Teaching citizenship: Work and the economy
Teaching citizenship: Work and the economy

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Teaching citizenship: Work and the economy

6 Worker rights

6.1 ‘Non-citizenship’ to ‘social-citizenship’ and worker rights

We respect our masters, and are willing to work for our support, and that of our parents, but we want time for more rest, a little play, and to learn to read and write. We do not think it right that we should know nothing but work and suffering, from Monday morning to Saturday night, to make others rich. Do, good gentlemen, inquire carefully into our concern.

[Submission from Manchester's Factory Children Committee sent to the House of Commons in 1836.]

The section of the IPEC slideshow dealing with the ‘Historical Perspective’ on child labour, reviewed in connection to Activity 3, explicitly raised the issue of comparison between contemporary child labour in the poorer countries and that in places like Victorian Britain. Of course, there may be a stronger continuity here, since child labour has not completely ended even in Britain today (see Lavalettee 1999).

You will have noted that in the ‘Historical Perspective’ slide sequence, an ‘old view’ and a ‘new view’ of the reasons for the emergence of, and decline of, child labour in the advanced countries were presented. This stressed the key role of family decisions and education in that process. That is interesting and useful. However, the traditional emphasis on the importance of social reformers and legislation should also not be ignored. In fact, this presents an opportunity for work on finding out what happened in Victorian Britain. Such an exercise is suggested in Activity 4.

The point about Activity 4 is to direct attention to:

  1. the way contemporary child labour has a historical antecedent, and that attitudes and values change through time, so that ‘ethical’ considerations are not fixed for all time;

  2. that legislative reform has been crucial to the development of the ‘working citizen’;

  3. that the notion of the ‘working citizen’ (or perhaps better expressed as ‘citizen at work’) is dependent upon rights and obligations that are written into law; and finally,

  4. that these citizenship rights have had to be fought for by, amongst other organisations, the Chartist Movement and the Trade Unions.

In fact, the gradual codification of the law with regard to working conditions, and the growth of welfare benefits more generally, can be expressed as the establishment of a more general ‘social citizenship’. This concept was highlighted by the work of the famous theorist of social citizenship T.H. Marshall (e.g. see Marshall 1965).

Activity 4

This activity is organised around the role of social reformers and of legislative reform in the gradual regulation of conditions of work and employment during the nineteenth century. In it you will look at two authors who were influential in publicising nineteenth century working conditions for children.

Click 'view document' below to download Social reform and view details of the activity.

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Social citizenship has to do with all the benefits we see from what is broadly termed the ‘Welfare State’. But it is a contested concept, and one sometimes seen as under threat from the way welfare reform and Trade Union reform has been progressing in places like the UK since the mid-1970s.

In particular, conflict over this concept and the practices that it traditionally embodies arises acutely in the discussion of the idea of ‘Social Europe’. As it stands, the UK has opted out of the provisions associated with the Social Europe Charter, though it remains subject to many of the other regulations, conventions and legislative initiatives that affect working conditions and social benefits that have arisen from the fact that the UK is a member of the European Union. Some of these issues are taken up in the next section of this course.

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