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C. Political Repression and Control in the Industrial Revolution
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C. Political Repression and Social Control in the Industrial Revolution.

Even after the expropriation of their land, the working class was not sufficiently powerless. The state still had to regulate the movement of labor, serve as a labor exchange on behalf of capitalists, and maintain order. And historically, this function was most vital when the bargaining power of labor threatened to increase: "one might expect that the efforts of the State in a capitalist society to control wages and to restrict the freedom of movement of the labourer would be greater when the labour reserve was depleted than when it was swollen."65 Thorold Rogers described the law from the Tudor period until the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, as

a conspiracy... to cheat the English workman of his wages, to tie him to the soil, to deprive him of hope, and to degrade him into irremediable poverty.... For more than two centuries and a half the English law, and those who administered the law, were engaged in grinding the English workman down to the lowest pittance, in stamping out every expression or act which indicated any organized discontent, and in multiplying penalties upon him when he thought of his natural rights.66

As we have seen above, the liquidation of the Church's system of poor relief left a void to be filled by the Tudor state's harsh regulation of the working class. The act of Henry VIII in 1530 licensed beggars who were old or infirm, while providing for the whipping and imprisonment of "sturdy vagabonds." The 27 Henry VIII strengthened the statute with ear-cropping for second offenders, and execution for third. I Edward VI (1547) condemned anyone who refused work as a slave to whoever denounced him. The 1572 act of Elizabeth I prescribed execution of unlicensed beggars on the second offense, unless someone would "take them into service." The statutes were only repealed at the end of the sixteenth century, by 12 Ann, cap. 23, when they had done their work. "Thus were the agricultural people, first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system."67

Queen Anne's repeal of the Tudor legislation did not, by any means, put an end to state-imposed regulation of the working class' movement. The laws of settlement had been created, in the meantime, and were later supplemented by the Combination Laws and the police state of Pitt. The government continued to set maximum wages, as well.

The Act of Settlement dates back to 1662. There had been a great deal of lower class movement during the Interregnum, characterized by the tendency of "poor people... to settle themselves in those parishes where there is the best stock, the largest commons or wastes to build cottages and the most woods for them to burn or destroy." As that quote from the preamble might suggest, the Act was intended to remedy such excess mobility. Under its terms, two justices of the peace in each county were empowered to eject any newcomer to a parish without independent means, and return him to his parish of origin. The legislation was explicitly directed against cottagers and squatters in commons, and was evidently followed "by a destruction of cottages erected in the free times of the interregnum."68

In a quotation earlier in this chapter, Marx referred to the "laws of settlements" as analogous to "the edict of the Tartar Boris Godunov" in their effect on the English working population. Had he been more familiar with events in America at the time he wrote, he might have referred to the Black Codes as a better analogy. Had he lived into the twentieth century, he might have cited the internal passport systems of South Africa or the Soviet Union. The British state's controls on the movement of population, during the Industrial Revolution, were a system of totalitarian control comparable to all these.

Under the Poor Laws and the Laws of Settlement, a member of the English working class was restricted to the parish of his birth, unless an official of another parish granted him a permit to reside there. The state maintained work discipline by keeping laborers from voting with their feet. It was hard to persuade parish authorities to grant a man a certificate entitling him to move to another parish to seek work. Even on the rare occasion when such a certificate was granted, it amounted to a system of peonage in which the worker's continued residence in the new parish was conditioned on maintaining the good will of his employer. Workers were forced to stay put and sell their labor in a buyer's market. Adam Smith ventured that there was "scarce a poor man in England of forty years of age... who has not in some part of his life felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law of settlements."69

At first glance this would seem also to be inconvenient for employers in parishes with a labor shortage.70 Factories were built at sources of water power, generally removed from centers of population. Thousands of workers were needed to be imported from far away. But the state solved the problem by setting itself up as a middleman, and providing labor-poor parishes with cheap surplus labor from elsewhere, depriving workers of the ability to bargain for better terms on their own. This practice amounted, in nearly every sense of the term, to a slave market:

No doubt, in certain epochs of feverish activity, the labour market shows significant gaps. In 1834, e.g.. But then the manufacturers proposed to the Poor Law Commissioners that they should send the "surplus population" of the agricultural districts to the north, with the explanation "that the manufacturers would absorb and use it up." "Agents were appointed with the consent of the Poor Law Commissioners.... An office was set up in Manchester, to which lists were sent of those workpeople in the agricultural districts wanting employment, and their names were registered in books. The manufacturers attended at these offices, and selected such persons as they chose; ...they gave instructions to have them forwarded to Manchester, and they were sent, ticketed like bales of goods, by canals, or with carriers, others tramping on the road, and many of them were found on the way lost and half-starved. This system had grown up into 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 these... manufacturers as slaves are sold to the cotton grown in the United States."71

There you have it: the Tudor state without the whippings, ear-croppings and executions; the Black Codes without the lynchings.

