H.M. Hyndman

England For All

Chapter II

In every civilized society the main point to be considered is the manner in which labour is applied to production, and the share of his own labour which in one shape or another the labourer gets in return. The ancient historical civilizations were chiefly built upon slavery. Here the labourer, his force of labour, and the material on which he expended it, all belonged to the master; and the wealth of the latter might almost be gauged by the number of slaves he possessed, though only a portion of them would be actually employed in the work of production. This employment of slave-labour renders any comparison between the state of society then and now almost futile; but the condition of the poor freemen in Rome and Athens, constantly exposed to the competition of slave-labour if they desired to work themselves, resembled that of the mean whites in the Southern States before the Civil War. The peasant proprietor, or the member of a village community, holds again a totally different position from that of the slave or the labourer of modern times. The peasant proprietor, or the craftsman owning his own tools and able to obtain his own materials, is master of himself, of his means of production, and of his produce, even though he may have to pay a portion of the latter to a feudal chief or rajah. In both cases, that of individual proprietorship and that of ownership in common of the produce of a community, there may be and generally is perfect freedom, save the restrictions which arise from the necessity of producing sufficient for the social necessaries of life.

It is quite possible that a man and his family may live on the produce of their own farm, carry on the simple operations of manufacture necessary to clothe them, and rarely have the need to exchange anything which they possess for the work of others. A good harvest, or a favourable season with cattle, will represent so much extra wealth, which will provide against bad times, or enable the little household to devote more labour to increase of comfort. With a village community the necessity for exchange may arise less often; for these units of civilization comprise within themselves the means of providing all the ordinary needs, and some even of the luxuries of life. It is to the interest of the whole family or village community that all should be well nourished and strong for the daily duty; it is also advisable that a certain provision be made against the prospect of bad seasons. Civilization, therefore, presupposes great forethought its earlier stages, or it would soon fall back again to the condition of the Paraguayans, who ate the seed given them by the missionaries. But all the wealth thus produced by the work of individuals or communities is clearly due to labour; and that is not wealth which is not recognized as an object of utility tin social conditions of the time.

The great majority of economists before and since Adam Smith have agreed that labour is the source of value. “The real price of everything,” says Adam Smith himself, “what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What everything is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose on other people. Labour was the first price – the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. In that early and rude state of society which precedes both the accumulation of stock and the appropriation of land, the proportion between the quantities of labour necessary for different objects seems to be the only circumstance which can afford any rule for exchanging them for one another. If among a nation of hunters, for example, it usually costs twice the labour to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver would naturally be worth, or exchange for, two deer. It is natural that what is usually the produce of two days’ or two hours’ labour should be worth double of what is usually the produce of one day’s or one hour’s labour.”

”That this,” adds Ricardo, “is really the foundation of the exchangeable value of all things, excepting those which cannot be increased by human industry, is a doctrine of the utmost importance in political economy. If the quantity of labour realized in commodities regulate their exchangeable value, every increase of the quantity of labour must augment the value of that commodity on which it is exercised, as every diminution must lower it.” This labour, of course, includes the work necessary to replace the wear and tear of tools and machinery, as well as the labour which is actually expended on and realized in the commodities. Every useful article produced by labour has two values, its value in use alone, and its value in exchange. Its value in use is developed only by being used and consumed: its value in exchange consists in obtaining other useful articles in its place.

Water, air, virgin soil, &c., are useful, but by themselves they constitute no value. A man may also expend his labour on useful articles which never become commodities or goods for exchange. These may be destined simply for his own use, and never for exchange. In all countries, however, where the capitalist system of production prevails, wealth appears in the shape of an accumulation of commodities or merchandise. Those products of human labour devoted to natural objects are exchanged according to the average quantity of human labour expended in producing them. If wheat and axes are exchanged in definite proportions, they are thus bartered with reference to the common element in each, by virtue of which an equality between them is established. This is the quantity of human labour expended in bringing them forward for exchange. So many days of average labour embodied in one article of utility, are equal to so many days of average labour embodied in another article of utility. Thus then the general rule is, that labour is the basis of value, and quantity of labour the measure of value of commodities, or social values for the use of others, all the world over. [1]

Say that a coat is worth twice as much as ten yards of cloth. The coat is useful and satisfies a particular want. Two kinds or qualities of labour are embodied in it – that of the tailor who made the coat, and that of the weaver who wove the cloth. So far as its usefulness is concerned also, it makes no difference whether the tailor wears it or his customer. Now as to its value. The coat is assumed to be worth twice as much as the ten yards of cloth – worth that is, twenty yards of cloth. In point of value coat and cloth as well are but expressions of labour itself. Thus the coat is worth twice as much as the cloth, because the cloth contains only half as much human labour; and it needs twice the quantity of labour to produce the coat complete, cloth and all, as to produce the cloth alone. Reduce the quantity of labour needed to make a coat by one half, and two coats are only worth what one was before. Double the quantity of labour needed to make a coat, and one coat is worth what two were before. In the same way, “if a piece of cloth be now of the value of two pieces of linen, and if, in ten years hence, the ordinary value of a piece of cloth should be four pieces of linen, we may safely conclude that either more labour is required to make the cloth, or less to make the linen, or that both causes have operated.” Thus then, no matter whether the productive power of average human labour in producing any article of utility – and utility is, of course, an essential element of exchangeable value – is increased or diminished, the same length of labour, or the same quantity of labour, always represents the same value. But of course, if the labour is more productive, more values in use are obtained in given time, and if less productive, less: only the value for exchange remains unaltered.

