Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Capital I, Chapter 15 - Part 10


A. Overthrow of Co-operation Based on Handicraft, and on the Division of Labour

Manufacturing does away with the division of labour of handicraft and manufacture. Increasingly, the machine incorporates the several processes that division of labour had established into one continuous process, as was seen with the envelope machine. Wherever, human motive power is replaced by machinery, this sees the introduction of the factory system, because it is only efficient to use this motive power – water, steam, electric etc. - to drive many machines, and carry on production on a large scale.

However, there are exceptions. Agriculture provides one example. The introduction of expensive machinery tends to drive towards larger farms. However, its possible for a number of smaller farms to pool their resources to buy equipment and then share its use. There were even experiments to do this in providing steam power to cottage based weavers.

In the Coventry silk weaving industry the experiment of “cottage factories” was tried. In the centre of a square surrounded by rows of cottages, an engine-house was built and the engine connected by shafts with the looms in the cottages. In all cases the power was hired at so much per loom. The rent was payable weekly, whether the looms worked or not. Each cottage held from 2 to 6 looms; some belonged to the weaver, some were bought on credit, some were hired. The struggle between these cottage factories and the factory proper, lasted over 12 years. It ended with the complete ruin of the 300 cottage factories.” (p 433)

There were also Hydraulic Power system developed in Manchester, London and Kingston upon Hull, which provided a clean alternative to steam engines, and powered machinery, bridges, cranes, lifts and other machines across those cities – Manchester Hydraulic Power.

Where the cost of the motive power falls, the potential for using it on a smaller scale opens up. For example, the introduction of the internal combustion engine and electric motors makes possible the economic powering of individual machines without this needing to be done on a massive scale.

There are a number of similar developments that can be seen in more recent times. Some remaining areas of domestic production were transferred to “factories” and then back to the home. For example laundry. In the post WWII period, when capital needed more labour power and encouraged married women to enter the workforce, the task of washing clothes was transferred to industrial laundries, like that established by the Co-op. This was supplemented and then replaced by the introduction of laundrettes, which provided industrial scale washers and dryers. But, as the cost of producing these fell, the machines were introduced into the home, and the work returned to the domestic sphere.

A similar situation has occurred in relation to the media. The huge cheapening of equipment means that the development of large scale media production has broken down, with much production farmed out to small scale, almost handicraft or manufacture type production, by small companies or even to individuals – e.g. citizen journalism, blogging etc.

Cheap electric power, able to power the most important machines of the modern age – computers – connected via the Internet, which functions as the transmission mechanism, described by Marx, means that the majority of modern, high value, intellectual production can be done at home, and on the same kind of co-operative basis, based on a division of labour, as happened with handicraft and manufacture. One person having produced film footage can download it, to their computer, send it to a sound engineer, who can add the soundtrack etc., and then send it to and editor and so on.

Book keepers and payroll clerks can sit at home with a computer and process data and so on. Software engineers can work on specific pieces of code. In parts of the world like Singapore, with 1 Gig broadband speeds, even education can now be provided at home, with one teacher able to provide lessons to vast numbers of students.

Moreover, these developments mean that many of the people employed to do this work can be employed on an individual rather than collective basis. In other words, they can be paid for the provision of a commodity other than labour power. This returns such producers to that of the peasant employed in handicraft production.

B. Reaction of the Factory System on Manufacture and Domestic Industries

The methods employed by the factory system, of breaking down the process of production and then applying science to determine how they can be most effectively performed, spreads out into all areas of economic activity.

These changes break down the composition of the collective labourer based on the division of labour under manufacturing. They create the conditions for the employment of women and children as cheap labour, and all the excesses associated with that in the early stages. But, when that becomes more regulated, within the factories, it leaves its scope in the other sectors unaltered. Domestic industries under handicraft or manufacture is quite different to that which applies under machine industry.

This modern so-called domestic industry has nothing, except the name, in common with the old-fashioned domestic industry, the existence of which pre-supposes independent urban handicrafts, independent peasant farming, and above all, a dwelling-house for the labourer and his family. That old-fashioned industry has now been converted into an outside department of the factory, the manufactory, or the warehouse. Besides the factory operatives, the manufacturing workmen and the handicraftsman, whom it concentrates in large masses at one spot, and directly commands, capital also sets in motion, by means, of invisible threads, another army; that of the workers in the domestic industries, who dwell in the large towns and -are also scattered over the face of the country.” (p 434)

This domestic industry is particularly oppressive because of its nature. In the factory, the machine removes much of the heavy work. The Factory Acts eventually place limits on the conditions, and the number of workers collected together, and organised in Trades Unions, facilitates the workers in defending themselves against encroachments on those limits. Atomised and isolated, the domestic workers lack these safeguards.

This exploitation is more shameless in the so-called domestic industry than in manufactures, and that because the power of resistance in the labourers decreases with their dissemination; because a whole series of plundering parasites insinuate themselves between the employer and the workman; because a domestic industry has always to compete either with the factory system, or with manufacturing in the same branch of production; because poverty robs the workman of the conditions most essential to his labour, of space, light and ventilation; because employment becomes more and more irregular; and, finally, because in these the last resorts of the masses made “redundant” by modern industry and Agriculture, competition for work attains its maximum.” (p 435)

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