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The State of British Manufacturing Industry

Karl Marx


[New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6016, August 6, 1860]

London, July 10, 1860

The reports of the Inspectors of Factories[a], which have just been issued, comprise three reports only; the district lately vacated by Mr. Leonard Horner having been annexed partly to Sir John Kincaid's district (Scotland), and partly to Mr. Redgrave's district, now comprising 3,075 factories and printworks; while Mr. Robert Baker's district (Ireland, and some parts of England) remains within its old boundaries. The following is a general abstract, showing the total number of accidents reported to the three Inspectors during the six months ended the 30th April, 1860:

Nature of InjuryAd'ts.Y'g per.Child.Total. 
Causing death143722223730
Amputat'n of right hand or arm56311-9716
Amputat'n of left hand or arm41731-12416
Amputat'n of part of right hand232429221576753120
Amputat'n of part of left hand1617211887454287
Amp. of any part of leg or foot5-1---6-6
Fract. of limbs and bones of trunk301143111148426110
Fracture of hand or foot3943303720158995184
Injuries to head and face20172329114544094
Lac'tns, contus'ns, and other injur's not enum. above268255315352128667116731,384

The reports are unanimous in bearing witness to the extraordinary activity of trade during the half year. Such was the demand for work that in some branches of industry the supply of labor was insufficient. This difficulty was less prevalent in the woolen manufactures, where improved machinery allowed the manufacturers to dispense with manual labor, than in cotton and worsted factories, where much machinery has been standing for want of hands, particularly of the younger. Some vicious methods have been adopted in past times to meet this transitory deficiency of labor. In the infancy of the factory system, when manufacturers were in want of labor, it was obtained directly by application to the overseers of some distant parish, who forwarded a certain number of apprentices, children of tender age, who were bound to the manufacturers for a term of years. The children being once apprenticed, the Poor-Law officers congratulated their respective parishes on their deliverance from idle mouths, while the manufacturer proceeded to make the best of his bargain by keeping them at the most economical rate, and by screwing from them all the labor of which they were capable. Hence the first of the series of Factory acts passed in 1802, 42 Geo. III, Cap. 73, has for its title, "An Act for the Preservation of the Health and Morals of Apprentices and Others Employed in Cotton and Other Mills, and Cotton and Other Factories," and was merely intended to mitigate the evils of the apprenticeship system. But as improvements were made in machinery, a different kind of labor was wanted, when trade became brisk and the population of the neighborhood failed to supply the mills with their full complement of hands. These manufacturers sent to Ireland, and brought over Irish families; but Ireland has ceased to be the market from which a supply of labor can be procured on English demand, and manufacturers have now to look to the Southern and Western counties of England and Wales for families which can be tempted by the present rate of wages in the Northern counties to commence a new career of industry. Agents have been sent throughout the country, to set forth the advantages offered to families by removing to the manufacturing districts, and they are empowered to make arrangements for the emigration to the North. Many families are said to have been forwarded by these agents. Still, the importation into a manufacturing town of a man with his wife and family has this peculiar disadvantage, that while the younger members of the family, who can soon be taught, and whose services become valuable in a comparatively short period, are most in request, there is no ready demand for the labor of the man and his wife, unskilled in factory labor. This has induced some manufacturers to return, in some measure, to the old apprenticeship system, and to enter into engagements for specific periods, with boards of guardians, for the labor of destitute pauper children. In these cases, the manufacturer lodges, clothes and feeds the children, but pays them no regular wages. With the return of this system, complaints of its abuse seem also to have revived. However, this kind of labor, it should be remembered, would only be sought after when none other could be procured, for it is a high-priced labor. The ordinary wages of a boy of 13 would be about 4 shillings per week; but to lodge, to clothe, to feed and to provide medical attendance and proper superintendence for 50 or 100 of these boys, and to set aside some remuneration for them, could not be accomplished for 4 shillings a head per week.[c]