But the above illustrations are easily extended. When a coat is said to be worth twice as much as ten yards of cloth, or worth that of twenty yards of cloth, this means, as has been said, that the quantity of human labour contained in the one is equal to, or expressed in, the quantity of human labour contained in the other. So with other articles of utility. A coat may likewise be equal in value to ten pounds of tea, or to half a ton of iron, or to a quarter of wheat, or to two ounces of gold; all these products of human labour being also equal in value to twenty yards of cloth, and varying in exchangeable value in proportion to the amount of labour embodied in them; the simple meaning of the equality being that the tea, the iron, the wheat, the gold, and the cloth, represent, each and all, the same quality of labour in the several amounts of commodities.

But it so happens that it has been found convenient for ages to express this general form of value in one particular commodity. This in nowise changes the fundamental proposition that labour is the basis of value, and quantity of labour its measure. The only further result is, that the coat, the ten pounds of tea, the half a ton of iron, the quarter of wheat, the twenty yards of cloth, are all equal in value, not only to one another, but to the two ounces of gold, which henceforward are taken as a measure of value for them all and become money. When commodities now are valued, they are valued with reference to the gold, which forms not only a real but an ideal valuation. It is not the money which enables the commodities to be valued. Far otherwise. It is because all commodities represent realized human labour already expended on natural objects, thus producing articles of utility, that their relative value is consequently measureable by one another, and that they can all be valued together in one special commodity. This last becomes money, and is a measure for them all, though, like the rest, its value consists in the fact that it represents the expenditure of human labour.

But money is not only a convenient measure of value, but also a means of putting commodities in circulation. A commodity is exchanged for its equivalent in money, and then again the money is exchanged for another commodity. In order to promote a circulation of commodities there must be a sufficiency of money, or the representative of money in some form of currency, to avoid congestion. To bring about the regular interchange of articles of utility in civilized life, such a change of commodities for money, and again into commodities, being the rule. This fact formed the basis of the theory of the celebrated Law, who desired to substitute for gold and silver, which cost labour to produce, and yet are in themselves of little utility, paper certificates of labour expended, which would cost nothing, and yet serve the purposes of currency. Without however, entering upon the phenomena connected with money, it is now clear that in all exchangeable value the human labour expended is the basis of the value of commodities, and the quantity of human labour the measure.

There is, of course, nothing new in all this. That natural objects are of no value unless human labour is expended on them is a truth as old as the world. That labour is the real basis, not only of value but of all civilized society, needs no elaborate demonstration at this time of day. Yet it is precisely from this generally admitted but little regarded truth that consequences follow of the highest importance to our modern society. Here come in those “differences of value,” those strange manipulations of the worth of commodities, which go to the root of all business.

A merchant has a sum of money, say a hundred pounds sterling. Therewith he buys on the market suppose a hundred pounds’ worth of cotton. So far the exchange may be perfectly fair and exact. The merchant has given his labour as expressed in a hundred pounds sterling for another man’s labour as embodied in a mass of cotton. But, having bought, he goes away and sells his purchased cotton to another person for £110, making, as it is said, £10 by the transaction. His £100 was turned into its equivalent in merchandise, and then appeared again as £110. Not only is the original sum replaced, but more is added, and the merchant’s money becomes capital. The merchant buys not for himself, or to work up for the use of others, but merely to sell the cotton again at an enhanced price. This is something very different from the use of money as the measure of the value of commodities, or as the means of facilitating exchange. It is commercial capital, which its owner takes upon the market for the purpose of increasing it. Money to start with; and then, after a longer or a shorter interval, more money – that, leaving out the intermediate process of buying the cotton, is the process. But the amount of value in circulation at any given moment – that is, the quantity of human labour on the average embodied in commodities – cannot increase of itself. If a merchant has in his possession a commodity whose value is expressed in money by £10, this value can only be increased absolutely, and made say £11, by the addition of more labour to the labour-value represented in the first instance as by making a coat of cloth. The coat is worth more than the cloth, but the value of the cloth remains the same. Thus then all conditions remaining the same, the owner of the money to start with must buy a piece of merchandise at its exact value, and sell it again for what it is worth, and yet have at the end more value than he had at the beginning.

Now the problem begins to take shape.

The increase of value by which money becomes more money and is turned into capital, obviously cannot arise from the money itself. It follows then that the conversion of money into merchandise, and then of that same merchandise into more money, is due to the merchandise. But how? Commodities can no more increase their own exchangeable value than money. In order to obtain an additional exchangeable value from a commodity, a sort of merchandise must be found which possesses the remarkable quality of being itself the source of exchangeable value, so that to consume it would be to obtain that labour-force embodied in value, and consequently to create value.

