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ROBERT OWEN
by Cardinal Cox


Write Dope on Pnuk part 61

Robert Owen (1771-1858) was an Eighteenth/Nineteenth Century industrialist who believed in the rights of workers, campaigned against the exploitation of children in industry, attempted to found a utopian community in America and was a supporter of the co-operative movement. Although born and raised in Wales, his apprenticeship was spent working for four years in Stamford, Lincolnshire. It was during this time that he formulated opinions on religion that led to his becoming an atheist.

In 1800 (at the age of 28) he took control of the New Lanark Mill in Scotland. Owen believed that if the right environment was created, his workers (and their families) would become rational, good and humane people. One of his first reforms was to build a school to which all the children under ten had to go, while the older children had their day split between working in the factory and attending the school. The school did not follow traditional lines either, as Owen believed that the children should discover for themselves rather than be drilled with education. He made sure that there was a shop in his workers village from which the workers could buy good quality articles at low prices. During an embargo by American cotton producers, Owen stopped the mill for four months but continued to pay the workers their full wages. Each worker had a coloured label by their station to show how well they were doing. He also encouraged temperance and instances of pilfering subsided.

In 1815 he appeared before a parliamentary committee to speak in favour of limitations on the age and time that children could work in industry.

Going to America in 1824 he started upon the venture of New Harmony in Indiana, to be governed along the principles of communitarianism. The scheme foundered as freeloaders joined who did not see that they could only expect to get out what they had put (through hard toil) into the community.

Returning to Britain he lectured widely - including in Wisbech in 1838, that led to William Hodson establishing a colony at Manea in July 1839. Unfortunately this only lasted eighteen months before being wound up.

Owen also offered support to the new co-operative movement, the emerging trades unions and the then early socialists of the time.

In 1840 he was verbally attacked by a bishop who, though admitting that Owen's character was irreproachable, his principles were abominable.

Owen died in November 1858, one hundred and fifty years ago, and I hope that some of us might remember what an important part those early years in Stamford played in his history.

 

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