Friday, 12 June 2015

Capital III, Chapter 6 - Part 15

With mass unemployment, the workers were forced into what today would be called workfare schemes. In return for support, from the authorities, they took on work road building, laying drainage, stone breaking, and paving etc. As Marx points out, all these things were actually creating value for the employers, who benefited from the infrastructure thereby created, but the workers were paid well below the value of their labour-power, for doing this work. A similar thing happened in the 1930's. My father, who left school in 1933 only to go straight to 'Dole School' told me about his father, who was a miner, working in 3 foot seams, using a hand drill and pick, and who, after being out of work for some time, was set to work digging roads. After months of not working, the natural hardness of his hands had gone, so that for some time, when he returned from this work, his hands were bleeding from where the callouses had turned to blisters.

“The whole bourgeoisie stood guard over the labourers. Were the worst dog's wages offered, and a labourer refused to accept them, the Relief Committee would strike him from its lists. It was in a way a golden age for the manufacturers, for the labourers had either to starve or work at a price most profitable for the bourgeois. The Relief Committees acted as watch-dogs. At the same time, the manufacturers acted in secret agreement with the government to hinder emigration as much as possible, partly to retain in readiness the capital invested in the flesh and blood of the labourers, and partly to safeguard the house-rent squeezed out of the labourers.” (p 133-4)

Yet, even this formed competition for the low wages then available in the textile mills, such that the latter began to face strikes and labour shortages.

“”Strikes, I am sorry to say, are but too frequently resorted to. ... The effect of the Public Works Act is felt as a competition by the mill-owners. The local committee at Bacup has suspended operations, for although all the mills are not running, yet a scarcity of hands has been experienced." (Reports of Insp. of Fact., April 1864, pp. 9, 10.) 

It was indeed high time for the manufacturers. Due to the Public Works Act the demand for labour grew so strong that many a factory hand was earning 4 to 5 shillings daily in the quarries of Bacup. And so the public works were gradually suspended — this new edition of the Ateliers nationaux of 1848, but this time instituted in the interests of the bourgeoisie.” (p 135)

The workers also suffered from the experimentation of the mill owners. In order to try to reduce their costs, they tried various mixings of cotton waste etc. Some were more successful than others, but whenever they were unsuccessful it was the workers wages that suffered, usually by large amounts. But, the employers sought to reduce their costs by other means too. Many of the workers lived in cottages owned by their employer, so that each week a good proportion of the wages paid out came back to them as rent. They had used the same trick, via payment in truck, until such time as it was made illegal.

One method adopted by the workers was that of emigration, usually to the US. A number of emigration societies were established as I've described with the Potters Emigration Society.

But, the employers tried to prevent this too. Not only did they see it as threatening their supply of labour-power, when conditions improved, but in the meantime it also threatened their ability to extract rent from their cottages.

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