Speeding the Sped

The development of capitalism necessitating the constant increase of capital and the consequent increase of profit, creates a problem that outwits the capitalist in his twofold capacity of profit-monger and politician.

On the one hand there is the ever-growing tendency (caused by the competiticn of capital) to reduce the cost of production, meaning a reduction of the amount paid as wages ; and on the other hand an ever increasing army of unemployed that must be dealt with or silenced.

Despite, or rather because of, the growing productivity of labour-power and the enormous increase of wealth, the poverty of the masses and the number of the workless, increase to such an extent that the politician is at his wit’s end to find a way out of the difficulty. Each Parliamentary session brings forth some new mode of palliation, and each succeeding session finds the problem greater ard the “solution” Still more difficult to discover.

A “White Paper” issued 15.11.11 with regard to the Labour Exchanges, shows that the applications for employment during the first nine mouths of the year were :

Men Women Total
910,949. 286,894. 1,197,843.

whilst the vacancies filled were :

Men Women Total
233,007. 91,272. 324,279.

leaving 873,564 workers without jobs !

The time has long since passed when the problem of unemployment could be waived aside with the Eurasian remark that “those without work are lazy loafers who do not want employment.” To those who have dived below the surface of capitalist production the above quoted figures come as no surprise. The unemployed army does exist and no labour exchange can do anything to reduce it. On the contrary, as has been shown in these columns, the better organisation in the buying of labour-power, results in an increasing number of unemployed and tends to reduce the price of their commodity.

Why are there unemployed and why does their number increase ?

The modern scientific shop management, coupled with the introduction of time-saving machinery, throws out of employ ever more “hands,” for the simple reason that the wage paid is determined, not by the value of the product, but by the value of the labour-power of the worker—i.e., its cost of production.

Twenty years ago the wage earner produced a certain amount of wealth. To-day, with the aid of improved machinery and more scientific workshop methods, he can produce in the same time several times that amount. His wage, however, does not rise in proportion, and his purchasing power remains practically the same. Since the worker is unable to buy back the commodities he has produced, the market becomes overstocked and the capitalist has to restrict porduction to somewhat balance the effective demand.

That reduction is made, not by returning to the old methods (an obvious impossibility) but by reducing the number of “hands.” Hence the unemployed.

The introduction of machinery goes on. Machines are invented and perfected. Workshops-and factories are more and more efficiently managed.

Hence the increase in the army of unemployed.

The capitalist is helpless to stay the constant development or to deal with the effects and palliatives become ineffective. Real palliation is but temporary and must react, sooner or later, to the interest of the employers ; but in the main the reforms passed as measures of social alleviation simply introduce that same principle of economy and efficiency into the administration of the poor law.

As instance labour exchanges, which enable the employer to obtain, from any quarter and from every rank, just that quality and quantity of labour-power that he requires, without trouble and without waste of time.

As instance again, Old Age Pensions, which enable old paupers to remain outside the workhouse, where they cost about 15s. per week to support, on a gratuity of one-third this amount.

There came into my possession recently, a pamphlet issued by a Chicago firm, advertising an instrument which, placed in any office, records the activity and efficiency of any part of the works. In the advertisers’ words the

“Recorder instantly and automatically records each and every instance of a machine being unnecessarily stopped.
“Instantly records every instance of inefficient operation of any of the equipment—caused by running machines at slow speed or consuming too excessive an amount of time in handling materials.
“Instantly indicates the individual machines, wherever located, which are not producing the required output.
“Automatically sets time limits for the performance of each operation, indicating each and every instance of over-consumption of time.
“Automatically sets equitable piece rates and discloses all errors in existing piece rates and
All this at a cost to you of less than one cent per day per machine.

In the case of a wood-working machine, for instance, while the tool is working the material or the material passing through the machine, a switch is closed and a stylo marks a drum in the Recorder ; but immediately the machine ceases to produce, whether it is running or not, the stylo is lifted, and so the machine operator unconsciously telegraphs the boss every minute he is producing and each minute wasted, recording at the same time the speed at which he is working.

Fifty machines can be attached and their production recorded, tabulated, and specified, every minute of the day. Machine competes with machine, and without foreman or overlooker each workman is watched. At the end of the day the chart is removed from the machine and every idle moment is placed to the account of the man working it.

The pamphleteer is brutally frank. The employee counts only as a cog. He is but a cypher in the sum—a necessary part of the working expenses. Of course, the Socialist has told you that—often.

He has said that the worker is of no more importance than the oil or the fuel—that you were simply pieces of human mechanism— SLAVES.

Is it true ?

Listen to the pamphleteer. His remarks require little comment.

“The scientific, economical way of buying coal is to specify a basic price of—say, $4 00 per ton, none acceptable of less than 9,600 B.t.u. per pound, price never to be less than $0.173 per million B.t.u. If the coal delivered analyzes 14.440, the dealer receives $5.00 a ton instead of $4.00.
“Labour ought to be purchased in the same way, i.e., a basic price—an efficiency equivalent for the money paid—no labour accepted below the efficiency standard—and a premium price for all efficiency delivered in excess of the standard.”

O Dignity of Labour, where art thou ? ;

But let us proceed.

“The weakness of existing wage systems is that they are based primarily on what the man has done instead of what the machine can do. This is reverse philosophy.
“You don’t hire an operator, then buy the machine to keep him employed. You buy a machine, then hire the man to keep it busy.”

How true ! Yet how difficult it is to inculcate that truth in the minds of those hire machines.

A few more truths and I am done.

“Determine first, then, what each machine can do—its maximum output when properly operated—then put it up to the operator.
“Not how much output in a given time, but how much time can be allowed for a given operation and see that it makes good.
“Do you think your Piece work system effective ? Who made the piece work rates ? Sort of mutual affair—you and the workman.
“But you bought the machine to get the full benefit of what that machine can produce.
“Not for a labor-saver but for intensified production, for you don’t sell labor” (read labour-power) “but its product. Figure, then, not the price of labor but the value of product.
“Time, that is the costliest material in your shop. Time economy ; time control: that is the particular mission of the National Time Recorder.”

That is just it. Machinery is introduced to save time because time costs money; time means wages and wages must be cut down. Wages will be cut down and the employers who have seen the truth of this are those who succeed. If your labour time can be made more efficient it is worth more because it saves the hire of another fellow’s time. In other words, it places him on the unemployed list.

So must things go on, and capitalism, rushing headlong forward, fall finally into the pit that it digs for itself, smothered in its own success. It will produce goods in such a short space of time that the great bulk of the people will be unemployed and it will be unable to dispose of the wealth created. But before that time something may happen.

The workers may awake !


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