The Man from Wales

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“Women will be no longer made the slaves of, or dependent upon men…They will be equal in education, rights, privileges and personal liberty.”

Robert Owen, (1771-1858) Book of the New Moral World: Sixth Part, 1841

Scotland

Robert Owen was a change agent, by words and actions.  Born in Newtown, a small market town in Montgomeryshire, Wales, he became a social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. He believed that when people cared about each other it would generate extraordinary outcomes for society.

At the young age of 29, Robert was part-owner of a Manchester cotton mill.  Soon he took over cotton mills in New Lanark in Scotland.  His priority was the workers whose livelihoods depended upon employment within his mills.  He enhanced their housing and sanitation, provided medical supervision, and set up a cooperative shop that sold provisions near cost.  His greatest dream was to educate children.  He established the first infant school in Great Britain based on his deeply held belief that improved circumstances would act as a beacon of hope.

Robert’s ideas remain remarkably relevant for us today.  In his words, “To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate”. (The Social System, 1826)

Robert’s life was dedicated to building a fairer society where all could live without fear of hunger or want, secure in the knowledge that their children would be educated and that their efforts would be valued.  Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels paid tribute to Robert, as the man who gave them the basis for their theories.

“Eight hours’ daily labour is enough for any human being, and under proper arrangements sufficient to afford an ample supply of food, raiment and shelter, or the necessaries and comforts of life, and for the remainder of his time, every person is entitled to education, recreation and sleep”.

From the Foundation Axioms of Owen’s “Society for Promoting National Regeneration”

 

28 thoughts on “The Man from Wales

    • Thank you, Petre, for sharing your blog post! This is a topic that should remain fresh in all of our minds, especially during this period of economic uncertainty. Trade and industry can achieve sustainability without reducing the sustainability of the workforce. Kindness, generosity and compassionate is the basis for any lasting achievement – they increase the likelihood of survival!

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    • I agree wholeheartedly. Some have asked why I am so interested in looking back into time. For many years, I have worked in the present and planned for the future. It is only recently that I have discovered that our future is found in the past and that time is merely a place where we find ourselves in for a brief moment. History has given us people who inspire courage, hope, resolve and determination. Your visits are always welcome! Hope you are having a great summer. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Tom!!! I confess that I just read about him recently. I was amazed by his innovative and far-reaching ideas during a time of great change which are, to a great extent, analogous to ours. If he had just discussed his ideas, we would view him as an idealist; but when he bravely tested his beliefs and succeeded – well, it is very difficult to relegate his vision to obscurity. BTW, I just downloaded “A New View of Society” on my Kindle via Amazon.ca. The cost – $2.99! His opening words were to the “British Public.”

      “Friends and Countrymen, I dedicate this Essay to you, because your primary and most essential interests are deeply involved in the subjects of which it treats.”

      Thank you for joining the discussion – much appreciated!

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  1. Clanmother, you always find such inspiring people who make me feel hopeful about the world. I am going to call you my encyclopedia of hope 🙂

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    • You just made my day more beautiful! Hope is the reason for continuing. It is the possibility of a better today and tomorrow. I found this quote especially for you.

      “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.”
      ― Noam Chomsky

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      • I also believe that the women civilize the men. What they accept sets the standard for how men behave.

        This is my theory discerned from coaching inner-city girls varsity basketball.

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      • You have done some very interesting things!!! And have developed great thoughts in the process. 🙂

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      • I am sure my daughter remembers not one word 🙂

        What was I thinking reading about the proximity of labor to employment driving the wage scale….

        But we also read fun books too 🙂

        Reading aloud is a fine way to bond.

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    • Your comments gave me goosebumps. Robert Owen was a light in the darkness, even for us in our time. You reminded me of one of my most favourite Tolkien quotes:

      “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring―

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  2. Hello Rebecca 🙂

    This post is just Wonderful, I love the Image, text and video you have placed here.

    I grow up just down the road from this mill http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/quarry-bank-mill/ and as kids we did many school visits to it, Robert owen’s mill is very very well known to them here.

    The mill workers had and entire village built for them including school, shops, doctors etc…

    Yes they worked hard and where worked very hard by their employers but compared to some they did very well.

    I think it’s brilliant that people have noted employers like this and that through comments like at the end of this video they are trying work on the example’s they set.

    I think it’s even more important today than we are understanding, The global market that we live in has moved mass employment to parts of the world that few of us see, thus working conditions and the lives of many workers are not well understood.

    As a kid when we visited and first views the conditions of people working in these mill’s you felt that our live and working conditions have improved by a massive amount and for us this is true.

    In Manchester events like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterloo_Massacre this only happened because people could see the conditions of each other, this visibility changes British culture for ever. People stood up for each other because they could see what was happening to each other.

    Today most of what we purchase is made in parts of the world that we do not see, we do not hear about and know little of. Who is to look out for them ?

    Someone who work;s in the clothing import business once said to me, “the slave trade never ended, we just took the work to them”.

    I hope that’s not changed your original reasons for the post Rebecca !

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    • Beautiful said! Actually, your added to the conversation and served to confirm my belief that there are better ways of amassing corporate wealth through the affirmation of humanity. Our world is full of paradoxes. A few years ago, I did a thesis on child labour. It was a difficult subject, one that caused me to have a box of tissues beside me at all times. Grace Abbott was an American social worker who worked tirelessly as a child advocate. She came from Grand Island Nebraska and her elder sister, Edith was a social worker. (excellence ran through that family) I think you will appreciate her words.

      “Child labour and poverty are inevitably bound together and if you continue to use the labour of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labour to the end of time.” Grace Abbott

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  3. What a great change agent, Robert Owen. His quote reminds me of another great quote: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Great post and great discussion.

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    • A wonderful sentiment! The value of a child’s education is immeasurable. I remember with my grandfather told me that he had an eighth grade education, which was remarkable in his time. His work, efforts, and determination made it possible for me to go beyond. We owe a great deal to past generations who toiled to make a better world for their children. 🙂

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  4. A fascinating and inspiring post, Rebecca – as were all the comments.. what goodness and intelligence there is in our blogging community…

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    • Oh, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have found that the comments have added so much to my understanding of my participation within a global, diverse community. I’m a trekkie, especially during the time of Gene Roddenberry. He says it better than I could!

      “If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”
      ― Gene Roddenberry

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