Sunday, 24 May 2015

Capital III, Chapter 5 - Part 5

When machines are introduced, it is never for the benefit of workers, but of capital. And, where improvements are made, it is usually for the benefit of protecting that capital, not protecting the workers. For example, nationalisation of the coal mines, in Britain, after WWII, was vital because they were needed to provide the power required for industry. They had been under capitalised for decades, and nationalisation was the most efficient means of achieving that, for the benefit of capital as a whole.

After nationalisation, millions of pounds of investment in machines was introduced. But, in the 1950's and 60's, many mines were closed, and thousands of miners sacked. In fact, far more mines were closed, and miners sacked, during that period, than under Thatcher. To protect all of this new investment, large scale measures to make the pits safer were introduced, not to protect the miners, but to protect the equipment that had replaced them!

One aspect of this development is that although this requires an absolute increase in the amount of fixed capital employed, this, at the same time, results in a relative fall in the value of this fixed capital compared to the circulating constant capital processed.

2) Savings In Labour Conditions At The Expense Of The Labourers.

Marx then details some of these ways in which corners were cut in his day, to avoid necessary expenditures on equipment to ensure safe working.

“"Under the competition which exists among the coal-owners and coal-proprietors ... no more outlay is incurred than is sufficient to overcome the most obvious physical difficulties; and under that which prevails among the labouring colliers, who are ordinarily more numerous than the work to be done requires, a large amount of danger and exposure to the most noxious influences will gladly be encountered for wages a little in advance of the agricultural population round them, in an occupation, in which they can moreover make a profitable use of their children.”” (p 87-8)

“These human sacrifices are mostly due to the inordinate avarice of the mine owners. Very often they had only one shaft sunk, so that apart from the lack of effective ventilation there was no escape were this shaft to become obstructed.” (p 88)

In the factories, it was often not even as though the necessary expenditures for safety were considerable. Often all that was required was a simple metal guard around a shaft. Yet, employers resisted even that. The guards themselves could be made from scrap.

“A factory inspector for Scotland, Sir John Kincaid, tells about a certain firm in Glasgow which used the iron scrap at its factory to make protective shields for all its machinery, the cost amounting to £9 1s. Joining the manufacturers' union would have cost it an assessment of £11 for its 110 horse-power, which was more than the cost of all its protective appliances. But the National Association had been organised in 1854 for the express purpose of opposing the law which prescribed such protection. The manufacturers had not paid the least heed to it during the whole period from 1844 to 1854. When the factory inspectors, at instructions from Palmerston, then informed the manufacturers that the law would be enforced in earnest, the manufacturers instantly founded their association, many of whose most prominent members were themselves justices of the peace and in this capacity were supposed to enforce the law. When in April 1855 the new Minister of the Interior, Sir George Grey, offered a compromise under which the government would be content with practically nominal safety appliances the Association indignantly rejected even this. In various lawsuits the famous engineer William Fairbairn threw the weight of his reputation behind the principle of economy and in defence of the freedom of capital which had been violated. The head of factory inspection, Leonard Horner, was persecuted and maligned by the manufacturers in every conceivable manner.” (p 89-90)

When eventually the number of accidents did decline, it was because new machines were produced that already had guards and other safety features that the employers did not have to buy as additions. In enclosed workplaces, in general, workers suffered from overcrowding, poor ventilation, and noxious substances. To this day, although Health and Safety laws provide for minimum temperatures, there are no specified maximum temperatures workers have to endure.

No comments: