Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Capital I, Chapter 15 - Part 6

4) The Factory

Marx quotes Dr. Ure's descriptions of the factory,

Combined co-operation of many orders of workpeople, adult and young, in tending with assiduous skill, a system of productive machines, continuously impelled by a central power”, and

a vast automaton, composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs, acting in uninterrupted concert for the production of a common object, all of them being subordinate to a self-regulated moving force.” (p 394-5)

Marx points out these two descriptions are not the same.

In one, the collective labourer, or social body of labour, appears as the dominant subject, and the mechanical automaton as the object; in the other, the automaton itself is the subject, and the workmen are merely conscious organs, co-ordinate with the unconscious organs of the automaton, and together with them, subordinated to the central moving-power. The first description is applicable to every possible employment of machinery on a large scale, the second is characteristic of its use by capital, and therefore of the modern factory system.” (p 395-6)

The machine takes over the workers' tools and replaces his skill, thereby removing the technical foundation of the division of labour under manufacture. The hierarchy of labour, established under manufacture, tends to be replaced by an equalisation of labour as they are reduced to the level of machine minders. The only differences become those of age and sex.

The division of labour is now one based on the types of machines that undertake the various functions, and those that mind them. There is merely simple co-operation amongst workers grouped around particular machines.

The kind of co-operative, organised group working of manufacture, for example in glass blowing, is replaced by the relation between the head worker and their assistants. The division is between those who actually work on the machine, ensuring it functions correctly, including those working on the engine,, and their attendants, frequently children, who feed the machine, clean any material that might stop it working, and so on.

In addition, there are those workers, relatively small in number, whose job is to ensure that all of the machinery etc. is maintained and continues to function. That is engineers, mechanics, joiners etc.

This is a superior class of workmen, some of them scientifically educated, others brought up to a trade; it is distinct from the factory operative class, and merely aggregated to it. This division of labour is purely technical.” (p 396)

The same kind of proportion between different processes, dependent upon the time required for production, continues as with manufacture. But, where, under manufacture, each process became the exclusive task of particular workers, under machine production, workers, when needed, can be moved from minding one type of machine to another. Moreover, the machine tends to combine a series of processes within one operation, for example as was referred to in a previous section, in relation to the envelope machine. In addition, where a process formerly required a large number of workers to ensure sufficient material is passed on to the next stage, because the worker only has two hands, the machine overcomes this. A spinning machine, for example, simply extends the number of spindles, whilst still being minded by one worker.

It was the fact that machines could be minded by any reasonably trained worker that allowed the employers to introduce the “Relay System” discussed in the chapter on the working day. It is what allows shift systems to seamlessly change workers, whilst the machine continues to operate.

On the question of this training, Marx says,

Lastly, the quickness with which machine work is learnt by young people, does away with the necessity of bringing up for exclusive employment by machinery, a special class of operatives. With regard to the work of the mere attendants, it can, to some extent, be replaced in the mill by machines, and owing to its extreme simplicity, it allows of a rapid and constant change of the individuals burdened with this drudgery.” (p 397-8)

What appeared under manufacture as the division of labour, in the shape of the detailed worker, who specialises in a particular process, appears under capitalist machine production as the “speciality of serving one and the same machine.” (p 398)

By this process, not only is the value of his labour power reduced, but because the worker is now wholly dependent on the factory for employment, he has become wholly subjugated to capital.

In handicrafts and manufacture, the workman makes use of a tool, in the factory, the machine makes use of him. There the movements of the instrument of labour proceed from him, here it is the movements of the machine that he must follow. In manufacture the workmen are parts of a living mechanism. In the factory we have a lifeless mechanism independent of the workman, who becomes its mere living appendage.” (p 398)

Marx describes this labour process under capitalism as like a labour of Sisyphus, a deadening routine that wears out the muscular and nervous system, because of its endless repetition of the same bodily movements, to meet the needs of the machine, removing all interest and creativity.

Every kind of capitalist production, in so far as it is not only a labour-process, but also a process of creating surplus-value, has this in common, that it is not the workman that employs the instruments of labour, but the instruments of labour that employ the workman. But it is only in the factory system that this inversion for the first time acquires technical and palpable reality. By means of its conversion into an automaton, the instrument of labour confronts the labourer, during the labour-process, in the shape of capital, of dead labour, that dominates, and pumps dry, living labour-power. The separation of the intellectual powers of production from the manual labour, and the conversion of those powers into the might of capital over labour, is, as we have already shown. finally completed by modern industry erected on the foundation of machinery.” (p 398-9)

The skill of the worker has been replaced by the machine, and the ownership of the machine, and the intellectual power of the science behind it, place the capitalist in an unassailable position.

