Thursday, 28 March 2013

Capital I, Chapter 25 - Part 7

c) The Nomad Population

These are former agricultural workers who now undertake a variety of jobs that arise sporadically in different locations, such as road building, railway construction, brick making and so on. Those involved frequently live in their own encampments, just as today itinerants move around in their caravans. The living conditions of these workers made them prone to a whole range of diseases, which they spread, as they moved from one area to another.

In the same classification, Marx also details the living conditions of miners. Many of them lived in mining villages near the pit, in cottages provided by the mine owner. Marx comments,

In the construction of the cottages, only one point of view is of moment, the “abstinence” of the capitalist from all expenditure that is not absolutely unavoidable.

'The lodging which is obtained by the pitman and other labourers connected with the collieries of Northumberland and Durham,” says Dr. Julian Hunter, “is perhaps, on the whole, the worst and the dearest of which any large specimens can be found in England, the similar parishes of Monmouthshire excepted.... The extreme badness is in the high number of men found in one room, in the smallness of the ground-plot on which a great number of houses are thrust, the want of water, the absence of privies, and the frequent placing of one house on the top of another, or distribution into flats, ... the lessee acts as if the whole colony were encamped, not resident.'” (p 623)

A further report detailed the way in which any complaints by miners led to them not being rehired when the annual contract expired, meaning they lost both their job and their house.

d) Effect of Crises on the Best Paid Part of the working class

Marx details the consequences of the crisis of 1866. 1857 had seen a great crisis at the close of the trade cycle. The crisis of 1866 was exacerbated by the cotton famine caused by the US Civil War. A large amount of capital was drawn away from industry and into financial speculation.

Nothing much has changed substantially!
Already discounted in the regular factory districts by the cotton famine, which threw much capital from its wonted sphere into the great centres of the money-market, the crisis assumed, at this time, an especially financial character. Its outbreak in 1866 was signalised by the failure of a gigantic London Bank, immediately followed by the collapse of countless swindling companies. One of the great London branches of industry involved in the catastrophe was iron shipbuilding. The magnates of this trade had not only over-produced beyond all measure during the overtrading time, but they had, besides, engaged in enormous contracts on the speculation that credit would be forthcoming to an equivalent extent. Now, a terrible reaction set in, that even at this hour (the end of March, 1867) continues in this and other London industries.” (p 625)

Marx then details the effects on even these better paid and skilled workers, from a newspaper correspondent.

In the East End districts of Poplar, Millwall, Greenwich, Deptford, Limehouse and Canning Town, at least 15,000 workmen and their families were in a state of utter destitution, and 3,000 skilled mechanics were breaking stones in the workhouse yard (after distress of over half a year’s duration)...” (p 626)

The Report goes on,

Seven thousand ... in this one workhouse ... were recipients of relief ... many hundreds of them ... it appeared, were, six or eight months ago, earning the highest wages paid to artisans.... Their number would be more than doubled by the count of those who, having exhausted all their savings, still refuse to apply to the parish, because they have a little left to pawn.” (p 626)

Marx quotes from a Tory newspaper – The Standard – which even detailed the misery.

A frightful spectacle was to be seen yesterday in one part of the metropolis. Although the unemployed thousands of the East-end did not parade with their black flags en masse, the human torrent was imposing enough. Let us remember what these people suffer. They are dying of hunger. That is the simple and terrible fact. There are 40,000 of them.... In our presence, in one quarter of this wonderful metropolis, are packed — next door to the most enormous accumulation of wealth the world ever saw — cheek by jowl with this are 40,000 helpless, starving people. These thousands are now breaking in upon the other quarters; always half-starving, they cry their misery in our ears, they cry to Heaven, they tell us from their miserable dwellings, that it is impossible for them to find work, and useless for them to beg. The local ratepayers themselves are driven by the parochial charges to the verge of pauperism.” (p 627)

Then, as now, of course, the apologists of capital proclaimed that the solution was even greater freedom for capital and further limitation of the rights of workers. Then they cited Belgium, even though as Marx has shown, Belgian industry was still unable to compete with its British rivals. But, the consequences for Belgian workers were even worse.

Marx details from official Belgian data the fact that Belgian families' income available for food intake, was not just below the minimum levels, but was below even the meagre rations provided for prison inmates!

