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The State of British Manufactures

Karl Marx

London, March 4, 1859

I propose now giving a notice of the two Factory Reports alluded to in a former letter[a]. The first is written by Mr. A. Redgrave[b], whose factory district comprises Middlesex (in and about London), Surrey, Essex, parts of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Lancashire, and the East Riding (Yorkshire). There were caused during the half year terminated on Oct. 31, 1858, 331 accidents by machinery, of which 12 proved fatal. Mr. Redgrave's report turns almost exclusively on one point, viz.: the educational enactments for factories and print-works. Previous to the permanent employment of a child or young person in a factory or print-work, the mill occupier is required to obtain a certificate from the certifying surgeon, who, by virtue of 7 Vict., c. 15, sch. A[180], is bound to refuse that certificate if the person presented has

"not the ordinary strength and appearance of a child of at least eight years of age, or of a young person of at least thirteen years of age, or if it be incapacitated by disease and bodily infirmity from working daily in the factory for the time allowed by law."

Children between the ages of eight and thirteen years, are legally disqualified for full-time employment, and have part of their time to give to school attendance, the surgeon being authorized to tender them half-time certificates only. Now, it appears from Mr. Redgrave's report that, on the one hand, the parents, if they can obtain full-time wages for their children, are anxious to withdraw them from school and half wages, while the only thing the mill-owner looks for in the juvenile hands is strength to enable them to perform their respective work While the parent seeks full-time wages, the manufacturer seeks the full-time worker. The following advertisement, which appeared in the local newspaper of an important manufacturing town in Mr. Redgrave's district, and which smacks strangely of the slave-trade, will show how the mill-owners conform to the provisions of the law, literally:

WANTED—From 12 to 20 BOYS, not younger than what will pass for 13 years of age.... Wages 4s. per week.

In point of fact, the employer is legally not bound to procure a certificate of the children's age from an authentic source, but an opinion, relying upon appearance. The half-time system founded upon the principle that child labor should not be permitted unless, concurrently with such employment, the child attend some school daily, is objected to by the manufacturers, on two grounds. They object to their responsibility of enforcing the school attendance of the half-times (children under 13 years of age), and they find it cheaper and less troublesome to employ one set of children instead of two sets, working alternately 6 hours. The first result, therefore, of the introduction of the half-time system was the nominal diminution to nearly one half of the children under 13 years employed in factories. From 56,455, to which their number amounted in 1835, it had sunk to 29,283 in 1838. This diminution, however, was to a great extent nominal only, since the complaisance of the certifying surgeons worked a sudden revolution in the respective ages of the juvenile hands of the United Kingdom. At the same ratio, therefore, that the certifying surgeons were more strictly watched by factory inspectors and sub-inspectors, and that the facility of ascertaining the real age of the children from the Registrars of Births increased, a movement opposite to that of 1838 set in. From 29,283, to which the number of children under 13 years of age employed in factories had fallen in 1838, it rose again to 35,122 in 1850, and to 46,071 in 1856, the latter legal return being still far from exhibiting the real proportion of such employment. On the one hand, many of the certifying surgeons know still how to baffle the surveillance of the inspectors, and on the other, many thousand children were withdrawn from school and the half-time system at 11 years of age, by the alteration of the law with respect to silk mills[181],

"a sacrifice which," as one of the factory inspectors says, "may have been accommodating to the mill occupiers, but which has proved injurious to the social interests of the silk districts."

Although we may consequently infer that the number of children between 8 and 13 years now employed in the factories and print-works of the United Kingdom exceeds the number similarly employed in 1835, there can exist no doubt that the half-time system had a great share in stimulating inventions for the suppression of child labor. Thus, Mr. Redgrave states:

"In fact, one class of manufacturers—the spinners of woolen yarn—now rarely employ children under 13 years of age (i.e., half-times). They have introduced, improved and new machinery of various kinds, which altogether supersedes the necessity for the employment of children. For instance, I will mention one process, as an illustration of this diminution in the number of children, wherein, by the addition of an apparatus called a piecing machine to existing machines, the work of six or four half-times, according to the peculiarity of each machine, can be performed by one young person."[c]

How modern industry, in old-settled countries at least, tends to press children into money-making employment, has been again illustrated by recent instances in Prussia. The factory law of Prussia of 1853 enacted that after the 1st of July, 1855, no child should be employed in a factory until it had completed its twelfth year, and that children between 12 and 14 years of age should not be employed for more than 6 hours per day, and attend school at least 3 hours per day. This law met with such opposition from the manufacturers, that the Government had to give way, and enforce it, not throughout Prussia, but by way of experiment in Elberfeld and Barmen only, two continuous manufacturing towns, containing a large manufacturing population, engaged in spinning, calico-printing, &c. In the Annual Report of the Chamber of Commerce for Elberfeld and Barmen, for 1856, the following representations on this subject are made to the Prussian Government:

"The increase of the rate of labor, as also the increased price of coals and all materials necessary for those branches of manufacture, such as leather, oil, metal, &c., has proved highly disadvantageous to the trade. In addition to this, the strict enforcement of the law of May 1, 1853, concerning the employment of children in the manufactories, has worked very prejudicially. Not only has it caused the withdrawal of a number of children, but it has been rendered impossible to give them that early instruction calculated to render them skillful workmen. In consequence of the lack of these youthful hands, the machines in several establishments were brought to a stand-still, as the handling of them could not be performed by grown-up persons. A modification of this law is recommended, so as to shorten the forced attendance at school of children who have reached a certain standard of knowledge, as being a measure advantageous to numerous families and to the owners of manufactories."

