Is there a humane industrial culture?
(Published in GralsWelt 66/2011)
The "idyll" of romanticism
The conditions before industrialization were often romanticized. Paintings from the 18th and early 19th centuries show lovely small towns and idyllic landscapes with hard-working farmers. The environment seemed intact, wild animals had plenty of habitat, and the word "extinction" was unknown. Nobody worried about famine in China, unrest in India or earthquake in Chile. Such events were far away and most people in Europe did not know about them. But this pre-industrial idyll never really existed.
In every century there were wars in Europe that devastated entire landscapes. Those not directly affected nevertheless suffered from high taxes, forced recruitment, food shortages and epidemics.
In the peaceful interim times, life was only comfortable for the wealthy. They had plenty of staff and could make a comfortable life. Hopefully they didn't need a doctor; because medicine was still deep in the Middle Ages and had no idea about bacteria or hygiene. Birth mortality was high and death from puerperal fever was feared. Just the thought of dental treatment can spoil the Baroque or Romantic era.
Social inequalities weighed heavily on the poor; Their life was difficult: hard work for the bare minimum for survival, miserable accommodation, hardly any help with illness, at the mercy of the lordship, almost no legal security.
No wonder that after the beginning of industrialization, many poor people in Europe preferred backbreaking work in factories to rural life. They migrated to the slums of the industrial cities or even emigrated.
The old class society went under in the turmoil of the French Revolution. In the 19th century a "class society" replaced the "class society". Since the 1840s at the latest, people have spoken of "working" and "possessing", of "lower" and "upper" classes.
In contrast to the landlords of the pre-industrial era, the factory owners of the new era did not usually feel obliged to care for their workers. Sometimes a factory worker was even worse off than a farm worker. The social inequalities of the post-class society therefore seemed to some contemporaries greater than in the old class society. The factory workers were in poor health, their nourishment meager, their wages low and their hours long.
While before industrialization spinning and weaving were mostly home work, the working conditions in the machine-made cotton spinning mills were barely tolerable, even for women and children. The factory owners took no account of individual sensitivities. -
The descent of a master craftsman
The descent from the single-earning master craftsman to the factory worker family can be shown very clearly in the following example of a working class family:
• In 1770 Johann Nepomuk Schulte earned 5 thalers a week as a master weaver in a factory. This enabled him to start and support a family. His wife earned half a thaler with a little extra income.
• In 1820 his grandson Johann Nepomuk was only accepted into the factory if he also brought a woman with him as “worker”. He earned 3.5 thalers, his wife 1.5 thalers.
• In 1830 he was threatened with dismissal if he did not send his nine-year-old daughter to the factory. His wages fell to 3 thalers, his daughter received 3/4 thalers.
• In 1833 his wages were reduced to 2.5 thalers and that of his wife to 1.25. In addition to his daughter, he had to send his two younger children to work for 1/2 thalers.
The family earnings between 1770 and 1833 remained the same, but were reduced by inflation and the fact that the woman no longer had time for her vegetable garden and could only do her housework with all her strength. Overall, the family's real income fell, while the weekly working hours of family members rose from 90 to around 240 hours. "
Source: Bernd Hercksen, “From Urpatriarchat zum Global Crash?” (2, p. 334 f.).
A humane industrial culture?
The small town of Engelskirchen is located about 30 kilometers east of Cologne. Here you can visit a small industrial museum in a listed old factory building, which is reminiscent of the once flourishing cotton mill "Ermen & Engels". This production facility was founded in 1837 by Friedrich Engels senior. (1796-1860), the father of the well-known socialist Friedrich Engels jun. (1820-1895).
In the course of the textile crisis, triggered by increasing competitive pressure from the Far East, the factory had to be closed in 1979. Most of the machines - especially ring spinning machines as they were running around 1900 - were sold to India. There they continue to be operated under roughly the same working conditions as in Germany around 1900.
Today the listed factory buildings house the town hall of the community, apartments and a branch of the Rheinisches Industriemuseum.
Friedrich Engels jun. should continue the father's business in Engelskirchen. In the course of his training he came to Manchester in a cotton mill, in which his father was involved.
The conditions in the factories there shook him so much that he stood up for the workers and became a critic of capitalism. The writings that made him famous (and infamous) include Critique of Political Economy (1844) and The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), which has been compared to Dante's Inferno. -
Much has been written and discussed since then about the weaknesses of our (capitalist) economic system. A flood of reports and pamphlets denounced the often desolate situation of the workers, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Then political parties and trade unions in the industrialized countries took up the problem. In favorable periods, these achieved that employees also benefited from the advances in productivity.
In many emerging countries there are still no organizations that stand up for workers' rights.
The Bolshevik (mal) economy propagated as the hope of the poor failed, and the victory of the capitalist market economy seemed unstoppable after the collapse of the Eastern bloc.
Some believed in a worldwide new edition of the "American Dream" (cf.Awakening from a restless night", Here under" Economy and Social Affairs "), a global, free, rapidly growing economy that gives everyone the chance to develop according to their abilities and to achieve prosperity.
However, the global financial crisis of 2008 and the EURO crisis of 2010 again raise doubts as to whether capitalism in its current form is sustainable.
