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«Part II: The Transformation of Money in Capital Ch. 4: The General Formula for Capital Ch. 5: Contradictions in the General Formula of Capital Ch. 6: ...»

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[16] With the changing productiveness of labour the same quantum of product represents a varying working-time. Therefore, piece-wage also varies, for it is the money expression of a determined working-time. In our example above, 24 pieces were produced in 12 hours, whilst the value of the product of the 12 hours was 6s., the daily value of the labour-power 3s., the price of the labour-hour 3d., and the wage for one piece 1/2d. In one piece half-an-hour's labour was absorbed. If the same working-day now supplies, in consequence of the doubled productiveness of labour, 48 pieces instead of 24, and all other circumstances remain unchanged, then the piece-wage falls from 1 1/2d. to 3/4d., as every piece now only represents 1/4, instead of 1/2 of a working-hour. 24 by 1 1/2d. = 3s., and in like manner 48 by 3/4d. = 3s. In other words, piece-wage is lowered in the same proportion as the number of the pieces produced in the same time rises, [17] and, therefore, as the working time spent on the same piece falls. This change in piece-wage, so far purely nominal, leads to constant battles between capitalist and labour. Either because the capitalist uses it as a pretext for actually lowering the price of labour, or because increased productive power of labour is accompanied by an increased intensity of the same. Or because the labourer takes seriously the appearance of piece-wages (viz., that his product is paid for, and not his labour-power) and therefore revolts against a lowering of wages, unaccompanied by a lowering in the selling price of the commodity.

"The operatives...carefully watch the price of the raw material and the price of manufactured goods, and are thus enabled to form an accurate estimate of their master's profits." [18] The capitalist rightly knocks on the head such pretensions as gross errors as to the nature of wage-labour. [19] He cries out against this usurping attempt to lay taxes on the advance of industry, and declares roundly that the productiveness of labour does not concern the labourer at all. [20]


[1] "The system of piece-work illustrates an epoch in the history of the working-man; it is halfway between the position of the mere day-labourer depending upon the will of the capitalist and the co-operative artisan, who in the not distant future promises to combine the artisan and the capitalist in his own person. Piece-workers are in fact their own masters, even whilst working upon the capital of the employer." (John Watts: "Trade Societies and Strikes, Machinery and Co-operative Societies." Manchester, 1865, pp. 52, 53.) I quote this little work because it is a very sink of all long-ago-rotten, apologetic commonplaces. This same Mr. Watts earlier traded in Owenism and published in 1842 another pamphlet: "Facts and Fictions of Political Economists," in which among other things he declares that "property is robbery." That was long ago.

[2] T. J. Dunning: "Trades' Unions and Strikes," Lond., 1860, p. 22.

[3] How the existence, side by side and simultaneously, of these two forms of wage favors the masters' cheating: "A factory employs 400 people, the half of which work by the piece, and have a direct interest in working longer hours. The other 200 are paid by the day, work equally long with the others, and get no more money for their over-time....

The work of these 200 people for half an hour a day is equal to one person's work for 50 hours, or 5/6's of one person's labour in a week, and is a positive gain to the employer."

("Reports of Insp. of Fact., 31st Oct., 1860," p. 9.) "Over-working to a very considerable extent still prevails; and, in most instances, with that security against detection and punishment which the law itself affords. I have in many former reports shown... the injury to workpeople who are not employed on piece-work, but receive weekly wages."

(Leonard Horner in "Reports of Insp. of Fact.," 30th April, 1859, pp. 8, 9.) [4] "Wages can be measured in two ways: either by the duration of the labour, or by its product." ("Abrege e1ementaire des principes de l'economie politique." Paris, 1796, p.

32.) The author of this anonymous work: G. Garnier.