Child laborers, who were in no position to bargain in any case, were a popular commodity in these poor-house slave markets. According to John Fielden ("The Curse of the Factory System, 1836),

In the counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and more particularly in Lancashire, the newly invented machinery was used in large factories built on the sides of streams capable of turning the water-wheel. Thousands of hands were suddenly required in these places, remote from towns.... The small and nimble fingers of little children being by very far, the most in request, the custom instantly sprang up of procuring apprentices from the different parish workhouses of London, Birmingham, and elsewhere.72

Relief "was seldom bestowed without the parish claiming the exclusive right of disposing, at their pleasure, of all the children of the person receiving relief," according to the Committee on Parish Apprentices, 1815.73 Frances Trollope estimated that 200,000 children, altogether, were pressed into factory labor.74 Even when Poor Law commissioners encouraged migration to labor-poor parishes, they discouraged adult men and "[p]reference was given to 'widows with large families of children or handicraftsmen... with large families.'" In addition, the availability of cheap labor from the poor-law commissioners was deliberately used to drive down wages; farmers would discharge their own day-laborers and instead apply to the overseer for help.75

Although the Combination Laws theoretically applied to masters as well as workmen, in practice they were only enforced against the latter.76 "A Journeyman Cotton Spinner"--a pamphleteer quoted by E. P. Thompson77--described "an abominable combination existing amongst the masters," in which workers who had left their masters because of disagreement over wages were effectively blacklisted. The Combination Laws required suspects to answer interrogations on oath, empowered magistrates to give summary judgment, and allowed summary forfeiture of funds accumulated to aid the families of strikers.78 In other words, workers subject to the Combination Law magistrates were deprived of all the common law's due process protections. Workers, far from possessing the much-heralded "rights of Englishmen," were thrown into prerogative courts as arbitrary as Star Chamber.

At the same time, the laws setting maximum rates of pay amounted to a state enforced system of combination for the masters. In Adam Smith's immortal words, "[w]henever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between the masters and their workmen, its counselors are always the masters."79

In the mid-19th century, a superficial examiner might conclude, the state's "progressive" reforms finally began to remedy all these evils. But as the historians of corporate liberalism have shown us in regard to the "progressive" reforms of the twentieth century, these "reforms" were in fact undertaken in the interests of the ruling class. Their ameliorating effect on working conditions, to the real but limited extent they occurred, were a side effect of their main purpose of increasing political stability and bringing the working class under more effective social control.80

Regarding legislation for the ten-hour day, for example, Marx described it as an attempt by capitalists to regulate the "greed for surplus labour"; they served to regulate the economy in the interest of the capitalist class as a whole, in a way that could only be accomplished by acting through the state. With competition unlimited by the state, the issue of working conditions presents a prisoner's dilemma for the individual capitalist; it is in the interest of the capitalist class as a whole that the exploitation of labor be kept to sustainable levels, but in the interest of the individual capitalist to gain an immediate advantage over the competition by working his own labor force to the breaking point. As we shall see in Chapter 6 below on the rise of monopoly capitalism, the real effect of such regulations is to coordinate labor practices through a state-enforced cartel, so that those practices are no longer an issue of competition between firms.