Now it so happens that the capitalist in embryo does find on the market a purchaseable commodity endowed with this specific virtue. This is called labour, or force of labour. Under that name is comprised the entire capacities, physical and intellectual, which exist in the body of a man, and which he must set in motion in order to produce articles of utility. Evidently the force of labour cannot present itself on the market for sale, unless it is offered by its owner; he must be able to dispose of it – that is, be the free owner of his labour, of the force of his own body. The moneyed man and he meet on the market; one buys, and the other sells, and both are quits. But the owner of this labour-force must only sell it for a definite time; if he sells it for an indefinite time, from being a merchant, he himself, his force of labour and all, becomes a mere commodity. He is a slave or serf at the command of his master as a chattel. The more essential condition for the capitalist to be able to buy the force of labour is, that the owner of the labour instead of being able to keep himself by work on his own land, or to sell goods on which he has himself expended his labour, should be obliged to sell the labour-force in his body pure and simple. A man in order to sell goods of his own making, must of course command the means of production – tools, raw material, &c. Then he is master of his own labour, an independent man; he has the means of exchanging his own labour as embodied in useful articles, for other men’s labour also embodied in useful articles, upon equal terms. But in order that money should be converted into capital, the workman himself must be free in a very different sense; not only must he be ready to sell his labour as a commodity, but further, he must be free – so very free that he has nothing else in the world but his power of labour to sell – that he should be completely destitute of the means of realizing his own force of labour in commodities by himself, having neither tools, nor land, nor raw materials wherewith to do so.

How does this free labourer thus find himself on the market, ready to enter into free contract? That does not concern the owner of the money, who looks upon the labour-market as a mere branch of the rest of the market for commodities, and governed by the same laws. The appearance of this destitute labourer there is nevertheless, as has been seen, the outcome of a long series of economical evolutions and revolutions extending over centuries. Driven from the land, deprived of the possibility of earning a living, the mass of the people find themselves concentrated in the towns. Nature most assuredly does not turn out possessors of money or goods on the one side, and owners of their pure labour-force, and nothing else, on the other; nor is such a social state common to most periods of history. So long, for example, as the produce of labour is used to supply the needs of the labourer, it does not, as has been seen, become merchandise; in the same way, the production and circulation of commodities may take place under many forms of society. It is not so with capital; that only makes its appearance when that part of the wealth of a country which is employed in production, consisting of food, clothing, tools, raw materials, machinery, &c., necessary to give effect to labour, is found in the hands of an owner, who meets on the market the free labourer come thither to sell his labour.

Capital then forms an epoch in social production.

What, however, is this force of labour, which the free owner of it comes on to the market to sell? Clearly it is a human force, physical, moral, intellectual, which requires certain material, food, and clothing and lodging – all in the possession of the moneyed man, and not of the labourer – to keep it in order and supplied, so that the waste of one day may be made good, and it may return with equal vigour the next. These necessaries vary, of course, with different climates, and with different degrees of civilization; but in any given country and period the average needs of the labourers are known. Nor is this fact altered by the other face that, as pointed out by Mill, a series of circumstances may reduce the standard of supposed necessaries. The amount of average necessaries thus ascertained is called by Ricardo, the “natural price of labour,” and is “that price which is necessary to enable the labourers one with another to subsist, and to perpetuate their race without either increase or diminution.” In this way we have that amount of average daily necessaries which will maintain the present race of destitute bargainers, and provide them with equally destitute successors.

Assume then that the cost of this amount of daily foods, the natural price of human labour comprised in the necessaries for existence for the twenty-four hours – representing by rights only the quantity of human labour expended in their production – is six hours’ work. Half a day’s average work is needed then to reproduce the average amount of labour-force expended. Take this at three shillings as expressed in money. Then the owner of the labour who sells its work for six hours at three shillings, sells it for its exact value. “It is when the market price of labour exceeds its natural price that the condition of the labourer is flourishing and happy that he has it in his power to command a greater proportion of the necessaries and enjoyments of life. When the market price of labour is below its natural price, the condition of the labourers is most wretched; then poverty deprives them of comforts which custom renders absolute necessaries.” So far Ricardo again. But the natural price of labour reaches its minimum when it is reduced to the value of the means of subsistence physiologically indispensable. When it falls to this minimum, the price has reached a level below the value of the labour-force, which then only just maintains itself without immediate deterioration. For example, a man who sells his labour for just enough to keep himself and his family without making any provision for old age, or future ill-health from which he may suffer, is clearly going down hill. The natural price of his labour has not in this case taken a sufficiently wide range.

When also the capitalist buys the labour, it is the owner of that labour who sells on credit. He advances his labour to the capitalist; the capitalist advances nothing to him without having been previously paid for it. In every country where the system prevails, the labourer is only paid after he has worked for a certain period – a week, a fortnight, a month – on credit. This enables the capitalist to “turn round.” If the employer fails, the labourers suffer: they are not paid; for the labour has been sold beforehand, and duly delivered by the expenditure of force from the labourer’s body. An illustration of this occurred not long since in the great strike of colliers in the north against the masters, who wished to make their men break the law by contracting out of the Employers’ Liability Act. Once out on strike they insisted most strongly upon the reduction of the length of the advance of their labour to the capitalist, from the fortnight to the week. This point also they carried. Fortnightly or monthly wages are a hardship to the labourer, which, like many others, can only be removed by resolute combination; for that value in use which the owner of the labour advances to the buyer, only shows itself in employment. And this consumption of force of labour produces, not only commodities, but surplus value besides. Everything else needed for the purposes of production – raw materials, machinery, &c. – have been bought by the capitalist at their actual value, and paid for at their actual price. It is labour only, the labour-force of human beings, from which he derives his surplus value. Out of this, his last purchase, bought on credit, the capitalist makes his capital breed. This labour, bought in the open market, and realized in the commodity – this it is which gives the capitalist the additional value he hungers for.

Now we begin to see how it comes about that £10. turns into £11, that £100 swells into £110, without additional value. Now, too, the admirable working of “freedom of contract” and “supply and demand” in our modern society appears. Hear, too, William Cobbett for a moment: “To those who labour, we who labour not with our hands owe all that we eat and drink and wear, all that shades us by day and that shelters us by night, all the means of enjoying health and pleasure; and therefore if we possess talent for the task, we are ungrateful or cowardly, or both, if we omit any effort within our power to prevent them from being slaves. What is a slave? For let us not be amused by a name. A slave is in the first place a man who has no property; and property means something that he has, and that nobody can take from him without his leave or consent. A slave has no property in his labour; and any man who is compelled to give up the fruit of his labour to another at the arbitrary will of that other, has no property in his labour, and is therefore a slave, whether the fruit of his labour be taken from him directly or indirectly. If it be said that he gives up the fruit of his labour by his own will, and that it is not forced from him, I answer, To be sure he may avoid eating and drinking, and may go naked; but then he must die; and on this condition, and this condition only, can he refuse to give up the fruit of his labour. ‘Die, wretch, or surrender as much of your income or the fruit of your labour as your masters choose to take’.”

To return. The working man who has sold his labour works, of course, under the control of the capitalist to whom his labour thus belongs, and whose object it is that he should work hard and continuously. Besides, the product in which his force of labour is embodied is the property of the capitalist, and in no sense that of the labourer. The capitalist merely pays him his wages, just as he would pay for the hire of a horse or a mule. Then the employer applies the human merchandise he has thus bought to his raw materials and machinery. The result is a value in use to be passed on to others; and not only such value, but a surplus value for the capitalist himself, derived from this purchased labour.

Take, for example, cotton yarns. The capitalist buys, say, ten pounds of raw cotton for 10s. In that price there is already expressed the average labour needed for the production, transport, and marketing of the raw cotton. Now put the wear and tear of the spindles, machinery, &c., in working up the raw material into yarn at 2s. If a piece of gold of the value of 12s. is the output of twenty-four hours’ work, it follows that there are, apart from the labour in the factory, two full days of work embodied in the yarn. This accounts for the original labour needed to raise and transport the raw cotton, as well as the labour needed to replace the wear and tear.

It has already been assumed that the workman must give six hours’ labour in order to earn 3s., the natural price of his labour required to supply him socially with his absolute necessaries. Now assume further that it takes six hours’ labour to turn ten pounds of cotton into ten pounds of yarn; then the workman has added to the raw cotton a value of 3s., a half-a-day’s work. So at the end the ten pounds of yarn contain altogether two days and a half of labour; raw cotton and wear and tear of spindles stand for two days; and half-a-day has been absorbed by the cotton in the process of spinning. This quantity of labour is therefore reckoned in a piece of gold of the value of 15s.; that is to say, the price of the yarn worked up from the cotton is 1s. 6d. a pound. Here obviously is no gain to the capitalist. His raw material, his wear and tear of machinery, his wages paid for the labour which he has purchased, eat up the whole of the capital advanced, and yet the ten pounds of yarn only fetch 1s. 6d. a pound, which is the value of the average quantity of labour contained in it. This shows no profit whatever, much to the horror of the capitalist if he stopped there.

But the employer has bought the labourer’s whole day’s work upon the market. He can make him work therefore not merely the six hours required to produce the return of the 3s. paid, but twelve hours – a day’s work. Now if six hours’ work produces ten pounds of yarn from ten pounds of cotton, twelve hours’ work: will give twenty pounds of yarn from twenty pounds of cotton. These twenty pounds of yarn will thus contain five days’ labour, of which four are contained in the raw cotton and the wear and tear of machinery and spindles, and one day is absorbed by the yarn during the process of spinning. The expression in money then of these five days’ work is 30s. That, therefore, is the price of the twenty pounds of yarn. Thus the yarn is sold now as it was before at 1s. 6d. a pound. But the sum of the values of the merchandise (including labour in the factory) embodied in the yarn does not exceed 27s.; that is to say, 20s. for the raw cotton, 4s. for the wear and tear, and 3s. for the labour in the factory. The value of the product has therefore increased. The 27s. have become 30s. Those 27s. advanced by the capitalist have begotten a surplus value of 30s., and the trick is done. The capitalist has used a certain amount of another man’s labour for his own behoof without paying for it, and the trick is done at that man’s expense. That free labour which is sold in the open market enables the capitalist to sell the twenty pounds of yarn he has made at the regular price of 1s. 6d. a pound, and, nevertheless, to increase his capital by 3s. on the output of twenty pounds. Labour thus used is the origin of surplus value, and all’s well.

Once more it is permissible to look back to the £10 made into £11 to the £100 swollen into £110. The £1 like the £10 is obtained from that free labour which is bound to be sold for less than its worth, in order that its possessor may continue to keep body and soul together. And the surplus value so produced the capitalist, the merchant, the shopkeeper, divide among themselves.

In existing conditions of agricultural production, the agricultural labourer in the same way provides on his part the surplus value which the landowner, the rent-charger, the farmer, the mortgagee, divide, in the shape of rent, settlement, profit on capital, and interest on money lent. The labourer himself, earning his 10s. to 12s. a week, is the man upon whom all these worthy people live, though they do so in a more indirect manner than the capitalist of the large towns, and have perhaps a trifle more conscience left to appeal to.

Capital itself, however, is divided into two parts, that which is used to buy machinery and means of production, and that which is expended on labour. The former portion is constant, and is simply reproduced without increase, the latter is variable, and is that which produces surplus value. Ordinarily the rate of surplus value is calculated on the total amount of capital employed, constant and variable, and is dubbed profit on capital. But this is wholly incorrect. The rate of surplus value produced, the proportion of labour turned to account by the capitalist should be reckoned only On the amount of capital advanced to pay the owner of that labour the natural price of his labour. What now is the proportion which the necessary labour for this purpose bears to the extra labour which is used for the benefit of the capitalist alone?

Nothing will illustrate this so clearly as actual figures taken from the regular operations of a factory. A mill with 10,000 spindles spins yarn No.32 with American cotton, and produces every week a pound of yarn to the spindle. The waste of the cotton amounts to six per cent. Therefore 10,600 pounds of cotton are each week converted into 10,000 pounds of yarn, and 600 pounds of waste. In April, 1871, this cotton cost 7¾d. a pound, and consequently £342 were paid for the 10,600 pounds, in round figures. The 10,000 spindles, including the spinning machines and the engine, cost to £10,000; their wear and tear amounts to ten per cent., or £1000 a year, or £20 a week. The ground-rent is £300 a year, or £6 a week. Coal costs £4 10s. every week gas, oil, &c.; the total weekly expenses in constant value amounting to £378.

The wages of the hands are £52 a week; the price of the yarn at 12¼d. a pound for 10,000 pounds is £510. The value produced each week is consequently £510-£378, or £132. Now deduct the variable capital, the wages of the hands, or £52, and there remains a surplus value of £80. Here the rate of surplus value is therefore as £80 to £52, or upwards of 153 per cent. That is to say, for an average day’s work of ten hours the necessary labour is but four hours, and the extra labour six hours; or, the labourer works four hours for himself, and six for other people, who divide his extra work among them.

And yet how unreasonable that the “hand,” silly fellow, should object to this division of his extra and unpaid for labour, and fancy that somehow somebody has got the better of him. Fool that he is, let him listen to the voice of the preacher and the political economist:– “What you need, my weary, poverty-stricken, Christian brother, is not to get back your own extra labour, which you have expended, in the form of money or goods for your own use. That is – believe us, who are your true friends – robbery of the capitalists. You, my good man, should be thrifty, abstinent, saving, economical, and still go on steadily providing extra labour for others, until you in turn cease to be a labourer, turn capitalist, and extort extra labour yourself.”

What, however is this day’s work, necessary labour and extra labour together, which the capitalist buys on the market? Obviously there must be some limit to it. A man can’t work twenty-four hours on end every day in the week, that is clear. But the limits of the day’s work are very elastic. We find ten hours, twelve hours, fourteen, sixteen, even eighteen hours, given as the amount of a day’s work. And this limit, however loose already, capitalists, from the shirt-sweaters up to the railway companies, are always striving to extend. They invoke the sacred laws of supply and demand and freedom of contract, to sanction an amount of daily toil which leaves a man or a woman utterly exhausted at its close, which weakens health, reduces vitality, and hands on a broken constitution to the progeny. And all for what? In order to swell that surplus value which “society” depends upon for its excessive luxury and continuous laziness. “But,” say the labourers when adjured not to endanger society, “that is all very well; but society is shamefully wronging us. It is society which, having entire command of the forces of the country, enables the capitalist class thus to violate every law of exchange with impunity. These are they who pay us only one-half or one-third or one-quarter of the real value of our day’s work. They then are the people who are endangering society, of which we form by far the most important part – not the working men, who ask only that their labour should not be taken for nothing.”