[5] "So much weight of cotton is delivered to him" (the spinner), "and he has to return by a certain time, in lieu of it, a given weight of twist or yarn, of a certain degree of fineness, and he is paid so much per pound for all that he so returns. If his work is defective in quality, the penalty falls on him, if less in quantity than the minimum fixed for a given time, he is dismissed and an abler operative procured." (Ure, l. c., p. 317.) [6] "It is when work passes through several hands, each of which is to take its share of profits, while only the last does the work, that the pay which reaches the workwoman is miserably disproportioned." ("Child. Emp. Comm. II Report," p. 1xx., n. 424.) [7] Even Watts, the apologetic, remarks: "It would be a great improvement to the system of piece-work, if all the men employed on a job were partners in the contract, each according to his abilities, instead of one man being interested in over-working his fellows for his own benefit." (l. c., p. 53.) On the vileness of this system, cf. "Child. Emp.

Comm., Rep. III.," p. 66, n. 22, p. 11, n. 124, p. xi, n. 13, 53, 59, &tc.

[8] This spontaneous result is often artificially helped along, e.g., in the Engineering Trade of London, a customary trick is "the selecting of a man who possesses superior physical strength and quickness, as the principal of several workmen, and paying him an additional rate, by the quarter or otherwise, with the understanding that he is to exert himself to the utmost to induce the others, who are only paid the ordinary wages, to keep up to him... without any comment this will go far to explain many of the complaints of stinting the action, superior skill, and working-power, made by the employers against the men" (in Trades-Unions. Dunning, l. c., pp. 22, 23). As the author is himself a labourer and secretary of a Trades' Union, this might be taken for exaggeration. But the reader may compare the "highly respectable" "Cyclopedia of Agriculture" of J. C. Morton, Art., the article "Labourer," where this method is recommended to the farmers as an approved one.

[9] "All those who are paid by piece-work... profit by the transgression of the legal limits of work. This observation as to the willingness to work over-time is especially applicable to the women employed as weavers and reelers." ("Rept. of Insp. of Fact., 30th April, 1858," p. 9.) "This system" (piece-work), "so advantageous to the employer... tends directly to encourage the young potter greatly to over-work himself during the four or five years during which he is employed in the piece-work system, but at low wages....

This is... another great cause to which the bad constitutions of the potters are to be attributed." ("Child. Empl. Comm. 1. Rept.," p. xiii.) [10] "Where the work in any trade is paid for by the piece at so much per job... wages may very materially differ in amount.... But in work by the day there is generally an uniform rate... recognized by both employer and employed as the standard of wages for the general run of workmen in the trade." (Dunning, l. c., p. 17.) [11] "The work of the journeyman-artisans will be ruled by the day or by the piece. These master-artisans know about how much work a journeyman-artisan can do per day in each craft, and often pay them in proportion to the work wich they do; the journey men, therefore, work as much as they can, in their own interest, without any further inspection." (Cantillon, "Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en general," Amst. Ed., 1756, pp. 185 and 202. The first edition appeared in 1755.) Cantillon, from whom Quesnay, Sir James Steuart & A. Smith have largely drawn, already here represents piece-wage as simply a modified form of time-wage. The French edition of Cantillon professes in its title to be a translation from the English, but the English edition: "The Analysis of Trade, Commerce, &tc.," by Philip Cantillon, late of the city of London, Merchant, is not only of later date (1759), but proves by its contents that it is a later and revised edition: e.g., in the French edition, Hume is not yet mentioned, whilst in the English, on the other hand, Petty hardly figures any longer. The English edition is theoretically less important, but it contains numerous details referring specifically to English commerce, bullion trade, &tc., that are wanting in the French text. The words on the title-page of the English edition, according to which the work is "taken chiefly from the manuscript of a very ingenious gentleman, deceased, and adapted, &tc.," seem, therefore, a pure fiction, very customary at that time.

[12] "How often have we seen, in some workshops, many more workers recruited than the work actually called for? On many occasions, workers are recruited in anticipation of future work, which may never materialize. Because they are paid by piece-wages, it is said that no risk is incurred, since any loss of time will be charged against the unemployed." (H. Gregoir: "Les Typographes devant le Tribunal correctionnel de Bruxelles," Brusseles, 1865, p. 9.) [13] "Remarks on the Commercial Policy of Great Britain," London, 1815.

[14] "A Defense of the Landowners and Farmers of Great Britain," 1814, pp. 4, 5.

