C. Modern Manufacture
Marx then gives extensive examples of these kinds of employment and the abuses associated with them. As Marx says, many of these have already been elaborated in the Chapter on the Working Day. More still are given by Engels in The Condition Of The Working Class In England and for that reason, I do not intend detailing them here.
E. Passage of Modern Manufacture, an Domestic Industry into Modern Mechanical Industry. The Hastening of This Revolution by the Application of the Factory Acts to those Industries
“The cheapening of labour-power, by sheer abuse of the labour of women and children, by sheer robbery of every normal condition requisite for working and living, and by the sheer brutality of overwork and night-work, meets at last with natural obstacles that cannot be overstepped. So also, when based on these methods, do the cheapening of commodities and capitalist exploitation in general. So soon as this point is at last reached — and it takes many years — the hour has struck for the introduction of machinery, and for the thenceforth rapid conversion of the scattered domestic industries and also of manufactures into factory industries.” (p 442)
In 1861, around 1 million people were employed outside the factory system, in manufacture and domestic production of clothing alone. Many of these, Marx says, are workers that had been “set free” as a result of the introduction of machines into factories.
“The production of wearing apparel is carried on partly in manufactories in whose workrooms there is but a reproduction of that division of labour, the membra disjecta of which were found ready to hand; partly by small master-handicraftsmen; these, however, do not, as formerly, work for individual consumers, but for manufactories and warehouses, and to such an extent that often whole towns and stretches of country carry on certain branches, such as shoemaking, as a speciality; finally, on a very great scale by the so-called domestic workers, who form an external department of the manufactories, warehouses, and even of the workshops of the smaller masters.” (p 442-3)
Now, the raw materials were provided by machine industry and the mass of the workers to process them, workers that had been replaced by it. This vast reserve army was now available for capital to attract or repel according to the needs of market conditions.
“The decisively revolutionary machine, the machine which attacks in an equal degree the whole of the numberless branches of this sphere of production, dressmaking, tailoring, shoemaking, sewing, hat-making, and many others, is the sewing-machine.” (p 443)
That is perhaps fitting because thousands of years earlier, one of the most important tools developed was the bone needle, which made it possible for the first time, to create fitted clothing as opposed to merely draped animal skins.
As with the introduction of machinery elsewhere, the wages of the machine workers rises compared to that of the domestic hand workers. The more highly skilled, usually male workers sinks, unable to compete with the machines. The majority of the machine workers are young women and girls. The elderly women and young children are driven out.
On the one hand, Marx describes the rise in London, in the ten years up to 1864, of starvation which coincided with the introduction of the sewing machine. That, as a result of those thrown out of work. On the other, these new machinists worked in poor conditions, and for long hours, though not as long as for those previously employed in domestic production.
Exactly how the sewing machine changed the production in each area depended on how it was previously organised i.e. on the basis of manufacture or handicraft, simple co-operation and so on, and this varied from one type of product to another.
“In tailoring, shirtmaking, shoemaking, &c., all the forms are intermingled. Here the factory system proper.” (p 444-5)
As more capital is invested in sewing machines so these machines produce a glut of commodities. The domestic workers are expropriated as they sell their own machines. This leads to an overproduction of machines. The machine makers then turn to renting machines, thereby destroying the small scale machine owners. In the meantime, continual changes in the production of machines reduces their value,
“...and their ever-increasing cheapness, depreciate day by day the older makes, and allow of their being sold in great numbers, at absurd prices, to large capitalists, who alone can thus employ them at a profit.” (p 445)
On the one hand this process of concentration into larger workplaces drives towards the introduction of steam power to drive a large number of machines, but at the same time, the introduction of steam provides another advantage over the small producers, further stimulating concentration.
“Thus England is at present experiencing, not only in the colossal industry of making wearing apparel, but in most of the other trades mentioned above, the conversion of manufacture, of handicrafts, and of domestic work into the factory system, after each of those forms of production, totally changed and disorganised. under the influence of modern industry, has long ago reproduced, and even overdone, all the horrors of the factory system, without participating in any of the elements of social progress it contains.” (p 446)
Marx sets out the basis of Engels' later comment in the 1892 Preface to “The Condition of the Working Class”, that the large employers embraced the Factory Acts as a means of destroying their smaller competitors.
