Factory Acts

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labor law

labor law, legislation dealing with human beings in their capacity as workers or wage earners. The Industrial Revolution, by introducing the machine and factory production, greatly expanded the class of workers dependent on wages as their source of income. The terms of the labor contract, working conditions, and the relations between workers and employers early became matters of public concern.

Early Labor Law

In England, Parliament was averse to legislating on subjects relating to workers because of the prevailing policy of laissez-faire. The earliest factory law (1802) dealt with the health, safety, and morals of children employed in textile mills, and subsequent laws regulated their hours and working conditions. An act of 1833 provided for inspection to enforce the law. Young mine workers were first protected in 1842, women in 1844. Although labor unions were legalized in 1825, agreements among their members to seek better hours and wages were punishable as conspiracy under the common law until they were legalized in 1871 and 1906.

In colonial America, labor laws limited a worker's ability to raise his wages and legalized such forced labor systems as slavery and indentured servitude. Regulations were nonetheless passed limiting a master's control over servants and slaves and in the 19th cent. labor legislation was passed to improve working conditions. Federal employees were granted a 10-hr day in 1840, but the Supreme Court did not recognize the legality of state legislation that limited the work day to 8 hrs until 1908. Slavery ended with the Civil War and the legal basis for peonage and indentured servitude disappeared by 1910.

As in Great Britain, labor organizing in the United States was discouraged by the common law doctrine that unions represented a conspiracy against the public good. The Massachusetts supreme court abolished the doctrine in 1842, but in the 19th and early 20th cent. courts often prohibited unions for going on strike and generally granted prosecutors wide authority to indict union leaders for violence or property damage that occurred during a strike. Sedition laws passed in World War I were used to crush such unions as the Industrial Workers of the World.

U.S. Labor Law since the Early Twentieth Century

By the early 20th cent. many states had passed laws regulating child labor, minimum wages, and working conditions. Maryland was the first state to pass (1902) workers' compensation for employees injured on the job. The forerunner of the Dept. of Labor had been created in 1884 as a agency in the Dept. of the Interior, and in 1913 it was elevated to cabinet status with the mandate to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of wage earners.” Congress exempted (1916) unions from the antitrust laws, and the use of injunctions in labor disputes, begun in 1877, was outlawed by Congress in 1932, although the use of injunctions was reestablished by law (1947).

Popular unrest and massive poverty during the Great Depression led to a series of landmark labor laws. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (the Wagner Act) established the right of workers to organize and required employers to accept collective bargaining as a ruling principle in industry. The Social Security Act of 1935 created the basis for federal unemployment insurance. The Fair Labor Standards Act, or Wages and Hours Act (1938), provided for minimum wages and overtime payments for workers in interstate commerce, thus setting standards for many basic industries.

Strong antilabor sentiment after World War II, resulted in the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, which was passed over the veto of President Truman in 1947. It made secondary boycott and closed shops illegal and gave the President the power to secure an injunction to postpone for 80 days any strike that might affect the national security. Under the act, officers of unions were required to file affidavits that they were not members of the Communist party. Later the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was established as an independent agency. Congressional investigations of labor-management corruption led to the passage of the Landrum-Griffin Act in 1959. It guaranteed freedom of speech and of assembly for union members, and it provided for the regular election of union officers by secret ballot and for periodic and detailed financial reports by unions.

In the 1960s increased social activism once again produced a series of landmark labor bills. The Work Hours Act of 1962 provided time-and-a-half pay for work over an 8-hour day or a 40-hour week; the Civil Rights Act (1964) prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religion, and was extended to include gay and transgender workers by a Supreme Court decision in 2020; the Age Discrimination Act in Employment (1967) protected older workers from discrimination; and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970) created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and gave OSHA the power to establish workplace safety rules, inspect workplaces for safety violations, and fine companies that violated safety rules. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 created a federal agency to insure many pension plans and established regulations to protect them from mismanagement.

In the 1980s the pendulum swung back again, producing laws and legal decisions that limited labor and the power of labor unions. Cutbacks in federal agencies reduced federal enforcement of many work safety rules; officials appointed by the Reagan and Bush administrations attempted to reduce labor regulations, arguing that they made U.S. industry less competitive in the world market. In 1990 the Supreme Court made it harder for companies to replace union workers with nonunion workers and restricted the ability of a company to use bankruptcy laws to avoid paying pensions, two management tactics that were widely used in the 1980s. By the late 1990s union membership had increased, but the number of union members in the private sector and the percentage of union workers compared to nonunion workers had fallen.