This “master,” therefore, in whose brain the machinery and his monopoly of it are inseparably united, whenever he falls out with his “hands,” contemptuously tells them:

'The factory operatives should keep in wholesome remembrance the fact that theirs is really a low species of skilled labour; and that there is none which is more easily acquired, or of its quality more amply remunerated, or which by a short training of the least expert can be more quickly, as well as abundantly, acquired.... The master’s machinery really plays a far more important part in the business of production than the labour and the skill of the operative, which six months’ education can teach, and a common labourer can learn.'” (p 399)

As stated previously, the expansion of production along these lines, establishes the need for discipline, within the factory, which in turn creates a new division of labour, as overlookers, supervisors, foremen and managers, of different grades, are established to ensure that Surplus Value is maximised. In the process, creating a new division, separating mental from manual labour.

Dr. Ure wrote,

Even at the present day, when the system is perfectly organised and its labour lightened to the utmost, it is found nearly impossible to convert persons past the age of puberty, into useful factory hands.” (p 399-400)

Marx writes,

The factory code in which capital formulates, like a private legislator, and at his own good will, his autocracy over his workpeople, unaccompanied by that division of responsibility, in other matters so much approved of by the bourgeoisie, and unaccompanied by the still more approved representative system, this code is but the capitalistic caricature of that social regulation of the labour-process which becomes requisite in co-operation on a great scale, and in the employment in common, of instruments of labour and especially of machinery. The place of the slave-driver’s lash is taken by the overlooker’s book of penalties. All punishments naturally resolve themselves into fines and deductions from wages, and the law-giving talent of the factory Lycurgus so arranges matters, that a violation of his laws is, if possible, more profitable to him than the keeping of them.” (p 400)

The law at that time was even more clearly class law than it is today. Not only could workless labourers be branded as slaves, and put to work by employers as such, but even wage workers legal position differed from that of the capitalist. If a worker broke his contract of employment, that was a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment. If the capitalist breached the contract it was only a civil offence, which the worker had to pursue through the courts!

Marx gives the following examples,

One occurs at Sheffield at the end of 1866. In that town a workman had engaged himself for 2 years in a steelworks. In consequence of a quarrel with his employer he left the works, and declared that under no circumstances would he work for that master any more. He was prosecuted for breach of contract, and condemned to two months’ imprisonment. (If the master break the contract, he can be proceeded against only in a civil action, and risks nothing but money damages.) After the workman has served his two months, the master invites him to return to the works, pursuant to the contract. Workman says: No, he has already been punished for the breach. The master prosecutes again, the court condemns again, although one of the judges, Mr. Shee, publicly denounces this as a legal monstrosity, by which a man can periodically, as long as he lives, be punished over and over again for the same offence or crime. This judgment was given not by the “Great Unpaid,” the provincial Dogberries, but by one of the highest courts of justice in London. — [Added in the 4th German edition. — This has now been done away with. With few exceptions, e.g., when public gas-works are involved, the worker in England is now put on an equal footing with the employer in case of breach of contract and can be sued only civilly. — F. E.] The second case occurs in Wiltshire at the end of November 1863. About 30 power-loom weavers, in the employment of one Harrup, a cloth manufacturer at Leower’s Mill, Westbury Leigh, struck work because master Harrup indulged in the agreeable habit of making deductions from their wages for being late in the morning; 6d. for 2 minutes; 1s. for 3 minutes, and 1s. 6d. for ten minutes. This is at the rate of 9s. per hour, and £4 10s. 0d. per diem; while the wages of the weavers on the average of a year, never exceeded 10s. to 12s. weekly. Harrup also appointed a boy to announce the starting time by a whistle, which he often did before six o’clock in the morning: and if the hands were not all there at the moment the whistle ceased, the doors were closed, and those hands who were outside were fined: and as there was no clock on the premises, the unfortunate hands were at the mercy of the young Harrup-inspired time-keeper. The hands on strike, mothers of families as well as girls, offered to resume work if the timekeeper were replaced by a clock, and a more reasonable scale of fines were introduced. Harrup summoned 19 women and girls before the magistrates for breach of contract. To the utter indignation of all present, they were each mulcted in a fine of 6d. and 2s. 6d. for costs.” (Note 2, p 400-1)

No comments: