THE FACTORY ACTS. SANITARY AND EDUCATIONAL CLAUSES OF THE SAME. THEIR GENERAL EXTENSION IN ENGLAND
Although the Factory Acts were fought for by workers, and implemented by a Capitalist State in the face of opposition by Capitalists at an individual level, those Acts were themselves in the interests of Capital in General, and particularly the bigger capitalists. They flowed necessarily from the needs of Capitalism, as machine industry developed, just as later was the case with the Welfare State.
“Factory legislation, that first conscious and methodical reaction of society against the spontaneously developed form of the process of production, is, as we have seen, just as much the necessary product of modern industry as cotton yarn, self-actors, and the electric telegraph.” (p 451)
This is not at first apparent, as a modern machine industry is introduced. Even as the working day is limited, the capitalists seek to intensify labour, and to cut costs in other ways. Marx highlights the way capital saved money by providing workers with insufficient breathing space, lack of other sanitation in the factory, lack of safety provision etc., which had a high cost in death, injuries and disease for workers.
“The sanitary officers, the industrial inquiry commissioners, the factory inspectors, all harp, over and over again, upon the necessity for those 500 cubic feet, and upon the impossibility of wringing them out of capital. They thus, in fact, declare that consumption and other lung diseases among the workpeople are necessary conditions to the existence of capital.” (p 453)
The other aspect of the Acts was the education provisions. The experience was salutary, and provided the basis for Marx’s view of how workers' education should be provided. He cites the finding that,
“The factory inspectors soon found out by questioning the schoolmasters, that the factory children, although receiving only one half the education of the regular day scholars, yet learnt quite as much and often more.” (p 454)
Referring to a speech by Senior, Marx notes,
“He there shows, amongst other things, how the monotonous and uselessly long school hours of the children of the upper and middle classes, uselessly add to the labour of the teacher, “while he not only fruitlessly but absolutely injuriously, wastes the time, health, and energy of the children.” From the Factory system budded, as Robert Owen has shown us in detail, the germ of the education of the future, an education that will, in the case of every child over a given age, combine productive labour with instruction and gymnastics, not only as one of the methods of adding to the efficiency of production, but as the only method of producing fully developed human beings.” (p 454)
At the same time, children employed in the modern factories were kept day in day out to the same repetitive tasks that provided them with no useful skill.
|Capitalism itself leads to the application of |
science to production, by technologists like
Babbage. Without this revolutionary aspect of
Capitalism, the transition from Capitalism to
Socialism is impossible.
The previous modes of production, which developed the different trades, were essentially conservative whereas modern capitalist production is revolutionary. Previously, the trades were secretive, whereas modern industry is based on throwing open the productive process, analysing it, and applying science to it.
“The principle which it pursued, of resolving each process into its constituent movements, without any regard to their possible execution by the hand of man, created the new modern science of technology.” (p 456)
This creates all of the vicissitudes of capitalism, previously described, but, Marx continues,
“This is the negative side. But if, on the one hand, variation of work at present imposes itself after the manner of an overpowering natural law, and with the blindly destructive action of a natural law that meets with resistance at all points, modern industry, on the other hand, through its catastrophes imposes the necessity of recognising, as a fundamental law of production, variation of work, consequently fitness of the labourer for varied work, consequently the greatest possible development of his varied aptitudes. It becomes a question of life and death for society to adapt the mode of production to the normal functioning of this law. Modern industry, indeed, compels society, under penalty of death, to replace the detail-worker of to-day, grappled by life-long repetition of one and the same trivial operation, and thus reduced to the mere fragment of a man, by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labours, ready to face any change of production, and to whom the different social functions he performs, are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers.
One step already spontaneously taken towards effecting this revolution is the establishment of technical and agricultural schools, and of “écoles d’enseignement professionnel,” in which the children of the working-men receive some little instruction in technology and in the practical handling of the various implements of labour.” (p 458)
In fact, the more capitalist production and society has developed, in this way, with increasing diversity and technological complexity, the more capital is forced to extend and deepen this education and training for workers. Moreover, the more capital is forced to invest in this education and training, the more it is forced to ensure that the workers in whom it has invested such resources, are kept alive and healthy, so as to reproduce that value. There is no point spending tens of thousands of pounds in educating new workers, if they die young, before they have had chance to reproduce that value. That is why industrial Capital is led naturally to introduce the Welfare State in order to ensure that workers health and education is consumed at the necessary minimum level. The first National Insurance scheme was introduced in Prussia in the first half of the 19th Century, and as part of the industrialisation of Germany, Bismark introduced such a scheme nationally.