There is a comparison at hand which philanthropizing capitalists – and there are many of them – will understand, if they do not appreciate. Under the old system of corvée a man was obliged to give, say one day’s work in the week, or at most two, to his lord without any payment. Such a man, though he had the remaining five or six days wholly to himself, was thought little better than a slave. Nor was he. English capitalists would, of all men, subscribe largely to relieve human beings from continuing in such a shameful and degraded position. But here at home, we have men, women, and children, who are obliged to give four, five, six hours a day to the capitalist for nothing, and yet are thought free. A factory hand who, as in the instance given above, provides six hours a day of extra labour, makes the capitalist a present of three days’ work in the week for nothing. He gives, in fact, three times as much labour for nothing in the week to his employer, as the serf who works one day in the week under corvée is obliged to offer in unpaid labour to his lord. But in the one case, under the system of daily or weekly wages, the necessary labour and the extra labour are lumped together as so much paid-for labour; in the other, they are divided. Thus the forced, extra, unpaid labour for the capitalist – the industrial corvée – escapes notice, though it is three times greater than the other, and the capitalist is thrice as heavy a master as the feudal lord.

Moreover, the capitalist class has ever been on the look-out to increase the hours of labour beyond measure, in order that they may obtain more extra labour, and thus secure more surplus value. We in England have had sad experience of the baneful effects upon the working population of the never-ceasing endeavours to increase the number of working hours. The reports of the Factory Inspectors up to a comparatively recent date, are positively filled to overflowing with instances of the efforts made by the capitalists to crowd extra labour on men, on women, and, above all, on children. A little is filched from the meal times; the mill is opened a trifle earlier, closed something later, than the prescribed hour. Always this persistent scheming for extra labour. [2] Not only up to the passing of the Factory Acts, but ever since, the same tendency has been relentlessly displayed. Free Trade, by reducing the natural price of labour, increased the profit of capitalists and the number of hours on which they could depend for the production of surplus value. Women and children have, of course, suffered fearfully. They were used up as so much food for surplus value, without the slightest regard to humanity, or to the interest of the country at large. The average age of the working classes was fearfully shortened by the excessive toil. The cotton industry of Lancashire alone in ninety years, or three generations of ordinary men, devoured nine generations of work-people. What mattered that to the manufacturers? There were more where they came from. The poor bargainers reproduce themselves, and supply and demand goes merrily on as before. The Factory Acts themselves, still by no means so stringent nor so rigidly administered as they ought to be, were carried against the bitterest opposition of the capitalist class, because the nation had gradually roused itself to the truth that the whole population was rapidly deteriorating, owing to the systematic overwork of women and children. There are even still economists of liberal views, who hold that women in particular ought to be allowed to work in factories as long as they choose, and that the State has no right to interfere to protect the coming generation. Argument after argument is put forward also that longer hours than those to which the Trade Unions have happily reduced the working day are essential, because otherwise capitalists cannot compete with foreign nations. [3]

There is, unfortunately, no need to go back to the horrible details contained in the Health Reports of a few years ago, as to the condition of the working classes, whilst wealth is being piled up by their labour all round them. In spite of a little permissive legislation – well-intended, but by no means effectual – things are almost as bad to-day. Some there are of course who, rejoicing in the fact that our population has consumed on the average 100lb. per head more of bacon in the last ten years, or .002 lb. per head more cheese, decline to look to that portion of the people who bring down the average.

Such a speech as that delivered by the Bishop of Manchester in June, 1880, ought to awaken the nation to the mischief which is still being done. He, worthy man, wrings his hands in despair at the state of affairs in his own diocese. People living in the most miserable poverty, from which there seems no escape. Misery, filth, starvation, overcrowding, followed by inevitable deterioration. Sadness and hopelessness brood over the streets, and alleys, and cellars, he has explored. What can education do with children living in such conditions as those which he has so graphically described? The men and the women too work hard enough when they can get the chance – work endless hours too – do enough in short to feed, and lodge, and clothe themselves in comfort. Yet in Manchester and Salford, in Stockport and Altrincham, in Oldham and Macclesfield, throughout the whole of these great industrial districts, thousands on thousands of labourers exist in good times in squalor, whilst bad times drive them at once to the wall. Dr. Fraser himself had shown a few years before what the condition of the agricultural labourer was in this respect, how hard he too works, how little he gets, how foully he is lodged in many cases. Even orthodox economists show further how farmers and manufacturers alike combine to keep down the rate of wages to the bare natural price, or below it, whilst exacting the longest possible hours of toil.

Admitting that in some respects matters have improved, owing to the determination of the working classes no longer to submit to such neglect and oppression as of old, the very last report of the Factory inspectors shows how much remains to be done, and how little machinery there is to do it. The long weary struggle which has been carried on by the working class, without even proper representation, against laissez-faire, political economy, and selfish ideas of freedom, seems still far from being successful.

A mere list of the provisions of the Factory Acts to restrict tyranny by the masters and injury resulting to the hands, proves conclusively that, but for State intervention a condition of slavery of the worst kind would exist now, as it did forty years ago. Meals for instance are not allowed now to be taken in rooms where the atmosphere is poisonous, and some restrictions are even imposed upon keeping men, women, and children employed in the poisonous atmosphere. In Bradford, a city which has long lived in the full and rather greasy odour of Liberal sanctity, the wool-sorting has for years been carried on in such a manner as directly to involve the loss of the lives of many of the hands. Not a single improvement did the capitalists – Mr. Coercion-Bill Forster is a Bradford man – introduce, till forced to do so by law, and by public opinion following upon the verdict of coroners’ juries as to the infamous state of things which brought about the death of the wool-sorters. Children still go to work full time in the collieries when they are twelve years old, though in factories they, fortunately, may not do so until they are thirteen or fourteen. The parents, eager to get their children’s wages, take advantage of this, and the capitalist colliery owner of course is always ready to employ cheap child-labour for his engines or other purposes.

In the dangerous trades great improvements have been made by the Factory Acts, but still it is evident far more stringent inspection and regulation is required. In the brickworks we read of a girl carrying to and fro eleven tons of clay in the day for 2s. 3d. a day. Brickmaking, to which women are wholly unsuited, fell into their hands, we are told, “because masters at one time got wages down very low” wanted to work women on the cheap in fact. In the great cotton and iron industries years must still elapse before the people recover from the deteriorating effects of unrestricted competition. The best factories and ironworks are not yet controlled sufficiently in the interest of the men, women, and children who work in them. But those who wish to understand what capitalism is capable of, and what is its natural bait, should read the reports of the factory inspectors, Messrs. Lakeman and Gould, on the sweating system at the East End of London, and the dens in which the unfortunate milliners and dressmakers work at the West End. “Workshops,” says Inspector Lakeman, “arc generally small, over-crowded, very dirty, overheated, badly ventilated; and when half a dozen gas burners are alight for five or six hours in a twelve-feet square room, one can imagine that the term ‘sweater’ is not inappropriate ... So gigantic has the sweating system become, so rapid the production (for the division of labour is strictly carried out), so varied are the wants of each occupier, that one despairs of making any impression upon these people except by compulsion. They are bound to a system which excludes freedom, and from long habit it seems impossible to move them out of it. Now when we see a cloth coat made, lined, braided by hand, the silk and thread found by sweater, all for 2s. 3d, and if the total number be not returned to the clothier completed by the time specified, then a fine of sixpence (I have seen one shilling) levied for each garment, one cannot wonder at the desire of the sweater to keep his team late at night to complete his task.” Coats are sometimes “finished in this style,” however, as low as 2s. “When one thinks that there are about 18,000 to 20,000 people toiling at this one trade of making ready-made clothing, can we wonder at beholding the palace-like premises of merchant tailors who can advertise garments at a very low price, which to them is the cost of material, and say 2s. 1d. for the making of a coat? It does not require much depth of reasoning to judge where the profit comes from.” [4] No, worthy Mr. Inspector, it does not. The profit of the merchant tailor, like the profit of his noble allies the cotton lords and the wool factors, comes out of the unpaid labour of others, whom he throws upon the streets when they have served his turn of providing surplus value according to the universal law of supply and demand and freedom of contract.

But again; hear Mr. Inspector Gould:– “There is, however, one branch of work, giving employment to thousands of girls and women. which, although entirely harmless in itself, is yet, unfortunately, solely by reason of the conditions under which it is carried on, a typically unhealthy business, I need hardly say that I refer to the making of all articles of ladies’ clothing, and principally to the dressmaking section of the trade. Of the thousands of young and delicate girls who are engaged in trying to earn a bare subsistence in a deleterious atmosphere, no one can tell how many go down in the struggle. No statistics can be formed of the percentage of deaths, of enfeebled constitutions, of the amount of disease engendered in the first instance by the deadly atmosphere of the workrooms in second and third class establishments devoted to the dressmaking and ladies’ clothing trade in the West End of London. I know of no class of female workers whose vital interests are so entirely neglected, and who labour under such disadvantageous conditions, as the unlucky victims of the dressmaking industry. Nothing is more surprising than to hear the advocates of ’women’s rights’ of both sexes, in full knowledge apparently of the hardships undergone by the very class whose battle they profess to fight, cry out for absolute liberty of action to all females employed in labour!” Evidently Mr. Gould is quite ignorant of the real bigotry of the advocates of freedom, and had better look to himself. In the shops themselves things are little better. Men and women are kept at work from thirteen to fourteen hours a day for five days in the week, and for sixteen hours on the sixth day.

As to the accommodation of the labouring class, out of whose unpaid toil the capitalist makes his profit and society waxes fat, the Reports on Artisans’ Dwellings, give deplorable facts. Two and three families pigged together into one or two small rooms; streets of houses torn down for improvements, and their occupiers forced to crowd in upon the already overcrowded streets adjoining. This is the rule throughout all our great cities. London is no worse than Glasgow, nor Glasgow worse than Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Manchester, or Newcastle. The latter city, indeed, is perhaps the worst of all in this respect in comparison to its population. Hitherto the mere Permissive Acts to remedy this state of things have been almost useless. Yet the homes of the poor are not cheap; they are dear. Cubic space for cubic space, the dens of the East and West End cost more than the mansions of the rich, who have good air, good light, plentiful supply of water, and all that’s needed for healthy existence. Those who provide them with all these benefits are left to take care of themselves. No compulsion: that would be too serious. What? force the municipalities to tear down foul, unhealthy dwellings, at the expense of the rich, and build up proper accommodation for the poor? Never,” say the ratepayers; “that would touch us: it is communism, confiscation, the overturn of society.”

