Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Capital I, Chapter 14 - Part 1

Division Of Labour and Manufacture

1) Two Fold Origin Of Manufacture

Marx's use of the term manufacturing is not the same as that we use today. He uses the term to denote the kind of production that sits between home based handicraft production, and the kind of machine production we today associate with manufacturing. He writes,

That co-operation which is based on division of labour, assumes its typical form in manufacture, and is the prevalent characteristic form of the capitalist process of production throughout the manufacturing period properly so called. That period, roughly speaking, extends from the middle of the 16th to the last third of the 18th century.” (p 318)

This kind of manufacturing arises in two different ways.

Firstly, a single capitalist can bring together a group of workers to carry out a particular kind of production. Marx cites carriage production, but the same thing would apply today to car production. To produce a carriage, a whole series of different skills are required. Prior to manufacture, and in fact more like today, these different types of skills would have been the preserve of specific artisans and their guilds. For example, the wheels required for the carriage would have been bought from a wheelwright, and the same would have applied for the upholstery etc.

But, the capitalist instead employs his own wheelwright, upholsterer, painter, locksmith and so on, all of whom work in the same manufactory to produce carriages. They can all be kept employed simultaneously because the capitalist produces several carriages at the same time – previously carriages would have been built to order – so that each type of worker is working at their particular part of the product, ready for it to be passed on to the next.

In the past, a wheelwright would have worked on all sorts of wheels, and the same for every other type of skill. But, now each artisan works day after day producing only the same type of product, requireed for carriage production. This raises the productivity and skill of the worker in producing this specific product, but, at the same time narrows the range of their skill to that particular type of production.

Secondly, manufacture arises by a capitalist employing, in a manufactory, a group of workers, all doing exactly the same thing. For example, paper production. Each worker carries out all of the processes required. They basically continue to work as they did as handicraft workers, but now in a manufactory alongside identical workers.

The the capitalist assigns different stages of the production process to different workers. The workers effectively become one collective worker, each co-operating with the other. The advantages of this are easily observed – as with the masons acting as a human chain to pass on stones – as each worker becomes increasingly more proficient in performing the tasks assigned to them.

The needlemaker of the Nuremberg Guild was the cornerstone on which the English needle manufacture was raised. But while in Nuremberg that single artificer performed a series of perhaps 20 operations one after another, in England it was not long before there were 20 needlemakers side by side, each performing one alone of those 20 operations, and in consequence of further experience, each of those 20 operations was again split up, isolated, and made the exclusive function of a separate workman.” (p 319-20)

But, at this stage, the basis of this division of labour remains handicraft production. The decisive factor remains the individual skill of the workman.

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