These acts curb the passion of capital for a limitless draining of labour power, by forcibly limiting the working day by state regulations, made by a state that is ruled by capitalist and landlord. Apart from the working-class movement that daily grew more threatening, the limiting of factory labour was dictated by the same necessity which spread guano over the English fields.81

Marx referred, later in the same chapter, to a group of 26 Staffordshire pottery firms, including Josiah Wedgwood, petitioning Parliament in 1863 for "some legislative enactment"; the reason was that competition prevented individual capitalists from voluntarily limiting the work time of children, etc., as beneficial as it would be to them collectively: "Much as we deplore the evils before mentioned, it would not be possible to prevent them by any scheme of agreement between the manufacturers.... Taking all these points into consideration, we have come to the conviction that some legislative enactment is wanted." Attempts by employers to limit the workday voluntarily to nine or ten hours, in their collective interest, always came to nought because the individual employer found it in his interest to violate the agreement.82

As for trade unions: even after the Combination Laws were repealed in 1825, the position of workers was different from that of masters in regard to contract. "The provisions of the labour statutes as to contracts between master and workman, as to giving notice and the like, which only allow of a civil action against the contract breaking master, but on the contrary permit a criminal action against the contract-breaking workman, are to this hour (1873) in full force."83

In 1871, trade unions were officially recognized by Act of Parliament. But another act of the same date (the Act to amend the Criminal Law relating to Violence, Threats, and Molestation), had the effect that "the means which the labourers could use in a strike or lockout were withdrawn from the laws common to all citizens, and placed under exceptional penal legislation, the interpretation of which fell to the masters themselves in their capacity as justices of the peace."84 Thus, the state at the same time permitted collective bargaining, and prohibited collective bargaining outside the avenues prescribed and regulated by the state. In much the same way, the great "labor victory" of the Wagner Act was followed, in short order, by Taft-Hartley, which criminalized most of the tactics by which the CIO victories of the early Thirties had been won independently of the state. And in the process, as Hilaire Belloc so brilliantly explained, for the laborer contract was replaced by status--one step in the retrograde long march toward industrial enserfment of the wage-earning population.85 A comment of Adam Smith a century earlier is worth quoting again: "Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counselors are always the masters."86

The working class lifestyle under the factory system, with its new forms of social control, was a radical break with the past. It involved drastic loss of control over their own work. The seventeenth century work calendar had still been heavily influenced by medieval custom. Although there were spurts of hard labor between planting and harvest, intermittent periods of light work and the proliferation of saints days combined to reduce average work-time well below that of our own day. And the pace of work was generally determined by the sun or the biological rhythms of the laborer, who got up after a decent night's sleep, and sat down to rest when he felt like it. The cottager who had access to common land, even when he wanted extra income from wage labor, could take work on a casual basis and then return to working for himself. This was an unacceptable degree of independence from a capitalist standpoint.

In the modern world most people have to adapt themselves to some kind of discipline, and to observe other' people's timetables, ...or work under other people's orders, but we have to remember that the population that was flung into the brutal rhythm of the factory had earned its living in relative freedom, and that the discipline of the early factory was particularly savage.... No economist of the day, in estimating the gains or losses of factory employment, ever allowed for the strain and violence that a man suffered in his feelings when he passed from a life in which he could smoke or eat, or dig or sleep as he pleased, to one in which somebody turned the key on him, and for fourteen hours he had not even the right to whistle. It was like entering the airless and laughterless life of a prison.87

As Oppenheimer suggested in the quote earlier in this chapter, the factory system could not have been imposed on workers without first depriving them of alternatives, and forcibly denying access to any source of economic independence. No unbroken human being, with a sense of freedom or dignity, would have submitted to factory discipline. Steven Marglin compared the nineteenth century textile factory, staffed by pauper children bought at the workhouse slave market, to Roman brick and pottery factories which were manned by slaves. In Rome, factory production was exceptional in manufactures dominated by freemen. The factory system, throughout history, has been possible only with a work force deprived of any viable alternative.

The surviving facts... strongly suggest that whether work was organized along factory lines was in Roman times determined, not by technological considerations, but by the relative power of the two producing classes. Freedmen and citizens had sufficient power to maintain a guild organization. Slaves had no power--and ended up in factories.88

The problem with the old "putting out" system, in which cottage workers produced textiles on a contractual basis, was that it only eliminated worker control of the product. The factory system, by also eliminating worker control of the production process, introduced the added advantages of discipline and supervision, with workers organized under an overseer.

