Thursday, 8 November 2012

Capital, Chapter 15 - Part 5

c) Intensification Of Labour

In previous chapters, Marx described the way in which capitalist industrialisation led to the lengthening of the working day, almost without bounds. That was especially true with the introduction of machinery, for the reasons just described. However, this initial response could not continue.

The immoderate lengthening of the working-day, produced by machinery in the hands of capital, leads to a reaction on the part of society, the very sources of whose life are menaced; and, thence, to a normal working-day whose length is fixed by law.” (p 385)

Capital's first response to the limitation of the working day – besides simply trying to disregard it – is to bring about an intensification of labour. That is to introduce speed-up so that workers are forced to produce as much in 10 hours as they previously did in 12 or 14. This is not to be confused with the extraction of Relative Surplus Value. The latter arises from the revolutionising of the production process, which increases productivity. The intensification of labour, by contrast, is just another form of Absolute Surplus Value production, making workers more more intensively rather than extensively.

Nevertheless the reader will clearly see, that where we have labour, not carried on by fits and starts, but repeated day after day with unvarying uniformity, a point must inevitably be reached, where extension of the working-day and intensity of the labour mutually exclude one another, in such a way that lengthening of the working-day becomes compatible only with a lower degree of intensity, and a higher degree of intensity, only with a shortening of the working-day.” (p 386)

However, this extraction of Absolute Surplus Value, via the intensification goes along with the turn of Capital towards the extraction of Relative Surplus Value, and is, in large part, a function of the introduction of machines to that end.

The extraction of Absolute Surplus Value by an
unbounded extension of the working-day could
not continue.  It destroyed the working class.  At the
 level of "Many Capitals", competition forced each
Capital to exploit Labour as much as possible.  This was not
compatible with the interest of "Capital in General".  The
Capitalist State, through Factory Inspectors like Leonard Horner
enforced a level playing field of a shorter working day.  That shorter day
also fitted in with the turn of Capital to an intensification
of labour, and to Relative Surplus Value, via machinery.
So soon as the gradually surging revolt of the working-class compelled Parliament to shorten compulsorily the hours of labour, and to begin by imposing a normal working-day on factories proper, so soon consequently as an increased production of surplus-value by the prolongation of the working-day was once for all put a stop to, from that moment capital threw itself with all its might into the production of relative surplus-value, by hastening on the further improvement of machinery. At the same time a change took place in the nature of relative surplus-value. Generally speaking, the mode of producing relative surplus-value consists in raising the productive power of the workman, so as to enable him to produce more in a given time with the same expenditure of labour. Labour-time continues to transmit as before the same value to the total product, but this unchanged amount of exchange-value is spread over more use-value; hence the value of each single commodity sinks. Otherwise, however, so soon as the compulsory shortening of the hours of labour takes place. The immense impetus it gives the development of productive power, and to economy in the means of production, imposes on the workman increased expenditure of labour in a given time, heightened tension of labour-power, and closer filling up of the pores of the working-day, or condensation of labour to a degree that is attainable only within the limits of the shortened working-day. This condensation of a greater mass of labour into a given period thenceforward counts for what it really is, a greater quantity of labour. In addition to a measure of its extension, i.e., duration, labour now acquires a measure of its intensity or of the degree of its condensation or density. The denser hour of the ten hours’ working-day contains more labour, i.e., expended labour-power. than the more porous hour of the twelve hours’ working-day. The product therefore of one of the former hours has as much or more value than has the product of 1 1/5 of the latter hours. Apart from the increased yield of relative surplus-value through the heightened productiveness of labour, the same mass of value is now produced for the capitalist say by 3 1/3 hours of surplus-labour, and 6 2/3 hours of necessary labour, as was previously produced by four hours of surplus-labour and eight hours of necessary labour.” (p 386-7)

In other words, there are two complementary processes going on. The introduction of machinery increases the productivity of labour. That means the commodities required to reproduce labour-power becomes cheaper, which means the Value of Labour-power falls. That means less of the working day is required for necessary labour, leaving a higher portion as surplus labour. Relative Surplus Value rises.

At the same time, the kind of regularisation of the work process that machinery introduces, i.e. a machine runs at the same pace all day long, whereas a craftsman working with tools operates at different speeds during the day, means the workers themselves more resemble a machine, working at the same pace all day. The more the worker becomes accustomed to that, the more they can cope with the machine operating at a faster pace. That principle is put on a scientific basis by the introduction of Taylorist, scientific management. Moreover, while they may not be able to cope, physically and mentally, with that pace for 12 hours a day, they may for 10. So, as much work is done in 10 hours as previously in 12.

That was seen in Britain in 1974 during the 3 day week, when as much output was more or less produced in 3 days as previously was done in 5.

The first effect of shortening the working-day results from the self-evident law, that the efficiency of labour-power is in an inverse ratio to the duration of its expenditure. Hence, within certain limits what is lost by shortening the duration is gained by the increasing tension of labour-power. That the workman moreover really does expend more labour-power, is ensured by the mode in which the capitalist pays him.” (p 387)

Marx says that this effect of shortening the working day was more marked in those areas where machinery was not dominant.

Mr. Robert Gardner reduced the hours of labour in his two large factories at Preston, on and after the 20th April, 1844, from twelve to eleven hours a day. The result of about a year’s working was that “the same amount of product for the same cost was received, and the workpeople as a whole earned in eleven hours as much wages as they did before in twelve.” I pass over the experiments made in the spinning and carding rooms, because they were accompanied by an increase of 2% in the speed of the machines. But in the weaving department, where, moreover, many sorts of figured fancy articles were woven, there was not the slightest alteration in the conditions of the work. The result was: “From 6th January to 20th April, 1844, with a twelve hours’ day, average weekly wages of each hand 10s. 1½d., from 20th April to 29th June, 1844, with day of eleven hours, average weekly wages 10s. 3½d.” Here we have more produced in eleven hours than previously in twelve, and entirely in consequence of more steady application and economy of time by the workpeople. While they got the same wages and gained one hour of spare time, the capitalist got the same amount produced and saved the cost of coal, gas, and other such items, for one hour. Similar experiments, and with the like success, were carried out in the mills of Messrs. Horrocks and Jacson.” (p 388)

Shorter working hours create the conditions for more intensive labour, and when those shorter hours are fully established, capital introduces machinery to squeeze out even more labour in a given time. That is done by gradually speeding up the machines, and by increasing the number of machines each worker minds.

But, Capital also has to improve the machinery. More labour cannot be squeezed out of workers in these diminished work days, if the machines themselves break down, or are inefficient.

One fact is sufficient to show how greatly the wealth of the manufacturers increased along with the more intense exploitation of labour-power. From 1838 to 1850, the average proportional increase in English cotton and other factories was 32%, while from 1850 to 1856 it amounted to 86%.” (p 392)

Marx details how this rose even more sharply between 1856-62.

He quotes Ferrand,

I have been informed by delegates from 16 districts of Lancashire and Cheshire, in whose behalf I speak, that the work in the factories is, in consequence of the improvements in machinery, constantly on the increase. Instead of as formerly one person with two helps tenting two looms, one person now tents three looms without helps, and it is no uncommon thing for one person to tent four. Twelve hours’ work, as is evident from the facts adduced, is now compressed into less than 10 hours. It is therefore self-evident, to what an enormous extent the toil of the factory operative has increased during the last 10 years.” (p 392-3)

Marx comments,

There cannot be the slightest doubt that the tendency that urges capital, so soon as a prolongation of the hours of labour is once for all forbidden, to compensate itself, by a systematic heightening of the intensity of labour, and to convert every improvement in machinery into a more perfect means of exhausting the workman, must soon lead to a state of things in which a reduction of the hours of labour will again be inevitable. On the other hand, the rapid advance of English industry between 1848 and the present time, under the influence of a day of 10 hours, surpasses the advance made between 1833 and 1847, when the day was 12 hours long, by far more than the latter surpasses the advance made during the half century after the first introduction of the factory system, when the working-day was without limits.” (p 393)

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