Of the 450,000 working class families, over 200,000 are on the pauper list.” (p 629)

e) The British Agricultural Proletariat

Marx details briefly the deterioration of the agricultural labourers position, from what it had been in the 15th Century! The agricultural revolution of the mid 18th Century reduced that position further.

It is then proved in detail that the real agricultural wages between 1737 and 1777 fell nearly ¼ or 25 per cent.” (p 630)

His average wage expressed in pints of wheat was from 1770 to 1771, 90 pints, in Eden’s time (1797) only 65, in 1808 but 60.” (p 631)

The Poor Law and its administration were in 1795 and 1814 the same. It will be remembered how this law was carried out in the country districts: in the form of alms the parish made up the nominal wage to the nominal sum required for the simple vegetation of the labourer. The ratio between the wages paid by the farmer, and the wage-deficit made good by the parish, shows us two things. First, the falling of wages below their minimum; second, the degree in which the agricultural labourer was a compound of wage labourer and pauper, or the degree in which he had been turned into a serf of his parish.” (p 631)

In 1795 the deficit was less than 1/4 the wage, in 1814, more than half.” (p 631)

Marx also details how divisions amongst the exploiters played out in this regard. The Liberals opposing the Corn Laws sought to expose the extent to which the Tory Landlords exploited the agricultural workers, whilst the Tories sought to expose the poor conditions of the industrial workers.

Once again, the data showed that many of these labourers were living on less for food than was available for convicts in British prisons.

John Smith, governor of the Edinburgh prison, deposes:

No. 5056. “The diet of the English prisons [is] superior to that of ordinary labourers in England.” No 50. “It is the fact ... that the ordinary agricultural labourers in Scotland very seldom get any meat at all.” Answer No. 3047. “Is there anything that you are aware of to account for the necessity of feeding them very much better than ordinary labourers? — Certainly not.” No. 3048. “Do you think that further experiments ought to be made in order to ascertain whether a dietary might not be hit upon for prisoners employed on public works nearly approaching to the dietary of free labourers? ...”“He [the agricultural labourer] might say: ‘I work hard, and have not enough to eat, and when in prison I did not work harder where I had plenty to eat, and therefore it is better for me to be in prison again than here.’” (p 635)

But, the situation in respect of housing and other necessary elements of life was even worse. One reason was that in 'closed villages' where a few large landlords dominated, they would demolish labourers' cottages because this reduced the amount of Poor Relief the village was committed to pay. The labourers would then move to nearby 'open villages' where a large number of small landlords prevailed, and where speculators would erect poor, but expensive, shacks for these workers to rent. As these workers moved to the poorer 'open villages' so the cost of Poor Relief in these parishes rose, putting more pressure on their inhabitants. A similar thing happens with Welfarism today, and with the Tories policies of "ethnic  cleansing" of poorer people from the more expensive areas of London.

In the past, at least the rural labourers benefited from a generally healthier environment, but now, their poor diet and worse housing meant they were subject to all the same kinds of diseases as the town proletariat, caused by those same conditions.

Marx then provides details of these conditions from official reports covering several counties.

The amalgamation of farms and introduction of new methods combined to produce a surplus rural population. That, plus the destruction of their cottages, produced a continuous flow of labourers from the country to the towns. These conditions led to the pauperisation of the rural labourers. Moreover, at the same time as a relative surplus population is created, the countryside becomes under populated, so that at times, when additional work is required, there are insufficient workers. As elsewhere this then leads to overwork.

Hence we find in the official documents contradictory complaints from the same places of deficiency and excess of labour simultaneously. The temporary or local want of labour brings about no rise in wages, but a forcing of the women and children into the fields, and exploitation at an age constantly lowered. As soon as the exploitation of the women and children takes place on a larger scale, it becomes in turn a new means of making a surplus population of the male agricultural labourer and of keeping down his wage. In the east of England thrives a beautiful fruit of this vicious circle — the so-called gang-system, to which I must briefly return here.” (p 648-9)

Marx then details how new farms in these areas had been made possible by the use of steam engines for drainage. These new, large farms often had no cottages or workers of their own. Instead, the workers were shipped in from neighbouring open villages as gangs, recruited by Gang Masters, a phenomenon we see again today.

Along with the overwork, the long distances to walk to and from work, Marx also details the effects this life had on the young people born into the gangs, where frequently girls of 13 were made pregnant by boys of the same age.

Back To Part 6

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