A comparison of the rate of wages paid to factory operatives in 1839 and that paid in 1859 proves the highly interesting fact that the rate of wages has risen, at least nominally, in factories where the hours of work were restricted to 60 per week, while, with a few exceptions, a real reduction has been suffered in the printing, bleaching, and dyeing works in which the labor of children, young persons, and women is unrestricted, and where they are at times employed fourteen and fifteen hours per day. The following statements have reference to the cotton trade in Manchester and its neighborhood:

Hours of work per week6960
Steam-engine tender24sh.30sh.
Warehouse boys  7  8
Warehouse men1822
Carding department—Scutchers (young women and girls)  7  8
    Skippers (young men)1114
    Card minders (boys from 14 to 18)  6  7
    Drawing-frame tenders (young women)  6 6d  8
Spinning department—Spinners on self-acting mules16 to 1820 to 22
    Piecers (women and young men)  810
Doubling department—Doublers (women)  7  9
    Doffers (girls)  4  5
    Jobbers (young men)1013

In the reeling, gassing, and power-loom departments, there has also been a slight increase of wages. The anticipations of those who warned the factory operatives that they would seriously suffer by the diminution of their hours of work, have thus been completely disappointed. Compare, on the other hand, the movement of wages in those branches where the hours of daily labor are legally unrestricted:

 Weekly Wages.
Washer and laborer16 and 1516 and 15

By far the most interesting portion of the Reports of Mr. Alexander Redgrave and Sir John Kincaid relates to the development and extension of cooperative societies for the erection and working of mills in Lancashire, and also to some degree in Yorkshire. These cooperative societies, which have multiplied since the passing of the Limited Liability Act, are generally composed of operatives. Each society has a capital of £10,000 and upward, divided into shares of £5 and £10, with power to borrow in certain proportions to the capital subscribed, the money borrowed being made up of small loans by operatives and persons of the like class. In Bury, for instance, upward of £300,000 will be required to put the cooperative mills there built and building into working order. In cotton-spinning mills the spinners and persons employed are frequently shareholders in the same mill, working for wages and receiving interest upon their shares. In cotton-weaving sheds, the partners frequently hire and work looms. This is attractive to operatives, because no great capital is required to start them in their undertaking. They purchase the yarn ready for the loom, weave the cloth, and the factory operation is completed; or else they receive the yarn from some manufacturer who trades with them, and return to him the woven fabric. But this cooperative system is not confined to the spinning and weaving of cotton. It has extended to the trade on a variety of articles of consumption, such as flour, groceries, draperies, etc.

The following report, drawn up by Mr. Patrick, one of Sir John Kincaid's sub-inspectors, contains some valuable information in regard to the progress of this new system of mill-ownership, which, I am afraid, will be put to a severe test by the next industrial crisis.

"May 16, 1860

"There has been a cooperative company in existence at Rochdale, under the style of the 'New Bacup and Wardle Commercial Company,' for about twelve years. They are incorporated under the Joint Stock Companies Act, and unlimited. They commenced operations at Clough House Mill, Wardle, near Rochdale, with power to raise a capital of £100,000, in shares of £12 10s., £20,000 of which was paid up. They then increased to £30,000, and about five years ago built a large factory, Far Holme Mill, near Stackstead, of 100-horse power steam, in addition to Clough House Mill; and the half year ending October last they paid a dividend at the rate of 44 per cent on the paid-up capital (Mr. Patrick reports on the 11th June, that the New Bacup and Wardle Commercial Company, 'Far Holme Mill, Bacup,' have just declared another dividend of 48 per cent on the paid-up capital), and they have now increased their capital to the sum of £60,000, and have largely increased their Far Holme Mill, near Stackstead, in this neighborhood, requiring two more engines of 40-horse power each, which they are about to put down. The large majority of shareholders are operatives who work in the factory, but receive wages as workmen, and have no more to do with the management than to give their vote to the annual election of the Committee of Management. I have been through the Far Holme Mill this morning, and can report that, so far as the Factory Act is concerned, it is as well conducted as any in my division. I think, though I did not ask them the question, that they have borrowed money at 5 per cent interest.

"There has been another in existence in the neighborhood of Bacup about six years, trading under the firm of the 'Rossendale Industrial Association.'

"They built a factory; but, I am told, were not thriving, in consequence of the want of sufficient funds. This, also, was on the cooperative system. The firm has now been changed to 'The Rossendale Industrial Company,' and are incorporated under the Limited Liabilities Act, with power to raise a capital of £200,000. £40,000 has been taken in shares of £10 each, and they have borrowed about £4,000. This £4,000 has been borrowed from small capitalists, in sums from £150 down to £10, without any mortgages being given. When this cooperative company first started, every shareholder was an operative. In addition to the Wear Mill, that referred to as having been built by the Rossendale Industrial Association, they have now bought of Messrs. R. Mum Bros., Irwell Mills, in Bacup, and are working the two.

"The prosperity and success of the New Bacup and Wardle Commercial Company seem to have given rise to the new companies that are now formed in my immediate vicinity, and preparing large factories to carry on their business. One is the 'New-Church Cotton Spinning and Weaving Company,' under the Limited Liabilities Act, with power to raise £100,000 in £10 shares, £40,000 of which is already paid, and the Company has borrowed £5,000 on mortgage at five per cent. This Company has already started, having taken an unoccupied factory of 40-horse power, Vale Mill, New-Church, and they are building the 'Victoria Works,' which will require an engine of 100-horse power. They calculate upon employing 450 people when complete, which they think will be in February next.

"Another is 'The Ravenstall Cotton Manufacturing Company,' also limited, with a nominal capital of £50,000, in £5 shares, with power to borrow to the extent of £10,000. About £20,000 is already paid up, and they are erecting at Hareholme a factory requiring an engine of 70-horse power. I am told that in both of these companies nine-tenths of the shareholders are of the operative class.

"There is another cooperative company .which has sprung up within the last six months. 'The Old Clough Cotton Company,' which purchased from Messrs. R. & J. Mum, two old mills, called Irwell Springs, and are on the same principle as the others, but not having been able to go there to-day I am not able to give all particulars about it. The power, however, has been returned as 13-horse and the number of hands employed 76, and I believe all the shareholders to be of the operative class.

"There are several who take part of a factory, one or two rooms, as the case may be, and in some instances even part of a room, but then these are masters of that part, although they work with and as their own workmen, hire and pay wages as any other manufacturer, without the workpeople employed having interest in the business. There were many more of these at Bacup than there are now. Some have given it up, while others have succeeded and either built mills for themselves or rent large premises. There are more of this sort at Rochdale than any other place in my division."[f]


[New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6032, August 24, 1860]

London, July 14, 1860

After the résumé given in my last letter[g] of the Factory Reports of Sir John Kincaid and Mr. Redgrave, it still remains for me to take notice of the report of Mr. Robert Baker[h], Inspector of Factories for Ireland and part of Cheshire, Lancashire, Gloucester-shire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire. The total number of accidents in Mr. Baker's district amounted to 601, of which 9 per cent only occurred to children, while 33 per cent happened to persons above 18 years of age[i]. A closer analysis of these accidents will prove, firstly, that the ratio of accidents to population is greatest in those branches of industry where the machinery employed is not subject to legal control, and, secondly, that in the textile fabrics, where the same sort of machinery is employed, the bulk of accidents falls upon the largest mills. In regard to the employment of 198,565 operatives, belonging to the district of Mr. Baker, the latter gives, for the last half year, the following statement[j]:

from machinery.
In Cotton Mills, among107,1061 to every     261
In Woolen Mills14,9821 to every     348
In Flax Mills33,9181 to every     389
In Silk Mills33,8741 to every  2,251
In Worsted Mills2,8961 to every     424
In other Fabrics5,789nil

