Friday, 10 February 2017

The Normal Working Day - Part 5 of 7

If there are objective limits to the minimum length of working-day, are there then objective limits to the maximum working day? There are obvious limits to the maximum working-day. If we take any concrete labour-power, such as that of a spinner, they could only work for twenty-four hours in any single day. In reality, the spinner would need time during the day to eat and sleep. Yet, even here, things are not so certain.

Marx cites, using the data collected largely by Engels, the instances of workers who worked a 36 hour day! In other words, they worked multiple continuous shifts, before taking a break. In the early part of the period of machine industry, when employers were keen to keep expensive, and rapidly depreciating equipment working to the limit, workers often had to eat while they worked and so on.

So, if we take a 24 hour day, of some concrete labour, such as spinning labour, the worker might need say six hours sleep, and 2 hours to eat, reducing the maximum to 16 hours. However, if, over 2 days, the worker works continuously for 36 hours, eating while they work, and then obtaining six hours sleep before starting a new 36 hour day, they will have worked 42 out of 48 hours, or an average of 21 hours per day. Even if thy had a 10 hour break for sleep, it would still mean an average working day of 19 hours.

No wonder workers during this period engaged in hot bedding, where in doss houses, one worker vacated a bed, to resume work, only for it to be immediately occupied by another worker, whose shift had just ended.

But, its also no wonder that placing this much extreme physical strain on the labourers led to a drastic fall in life expectancy. Marx quotes the Tory MP William Ferrand, who details the fact that nine generations of workers were destroyed in what would previously have been only three generations.

“The cotton trade has existed for ninety years…It has existed for three generations of the English race, and I believe I may safely say that during that period it has destroyed nine generations of factory operatives.

This system had grown up unto a regular trade. This House will hardly believe it, but I tell them, that this traffic in human flesh was as well kept up, they were in effect as regularly sold to the (Manchester) manufacturers as slaves are sold to the cotton grower in the United States….

In 1860, the cotton trade was at its zenith…. The manufacturers again found that they were short of hands…. They applied to the ‘flesh agents’ as they are called. Those agents sent to the Southern downs of England, to the pastures of Dorsetshire, to the glades of Devonshire, to the people tending kine in Wiltshire, but they sought in vain. The surplus population was ‘absorbed’.”

(Ferrand’s speech in the House of Commons 27th April 1863.)

This was only possible because of the existence of a large latent reserve of labour in the rural areas flocking to the towns, and because workers had children at increasingly younger ages. Workers who could expect to die no later than their 20's commonly began to have children at ages of 12-13. The physical destruction and deforming of the industrial workers was only ameliorated by their breeding with healthier workers from nearby rural areas.

“The potters as a class, both men and women, represent a degenerated population, both physically and morally. They are, as a rule, stunted in growth, ill-shaped, and frequently ill-formed in the chest; they become prematurely old, and are certainly short-lived; they are phlegmatic and bloodless, and exhibit their debility of constitution by obstinate attacks of dyspepsia, and disorders of the liver and kidneys, and by rheumatism. But of all diseases they are especially prone to chest-disease, to pneumonia, phthisis, bronchitis, and asthma. One form would appear peculiar to them, and is known as potter’s asthma, or potter’s consumption. Scrofula attacking the glands, or bones, or other parts of the body, is a disease of two-thirds or more of the potters .... That the ‘degenerescence’ of the population of this district is not even greater than it is, is due to the constant recruiting from the adjacent country, and intermarriages with more healthy races.”

(Dr. J.T. Arledge of the North Staffs Royal Infirmary, in the Commissioners Report of 1863.)

But, there was another means by which the maximum working-day could be extended beyond 24 hours. If the worker was taken to be the male head of household, they might work for 16-18 hours per day, as an average taken over the year. Their wages not only covered the cost of reproducing their own labour-power but that of future generations, by also covering the cost of reproducing their wife and children. The obvious way of extending the maximum working day, therefore, was to enlist the labour of the whole family unit. On that basis, the labour of the father might fall to say 14 hours, but now their wife may also work for 12 hours and their children work for 10 hours each, all for the same wage that was previously paid just to the father.

It was quite common for such family units to be employed, in this way, with the father making the payments to the wife and children. Effectively, therefore, in place of an 18 hour day worked by the father, they now obtained a 56-60 hour day worked by the family unit.

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