[15] Malthus, "Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent," Lond., 1815.

[16] "Those who are paid by piece-work... constitute probably four-fifths of the workers in the factories." "Report of Insp. of Fact.," 30th April, 1858.

[17] "The productive power of his spinning-machine is accurately measured, and the rate of pay for work done with it decreases with, though not as, the increase of its productive power." (Ure, l. c., p. 317.) This last apologetic phrase Ure himself again cancels. The lengthening of the mule causes some increase of labour, he admits. The labour does therefore not diminish in the same ratio as its productivity increases. Further: "By this increase the productive power of the machine will be augmented one-fifth. When this event happens the spinner will not be paid at the same rate for work done as he was before, but as that rate will not be diminished in the ratio of one-fifth, the improvement will augment his money earnings for any given number of hours' work," but "the foregoing statement requires a certain modification.... The spinner has to pay something additional for juvenile aid out of his additional sixpence, accompanied by displacing a portion of adults" (l. c., p. 321), which has in no way a tendency to raise wages.

[18] H. Fawcett: "The Economic Position of the British labourer." Cambridge and London, 1865, p. 178.

[19] In the "London Standard" of October 26, 1861, there is a report of proceedings of the firm of John Bright & Co., before the Rochdale magistrates "to prosecute for intimidation the agents of the Carpet Weavers Trades' Union. Bright's partners had introduced new machinery which would turn out 240 yards of carpet in the time and with the labour (!) previously required to produce 160 yards. The workmen had no claim whatever to share in the profits made by the investment of their employer's capital in mechanical improvements. Accordingly, Messrs. Bright proposed to lower the rate of pay from 1 1/2d. per yard to 1d., leaving the earnings of the men exactly the same as before for the same labour. But there was a nominal reduction, of which the operatives, it is asserted, had not fair warning beforehand."

[20] "Trades' Unions, in their desire to maintain wages, endeavor to share in the benefits of improved machinery." (Quelle horreur!) "... the demanding higher wages, because labour is abbreviated, is in other words the endeavor to establish a duty on mechanical improvements." ("On Combination of Trades," new ed., London, 1834, p. 42.) Transcribed by Bill McDorman Html Markup by Stephen Baird (1999) Next: Chapter Twenty-Two: National Differences of Wages Capital Volume One- Index Karl Marx Capital Volume One

Part VI:




In the 17th chapter we were occupied with the manifold combinations which may bring about a change in magnitude of the value of labour-power — this magnitude being considered either absolutely or relatively, i.e., as compared with surplus-value; whilst on the other hand, the quantum of the means of subsistence in which the price of labour is realized might again undergo fluctuations independent of, or different from, the changes of this price. [1] As has been already said, the simple translation of the value, or respectively of the price, of labour-power into the exoteric form of wages transforms all these laws into laws of the fluctuations of wages. That which appears in these fluctuations of wages within a single country as a series of varying combinations, may appear in different countries as contemporaneous difference of national wages. In the comparison of the wages in different nations, we must therefore take into account all the factors that determine changes in the amount of the value of labour-power; the price and the extent of the prime necessaries of life as naturally and historically developed, the cost of training the labourers, the part played by the labour of women and children, the productiveness of labour, its extensive and intensive magnitude. Even the most superficial comparison requires the reduction first of the average day-wage for the same trades, in different countries, to a uniform working-day. After this reduction to the same terms of the day-wages, time-wage must again be translated into piece-wage, as the latter only can be a measure both of the productivity and the intensity of labour.

In every country there is a certain average intensity of labour below which the labour for the production of a commodity requires more than the socially necessary time, and therefore does not reckon as labour of normal quality. Only a degree of intensity above the national average affects, in a given country, the measure of value by the mere duration of the working-time. This is not the case on the universal market, whose integral parts are the individual countries. The average intensity of labour changes from country to country; here it is greater, there less. These national averages form a scale, whose unit of measure is the average unit of universal labour. The more intense national labour, therefore, as compared with the less intense, produces in the same time more value, which expresses itself in more money.

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