Spatiality and Working Class Solidarity
Montage of Manchester, England ca. 1850s and modern day Shanghai.
For example, the industrial boom in 19th century Europe was accompanied and accomplished by the development of new transportation and communication systems, such as railroads and telegraph. Railways made it possible for raw materials to be concentrated into huge factories and for manufactured products to be carried out to retailers and customers far away from the factory. In other words, the industrial capitalist society of the 19th century created new spaces like railways and factories. The newly created spaces changed workers’ living and working patterns. Up until the mid-nineteenth century, manufacturing was conducted in small workshops that were adjacent to the workers’ households. The factory system separated the working place from home and imposed new time and work disciplines onto the workers who now became commuters back and forth between factory and home every day. Living areas between the working-class and the employing class also became segregated. In the 1840s while he was in Manchester, Friedrich Engels saw positive effects of the segregation of living spaces by class in the formation of working-class consciousness. He found that workers developed their own autonomous activities and organizations, such as reading groups, political clubs, and friendly societies, in their communities where their employers were not around. Historian Wally Seccombe pointed out a negative side of the separation of the working place from home and a new rigid time-discipline on gender roles: it made harder for workers’ wives to participate in the work process and thus contributed to the formation of male-breadwinner norm. Today, small size sweatshops reappear in the production process, and both factory and small shop production lines are simultaneously exploited at capitalists’ convenience. A new “flexible” time order takes advantage over a large pool of cheap female work force on the one hand, a new rigid “just-in-time” rule in supply squeezes workers during their shift on the other.