We are now in cycle of rising prosperity for the moneyed and manufacturing class. Now is their opportunity to endeavour to remedy in their turn too some of the mischiefs below and around them. They justly denounce the selfishness of landlords; let them, too, look at home. But the working class should rely on their own power and peaceful strength – they must trust to themselves alone. To them, then, I say:– All wealth is produced by labour, and goods exchange in proportion to the quantity of human labour which is embodied in them. Between the workers of all civilized countries there is no real difference: they create the wealth and produce the food, and, under proper conditions, all would live in moderation all would have enough. But landowners, capitalists, merchants, money-lenders, have possessed themselves of the land, of the machinery, of the currency, of the credit. They therefore compel the workman to labour long and live hardly for their benefit; they take of the time, and the life, and the labour of their fellows for nothing. Those who own the soil, and those who manufacture – those who live on interest, and those who trade on differences of value, live alike in luxury and in idleness out of the sweat and the misery of others. They, therefore, are the enemies of the great mass of the people, to be overcome by voluntary combination and peaceful endeavour. You, then, who produce the wealth in every country, consider where you stand; you, men who have seen your homes broken up, your health destroyed, and have beheld your wives and children fade away under the tyranny of capitalism, stop and think. Let all who are made poor and miserable for the advantage of others, take heed to themselves. And having thus considered, thus thought, and thus looked at home, stretch out your hands, now powerless, to the workmen of the world as your friends, and begin a new and better social epoch for humanity. Working men and working women of Great Britain and Ireland, who now toil and suffer that others may be lazy and rich – Unite! Working men and working women of Europe and America, who now rejoice in the gleam of a transient prosperity, only to be cast into deeper despair on the next stagnation – Unite! Unite! In union alone is safety and happiness for the future, as in difference and selfishness have been danger and misery in the past. Therefore, once more, working men and working women, ye who live hardly to day, to pass on sadness and poverty to your children tomorrow, Unite! Unite! Unite!


1. Professor Stanley Jevons has convinced himself that labour has no influence on value. Utility is the sole source of value. Labour, supply, utility – such is the progression. This is not the place to discuss this theory, which is of course turned to account at once by capitalists. The cloud of differentiations and metaphysics which Mr. Jevons throws up as he goes along does not, however, obscure the fact that without labour there would be no value at all.

2. Mr. Watherston, a jeweller, who has grown rich on other men’s labour, wrote not long ago to the Economist to complain of the miserably short hours of work Englishmen now have. They must work more, or trade – his profits, he meant – would suffer. Of course this was the very man for the capitalist party. They got him at once as chairman of the Westminster caucus. How long will working men be gulled by landlords and capitalists into providing them with more unpaid labour, under the pretence of improving trade?

3. To show how impossible it is for the capitalist class to shake themselves clear of the prejudices in which they have been brought up, it is almost enough to say that Mr. Bright – a man surely distinguished for his humanity in general concerns – opposed the Factory Acts, which may fairly be regarded as the most beneficent measures of this century, with all his might; that when President of the Board of Trade he declared that adulteration was a legitimate form of competition; and that to this hour he cannot see that interference with freedom of contract as between the capitalist and the labourer may be absolutely essential in the interests of the community at large. Mr. Thomas Brassey, as Professor Cairnes has pointed out, could not understand that a reduction of profits might be quite as desirable as a reduction of wages. It is amusing, too, to see it capitalist who has taken £700,000 out of the working classes by extra labour, and owns a rigid monopoly, posing as a leader of the democracy. Doubtless they all think themselves thoroughly in earnest; but how can hunters alter surplus value, men who are every day engaged in putting wages at a lower level than they ought to be in order to enhance their own profits from unpaid labour, really lead or benefit them by pretending to lead, the working class The Liberal benches in the House of Commons at this very time are closely packed with plutocrats, who have made all their wealth, and mean to make more, Out of the unpaid labour of their own countrymen. The Conservative benches seat a growing proportion of men of the like kidney. What wonder that working men who really understand what is going on around therm almost despair of success in carrying measures which are absolutely essential to tlie welfare of their class, when the power of capitalism is increasing in every direction, when there is not single daily newspaper in existence which represents their interests or advocates their claims, and when only three of their class sit in Parliament?

4. Lord Salisbury spoke at the Merchant Tailors’ Hall not long since, of the absurdity of “plate-hunger.” It seemed more ridiculous to his aristocratic mind than even the earth-hunger of the Irish. Had he by chance a Conservative sweater at his elbow?

Last updated on 30.7.2006