“This industrial revolution which takes place spontaneously, is artificially helped on by the extension of the Factory Acts to all industries in which women, young persons and children are employed. The compulsory regulation of the working-day as regards its length, pauses, beginning and end, the system of relays of children, the exclusion of all children under a certain age, &c., necessitate on the one hand more machinery and the substitution of steam as a motive power in the place of muscles. On the other hand, in order to make up for the loss of time, an expansion occurs of the means of production used in common, of the furnaces, buildings, &c., in one word, greater concentration of the means of production and a correspondingly greater concourse of workpeople. The chief objection, repeatedly and passionately urged on behalf of each manufacture threatened with the Factory Act, is in fact this, that in order to continue the business on the old scale a greater outlay of capital will be necessary. But as regards labour in the so-called domestic industries and the intermediate forms between them and Manufacture, so soon as limits are put to the working-day and to the employment of children, those industries go to the wall. Unlimited exploitation of cheap labour-power is the sole foundation of their power to compete.” (p 446-7)
The equivalent today, in Britain, is the extent to which Welfarism subsidises the worst employers. So long as bad employers can pay low wages, and still attract workers, whose income is bolstered by transfers from other workers, in the form of Child Benefits, Tax Credits , and so on, those – usually small, inefficient – employers will do so. That in itself holds back the clearing out of these types of inefficient capital, and their replacement with efficient, more high value production, able to pay better wages to its workers.
A similar process was described by Marx in relation to earthenware manufacture, where employers objected to the limitation and pausing of the working day, on the grounds that it was not compatible with the production process.
“In 1864, however, they were brought under the Act, and within sixteen months every “impossibility” had vanished.
'The improved method,” called forth by the Act, “of making slip by pressure instead of by evaporation, the newly-constructed stoves for drying the ware in its green state, &c., are each events of great importance in the pottery art, and mark an advance which the preceding century could not rival.... It has even considerably reduced the temperature of the stoves themselves with a considerable saving of fuel, and with a readier effect on the ware.'
In spite of every prophecy, the cost-price of earthenware did not rise, but the quantity produced did, and to such an extent that the export for the twelve months, ending December, 1865, exceeded in value by £138,628 the average of the preceding three years.” (p 447)
How many firms that survive in Britain today, only on the basis of the low wages and poor conditions of their workers, would have to invest in and develop more efficient methods if the income of those workers were no longer supplemented by transfers from other workers? In fact, according to a report in the FT recently, 10% of British firms are "zombie" companies, essentially bust, unable to generate enough income to repay the capital sum on their loans, and only able to pay the interest because of unsustainably low interest rates and forbearance by banks afraid that calling in the loan would mean losing most of their money. These inevitably small firms, emply around 2 million workers, who will also be on very low wages, and poor conditions. It amounts to not only 2 million workers tied up in inefficient production, explaining the recent ONS data about the number of workers who are under employed, and why the economy is shrinking, but unemployment has not risen, but also large amounts of Capital tied up that could be employed elsewhere in the economy more effectively in high value production, paying workers higher wages, and providing them with better conditions. It also means that the bank lending to these companies is locked up, that could have been available for recapitalising the bank, or for lending to more profitable companies.
A similar regulation occurs in respect of the peaks and troughs of employment during the year. Marx describes how, in addition to the normal business cycle, improved means of communication had led to buyers giving orders at short notice, to suppliers, for large orders. Together with changes in fashion, this meant suppliers needed to quickly employ workers, and work them for long hours, to complete the orders. Then these workers would be laid off, cast back into the reserve army.
But, the introduction of the Factory Acts prevented this overwork during given periods, which meant work over the year itself had to be spread out, and this was itself more compatible with the needs of large scale machine industry, that production should be more or less at a steady rate, and continuous.
“The thoroughly conscientious investigations of the Children’s Employment Commission prove that the effect of the regulation of the hours of work, in some industries, was to spread the mass of labour previously employed more evenly over the whole year that this regulation was the first rational bridle on the murderous, meaningless caprices of fashion, caprices that consort so badly with the system of modern industry; that the development of ocean navigation and of the means of communication generally, has swept away the technical basis on which season-work was really supported, and that all other so-called unconquerable difficulties vanish before larger buildings, additional machinery, increase in the number of workpeople employed, and the alterations caused by all these in the mode of conducting the wholesale trade. But for all that, capital never becomes reconciled to such changes — and this is admitted over and over again by its own representatives — except “under the pressure of a General Act of Parliament” for the compulsory regulation of the hours of labour.” (p 450-1)
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