George Acorn – Labour, politics & class (b. Late 19th C)

The industrial revolution and the late 19th century brought around some huge changes for the lives of those in lower classes in England. With new reports written by the likes of Rowntree, Booth, Chadwick, Mill and Barnardo about the poverty in the slums of London, the general public and government were made more aware of how the working-class were living. With living in poverty, came hardship finding work which could be sustainable for living on, which we can see thoroughly described by George throughout his memoir. From a young age, money and survival are a constant play on his mind and much later into his biography many of his documented memories are of his work or his work placement. The end of his memoir also mentions working with ‘at trade-union rate of wages and conditions.’.

The late mention of a trade union could possibly relate to how trade-unions were not established in London or Great Britain until very late on as ‘short-lived through most of the 19th century, in part because of the hostility they encountered from employers and government groups that resented this new form of political and economic activism.’ (Britannica, 2019). This would mean when the mention of work and the ease that George finds himself in and out of work, was never protected and there was not much choice for him or support if he found himself out of work.

There is also a clear pressure on anyone in the families to be out and earning money in order to provide for the younger children, this is especially clear when George’s mother and father both tell him he needs to leave school in order to work and make money for the family. Although he was gifted in education and excelled, the family had no means to support him without the extra income. He describes the class system as ‘I now know more than I did I see the whole of our industrial system as a great machine that catches up all kinds and classes of workers, and mangles their sense of proportion and honesty. It is not for any class to blame another, all alike come within its iron cogs, and are thrown out like a stray bolt whenever it slackens its infernal speed.’ (Acorn, 1912, p. 209) which shows although he knew of his class, he accepted this and in his opinion, everyone was the same and all within same system.

The latter of his memoir recites much of the skills he needed inorder to find work, knocking on doors, asking around and showing his skills in order to make money to survive. There is few words to mention but at the end of the biography, George mentions being out of work and it effects the tone of his writing ‘Work is either too scarce or too pressing. I am either seriously “under-timed,” and therefore underpaid, or else just as seriously ” over-timed ” for a little extra money.’ (Acorn, 1912) but continuously the idea of labour is a constant and apart from his education, is a lot of what he writes about.

Although there are friends and acquaintances mentioned throughout the story of George’s life, many if not all are focused around the activities of work and education. These are the two timelines of his life and are almost the only two event posts in his life and the change that happens. Even the relationship he develops with his significant other, Grace is not delved into as much as his work and his efforts in school. The mentioning of his skills he developed, and such are there but not much detail other than he was skilled in joinery and furniture making, the ideal of keeping work and surviving is the main purpose of his posts. There are also many character breakdowns of those he is working for and the difference in he envisions himself when opening a shop himself and no longer working beneath someone else, the character description of someone who is working for themselves and someone who is an ‘employee’. A clear distinction between the two is set out and the lack of detail more, shows almost a different level of respect he has for both, which portrays his opinion of what status they hold in society. The introduction of ‘Factory and Workshop Act 1891 consolidated and extended safety and sanitary regulations; transferred enforcement in regard to some workshops from the factory inspectors to the local authorities; raised the minimum age for employment in factories to 11 years; prohibited the owner of a factory from knowingly employing a woman within four weeks of giving birth; and introduced some measures to control conditions of “outworkers”. (The Potteries, 2021) had a huge impact on the conditions and how people could work and ensure that people could survive and live.

Bibliography

Acorn, G., 1912. One of the Multitude. 1 ed. London: s.n.

Britannica, 2019. Trade union – Labour organization. [Online]
Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/trade-union
[Accessed 06 05 2021].

The Potteries, 2021. Education Resources. [Online]
Available at: http://www.thepotteries.org/dates/work.htm#:~:text=1891%20Factory%20and%20Workshop%20Act,factory%20from%20knowingly%20employing%20a
[Accessed 06 05 2021].

Image – http://www.primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk/victorians/children/working.htm

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