Tuesday 2 October 2012

The ABC, child labour, and stupidity

I had a few free minutes on the weekend, so I flicked on the idiot box and did a bit of channel surfing. I settled on an ABC program called Renovations, because they got away from the old barn that was being renovated and visited a brick works that produces hand made bricks. That was much more interesting.

The brick works had been around since the 1840s (I think) and yes, they were making bricks mostly by hand. The clay was mixed by machine, but a bunch of blokes spent all day slapping a blob of clay into moulds by hand, turning out the moulds by hand, stacking the bricks in the kiln by hand and then stacking the fired bricks outside (to dry? None of this was explained). Most of the discussion centred on child labour, and how kids as young as 5-8 are working in brick factories and building sites in the third world today.

It looked like hard work, lugging all that wet clay and unfinished and finished bricks around, and the host and  some academic sounded appropriately horrified at the use of child labour.

At the very end of that segment, the host made a comment along the lines of, "The industrial revolution really was a horrible, shocking thing".

No, no, no, no, no - you idiots.

What they showed in this small brick works was how things were done prior to the industrial revolution. They showed how bricks have been made since the times of ancient Egypt - by hand, and using kids. There was no mechanisation and no factory system - it was a collection of individual brick makers renting space and equipment from a brick master. The individual brick makers brought their kids to work.

The industrial revolution swept all that away with the introduction of mechanised brick making equipment, which eliminated the need for child labour. A modern, mechanised brick works probably employs the same number of people, and produces 1000 times more bricks than the by-hand blokes.

By the way, I voluntarily started working on a building site at age 7, mixing cement, carting cement and carting bricks for the brickies who were putting up a commercial building next door. I did it because it was an interesting thing to do. I got to learn how foundations were laid, how to mix mud to the right consistency, how to use a string and plumb bob, how to slap mud on bricks, lay them and build in single and double brick. It was more fun than building things with Lego. And they let me use the compactor, which was excellent. It's not something I'd want to do for a living at that age, but I survived it, and the carting of bricks certainly improved my strength.

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