The last of the factory reports, that of Mr. Baker, Inspector for Ireland[d], is distinguished by an analysis of the causes leading to accidents, and by a summary of the state of trade. In regard to the first point, Mr. Baker states that there happened one accident to every 340 persons, this being an increase of 21 per cent over the half year ending in April last, and that of the accidents that happened by machinery—only 10 per cent of the whole number of accidents being" not connected with machinery—about 40 per cent were avoidable and might have been prevented by a nominal outlay, but which,

"by the recent change in the law, it is now very difficult to effect when entreaties fail."

The state of trade Mr. Baker asserts to be better, but, according to his opinion,

"in many instances the maximum has again been reached, beyond which manufactures become gradually less and less profitable, till they cease to be so altogether."

The changes in the relation between the price of the raw materials and the manufactured articles he justly points out as one of the principal causes upon which, concurrently with the increase of machinery, the cycle of good and bad times revolves. Mr. Baker takes as an instance the changes in the worsted trade:

"During the lucrative years in the worsted trade of 1849 and 1850 the price of English combing wool stood at 1s. 1d., and of Australian at between 1s. 2d. and 1s. 5d. per lb., and on the average of the 10 years from 1841 to 1850, both inclusive, the average price of English wool never exceeded 1s. 2d., and of Australian wool 1s. 5d. per lb. In the commencement of the disastrous year of 1857, the price of Australian wool began with 1s. 11d., falling to 1s. 6d. in December, when the panic was at its hight, but has gradually risen again to 1s. 9d. through 1858; while that of English wool, commencing with 1s. 8d. and rising in April and September, 1857, to 1s. 9d., falling in January, 1858, to 1s. 2d., has since risen to 1s. 5d., which is 3d. per lb. higher than the average of the 10 years above referred to. This shows either that the bankruptcies which similar prices occasioned in 1857 are forgotten, or that there is barely the wool grown which the existing spindles are capable of consuming."

On the whole, Mr. Baker's opinion seems to be that spindles and looms multiply, both in number and speed, at a ratio not warranted by the production of wool. In England there exist no reliable statistics in this respect; but the agricultural statistics of Ireland, obtained by the constabulary, and those of Scotland, obtained by Mr. Hall Maxwell, suffice for all practical purposes. They show that while in 1857 some of the cereal, and generally the animal growths in both countries materially increased, sheep were an exception, the number in Ireland being less in 1858 than it was in 1855 by 114,557; and though there was an increase in 1858 over 1857 by 35,533, the gross number was less even than the average of the three preceding years by 95,177, principally in ewes. And so, also, in Scotland, there were:

 Sheep of all ages
for breeding.
Sheep of all ages
for feeding.
In 18562,714,3011,146,4271,955,832
In 18572,632,2831,181,7821,869,103

Showing not only a general decrease in sheep of 133,392, but that more sheep had been put up for feeding purposes than heretofore. Hence we know that, estimating the fleece to weigh 7 lbs., while in 1855 Ireland was capable of affording 16,810,934 lbs. of wool, without reckoning lambs, in 1858 that country was only able to afford 16,276,330 lbs.; and that the diminution of wool in Scotland, also without reckoning lambs, amounted in 1857 to 326,641 lbs.; the total deficient product in both countries being 861,245 lbs., or as nearly as possible, one-ninety-fifth part of all the home-grown wool estimated to be annually required for consumption in the worsted trade.

Written on March 4, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5592, March 24, 1859


[a] See this volume, pp. 190-96.—Ed.

[b] "Report of Alexander Redgrave, Inspector of Factories, for the Half Year ended the 30th of October 1858."—Ed.

[c] "Report of Alexander Redgrave"..., p. 43.—Ed.

[d] "Report of Robert Baker, Inspector of Factories, for the Half Year ended 31st October 1858."—Ed.

[180] The reference is to the Act to Regulate the Labour of Children and Young Persons in the Mills and Factories of the United Kingdom (1833) and the Act to Amend the Laws Relating to Labour in Factories (1844) on the employment of children, juveniles and women in the English textile industry.

Under the 1833 law the working day for children from nine to thirteen years of age was nine hours (48-hour week). Juveniles from fourteen to eighteen worked twelve hours a day (69-hour week). Children from nine to thirteen years of age had to attend school (two hours a day).

The 1844 law forbade the employment of children under eight years of age and introduced for children from eight to thirteen years a half-shift work (six and a half hours a day). It restricted for the first time the working day for women: it was the same as for juveniles under the 1833 law.

[181] The reference is to the changes in the 1833 law as a result of the 1844 law, which allowed children of over eleven years employed in the silk industry not to attend school.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.206-210), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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