By financing such Welfare States via a State-run National Insurance Scheme, Capital ensures that workers pay for it out of their wages collectively, so as to ensure that the required minimum level of consumption to meet the needs of Capital. That is necessary, because we know, for example, that given the choice in relation to things such as dental care, workers will not necessarily devote the necessary amount of their income to healthcare, as opposed to other forms of consumption. In this way, Welfare States operate in the same way that the Truck System operated in the 19th Century.
Modern industry was having other effects. The State had kept out of relations within the home, but the exploitation of children by their parents within the system, eventually provoked a response for their protection. But, also alongside all of the horrors that went along with the exploitation of women and children in the workplace, it created a new economic relationship that undermined their millennia long dependence upon paternalism.
Two things bring about the regulation of capitalist production at the level of social production.
“There are two circumstances that finally turn the scale: first, the constantly recurring experience that capital, so soon as it finds itself subject to legal control at one point, compensates itself all the more recklessly at other points; secondly, the cry of the capitalists for equality in the conditions of competition, i.e., for equal restraint on all exploitation of labour.” (p 460)
Marx quotes the Children's Employment Commission in its submission on extending the scope of the Factory Acts, and the effect it would have on adult workers, and the beneficial effect it would have for capital in general.
“It would enforce upon them regular and moderate hours; it would lead to their places of work being kept in a healthy and cleanly state; it would therefore husband and improve that store of physical strength on which their own well-being and that of the country so much depends...” (p 462)
As Marx had set out previously, what capital insists on above all else is a level playing field for all exploitation. Though, of course, such a level playing field benefits the bigger capitalists who can afford to play on it. It was this principal that led Winston Churchill to introduce the first Minimum Wage back in 1909, saying,
“It is a national evil that any class of Her Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions… where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad and the bad by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes up the trade as a second string… where these conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration.”
“...but there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and capacity to work, can be assured to everybody...
Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for these common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision.” (p 90)
Elsewhere echoing Marx’s point that what Capital requires is a level playing field, Hayek writes,
“Similarly, with respect to most of the general and permanent rules which the state may establish with regard to production, such as building regulations or factory laws: these may be wise or unwise in the particular instance, but they do not conflict with liberal principles so long as they are intended to be permanent and are not used to favour or harm particular people.” (p 60)
It was under these conditions that the Factory Acts Extension Act, and Workshops Regulation Act of 1867 were introduced, covering all factories and workshops, including employment of children in the home.
But, both still remained inadequate. The former contained many exceptions, introduced as a compromise, whilst the latter was left to be implemented by municipal authorities, who failed in their responsibility. Even when it was taken away from them and given to the Factory Inspectorate, the latter were given hardly any extra staff to cope with the added workload.
|Factory Acts were introduced by Tories and Landlords|
as revenge for the Liberals Repeal of the Corn Laws.
“What strikes us, then, in the English legislation of 1867, is, on the one hand, the necessity imposed on the parliament of the ruling classes, of adopting in principle measures so extraordinary, and on so great a scale, against the excesses of capitalistic exploitation; and on the other hand, the hesitation, the repugnance, and the bad faith, with which it lent itself to the task of carrying those measures into practice.” (p 464)
Some of the reasons for this are to be found in the politics involved, deriving from the vested interests in each industry. For example, as Marx points out, one of the reasons the Factory Acts were passed was because the Tory representatives of the old Landlord class took revenge on the Liberal representatives of capital, for inflicting the defeat on them of the repeal of the Corn Laws. But, as Marx points out in relation to mining.
“The Inquiry Commission of 1862 also proposed a new regulation of the mining industry, an industry distinguished from others by the exceptional characteristic that the interests of landlord and capitalist there join hands. The antagonism of these two interests had been favourable to Factory legislation, while on the other hand the absence of that antagonism is sufficient to explain the delays and chicanery of the legislation on mines.” (p 464)
Marx then details these delays and chicanery in relation to a series of pieces of legislation relating to mining.