Thursday, 1 November 2012

Capital I, Chapter 15 - Part 3

3) The Proximate Effects Of Machinery On The Workers

a) Appropriation of Supplementary Labour-Power by Capital. The Employment of Women and Children

One of first effects of the introduction of machinery was that because some of the muscular power that was previously required was now provided by the machine, workers no longer needed to be strong or even fully developed. That meant that women and children could be employed both because they were cheaper to employ, and because they were often more dexterous than male workers.

So, whole workers families tended to be employed, which meant, given the long hours, that many of the things that had previously been part of a healthy family life disappeared. Children lost out on play, the performance of various aspects of domestic production ceased.

Dr. Edward Smith, during the cotton crisis caused by the American Civil War, was sent by the English Government to Lancashire, Cheshire, and other places, to report on the sanitary condition of the cotton operatives. He reported, that from a hygienic point of view, and apart from the banishment of the operatives from the factory atmosphere, the crisis had several advantages. The women now had sufficient leisure to give their infants the breast, instead of poisoning them with “Godfrey’s cordial.” They had time to learn to cook. Unfortunately the acquisition of this art occurred at a time when they had nothing to cook. But from this we see how capital, for the purposes of its self-expansion, has usurped the labour necessary in the home of the family. This crisis was also utilised to teach sewing to the daughters of the workmen in sewing schools. An American revolution and a universal crisis, in order that the working girls, who spin for the whole world, might learn to sew!” (Note 3, p372)

The value of labour-power is determined not just on the basis of the cost of reproducing the individual worker, but that of the average worker's family, because capital has to ensure the supply of future generations of workers. However, if capital can employ all of the members of the worker's family, the cost of reproducing that family is spread over the wages paid to them all, not just to the father. Consequently, the value of labour-power, and, therefore, wages fall, whilst capital gets to exploit not just one worker but the whole family.

This has been witnessed at various times, when an expansion of capital has meant that capital sought to employ more workers. Much of Marx’s description of the consequences could be applied, for example, to the period after WWII, when large numbers of married women were encouraged to join the labour market.

““The numerical increase of labourers has been great, through the growing substitution of female for male, and above all, of childish for adult labour. Three girls of 13, at wages of from 6 shillings to 8 shillings a week, have replaced the one man of mature age, of wages varying from 18 shillings to 45 shillings.” (Th. de Quincey: “The Logic of Political Econ.,” London, 1844. Note to p. 147.) Since certain family functions, such as nursing and suckling children, cannot be entirely suppressed, the mothers confiscated by capital, must try substitutes of some sort. Domestic work, such as sewing and mending, must be replaced by the purchase of ready-made articles. Hence, the diminished expenditure of labour in the house is accompanied by an increased expenditure of money. The cost of keeping the family increases, and balances the greater income. In addition to this, economy and judgment in the consumption and preparation of the means of subsistence becomes impossible. Abundant material relating to these facts, which are concealed by official Political Economy, is to be found in the Reports of the Inspectors of Factories, of the Children’s Employment Commission, and more especially in the Reports on Public Health.”” (Note 1, p 373)

In the post war period, the same things could be seen as, in return for earning a wage, large amounts of domestic labour, formerly performed manually, by housewives, was done instead by domestic machinery e.g. vacuum cleaners, washing machines, TV to entertain children, as well as a welfare state to provide care etc. That in turn created a large demand for all of these new consumer goods, developed as part of the Long Wave innovation cycle, which could be paid for out of the additional wages being earned.

Machinery also changes the relation between capital and the worker. Its no longer a free contract for the sale of labour-power. The worker now also sells the labour-power of their children, turning them into slave owners, and their children into slaves. All of the atrocious practices involved in this, which included the prostituting, in large numbers, their own wives and daughters, have been well documented, as well as described in the novels of Dickens and his contemporaries.

The revolution effected by machinery in the juridical relations between the buyer and the seller of labour-power, causing the transaction as a whole to lose the appearance of a contract between free persons, afforded the English Parliament an excuse, founded on juridical principles, for the interference of the state with factories. Whenever the law limits the labour of children to 6 hours in industries not before interfered with, the complaints of the manufacturers are always renewed. They allege that numbers of the parents withdraw their children from the industry brought under the Act, in order to sell them where “freedom of labour” still rules, i.e., where children under 13 years are compelled to work like grown-up people, and therefore can be got rid of at a higher price. But since capital is by nature a leveller, since it exacts in every sphere of production equality in the conditions of the exploitation of labour, the limitation by law of children’s labour, in one branch of industry, becomes the cause of its limitation in others.” (p 374-5)

Today, the representatives of the more reactionary sections of capital, within the Tory Party, are marked by their high moral tone on issues like the family, on abortion, on drug use etc. Yet it was capital via the introduction of machine industry that caused the greatest damage in all these respects. Women employed in the most degrading conditions; children employed in conditions of the most terrible immorality, the needs of work causing mothers to abandon their children or else replace their own care by dosing them up with opiates like laudanum and so on.

In fact, the revolution in the mode of cultivation had led to the introduction of the industrial system.

Married women, who work in gangs along with boys and girls, are, for a stipulated sum of money, placed at the disposal of the farmer, by a man called the “undertaker,” who contracts for the whole gang. “These gangs will sometimes travel many miles from their own village; they are to be met morning and evening on the roads, dressed in short petticoats, with suitable coats and boots, and sometimes trousers, looking wonderfully strong and healthy, but tainted with a customary immorality and heedless of the fatal results which their love of this busy and independent life is bringing on their unfortunate offspring who are pining at home.”

Every phenomenon of the factory districts is here reproduced, including, but to a greater extent, ill-disguised infanticide, and dosing children with opiates.

My knowledge of such evils,” says Dr. Simon, the medical officer of the Privy Council and editor in chief of the Reports on Public Health, “may excuse the profound misgiving with which I regard any large industrial employment of adult women.”

Happy indeed,” exclaims Mr. Baker, the factory inspector, in his official report, “happy indeed will it be for the manufacturing districts of England, when every married woman having a family is prohibited from working in any textile works at all.”” (p 376-7)

Marx goes on, referring to Engels' extensive accounts in “The Condition Of The Working Class”, too of the moral degradation of women and children, and to the “intellectual desolation” also caused. That was despite the clauses in the Factory Acts, requiring education as a condition for employing children. It is only when capital itself requires educated workers that it begins to provide systematic education by the State. Prior to that it was workers who organised their own education via their Co-operative Societies, which provided libraries and meeting rooms above the shops, organised schools and lectures.

Where employers did provide 'education' prior to the 1844 Factory Act, it was frequently by people who themselves could neither read nor write. It was these kinds of conditions, including the selling of their children's labour-power, which led Marx, in writing the program of the First International, to stress that although he opposed State provided education, it was necessary to have statutorily determined minimum standards of education, that had to be provided by employers.

By the excessive addition of women and children to the ranks of the workers, machinery at last breaks down the resistance which the male operatives in the manufacturing period continued to oppose to the despotism of capital.” (p 379)

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