Part 6 provides a detailing of events and an analysis of the class struggle and factory Acts of 1833-1864.
“with the birth of large-scale industry in the last third of the eighteenth century” there was “an avalanche of violent and unmeasured encroachments” upon the working day and working class.
Throughout this part Marx discusses events on two levels.One as the abstraction of class forces – working class and capital, and secondly on a level of industry. For example, “Capital was celebrating its orgies” (p390), and “Nothing characterises the the spirit of capital better than the history of English factory legislation from 1833-1864” (p390), or “but capital was by no means soothed; it now began a noisy and long-lasting agitation” (p391). Also “the working class…began to offer resistance” (p390), or “the workers has offered resistance which was passive, though unflexible and unceasing” (p405). This is one level of abstraction at which the class struggle is analysed.
At the same time, Marx talks specifically about certain industries (for example cotton, wool, flax & silk, matches), legislation (the Acts of 1833, 44, 50), and groups of workers and capitalists.
Throughout we hear of the measures taken by the bosses to evade the reduction of the working day, and the ongoing struggle to resist this evasion on the part of the workers.
The Factory Act of 1833 is passed, which lasts until 1844
This Act applied to certain industries factories and regulated hours of children and young people. It set the working day at 15 hrs between 5:30 – 8:30, whilst the maximum hours were fixed at 12 during the period of 5:30 – 8:30 etc.
Here there develops the relay system, the working of groups of children in two shifts (5:30-1:30; 1:30-8:30). The regulation of hours was hard to enforce. A campaign was also mounted which aimed to lower the age of childhood from 13 to 12.
The importance of the 10 hours Bill during this period is evident. As is the beginnings of the campaign to repeal the Corn Laws. Marx identifies the origin of the Factory Act of 1844 here.
The Act of June 7, 1844 “placed under protection a new group of workers, namely women over 18” (p394). limited hours to 12 and banned night work. This Act also reduced hours for children under 13 to maximum of 6 1/2 hours (except silk which got 10hours for 10-13 year olds). The law also aimed “to get rid of the abuses of the spurious ‘system of relays’”, whereby all work ust end at the same time. The working time was to be regulated according to public clocks. “During the period from 1844-1847, the 12 hours working day became universal and uniform in all branches of industry under the Factory Act” (p395).
The years 1846 to 1847 are epoch-making in the economic history of England” (p395) – Corn laws repealed, duties on raw material removed, legislation oriented towards free trade, meanwhile the 10 hours agitation reached high point.
The Factory Act of June 8, 1847 (10 Hours Act) reduced hours for young persons (13 – 18) and all women to 11 hours, to be reduced to 10 hours on 1 May 1848.
This period saw a strong offensive by the capitalist class: including repealing corn laws and reduction of wages by up to 25%, night work, attempts to make meal times outside of work hours, ie before and after work, generalised attack on the working class in context of 1848 uprisings, division of work day into”shreds of time” (p403), “And just as an actor is committed to the stage throughout the whole course of a play, so the workers were committed to the factory for the whole 15 hours, without reckoning the time in coming and going”, resulting in enforced idleness (403).
This marks a high point in the level of class antagonism. By 1853 laws are passed limiting children’s time at work, and an overall limiting of the workday to 12 hours, including adult men.
We are provided here with a short but useful and important overview of the impact of the English factory acts on other countries.
Marx begins with two key points.
First, “capital’s drive towards a boundless ad ruthless extension of the working day is satisfied first in those industries which were first to be revolutionised by water-power, steam and machinery” (p411). This, we know by now, changes the “material mode of production” and the “social relations of the producers” (p411). Outrages against this process occur, followed, measures of social control against these outrages (p412). This is the legal regulation of the working day, which initially takes the form of “legislation for exceptions” (p412). The tendential rise of factory production comes to include other forms of production, such that they need to be included into the Factory Acts. “Factory legislation was therefore compelled to strip itself of its exceptional character, or to declare that any house in which work was done a factory” (p412).
Second, the history and struggle over the regulation of the working day proves “that the isolated worker, the worker as ‘free’ seller of his labour-power, succumbs without resistance once capitalist production has reached a certain stage of maturity. The establishment of a normal working day is therefore the product of a protracted ad more or less concealed civil war between the capitalist class and the working class” (p412). This struggle takes place first in the “homeland of that industry”, England (p413).
France lips slowly behind England” (p413), yet has its own advantages – same limits to working day in all shops and factories without distinction, and claims in principle what in England was only slowly won first for children, then women, and later as universal right (p414).
In the US “every independent workers’ movement was paralysed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the republic. Labour in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin” (p414). Yet, the 8 hours agitation across the US, was “the first fruit of the American Civil War” (p414).
Finally, “it must be acknowledged that our worker emerges from the process of production looking different from when he entered it…[I]t was discovered that he was no ‘free agent’, that the period of time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the period of time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not let go” (pp415-416). The workers, as a class, need ot collectively struggle, at this stage, for the “modest Magna Carta of the legally limited working day, which at last makes clear ‘when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins’” (p416).