In all these textile fabrics, the machinery is protected—that is to say, provided with such contrivances for the security of the operatives that use it as are prescribed by the protective clauses of the Factory Act. If we now turn, for example, to Nottingham, where a large number of persons, and especially of children, are employed among machinery which is not protected by the law, we shall find that there were entered on the books of the General Hospital, in 1859, 1,500; and on those of the Dispensary, 794 accidents; making a total of 2,294 among a population estimated to not exceed 62,583. This gives the number of accidents within the borough of Nottingham as 1 to every 27, a proportion compared with which the accidents in the protected textile fabrics appear almost insignificant. Again, in Birmingham, which is full of employments of every kind, both with and without connection with power, where there are only two small textile factories, and where, generally, there is no compulsory protection to the machinery among which the young workers are engaged, the proportion of accidents to population was as 1 to 34. The great advantages derived from the protective clauses of the Factory Act, and from the more general enforcement of these clauses, is also shown by a comparison of all the accidents reported to all the Inspectors for the half years ending the 31st of October, 1845, and the 30th of April, 1846, with the half years ending with October and April, 1858 and 1859. In the latter period, the gross diminution of accidents was equal to 29 per cent, although there had taken place an increase of workers of 20 per cent, at the lowest estimate.

Now, as to the distribution of accidents between larger and smaller mills, I think the following facts, stated by Mr. Baker, to be decisive: During the last half year, out of the 758 cotton factories of his district, employing 107,000 persons, all the accidents which occurred happened in 167 factories, employing about 40,000 persons; so that in 591 factories, employing 67,000 persons, there were no accidents at all[k]. In like manner, out of 387 smaller mills all the accidents happened in 28 mills; out of 153 flax mills all the accidents happened in 45 mills, and out of 774 silk factories all the accidents happened in 14 mills, so that in a large proportion of each branch of trade there were no accidents whatever by machinery, and in every branch the bulk of the accidents happened in the largest mills. The latter phenomenon Mr. Baker tries to account for by the two causes, that in the largest mills the transition state from old, unprotected, to new machinery is, comparatively, most protracted and gradual; and, secondly, that in these larger concerns the rapidity with which the hands are collected together grows in the same ratio as the moral control exercised over such establishments diminishes.

"These two causes," says Mr. Baker, "operate most distinctly in the production of accidents. In the former, the remains of the old machinery which has never been protected, and wherein gathering parts of wheels still remain, are even more destructive from that very circumstance, since, in the safety of the new, the danger of the remaining old is forgotten, while, in the latter, the perpetual scramble for every minute of time, where work is going on by an unvarying power, which is indicated at, perhaps, a thousand horses, necessarily leads to danger. In such mills, moments are the elements of profit—the attention of everybody's every instant is demanded. It is here, where, to borrow one of Liebig's sentiments, there may be seen a perpetual struggle between life and inorganic forces; where the mental energies must direct, and the animal energies must move and be kept equivalent to the revolutions of the spindles. They must not lag, notwithstanding the strain upon them either by excessive excitement or heat; nor be suspended for an instant by any counter-attention to the various movements around, for in every lagging there is loss. Thus it is that fingers are laid upon wheels supposed to be secure, either from their position, or from the slowness of their motion when the attention is wrongly directed elsewhere. Thus, workmen, in hastening to produce a certain amount of pounds weight of yarn within a given time, forget to look under their machines for their little 'piecers'. Thus many accidents arrive from what is called self-carelessness."[l]

