Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Capital I, Chapter 10 - Part 5



Capital took centuries to be able to extend the working day to its natural limit. But, with the onset of machine production at the end of the 18th Century, and the creation of a mass working class, as the peasants were driven from the land, by the Enclosure Acts, capital pushed the working day way beyond its normal limit.

Enlightened sections of the bourgeoisie recognised the limitations for themselves, not to mention the immorality of that.

It is certainly much to be regretted that any class of persons should toil 12 hours a day, which, including the time for their meals and for going to and returning from their work, amounts, in fact, to 14 of the 24 hours.... Without entering into the question of health, no one will hesitate, I think, to admit that, in a moral point of view, so entire an absorption of the time of the working-classes, without intermission, from the early age of 13, and in trades not subject to restriction, much younger, must be extremely prejudicial, and is an evil greatly to be deplored.... For the sake, therefore, of public morals. of bringing up an orderly population, and of giving the great body of the people a reasonable enjoyment of life, it is much to be desired that in all trades some portion of every working-day should be reserved for rest and leisure.” (Leonard Horner in “Reports of Insp. of Fact. for 31st Dec., 1841.”)” (Note 1, p 264)

The workers fought back against it. But, the availability of such a huge, latent reserve army of labour, created the conditions both for capital to use it up wastefully, and for competition between them to force them to do so. At the same time, those conditions placed workers in the least favourable condition to be able to fight back.

Although laws were passed restricting hours and establishing regulations, in the whole period up to 1833, Parliament provided no resources for their implementation. Worst affected were children, who, at this stage, fulfilled an important role for capital, precisely because they were even cheaper labour than that of adults. Moreover, because children were a source of household income for parents, it was often the case that parents acted as an immediate recruiter and discipline over child labour.

The 1833 Factory Act established a 15 hour working day from 5.30 in the morning to 8.30 at night. It allowed workers aged between 13 to 18 to be employed at any time of day up to a limit of 12 hours. It mostly outlawed employing children under 9, and limited employment of 9-13 year olds to 8 hours a day. Night work for under 18's was outlawed.

Marx notes that, even under these limits, children under 13 could be worked 72 hours a week, whilst the “Emancipation Act, which also administered freedom drop by drop, forbade the planters, from the outset, to work any Negro slave more than 45 hours a week.” (p 266)

In fact, the 1833 Act did not come into force until 1836, and in the meantime, capital agitated vigorously to reduce the age limit from 13 to 10. It continued until 1844. In the intervening period, the Factory Inspectors' Reports demonstrate that it was impossible to enforce. The employers introduced various “Relay Systems” whereby young workers were employed at varying times during the day, allocated to various jobs, and with varying meal times, so that it was impossible to audit what hours had been worked.

But, times were changing. Workers were organising more effectively in Trades Unions, and after 1838 had raised the demand for the Ten Hours Act. Increasing demand for labour-power was meeting the “using up” of available supplies of labour.

Cobden & Bright
Some of the manufacturers, even, who had managed their factories in conformity with the Act of 1833, overwhelmed Parliament with memorials on the immoral competition of their false brethren whom greater impudence, or more fortunate local circumstances, enabled to break the law. Moreover, however much the individual manufacturer might give the rein to his old lust for gain, the spokesmen and political leaders of the manufacturing class ordered a change of front and of speech towards the workpeople. They had entered upon the contest for the repeal of the Corn Laws, and needed the workers to help them to victory. They promised therefore, not only a double-sized loaf of bread, but the enactment of the Ten Hours’ Bill in the Free-trade millennium.” (p 267)

On this basis, the 1844 Act was introduced, which placed women over 18 under the same protections as young workers. Hours were limited to 12, and night work was banned. Hours for children under 13 were reduced to 6 1/2. The Act also effectively banned the Relay System by calculating the time worked from the time work began in a morning.

The years 1846-47 are epoch-making in the economic history of England. The Repeal of the Corn Laws, and of the duties on cotton and other raw material; Free-trade proclaimed as the guiding star of legislation; in a word, the arrival of the millennium. On the other hand, in the same years, the Chartist movement and the 10 hours’ agitation reached their highest point. They found allies in the Tories panting for revenge. Despite the fanatical opposition of the army of perjured Free-traders, with Bright and Cobden at their head, the Ten Hours’ Bill, struggled for so long, went through Parliament.

The new Factory Act of June 8th, 1847, enacted that on July 1st, 1847, there should be a preliminary shortening of the working-day for “young persons” (from 13 to 18), and all females to 11 hours, but that on May 1st, 1848, there should be a definite limitation of the working-day to 10 hours. In other respects, the Act only amended and completed the Acts of 1833 and 1844.” (p 268-9)

The employers took advantage of a weakening of the workers' position arising from the serious economic downturn of the 1840's, and particularly the crises of 1846-7, to try to frustrate the Act. They cut wages by 25%, in an attempt to get workers to agitate for a repeal of the Act. Leonard Horner reports,

““I found that men who had been getting 10s. a week, had had 1s. taken off for a reduction in the rate of 10 per cent, and 1s. 6d. off the remaining 9s. for the reduction in time, together 2s. 6d.. and notwithstanding this, many of them said they would rather work 10 hours.” l.c.” (Note 2, p 269)

