Friday, 14 September 2012

Capital I, Chapter 10 - Part 3

3) Branches of English Industry Without legal Limits to Exploitation

Leonard Horner
In this section, Marx once again draws heavily from the Reports of Factory Inspectors, and from Engels' “Condition Of The Working Class” to describe the atrocious conditions that the early stage of industrial capitalism imposed, much of which can be seen once more around the globe, in countries undergoing a similar process. The depravities it imposed, as Marx says, even aroused bourgeois commentators to compare it unfavourably to the conditions imposed by slavery.

Some of the worst suffering was amongst children. Marx quotes from Reports showing 9 year old children working from 2 or 3 in the morning until 12 at night, in the Nottinghamshire lace factories.

Marx details extensively the role played by children as young as 7 in the pottery industry in heavy work for 15 hours a day. But, life expectancy in the Potteries was short for all workers. Many died from pulmonary diseases caused by the dust. Marx quotes the findings of Dr. J.T. Arledge of the North Staffs Royal Infirmary, in the Commissioners Report of 1863.

The potters as a class, both men and women, represent a degenerated population, both physically and morally. They are, as a rule, stunted in growth, ill-shaped, and frequently ill-formed in the chest; they become prematurely old, and are certainly short-lived; they are phlegmatic and bloodless, and exhibit their debility of constitution by obstinate attacks of dyspepsia, and disorders of the liver and kidneys, and by rheumatism. But of all diseases they are especially prone to chest-disease, to pneumonia, phthisis, bronchitis, and asthma. One form would appear peculiar to them, and is known as potter’s asthma, or potter’s consumption. Scrofula attacking the glands, or bones, or other parts of the body, is a disease of two-thirds or more of the potters .... That the ‘degenerescence’ of the population of this district is not even greater than it is, is due to the constant recruiting from the adjacent country, and intermarriages with more healthy races.” (p 235)

Phossy Jaw, caused by Phosphorus
Marx then details the suffering of workers in the match trade caused by working with phosphorus. Half these workers in the major cities, were under thirteen, again they were working up to fifteen hours a day, including night work. Similar long hours were worked by children in the wallpaper industry.

It was not that Marx opposed child labour. He had no time for such a Liberal approach. On the contrary, in the programme he wrote for the First International, Marx makes clear that he believes that child labour combined with education, is the most effective means of new generations of workers rapidly advancing beyond their middle class equivalents. But, as with his proposals in relation to education and Factory Reform, the point was to obtain statutory limits for such child labour, which the workers could then enforce via their own collective action. So, for example he writes,

We consider the tendency of modern industry to make children and juvenile persons of both sexes co-operate in the great work of social production, as a progressive, sound and legitimate tendency, although under capital it was distorted into an abomination. In a rational state of society every child whatever, from the age of 9 years, ought to become a productive labourer in the same way that no able-bodied adult person ought to be exempted from the general law of nature, viz.: to work in order to be able to eat, and work not only with the brain but with the hands too.

However, for the present, we have only to deal with the children and young persons of both sexes divided into three classes, to be treated differently; the first class to range from 9 to 12; the second, from 13 to 15 years; and the third, to comprise the ages of 16 and 17 years. We propose that the employment of the first class in any workshop or housework be legally restricted to two; that of the second, to four; and that of the third, to six hours. For the third class, there must be a break of at least one hour for meals or relaxation...

In enforcing such laws, the working class do not fortify governmental power. On the contrary, they transform that power, now used against them, into their own agency. They effect by a general act what they would vainly attempt by a multitude of isolated individual efforts.”

He makes a similar point in the Critique Of The Gotha Programme

A general prohibition of child labor is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish. Its realization -- if it were possible -- would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labor with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.”

Marx had referred in an earlier chapter to the adulteration of bread. It was only one foodstuff so cheapened. He quotes Chevallier who detailed six hundred articles.

The Co-operative Consumer Research group
played a major role in identifying abuses.
The French chemist, Chevallier, in his treatise on the “sophistications” of commodities, enumerates for many of the 600 or more articles which he passes in review, 10, 20, 30 different methods of adulteration. He adds that he does not know all the methods and does not mention all that he knows. He gives 6 kinds of adulteration of sugar, 9 of olive oil, 10 of butter, 12 of salt, 19 of milk, 20 of bread, 23 of brandy, 24 of meal, 28 of chocolate, 30 of wine, 32 of coffee, etc. Even God Almighty does not escape this fate. See Rouard de Card, “On the Falsifications of the materials of the Sacrament.” (“De la falsification des substances sacramentelles,” Paris, 1856.)” (note 3, p238)

The adulteration of bread led to the 1860 Act on adulteration, but, like most similar acts, it was not effective, because the courts usually favoured the suppliers in a spirit of defending Free Trade.

His report (H.S. Tremenheere) together with the evidence given, roused not the heart of the public but its stomach. Englishmen, always well up in the Bible, knew well enough that man, unless by elective grace a capitalist, or landlord, or sinecurist, is commanded to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, but they did not know that he had to eat daily in his bread a certain quantity of human perspiration mixed with the discharge of abscesses, cobwebs, dead black-beetles, and putrid German yeast, without counting alum, sand, and other agreeable mineral ingredients. Without any regard to his holiness, Free-trade, the free baking-trade was therefore placed under the supervision of the State inspectors (Close of the Parliamentary session of 1863), and by the same Act of Parliament, work from 9 in the evening to 5 in the morning was forbidden for journeymen bakers under 18. The last clause speaks volumes as to the over-work in this old-fashioned, homely line of business.” (p 238-9)

The same picture could be seen on the railways, where the consequences were fatal.

Reynolds’ Newspaper, January, 1866. — Every week this same paper has, under the sensational headings, “Fearful and fatal accidents,” “Appalling tragedies,” &c., a whole list of fresh railway catastrophes. On these an employee on the North Staffordshire line comments: “Everyone knows the consequences that may occur if the driver and fireman of a locomotive engine are not continually on the look-out. How can that be expected from a man who has been at such work for 29 or 30 hours, exposed to the weather, and without rest. The following is an example which is of very frequent occurrence: — One fireman commenced work on the Monday morning at a very early hour. When he had finished what is called a day’s work, he had been on duty 14 hours 50 minutes. Before he had time to get his tea, he was again called on for duty.... The next time he finished he had been on duty 14 hours 25 minutes, making a total of 29 hours 15 minutes without intermission. The rest of the week’s work was made up as follows: — Wednesday. 15 hours: Thursday, 15 hours 35 minutes; Friday, 14½ hours; Saturday, 14 hours 10 minutes, making a total for the week of 88 hours 30 minutes. Now, sir, fancy his astonishment on being paid 6 1/4 days for the whole. Thinking it was a mistake, he applied to the time-keeper,... and inquired what they considered a day’s work, and was told 13 hours for a goods man (i.e., 78 hours).... He then asked for what he had made over and above the 78 hours per week, but was refused. However, he was at last told they would give him another quarter, i.e., 10d.,” l.c., 4th February. 1866.” (Note 2, p 242-3)

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