Landschaftsverband Rheinland - Qualität für Menschen

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Living and working conditions of the industrial proletariat

Within a very short time the communities of smallholders on Hellweg became expanding industrial villages. Finding accommodation for masses of workers often led to overcrowding : there simply was not enough space in the little Hellweg towns. There was rampant speculation in apartment houses. While wealthy people built mansions on the outskirts, ugly apartment houses were built for workers' families in dreary rows of streets, where they paid extortionate rents for overcrowded flats. As a result, living conditions and the families' circumstances were miserable. Moreover, sub-tenants were often taken into these cramped flats, too, so-called sleep-walkers, in order to have an additional source of income. Consequently, a whole family would sleep in the same room with a stranger, whereby several people shared a bed in turns: employees had to adapt their sleeping rhythms to working shifts.
Working conditions in the factories were geared entirely to the machines; the workers operating them were subordinate. It was important to the employers that the expensive machines, which soon became out-dated, should quickly pay for themselves, so production had to be maintained around the clock. The people, who had been used to more natural working rhythms from agriculture or as tradesmen, then had to accustom themselves to a régime of punctuality and strict labour discipline in the factories, continuously working in time to the machines. In addition, working hours were very long, often 70 hours per week, or in the textile industry even 80 hours a week. At the time there were no legal restrictions made on how employers could treat their workers

children working

The State wanted to constrict, or "burden" the industrialists as little as possible, as otherwise they might have moved their businesses away from Prussia. At the beginning of industrial development, there were no factory regulations, no collective work contracts, but only individual agreements, workers had no right to be consulted and above all, no health and safety standards. Therefore, conditions in the factories were depressingly cramped, unhygienic and damaging to health, while workers were exploited by long working hours and paid low wages.
Early descriptions of the dreadful working and housing conditions of the working class, reports about their unhygienic circumstances, as well as about the brutalization and deadening effect on the people who were then called proletarians, recognized the "Social Question" as a problem of the growing towns.

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