See C. Tomlins, The State and the Unions: Labor Relations, Law and the Organized Labor Movement, 1880–1960 (1985); F. Snyder, Labor, Law and Crime (1987); B. Taylor, Labor Relations Law (1987); Michael Gold, An Introduction to Labor Law (1989); W. Forbath, Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement (1991).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Factory Acts


laws regulating working conditions in factories and plants in the era of industrial capitalism. The emergence and development of factory acts resulted from the economic and political struggle of the working class against capitalist exploitation.

The first such laws were the Factory Acts of 1802 and 1819, which were passed by the Parliament of Great Britain. The acts regulated the working conditions of children and adolescents in the textile industry; for example, children under nine were forbidden to work, and those between the ages of nine and 16 were allowed to work only a 12-hour day and were not permitted to work at night. In 1847 the British Parliament passed a law, effective in 1848, limiting the workday for adolescents and women in the textile industry to ten hours. During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, factory acts were gradually extended to sectors of industry other than textile manufacturing. In the mid-19th century, under the influence of the growing working-class movement, factory acts were also adopted in other Western European countries. For example, in 1841 a child and adolescent labor law was passed in France, and in 1869 an industrial statute was adopted in Germany.

In prerevolutionary Russia, factory laws were not enacted until the end of the 19th century, and the adoption of each piece of legislation was preceded by bitter strikes. In 1882 the law On Minors Working in Plants, Factories, and Manufactories was promulgated. It prohibited children under 12 from working; in addition, adolescents from 12 to 15 years of age were not allowed to work more than eight hours a day or to work at night, on Sundays, and on holidays. A provisional law of 1885 prohibited women and adolescents 15 to 17 years of age from working in textile mills at night. In 1886 the following two laws were promulgated: Rules for Hiring Workers in Factories, Plants, and Manufactories and Special Rules for Relations Between Factory Owners and Workers. In 1897 the length of the workday was established by law for the first time and was set at 11½ hours. A detailed analysis of the class content of the factory laws in Russia was provided by V. I. Lenin in Explanation of the Law on Fines Imposed on Factory Workers (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th éd., vol. 2, pp. 15–60) and The New Factory Law (ibid., pp. 263–314).

The factory acts of all capitalist countries generally applied to only some working people and contained numerous stipulations that made it possible for employers to evade the intent of the laws.

In the era of imperialism, the sphere of legislative regulation of the working conditions of hired labor has been broadened, and the system of such legislation has come to be known as labor leg islation. By its very essence, the labor legislation of capitalist countries has a clear antiworker bias.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The representatives and office-bearers of tobacco sector and tobacco growers demanded the government to take action against illegal closure of factories under 1934 Factory Act.
A notification was issued late evening that 27th December would be a holiday for workers of private sector under the Factory Act. This original notification contained a serious error and then a new notification was issued under the name of Secretary Labor Department.
In which year was the Factory Act passed in Britain, to improve conditions for children working in factories?
Stressing the need of developing a model law for child rights he said there is dichotomy in our jurisprudence regarding the age limit fixed for child labour, as factory Act allows that a child can work at the age of 16 but Constitution of Pakistan prohibits a child to work below the age of 18 years.
In the meanwhile, the company has been slapped with a showcause notice by the Maharashtra Government's factory inspector for the violation of Section 54 of the Factory Act. Under the act, no worker shall be allowed or required to work for more than nine hours a day in a factory, unless to facilitate changing of shifts.
"[President] Hollande raised the prospect of a 'factory act' during his election campaign this year, which would force companies to seek buyers before closing profitable plants," the article reports, adding that such an act may not be in line with the French constitution or EU laws." The two sides have since settled.
1844 The Factory Act restricted female workers to a 12 hour day, and children between the ages of eight and 13 to a day of six and a half hours
Owen's social engineering there helped secure the passage of the Factory Act 1819, which laid down stricter conditions on the employment of children.
Chapter 5 examines the effects of the Factory Act of 1833 and subsequent child labor laws.
All the levies and laws like Factory Act, Social Security, Insurance, EOBI, education Cess, in short, every law of levy is applied upon or paid by the Employers on behalf of Employees.