However, there have always been entrepreneurs who have a sense of the needs of their workers. The great technical inventors - from Watt to Stephenson, Siemens, Benz and Daimler to Bosch - had often worked their way up from humble beginnings and mostly also had an understanding of the concerns of their employees. Henry Ford (1863-1947) was best known for his versatile social commitment. (See. "A totally crazy experiment?", Under" Economy and Social Affairs ").
The 19th and early 20th centuries were therefore also an era of enlightened, socially minded entrepreneurs, the factory owners and Were philanthropists. Their diverse approaches to creating a more humane world of work are sometimes summarized under the vague heading of “utopian socialism”.
Model settlements emerged in Europe that wanted to harmoniously combine daily life with factory work; for example in New Lanark in Scotland.
Here the philanthropist and socialist Robert Owen (1771-1858) realized ideas from 1800 to 1825 that were a century ahead of their time. Child labor and corporal punishment have been abolished. The residents of the settlement got decent houses, schools and evening classes, free health care and food at affordable prices. This factory operated successfully for decades, even after Owen had left it, and gained international recognition (2).
In the years from 1825 to 1828 Robert Owen tried to realize his ideas in another model settlement in the USA. But “New Harmony” in Indiana failed, and Owen's utopia of a humane working environment could not become a model for the rest of the world. -
If you want to experience something of this form of human-friendly industrial culture and its structural realization yourself, you don't have to travel to Scotland straight away. A milestone in industrial and social progress can also be seen in Lombardy as part of a trip to Italy.
Not far from Bergamo, near the E 66 (Capriate exit) between Brescia and Milan, is the village of Crespi d'Adda with its special urban development. This authentic model of an ideal city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Here you can vividly experience how an altruistically thinking entrepreneur of the 19th century imagined an industrial society with a human face.
The founder of the factory, Cristoforo Benigno Crespi (1833–1920), built a textile factory for cotton processing on the green meadow in 1878. The availability of hydropower on the Adda River was decisive for the choice of location.
Woe to the leaders of the nations
"Woe to the leaders of the nations,
The executioners in tails, the murderers on thrones!
They make history, they spin webs,
With the help of the press, the filing cutters.
When lazy republics and monarchies,
There is screaming for freedom and enlightenment,
Then create a dashing war
To quickly prevent the revolution.
Then the shepherds lead the flocks to pasture,
Out to the battlefield, have a fight!
Cool your little hats, one people after another,
But let's hike the Herrenpfad!
That kills and chokes us and gets killed
The whole world is already reddened with blood
They fight desperately, man against man,
Nobody did anything to the other.
What has struck you, peoples, with blindness,
When will it meet in your brains
When does the light penetrate your souls?
The real freedom that loves, not fights? "
Emerenz Meier (1874-1928).
According to the English garden city idea and models from Germany, France and Scotland, not only were factories built gradually until 1920, but the realization of an ideal image of an industrial culture was sought.
In addition to the production facilities and the power station, a small town was created - exclusively for Crespi employees - which the owner ruled benevolently and patriarchally from his castle. Everything was taken care of: living space, school, church, gardens, vegetable gardens, community center, wash house, the necessary services.
In addition, the small town with its remarkable architecture was pioneering in many ways: In Crespi there was the first public electric lighting in Italy, free training for the working class children, a free indoor swimming pool.
Unfortunately, this interesting attempt to harmoniously balance economic and social interests did not last. During the economic crisis in the late 1920s, bankruptcy put an end to this form of factory paternalism. The historic factory could continue to operate until 2005, when it finally had to give up under increasing competitive pressure.
Will the “Law of the Jungle” win?
Companies in many countries on different continents have tried to make working life humane. In the 1950s and 1960s I saw exemplary social commitment from a tire factory in Germany, to which I personally owe a lot[i].
Unfortunately, none of these social approaches from a wide variety of companies were permanent. It is not uncommon for the most ruthless actors with brutal pursuit of profit to prevail - especially in high finance and large-scale industry. Workers are only seen as cost factors whose well-being and human dignity are indifferent to today's capitalists.
Under the extreme competitive pressure in the age of globalization, it is hardly to be expected that entrepreneurs will become socially involved and voluntarily burden themselves with additional (not enforced by law) social burdens. The federal states and municipalities will have to take on more and more social tasks. This means that there is a risk of excessive demands on the public sector, which can lead to over-indebtedness or even to the financial collapse of the welfare state .
One, albeit inadequate, consolation in this regard is the fact that the current, global capitalist exploitation - tolerated by weak, corrupt and bankrupt democrats - is still better than a war ... which we will hopefully be spared!
(1) Forrester Viviane, Der Terror der Ökonomie, Goldmann, Munich, 1998.
(2) Hercksen Bernd, From original patriarchy to global crash ?, Shaker Media, 2010.
Engelskirchen Industrial Museum
[i] I was able to complete an apprenticeship as a rubber technician in a company evening school. Then I was allowed to study mechanical engineering at a technical university with a company scholarship.
 Read the addendum on the escalating social charges "Farewell to the (Social) Market Economy". under "Economy and Social Affairs".