Foreign Policy

The Kaiserreich
Social Problems 1871-1890

Rapid industrialization since the 1840es, increased mobility due to the railways led to a fast growth of industrial urban areas. Within a few decades, hitherto agricultural regions were turned into industrial agglomerations, for instance in the RUHRGEBIET, at the SAAR, in the region around LEIPZIG and HALLE.
Living conditions for workers often were poor, as wages were low, working hours long, child labor common. Many workers were KÖTTER (cottagers, crofters), having a house with a small plot of land, a garden providing additional food to the meagre diet he could afford with his wage. Families often were large, sanitary conditions poor, social security non-existent.

With Germany's unification, the country's economy went through a boom, triggered in part by the REPARATIONS of 5 billion Francs paid by France. The living standard of many working families improved slightly, yet it was still far beyond that of the middle class.
Workers began to organize themselves in TRADE UNIONS which sought to improve workers' living conditions, through both negotiations and confrontation such as STRIKES.
Bismarck's reaction was that of suppression. The ANTI-SOCIALIST LAW outlawed social democratic parties and organizations. On the other hand he realized the necessity to address the social risks the workers faced. In 1883 Germany was the first country in the world to introduce compulsory HEALTH INSURANCE, in 1884 INSURANCE AGAINST ACCIDENTS AT THE WORKPLACE, in 1889 RETIREMENT AND DISABILITY INSURANCE, legislation widely imitated.
Cholera and diphtery epidemics resulted in the construction of sewage systems in the cities, creating a healthier environment. The streets were widened to permit the fire brigade to quickly reach it's destination. Streets were lighted, at first burning whale oil, later gas , before they were electrified.

The Anti-Socialist Law failed in achieving its objective. The labour movement and social democracy strengthened in defiance of the state administration's hostility. The administration's argument that workers living standards had improved (however slightly) was not incorrect; emigration figures peaked around 1880 and then declined considerably. Yet the achievements in the improvement of workers' living standards and working conditions were far from meeting expectations.

DOCUMENTS Edwin A. Curley, Social Democrats in the Reichstag, from Harper's New Monthly Magazine August 1885 pp.343-350
Documents from psm-data geschichte :
Working Women by Profession, in Relation to Total Number of Workers, 1882 and 1907
Oberschlesien (Upper Silesia), Percentage of Coal Miners who work in a shift of up to 8, 8 to 10, 10 to 12 hours per shift
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Electric-powered streetcar, Berlin 1881

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

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