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Mechanization using the steam engine in the eighteenth century led to a higher productivity of factory work, which is commonly seen as the breakthrough in the process of industrialization.Smith did provide the intellectual underpinning of the capitalist model in which the pursuit of self-interest under free competition leads to higher wealth for society.The laborer as the member of a class—the working class—is also a recurring theme in sociology.
Labor is one of the three primary factors of production, next to capital and land.
However, different from the other two, labor deals with the work of humans rather than money or the property it can rent or buy.
It was the skilled worker, at a level between owner and unskilled labor, who participated in the organization of labor in unions.
Labor organization was not at first a reaction to hardship.
His influential work was even used in English courts to prohibit union activities, as the unionization of labor was seen as a hindrance to free competition.
Together, mechanization and specialization led to a certain alienation of the laborer toward the production process.In the turbulent decades from 1870 to 1890 the groundwork for organized labor was laid.The National Labor Union (NLU), founded in 1866, was the first federation of unions, followed by the Knights of Labor in 1869.While labor was in this sense not free, moving to the free cities to become a craftsman allowed one to free oneself from aristocratic rule.Factory work forms the core process of industrialization, moving away from small-scale production at home and toward large-scale, specialized production.These laborers were no longer dependent on landowners but became wage workers, forming the working class. Exploitation of the workers was the norm rather than the exception as sufficient labor arrived from the ranks of agricultural workers. Thompson, in “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century” (1971), writes of the formative years from 1780 to 1832 in England.He describes in detail the life and the movements of the English working class of that time.It was through the struggle of the workers that the notion of a working class evolved, which was necessary to develop labor organization.It took about a century for wage labor to become the norm in the nineteenth century as increasingly more workers were employed, replacing work on the land with work in the newly established factories.This specialization process is described with the example of the pin factory by the Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723–1790): [I]n the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades.One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactures, are all performed by distinct hands. 15) While Smith understood the importance of specialization, in his time the impact of machines was probably still underestimated.