Posts Tagged ‘Adolphe Blanqui’

The Conditions of the Working Class in 19th Century Lille

April 13, 2014

Priti Patel

Priti Patel, one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, who wish to reintroduce Third World Conditions 21st Century Britain.

Neoliberal ideological looks back to the 19th century as the great age of European industrial expansionism through laissez-faire economics. They believe that if similar conditions were created in modern Britain and Europe through an extensive programme of privatisation, deregulation and the curtailment of government welfare spending, industry would similarly prosper and expand.

The 19th century was also a time of immense poverty, misery and suffering for the new, industrial working class, who poured into the cities as the labour force for the new factories. They lived in conditions of grinding poverty comparable to those of the poor of today’s Developing World. Adolphe Blanqui, in his Les Classes Ouvrieres en France pendant l’annee 1848, published in Paris in 1849 gives a description of the appalling poverty endured by the working class population of Lille.

A succession of islets separated by dark and narrow alleyways, at the other end are small yards called courettes which serve as sewers and rubbish-dumps. In every season of the year there is damp. The apartment windows and the cellar doors all open on to these disease-ridden alleyways, and in the background there are pieces of iron railing over cess-pits which are used day and night as public lavatories. The dwellings are ranged round these plague-spots, and people pride themselves on still being able to gain a small income from them. The further the visitor penetrates into these little yards, the more he is surrounded by a strange throng of anaemic, hunchbacked and deformed children with deathly pale livid faces, begging for alms. Most of these wretches are almost naked and even the best-cared-for have rags sticking to them. But these creatures at least breathe fresh air; only in the depths of the cellars can one appreciate the agonies of those who cannot be allowed out on account of their age or the cold weather. For the most part they lie on the bare soil, on wisps of rape-straw, on a rough couch of dried potato-peelings, on sand or on shavings which have been painstakingly collected during the days work. The pit in which they languish is bare of any fittings; only those who are best-off possess a temperamental stove, a wooden chair and some cooking-utensils. ‘I may not be rich,’ an old woman told us, pointing to her neighbour lying full-length on the damp cellar floor, ‘but I still have my bundle of straw, thank God!’ More than three thousand of our fellow-citizens lead this horrifying existence in the Lille cellars.

Cited in Peter Jone, The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) 78.

It was partly due to these appalling conditions that the working class revolted in 1848 to overthrow the monarchy. And France wasn’t alone in the suffering of its poor. Similar conditions of appalling poverty were found throughout Europe, including England and Germany.

The Tories and Tory Democrats wish to see these conditions return. Priti Patel and the other authors of Britannia Unchained argued that Britons should similarly work much longer hours for lower pay for Britain to compete with the emerging economic powerhouses of the Developing World, such as India and China. If they have their way, the laissez-faire economics they embrace and advocate will lead to similar grinding poverty, while enriching the prosperous few. Just like in the 19th century, the age they so admire.

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