By the late 1800s, most Western countries had granted all men the vote. Workers also won the right to organize unions to bargain on their behalf. Germany legalized labor unions in 1869. Britain, Austria, and France followed. By 1900, Britain had about three million union members, and Germany had about two million.

The main tactic of unions was the strike, or work stoppage. Workers used strikes to demand better working conditions, wage increases, or other benefits from their employers. Violence was often a result of strikes, particularly if employers called in the police or hired nonunion workers to keep their operations going.

Pressured by unions, reformers, and working-class voters, governments passed laws to regulate working conditions. Early laws forbade employers to hire very young children. Later laws outlawed child labor entirely and banned the employment of women in mines. Other laws limited work hours and improved safety. By 1909, British coal miners had won an eight-hour day, setting a standard for workers in other countries.

In Germany, and then elsewhere, Western governments established old-age pensions, as well as disability insurance for workers who were hurt or became ill. These programs protected workers from dying in poverty once they were no longer able to work.

An Improved Standard of Living

Wages varied throughout the industrialized world, with unskilled laborers earning less than skilled workers. Women received less than half the pay of men doing the same work. Farm laborers barely scraped by during the economic slump of the late 1800s. Periods of unemployment brought desperate hardships to industrial workers and helped boost union membership.

Overall, though, standards of living for workers did rise. Working-class people began to benefit from higher wages and better working conditions. They, too, were able to afford a larger variety of goods and services. Many benefited from the growing movement to provide public education. Some were able to get access to health care. Efforts to curb diseases led to vaccination programs that reached into poor communities. Some workers were able to move out of overcrowded slums into the outer ring of cities and travel to work on subways and trolleys. Despite improvements in the standard of living, however, a large gap divided workers from the middle class.

Photo of the outside of a factory, where men are gathered behind a fence. On the other side of the fence, armed men in uniform sit on horseback.

Miners and steelworkers go on strike in Belgium.

Draw Conclusions

Who do you think the men on horseback are? Why are they there? Explain.


  1. Identify Main Ideas Identify the major effects of new technology and transportation on industry during the Industrial Revolution.
  2. Draw Conclusions Why did big business emerge during the Industrial Revolution, and how did it affect free enterprise?
  3. Identify Central Issues How did the Industrial Revolution bring about important changes to human life in cities? Identify changes for the better and for the worse.
  4. Apply Concepts How did the working class begin to improve its conditions during the late 1800s?
  5. Identify Describe the contributions of Louis Pasteur and how they impacted society during the Industrial Revolution.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments