Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Capital I, Chapter 10 - Part 4

4) Day & Night Work. The Relay System.

Constant Capital exists to soak up Labour and thereby create Surplus Value. Any time that Constant Capital is not soaking up Labour – downtime – is a loss to the Capitalist from several standpoints. Firstly, Labour could have been employed during that period, and been producing Surplus Value. Secondly, the Capitalist advanced Capital for the purchase of this Constant Capital, and expects to be making a return on it constantly. Thirdly, if it stands idle, there might be a cost in restarting it, for example, in firing up kilns, furnaces etc.

For all these reasons, as well as those referred to previously, in relation to depreciation, Capital seeks to ensure that Constant Capital is in continuous operation. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, this was done via a two-shift system.

It is well known that this relay system, this alternation of two sets of workers, held full sway in the full-blooded youth-time of the English cotton manufacture, and that at the present time it still flourishes, among others, in the cotton spinning of the Moscow district. This 24 hours’ process of production exists to-day as a system in many of the branches of industry of Great Britain that are still “free,” in the blast-furnaces, forges, plate-rolling mills, and other metallurgical establishments in England, Wales, and Scotland. The working-time here includes, besides the 24 hours of the 6 working-days, a great part also of the 24 hours of Sunday. The workers consist of men and women, adults and children of both sexes. The ages of the children and young persons run through all intermediate grades, from 8 (in some cases from 6) to 18.” (p 245-6)

Marx once again cites the Factory Inspectors' Reports on the abuses arising from it.

It is impossible,” the report continues, “for any mind to realise the amount of work described in the following passages as being performed by boys of from 9 to 12 years of age ... without coming irresistibly to the conclusion that such abuses of the power of parents and of employers can no longer be allowed to exist.” (p 246)

As some of the Reports indicated, where workers often children, covered for others off sick, they would frequently work not just a 12 hour shift, but a 24 or even 36 hour shift! This was in all kinds of industry and odious conditions such as in steel manufacture, where people were working in temperatures of between 86-90 degrees.

It is true that there is this loss from machinery lying idle in those manufactories in which work only goes on by day. But the use of furnaces would involve a further loss in our case. If they were kept up there would be a waste of fuel (instead of, as now, a waste of the living substance of the workers), and if they were not, there would be loss of time in laying the fires and getting the heat up (whilst the loss of sleeping time, even to children of 8 is a gain of working-time for the Sanderson tribe), and the furnaces themselves would suffer from the changes of temperature.” (Whilst those same furnaces suffer nothing from the day and night change of labour.)” (E.F. Sanderson quoted on p 251)


For Capital, the working day is essentially 24 hours, less that time that workers must have to replenish and reproduce themselves. In the early period of industrial capitalism, where what Capital requires above all is masses of undifferentiated, unskilled labour, even the time for education or other cultural development is minimal. The hypocrisy was illustrated by Marx, who points out that Sunday working by workers for Capital was defended, whilst, In England even now occasionally in rural districts a labourer is condemned to imprisonment for desecrating the Sabbath, by working in his front garden.” (Note 1, p 252)

But, just as depriving the land of its fertility has a cost to the farmer, so wearing out and destroying labour-power has a cost for capital.

If then the unnatural extension of the working-day, that capital necessarily strives after in its unmeasured passion for self-expansion, shortens the length of life of the individual labourer, and therefore the duration of his labour-power, the forces used up have to be replaced at a more rapid rate and the sum of the expenses for the reproduction of labour-power will be greater; just as in a machine the part of its value to be reproduced every day is greater the more rapidly the machine is worn out. It would seem therefore that the interest of capital itself points in the direction of a normal working-day.” (p 253)

Marx compares this with slavery. The slave owner buys a slave in the same way they buy a horse. If they lose either by overwork or abuse, it is a direct loss. However, if there is an abundant supply of cheap slaves, the slave owner might still be prepared to overwork them in order to maximise the earnings from them.

It is accordingly a maxim of slave management, in slave-importing countries, that the most effective economy is that which takes out of the human chattel in the shortest space of time the utmost amount of exertion it is capable of putting forth. It is in tropical culture, where annual profits often equal the whole capital of plantations, that negro life is most recklessly sacrificed. It is the agriculture of the West Indies, which has been for centuries prolific of fabulous wealth, that has engulfed millions of the African race. It is in Cuba, at this day, whose revenues are reckoned by millions, and whose planters are princes, that we see in the servile class, the coarsest fare, the most exhausting and unremitting toil, and even the absolute destruction of a portion of its numbers every year.” (Cairnes, “The Slave Power”, quoted on p 254)

For slave-trade read labour-market, for Kentucky and Virginia, Ireland and the agricultural districts of England, Scotland, and Wales, for Africa, Germany. We heard how over-work thinned the ranks of the bakers in London. Nevertheless, the London labour-market is always over-stocked with German and other candidates for death in the bakeries.” (p 254)

The making up of the destroyed labour force proceeded very much along the lines of slavery. Marx quotes the speech of William Ferrand MP in Parliament (27th April, 1863),

But then the manufacturers proposed to the Poor Law Commissioners that they should send the “surplus-population” of the agricultural districts to the north, with the explanation “that the manufacturers would absorb and use it up.”

