In their patriarchal view of themselves, individual entrepreneurs felt a need to improve the lot of their workers. Hence workers' homes were established, in which single workers could live and cater for themselves, along with health insurance covering their companies' employees and the general provision of a certain social security. It was their aim to bind their workforce to the company and to exchange the constant fluctuation of workers for a core of reliable, productive employees. Franz Haniel was the first to pursue this goal. However, only a small number of workers were able to benefit from such social arrangements, before the State intervened in the 1880's with laws regulating social security.
These measures for the benefit of workers were the signs of a development which had begun during the 1860's and in the course of which entrepreneurs had to stop exploiting their human workforce without thinking. Medical discoveries and improved conditions of production led to the conclusion that shorter working hours in total, but used more intensively, could have the effect of increasing production. Factory owners in Mönchengladbach were the first to put this realization into practice, when in 1867 they set a binding limit of 12 hours to the working day. In the following years, weekly working hours in industry fell from over 70 to 55 hours before the First World War.
The Imperial government intervened hesitantly in economic life, and only later became aware of the consequences of social problems - alcoholism, prostitution, criminality, neglect - for the moral and legal ideas of citizens. It nationalized the railways, post office and telecommunications and assumed control of the imperial Reichsbank. It became more difficult to violate employment contracts, obligatory factory inspections were introduced, health and safety were improved, women's and children's labour was limited and Sunday was decreed to be a day of rest. At the core of the government's social policies was State insurance, for health, accidents, invalidity and pensions, which was introduced between 1883 and 1889. This was followed in 1911 by unemployment insurance. The State and local governments supported training and further education in trades, crafts and commerce. In 1870 a polytechnic school opened in Aachen, which became the College of Technology in 1897. Cologne created a new kind of educational establishment in 1879, with its College of Commerce. In 1882 a college for employees of the Bergish small iron industry was founded in Remscheid and in 1883 a school of arts and crafts was established in Düsseldorf.
Leading socialists, such as the wood-turner, August Bebel (1840-1913), born in Deutz, interpreted these policies of the "rulers" as merely attempts to fix an outmoded system. They were not interested, as the Breslau lawyer, Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-1864), described them, in reforming the civil-capitalist order, but in removing it "legally".
In the Rhineland social democracy took root, above all in the Protestant workforce of Bergisch Land and, from 1890 in the Ruhr Region. The SPD (Germany's Social Democratic Party) almost always had M.P.s elected to the Reichstag (Parliament) from Barmen, Elberfeld and Solingen, but Cologne only from 1912. With their cheerfulness and conviviality, socialist workers' clubs appealed to the Rhenish soul, for example at the Founder's Day celebrations of the "Choral Union of Rhenish Workers" in 1899 in Ohligs. Many people also turned out to celebrate May Day in the Rhineland.
With the revocation of the "Law against Socialists" in 1890, annual celebrations on the 1st May became a festival of the German workers' movement, which included the Rhineland. The programme usually provided for vocal and instrumental music and staged a play critical of society, and also occasionally featured artistic performances by a gymnastic club. The musical interludes ranged from classical pieces, through popular folk songs, to Marxist fighting songs. On the hand-bills for these events a few well-known names are listed next to many largely unknown composers. The music was performed by fire-brigade bands, trumpeters, choral societies of workers and apolitical men's choirs. However, the tightly packed programme was often in contrast to what the public preferred, namely to spend a few pleasant hours relaxing with the family, neighbours or like-minded people in the open air, away from the noise, dust, heat and hectic activity of the factory buildings or coal mines. Moreover, the rhetoric of class struggle irritated a lot of people; it conflicted too radically with the Rhenish maxim "live and let live".