In the early 19th Century conditions in the new textile factories were horrendous. People worked 14-15 hour shifts six days a week. Children as young as five were employed to crawl under the machines to retie broken yarn without having to stop the process. This often resulted in horrendous injuries.
Robert Owen ran a factory in New Lanarkshire Scotland and began to look at ways of improving the lot of his workers. He felt that by caring better for his staff he could improve their lives while maintaining his profits. He set about introducing a series of beneficial changes.
He reduced the shifts down to twelve hours.
He raised the age for employment to ten years old.
He introduced schooling for the children of his workers. This was probably the first such school in the world. The curriculum was based on basic reading, writing and arithmetic but also widening their understanding of nature and the world. He wanted to widen their horizons.
His loyalty to his staff paid off. Their health and efficiency improved greatly and their loyalty to Owen was manifest.
Robert Owen then went on to introduce a cooperative working process in which the workers took a share of the profits and so felt to be partners in the business giving them an increased incentive.
Owen went on to attempt to set up utopian towns in America as centres of research, art and learning but failed to get them off the ground.
He went on to become involved in the advent of socialism and trade unions and to support improved conditions for working people – such as the eight hour week.
A statue of the great man can be found in Manchester outside the Co-operative Bank.
It is through great men such as Robert Owen that the plight of ordinary working people was greatly improved. Without their bravery and vision we would all still be toiling long hours for little pay and working in appalling conditions. Nothing is freely given without a struggle. Robert Owen was a man to revere.