The Bury Guardian said, on the completion of the French treaty, that “10,000 additional hands could be absorbed by Lancashire, and that 30,000 or 40,000 will be needed.” After the “flesh agents and sub-agents” had in vain sought through the agricultural districts,

a deputation came up to London, and waited on the right hon. gentleman [Mr. Villiers, President of the Poor Law Board] with a view of obtaining poor children from certain union houses for the mills of Lancashire.”” (p 254-5)

This ability to use up Labour and replace it with a new generation (often stunted and unhealthy) or new supplies from the countryside or from abroad, gave capital the view that Labour Power could continue to be used up. Capital eventually realised that could not continue for ever, but,

In every stockjobbing swindle every one knows that some time or other the crash must come, but every one hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbour, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety. Après moi le déluge! [After me, the flood] is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society. To the out-cry as to the physical and mental degradation, the premature death, the torture of over-work, it answers: Ought these to trouble us since they increase our profits? But looking at things as a whole, all this does not, indeed, depend on the good or ill will of the individual capitalist. Free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production, in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist.” (p 252)

We, therefore, find, e.g., that in the beginning of 1863, 26 firms owning extensive potteries in Staffordshire, amongst others, Josiah Wedgwood, & Sons, petition in a memorial for “some legislative enactment.” Competition with other capitalists permits them no voluntary limitation of working-time for children, &c. “Much as we deplore the evils before mentioned, it would not be possible to prevent them by any scheme of agreement between the manufacturers. ... Taking all these points into consideration, we have come to the conviction that some legislative enactment is wanted.” (“Children’s Employment Comm.” Rep. I, 1863, p. 322.) Most recently a much more striking example offers. The rise in the price of cotton during a period of feverish activity, had induced the manufacturers in Blackburn to shorten, by mutual consent, the working-time in their mills during a certain fixed period. This period terminated about the end of November, 1871. Meanwhile, the wealthier manufacturers, who combined spinning with weaving, used the diminution of production resulting from this agreement, to extend their own business and thus to make great profits at the expense of the small employers. The latter thereupon turned in their extremity to the operatives, urged them earnestly to agitate for the 9 hours’ system, and promised contributions in money to this end.” (Note 2, p 257)

Laws were introduced, the English Labour Statutes, from the 14th Century onwards. Their objective was to lengthen the working day. This compulsion was required because at this stage, the balance of forces is largely in favour of Labour and against Capital. After the Black Death had ravaged the population, that balance was tipped in favour of Labour even further, with all wages rising. Even with the force of law, it was impossible to impose long hours on Labour, and the hours set out in those Statutes were much less than workers ended up working in the 19th Century.

Hence it is natural that the lengthening of the working-day, which capital, from the middle of the 14th to the end of the 17th century, tries to impose by State-measures on adult labourers, approximately coincides with the shortening of the working-day which, in the second half of the 19th century, has here and there been effected by the State to prevent the coining of children’s blood into capital. That which to-day, e.g., in the State of Massachusetts, until recently the freest State of the North-American Republic, has been proclaimed as the statutory limit of the labour of children under 12, was in England, even in the middle of the 17th century, the normal working-day of able-bodied artisans, robust labourers, athletic blacksmiths.” (p 258)

Still, during the greater part of the 18th century, up to the epoch of Modern Industry and machinism, capital in England had not succeeded in seizing for itself, by the payment of the weekly value of labour-power, the whole week of the labourer, with the exception, however, of the agricultural labourers. The fact that they could live for a whole week on the wage of four days, did not appear to the labourers a sufficient reason that they should work the other two days for the capitalist.” (p 260)

The response of Capital was simple.

It is the same motivation which today encourages Capital to seek to reduce the free-time workers might enjoy at the end of their working lives. By robbing them of the Pension entitlements they have built up over decades of contributions from their wages, and increasing the retirement age, it forces them to continue providing free labour to Capital for additional years, thereby increasing the profits of Capital.

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