During the last half year, all the textile manufactures, that of silk excepted, were highly prosperous in Ireland as well as the English districts of Mr. Baker. The only check which seemed to keep the different branches of industry within bounds, was the increasing scarcity of raw material. In the cotton trade, the erection of new mills, the formation of new systems of extension, and the demand for hands had, at no former time, been exceeded. Nothing was more remarkable than the new movements in search of raw material. Thus, in imitation of the Cotton Supply Association of Lancashire, a Flax Supply Association had been founded at Belfast. While "for the five years ending with 1853, the average importation of flax, with the flax crop of Ireland added, had amounted to 113,409 tuns per annum, it was, for the last five years, ending with 1858, only 101,672 tuns, showing a diminution of 12,000 tuns per annum, with an increased annual value of exports of £1,000,000."[m] The price of wool, already above the average, during the period over which the last Factory Reports extend, has since then been continually rising. The rapid extension of the woolen manufactories, and the increased demand for mutton both in Great Britain and in the Colonies, may be considered as the permanent causes of this rise in the wool prices. As an accidental cause menacing to shorten the usual supply of wool, must be considered the peculiar character of the season; many sheep having died during the Winter from bad or improper food, and many lambs having perished during the Spring from cold, want of food, and by a disease that proved fatal in a few , hours.[n]

The only trade that was seriously checked during the last six months, consequent upon the conclusion of the Anglo-French Commercial Treaty[o], and the fears entertained concerning the effects of foreign competition, is the silk trade. The pressure thus exercised has been gradual, so that at the moment I write this letter more than 13,000 weavers are out of employment in Coventry alone, every loom being stopped. This crisis is the more to be regretted, since, as I remarked in a letter on the Factory Reports of 1859, there had been springing up at Coventry a number of cottage silk factories, in which the workmen employed their own families, with now and then a little hired labor. These factories had, since the commencement of 1860, been considerably increased in number. They are, in fact, a recurrence to the former domestic manufacturers, only with the addition of steam-power, but wholly different to the new cooperative system of Lancashire and Yorkshire. With them the householder is the master, the weaver the renter of power, sometimes the employer of other labor, as well as that of his own family. He has either bought his two looms out and out, or upon credit, and is paying for them so much a week; or he has hired them, probably from his landlord, who is a builder and speculator. He, besides, hires the power wanted. There is said to be as much difference now between the work thus done upon the weaver's loom and that done upon the master's, as there is almost between the French ribbon and the English one. Still it is apprehended, and Mr. Robert Baker, in his report, seems to share this apprehension, that this domestic labor, combined with the employment of mechanical power, will be unable to stand commercial shocks. It is probable that the English manufacturer, to cope with his French rival, will be compelled to recur to the employment of capital on a large scale, which must break up the cottage silk factories competing at his own door.

Written on July 10 and 14, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, Nos. 6016 and 6032, August 6 and 24, 1860


[a] In writing this article Marx made use of the Reports of the Inspectors of Factories to Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, for the Half Year ending 30th April 1860, London, 1860.—Ed.

[b] ibid., p. 4.—Ed.

[c] These facts and the following are taken from the "Report of A. Redgrave, Esq., Inspector of Factories, for the Half Year ending the 30th April 1860", Reports of the Inspectors of Factories..., pp. 26-27.—Ed.

[d] op. cit., p. 31.—Ed.

[e] op. cit., p. 32.—Ed.

[f] "Report of Sir John Kincaid, Inspector of Factories, for the Half Year ending - the 30th April 1860", Reports of the Inspectors of Factories..., pp. 11-12.—Ed.

[g] See this volume, pp. 410-16.—Ed.

[h] "Report of Robert Baker, Esq., Inspector of Factories, for the Half Year ending the 30th April 1860", Reports of the Inspectors of Factories..., pp. 49-85.—Ed.

[i] op. cit., pp. 52, 53.—Ed.

[j] loc. cit., p. 53.—Ed.

[k] op. cit., pp. 54-55.—Ed.

[l] op. cit., p. 56.—Ed.

[m] op. cit., p. 57. Robert Baker cites the figures given by the President of the Chamber of Commerce in his speech of December 1859.—Ed.

[n] op. cit., p. 58.—Ed.

[o] See this volume, pp. 341-44.—Ed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.410-420), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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