Factories Act 1847

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The Factories Act 1847, also known as the Ten Hours Act was a United Kingdom Act of Parliament which restricted the working hours of women and young persons (13–18) in textile mills to 10 hours per day. The practicalities of running a textile mill were such that the Act should have effectively set the same limit on the working hours of adult male mill-workers.

Defective drafting meant that a subsequent Factory Act in 1850 imposing tighter restrictions on the hours within which women and young persons could work was needed to bring this about. The Act of 1847 was the culmination of a campaign lasting almost fifteen years to bring in a 'Ten Hours Bill'; a great Radical cause of the period. Prominent advocates and people involved with the Act include Richard Oastler, Lord Ashley (he was not an MP in the session when the Act was passed), John Doherty and sympathetic mill-owners such as John Fielden. The fiercest opponents of all ten-hour bills were the 'free trade' Liberals such as John Bright; the economic doctrines that led them to object to artificial tariff barriers also led them to object to government restricting the terms on which a man might sell his labour, and to extend that objection to women and young peoples. Karl Marx, speaking at the International Workingmen's Association meeting in November 1864 said of it "This struggle about the legal restriction of the hours of labour raged more fiercely since; apart from avarice, it told indeed upon the great contest between the blind rule of the supply and demand laws which form the political economy of the middle class, a social production subjected to a foreseeing social control which forms the political economy of the working class. Hence the Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed ignominiously, ludicrously, before the political economy of the working class".

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