The Cycle “Maker”

Not an uncommon sight within the past few years was the cycle “maker” riding one machine and carrying the frame of another on his back, en route to the “enamelers’ and nickel-platers’ shop. Usually a racing man, belonging to a cycling club and possessing some mechanical knowledge, he was able to turn it to account and “make” machines for his fellow clubmen. At the time of the boom of ’96-’98, a large number of machines were put on the road by these small makers. Buying the fittings, tubes, saddle, tyres, etc. from the factors and their agents, they executed the necessary brazing, filing and erecting in cellars, sheds, back kitchens, and other places more or less suitable, yet they were able to turn out very creditable jiggers, and, moreover, they reaped a very substantial monetary advantage.

The appliances were few and not costly. Beyond a vice, gas-brazing hearth (usually a tray filled with coke), and a few files, no other tools were necessary. With the development of capitalism these small makers are fast disappearing, and in their place have arisen the cycle engineers, who have brought to their aid every appliance of ingenuity and science, availing themselves of automatic machines uncanny in their movements and amazing in their output. An outcry (emanating from the capitalist Press of the cycle trade) for the standardisation of bolts, nuts and fittings generally, was raised and met, with the result that the number of firms catering for the rider is gradually being reduced, and the amalgamation of the Edie Manufacturing Co. with the B.S.A. Co.—together employing thousands of “hands”—means that the small manufacturer of fittings, like the small cycle maker, is being completely crushed out.

The slight mechanical know ledge imparted at the schools of to-day by engineering and drawing classes, is largely responsible for the leaning shown by lads towards the engineering trades. But the youngster on entering the factory is soon made aware that he is allowed, much less required, to learn but very little of the trade. Placed under a tyrannical foreman (picked out from his class by virtue of his “directing ability,” i.e. his hustling powers) the lad is put to work a machine previously set up by a charge hand (a prospective candidate for foreman’s honours) and simply performs an operation on some part of a cycle fitting ; and he keeps on “a doin’ of it” all day long, week in and week out, so long as he can be exploited. It will be understood that machine-tool manipulation is not the only process required to turn out bicycles—the filing and fitting is so simplified by systematic handling and constant repetition that waste is eliminated.

Upon reaching the age of 25 or so our cycle hand is ripe and fully qualified, from the capitalist point of view, for investure with the order of the “sack.” Younger and cheaper men are pushing him out, or he is getting “slack,” and sees the futility of awaiting promotion. So here is the result of ten years’ cycle “making.” During this period he may have learned to work some three or four machine tools, or, to be correct, to finish a few kinds of repetition work on them, and possibly to fit or assemble parts at the bench. So sure as slack times occur the older “hand ” is discharged to swell the ranks of the unemployed, with only the poor chance of getting a job as an engineer’s improver left him. Should he, however, gain the favour of his foreman he may be placed in the tool room, to devise means of quicker production. And the results of his observations and experience are the extension of output per “hand,” and consequently the reduction of the relative number of workers required.

Fellow worker, so long as the master class own and control the means and instruments of production, so long must the present system of wage-slavery exist. Having only your labour-power to sell you are compelled to slave, and cut one against the other to get a job, receiving on the average no more than sufficient to reproduce your efficiency, and the spectre of unemployment hovers about you always. As the cause of this is private ownership of the means of production, the remedy is to establish yourselves as owners in common of those means.


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