Marx on Free Trade
In 1829 there were, in Manchester, 1088 cotton spinners employed in 36 factories. In 1841 there were but 448, and they tended 53,353 more spindles than the 1088 spinners did in 1829. If manual labour had increased in the same proportion as productive force, the number of spinners ought to have risen to 1848; improved machinery had, therefore, deprived 1100 workers of employment.
We know beforehand the reply of the economists—the people thus thrown out of work will find other kinds of employment. Dr. Bowring did not fail to reproduce this argument at the Congress of Economists. But neither did he fail to contradict himself. In 1833, Dr. Bowring made a speech in the House of Commons upon the 50,000 hand-loom weavers of London who had been starving without being able to find that new kind of employment which the free traders hold out to them in the distance. Let us hear the most striking portion of this speech of Mr. Bowring :—
“The misery of the hand-loom weavers,” he says, “is the inevitable fate of all kinds of labour which are easily acquired, and which may, at any moment, be replaced by less costly means. As in these cases competition amongst the work-people is very great, the slightest falling-off in demand brings on a crisis. The hand- loom weavers are, in a certain sense, placed on the borders of human existence. One step further, and that existence becomes impossible. The slightest shock is sufficient to throw them on to the road to ruin. By more and more superseding manual labour, the progress of mechanical science must bring on, during the period of transition, a deal of temporary suffering. National well-being cannot be bought except at the price of some individual evils. The advance of industry is achieved at the expense of those who lag behind, and of all discoveries that of the power-loom weighs most heavily upon the hand-loom weavers. In a great many articles formerly made by hand, the weaver has been placed hors de combat; and he is sure to be beaten in a good many more fabrics that are now made by hand.”
Further on he says:—
“I hold in my hand a correspondence of the governor-general with the East India Com- pany. This correspondence is concerning the weavers of the Decca district. The governor says in his letter: ‘A few years ago the East India Company received from six to eight million pieces of calico woven upon the looms of the country. The demand fell off gradually and was reduced to about a million pieces. At this moment it has almost entirely ceased. Moreover, in 1800, North America received from India nearly 800,000 pieces of cotton goods. In 1830 it did not take even 4000. Finally, in 1800 a million of pieces were shipped for Portugal; in 1830 Portugal did not receive above 20,000.’
“The reports on the distress of the Indian weavers are terrible. And what is the origin of that distress? The presence on the market of English manufactures, the production of the same article by means of the power-loom. A great number of the weavers died of starvation; the remainder have gone over to other employment, and chiefly to field labour. Not to be able to change employment amounted to a sentence of death. And at this moment the Decca district is crammed with English yarns and calicoes. The Decca muslin, renowned all over the world for its beauty and firm texture, has also been eclipsed by the competition of English machinery. In the whole history of commerce, it would, perhaps, be difficult to find suffering equal to what these whole classes in India had to submit to.”
(Socialist Standard, August 1924)