Did you know ... ? #14

Do you know the social history of John Cockerill? (part 2)

We are at the beginning of the 20th century, Belgium is a prosperous country, the second world economic power. Nevertheless, the second half of the 19th century was shaken by numerous social problems, such as the puddlers’ strike in 1869 or those in 1886, severely reprimanded by the country’s authorities. This period reminds us that the working class suffered from rapid industrial development, as the survey by Hyacinthe Kuborn, a Seraing doctor, on public hygiene and which highlights the importance of improving the everyday lives and the education of the people, shows. The Cockerill company is to take part in the social progress which results from this raising of awareness. It pays attention to taking care of the territory in which it was born, of the region which saw it grow and of the men who enabled it to prosper.

Average wages within the Cockerill factories are relatively high, and more than double between 1842 and 1914. On top of this, many hygienic and low cost lodgings are built. They are made available to workers and their families at advantageous prices. The children of these workers, the future labor force of the factories, are taken care of. The company therefore sets up an apprenticeship contract, whose aim is to teach a trade to the young people, while paying them a small wage during their apprenticeship. This system bore fruit, in view of the numbers of them who turned to the Cockerill company to make their careers.

During this same period of time working conditions are greatly improved. The factories are ventilated, shower-baths are made available to the workers, equipment is the latest in technological terms… All this enables households to have a decent life, and the work of women and children is regulated. Children have to be in possession of a primary education certificate in order to be able to start work.