...the origin and success of the factory lay not in technological superiority, but in the substitution of the capitalist's for the worker's control of the work process and the quantity of output, in the change in the workman's choice from one of how much to work and produce, based on his preferences for leisure and goods, to one of whether or not to work at all, which of course is hardly much of a choice.89

Marglin took Adam Smith's classic example of the division of labor in pin-making, and stood it on its head. The increased efficiency resulted, not from the division of labor as such, but from dividing and sequencing the process into separate tasks in order to reduce set-up time. This could have been accomplished by a single cottage workman separating the various tasks and then performing them sequentially (i.e., drawing out the wire for an entire run of production, then straightening it, then cutting it, etc.).

without specialization, the capitalist had no essential role to play in the production process. If each producer could himself integrate the component tasks of pin manufacture into a marketable product, he would soon discover that he had no need to deal with the market for pins through the intermediation of the putter-outer. He could sell directly and appropriate to himself the profit that the capitalist derived from mediating between the producer and the market.90

This principle is at the center of the history of industrial technology for the last two hundred years. Even given the necessity of factories for some forms of large-scale, capital-intensive manufacturing, there is usually a choice between alternate productive technologies within the factory. Industry has consistently chosen technologies which de-skill workers and shift decision-making upward into the managerial hierarchy. As long ago as 1835, Dr. Andrew Ure (the ideological grandfather of Taylorism), argued that the more skilled the workman, "the more self-willed and... the less fit a component of a mechanical system" he became. The solution was to eliminate processes which required "peculiar dexterity and steadiness of hand... from the cunning workman" and replace them by a "mechanism, so self-regulating, that a child may superintend it."91 And the principle has been followed throughout the twentieth century. William Lazonick, David Montgomery, David Noble, and Katherine Stone have produced an excellent body of work on this theme. Even though corporate experiments in worker self-management increase morale and productivity, and reduce injuries and absenteeism beyond the wildest hopes of management, they are usually abandoned out of fear of loss of control.

Christopher Lasch, in his foreword to Noble's America by Design, characterized the process of de-skilling in this way:

The capitalist, having expropriated the worker's property, gradually expropriated his technical knowledge as well, asserting his own mastery over production....

The expropriation of the worker's technical knowledge had as a logical consequence the growth of modern management, in which technical knowledge came to be concentrated. As the scientific management movement split up production into its component procedures, reducing the worker to an appendage of the machine, a great expansion of technical and supervisory personnel took place in order to oversee the productive process as a whole.92

The expropriation of the peasantry and imposition of the factory labor system was not accomplished without resistance; the workers knew exactly what was being done to them and what they had lost. During the 1790s, when rhetoric from the Jacobins and Tom Paine was widespread among the radicalized working class, the rulers of "the cradle of liberty" lived in terror that the country would be swept by revolution. The system of police state controls over the population resembled an occupation regime. The Hammonds referred to correspondence between north-country magistrates and the Home Office, in which the law was frankly treated "as an instrument not of justice but of repression," and the working classes "appear[ed]... conspicuously as a helot population.”93

... in the light of the Home Office papers, ...none of the personal rights attaching to Englishmen possessed any reality for the working classes. The magistrates and their clerks recognized no limit to their powers over the freedom and the movements of working men. The Vagrancy Laws seemed to supercede the entire charter of an Englishman's liberties. They were used to put into prison any man or woman of the working class who seemed to the magistrate an inconvenient or disturbing character. They offered the easiest and most expeditious way of proceeding against any one who tried to collect money for the families of locked-out workmen, or to disseminate literature that the magistrates thought undesirable.94

Peel's "bobbies"--professional law enforcement--replaced the posse comitatus system because the latter was inadequate to control a population of increasingly disgruntled workmen. In the time of the Luddite and other disturbances, crown officials warned that "to apply the Watch and Ward Act would be to put arms into the hands of the most powerfully disaffected." At the outset of the wars with France, Pitt ended the practice of quartering the army in alehouses, mixed with the general population. Instead, the manufacturing districts were covered with barracks, as "purely a matter of police." The manufacturing areas "came to resemble a country under military occupation."95

Pitt's police state was supplemented by quasi-private vigilantism, in the time-honored tradition of blackshirts and death squads ever since. For example the "Association for the Protection of Property against Republicans and Levellers"--an anti-Jacobin association of gentry and mill-owners-- conducted house-to-house searches and organized Guy Fawkes-style effigy burnings against Paine; "Church and King" mobs terrorised suspected radicals.96

Thompson characterized this system of control as "political and social apartheid," and argued that "the revolution which did not happen in England was fully as devastating" as the one that did happen in France.97