Another “friendly” dodge was to make the adult males work 12 to 15 hours, and then to blazon abroad this fact as the best proof of what the proletariat desired in its heart of hearts. But the “ruthless” Factory Inspector Leonard Horner was again to the fore. The majority of the “over-times” declared:

They would much prefer working ten hours for less wages, but that they had no choice; that so many were out of employment (so many spinners getting very low wages by having to work as piecers, being unable to do better), that if they refused to work the longer time, others would immediately get their places, so that it was a question with them of agreeing to work the longer time, or of being thrown out of employment altogether.”” (p 270)

The Act came in on May 1st 1848,

But meanwhile the fiasco of the Chartist party whose leaders were imprisoned, and whose organisation was dismembered, had shaken the confidence of the English working-class in its own strength. Soon after this the June insurrection in Paris and its bloody suppression united, in England as on the Continent, all fractions of the ruling classes, landlords and capitalists, stock-exchange wolves and shop-keepers, Protectionists and Freetraders, government and opposition, priests and freethinkers, young whores and old nuns, under the common cry for the salvation of Property, Religion, the Family and Society. The working-class was everywhere proclaimed, placed under a ban, under a virtual law of suspects. The manufacturers had no need any longer to restrain themselves. They broke out in open revolt not only against the Ten Hours’ Act, but against the whole of the legislation that since 1833 had aimed at restricting in some measure the “free” exploitation of labour-power. It was a pro-slavery rebellion in miniature, carried on for over two years with a cynical recklessness, a terrorist energy all the cheaper because the rebel capitalist risked nothing except the skin of his “hands.”” (p 270-1)

The employers began by sacking a large part of the children and women who were covered by the Act. Then they argued that the hour and a half provided for meal breaks were to be taken before and after the actual 10 hour work day. The Factory Inspectors challenged that, largely succesfully, in the Courts.

The employers then turned their attention again to children, breaking up the times they worked in the afternoon, so that they could be kept at work until 8.30 at night. The employers then essentially declared they would reintroduce the Relay System for children. To back it up, they overwhelmed the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, with petitions, opposing legal action against them. Grey conceded, but the Factory Inspectors refused his instructions and continued taking employers to court for breaches of the Act.

Not that that did much good. The magistrates, invariably acquitted them. Indeed, often they were the same people! That in itself was illegal.

Leonard Horner reported,

Having endeavoured to enforce the Act ... by ten prosecutions in seven magisterial divisions, and having been supported by the magistrates in one case only ... I considered it useless to prosecute more for this evasion of the law. That part of the Act of 1848 which was framed for securing uniformity in the hours of work, ... is thus no longer in force in my district (Lancashire). Neither have the sub-inspectors or myself any means of satisfying ourselves, when we inspect a mill working by shifts, that the young persons and women are not working more than 10 hours a-day” (p 274)

Eventually, appearance and reality had to be aligned.

This revolt of capital, after two years was at last crowned with victory by a decision of one of the four highest Courts of Justice in England, the Court of Exchequer, which in a case brought before it on February 8th, 1850, decided that the manufacturers were certainly acting against the sense of the Act of 1844, but that this Act itself contained certain words that rendered it meaningless. “By this decision, the Ten Hours’ Act was abolished.” A crowd of masters, who until then had been afraid of using the relay system for young persons and women, now took it up heart and soul.” (p 276)

But, now the contradictions of capital reasserted themselves and its need for a State to mediate its interests re-emerged. One the one hand,

The workpeople had hitherto offered a passive, although inflexible and unremitting resistance. They now protested in Lancashire and Yorkshire in threatening meetings.” (p 276)

On the other,

Some of the masters themselves murmured:

On account of the contradictory decisions of the magistrates, a condition of things altogether abnormal and anarchical obtains. One law holds in Yorkshire, another in Lancashire, one law in one parish of Lancashire, another in its immediate neighbourhood. The manufacturer in large towns could evade the law, the manufacturer in country districts could not find the people necessary for the relay system, still less for the shifting of hands from one factory to another,” &c.

And the first birthright of capital is equal exploitation of labour-power by all capitalists.” (p 276)

So, a compromise was reached in the 1850 Factory Act, which raised the working day for women and young people from 10 to 10 1/2, but abolished the relay System for good.

Henceforth with a few exceptions the Factory Act of 1850 regulated the working-day of all workers in the branches of industry that come under it. Since the passing of the first Factory Act half a century had elapsed...

However, the principle had triumphed with its victory in those great branches of industry which form the most characteristic creation of the modern mode of production. Their wonderful development from 1853 to 1860, hand-in-hand with the physical and moral regeneration of the factory workers, struck the most purblind. The masters from whom the legal limitation and regulation had been wrung step by step after a civil war of half a century, themselves referred ostentatiously to the contrast with the branches of exploitation still “free.” The Pharisees of “Political Economy” now proclaimed the discernment of the necessity of a legally fixed working-day as a characteristic new discovery of their “science.”” (p 279-80)

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