked as the first of his services to philanthropy.
His next effort was to reform the law relating to the employment of workers in mills and factories. About the time when he entered parliament the condition of the workers in factories, and especially the children, had begun to attract the earnest attention of some. In parliament Mr. M. T. Sadler and Mr. Oastler took up the matter warmly; Mr. Sadler, in particular, as Shaftesbury afterwards said with much generosity, ‘maintained the cause in parliament with unrivalled eloquence and energy.’ Mr. Sadler having lost his seat at the election in 1833 the charge of the movement was entrusted to Ashley. His proposal that the period of labour should be limited to ten hours a day met at first with the fiercest opposition. A bill which he introduced was so emasculated by the government that he threw it over on them; it was ultimately carried, but was not satisfactory.
A deep impression was produced by Ashley in describing visits paid by him to hospitals in Lancashire, where he found many workers who had been crippled and mutilated under the conditions of their work; they presented every variety of distorted form, ‘just like a crooked alphabet.’ Returning afterwards to the subject, he showed the enormous evils and miseries which the existing system was producing; but the government would not move. So late as 1844 his proposal for a limit of ten hours was rejected. It was not till 1847, when Ashley was out of parliament, that the bill was carried. The operation of the act has proved most satisfactory, and many who at first were most vehement opponents afterwards came to acknowledge the magnitude of the improvement. At many times in the subsequent part of Ashley’s life he got the factory acts amended and extended. New industries were brought within their scope. He always maintained that he would never rest till the protection of the law should be extended to the whole mass of workers.
During this struggle collieries and mines engaged his attention. Here, too, the evils brought to light, especially with respect to women and children, were appalling. Many women were found to be working in dismal underground situations, in such a way as tended to degrade them to the level of brutes. Children, sometimes not over four or five years of age, were found toiling in the dark, in some cases so long as eighteen hours a day, dragged from bed at four in the morning, and so utterly wearied out that instruction, either on week days or Sundays, was utterly out of the question. Often they were attached by chain and girdle to trucks which they had to drag on all-fours through the workings to the shaft. The opposition were struck dumb by these revelations. An act was passed in 1842 under Ashley’s care abolishing the system of apprenticeship, which had led to fearful abuses, and excluding women and boys under thirteen from employment underground.
The treatment of ‘climbing boys,’ as the apprentices of chimney-sweepers were called, was another of the abuses which he set himself to remedy. If the evil here was not so glaring as in the factories and pits, it was only because the occupation was more limited. Ashley obtained an act for the protection of the apprentices, and many years afterwards, when some laxity in the administration was discovered, took steps to have it more rigidly enforced.
The country was greatly agitated at this time on the subject of the corn laws. Hitherto Ashley had acted generally with the conservative party, but believing that a change in the corn laws was necessary, he resigned his seat for Dorset in January 1846, and for a time was out of parliament. In the next parliament he was returned (30 July 1817) for the city of Bath. The leisure which he obtained by retiring from parliament was turned by him to account in visiting the slums of London and acquiring a more full acquaintance with the condition of the working classes. A statement of some of his experiences in this field was given in an article in the Quarterly Review for December 1846. His interest was especially intensified in two movements: the education of the neglected poor, and the improvement of the dwellings of the people.
The movement for ‘ragged schools,’ as they were now called, or ‘industrial feeding schools,’ as Mr. Sheriff Watson of Aberdeen had proposed to call them, had already been inaugurated in the northern kingdom. Ashley became the champion of the cause in parliament. In 1848 he told the House of Commons that ten thousand children had been got into ragged schools, who, there was every reason to hope, would be reclaimed. For thirty-nine years he held the office of chairman of the Ragged School Union, and during that time as many as three hundred thousand children were brought under the influence of the society. The Shoeblack Brigade was the result of another effort for the same class. At one time it numbered 306 members, and its earnings in one year were £12,000. The Refuge and Reformatory Union was a kindred movement; ultimately it came to have 589 homes, accommodating fifty thousand children. Lord Palmerston’s bill for the care and reformation of juvenile offenders, which has had so beneficial an influence, was a fruit of Shaftesbury’s influence.
Very early in his career he had become profoundly impressed with the important influence of the dwellings of the people on their habits and character. To the miserable condition of their homes he attributed two-thirds of the disorders that prevailed in the community. In 1851 he drew attention to the subject in the House of Lords. The Lodging House Act was passed, which Dickens described as the best piece of legislation that ever proceeded from the English parliament. This, however, represented but a small portion of his labours for the improvement of houses. The views which he so clearly and forcibly proclaimed led many to take practical steps to reform the abuse. The Peabody scheme was at least indirectly the fruit of his representations. On 3 August 1872 he laid the foundation-stone of buildings at Battersea, called the Shaftesbury Park Estate, containing twelve hundred houses, accommodating eight thousand people. On his own estate at Wimborne St. Giles he built a model village, where the cottages were furnished with all the appliances of civilised life, and each had its allotment of a quarter of an acre, the rent being only a shilling a week. As chairman of the central board of public health he effected many reforms, especially during the visitation of cholera in 1849. He was also chairman of a sanitary commission for the Crimea, in regard to which Miss Nightingale wrote that ‘it saved the British army.’
Shaftesbury retained a great part of the vigour both of his mind and body to very near the end of his life. The infirmities of old age showed themselves chiefly in gout and deafness. In the autumn of 1885 he went to Folkestone, but died of congestion of the lungs, 1 October 1885. He was lord-lieutenant of Dorset from 1856 till death.