The factory found the masses of men living upon the land. It has herded most of them into cities, and has left a dwindling remnant to work in the country.
It found the forbears of our present vast armies of factory workers not much better than serfs. It has made peasants, domestics and artisans into wage earners.
It found the artisans still free men. It has destroyed their guilds, wrecked their crafts and driven their descendants into factories and stores and offices.
It found the intellectuals living upon the bounty of wealthy and powerful patrons. It has evolved from them a class of men living by their ability to capitalize their wits; their willingness to commercialize their talents, or to engage in work that conforms to the bounds set for them by modern business.
It found an hereditary aristocracy astride like a pack of vampires upon the whole of mankind. It has replaced these exploiters of mankind with an equally ruthless and more impersonal tribe of capitalists.
This is how the coming of the factory transformed the generality of mankind.
Now let us see what it has done for and to the masses it has transformed into factory workers.
There are four things which the factory and the factory system have done for the worker which the protagonists of industrialism seem to feel an adequate recompense for the things which they have done to him and which will be later discussed.
First, it has shortened his hours of gainful labor.
Instead of beginning work at sunrise and quitting at dark, and maintaining a jog-trot pace relieved by social interruptions of all sorts, he starts with the whistle and quits with the whistle, working at a pace set by the machine which he tends. Instead of working an average of at least seventy hours per week, with frequent festivals and holidays to relieve the monotony of his labors, he now works from forty-four to forty-eight hours per week, relieved by strikes, hard-times and lay-offs. He has more leisure each day, but, as we shall see, he has been deprived of the opportunity of developing the internal discipline necessary really to enjoy it.
But the factory did not produce the blessing of shorter hours very quickly. And very rarely were shorter hours voluntarily granted by the factory owners. High profits were the first fruits of the factory. Then came lower prices. Finally, shorter hours and higher wages. In 1815, the cotton mills were run on single shifts of fourteen, fifteen, and even sixteen hours per day. Robert Owen in his writings records the ghastly facts about the employment of eight and ten-year old children for these long hours with only a half-hour respite at noon. As late as 1860, hours of labor averaged sixty-six per week. Twenty-seven years later, by 1887, they were sixty hours per week. By 1907, they had dropped to fifty-seven. The drop has been steady ever since. At the present time, they aver age forty-eight, while in many highly unionized and highly organized industries, they are as low as forty-four and even forty hours.
This decline in the worker’s hours of daily labor must not be confused with the reduction in his annual time at labor. There are good grounds for believing that we actually spend more time at labor today than we did in the days before the factory put in an appearance. During the Middle Ages, and during the even less complicated and more primitive ages that preceded that period, the time devoted to leisure was much greater than today. During the Dark Ages more than one-third of the year was devoted to the celebration of various festivals and holidays.
Men worked in those benighted ages in order to live.
In this enlightened age, we seem to live merely in order that we may work.
The second thing which the factory has done for the worker has been to raise his real wages. For the work he does, he now is paid at a rate that would have seemed incredible to the pre-factory worker. He has money with which to buy things, but as we shall see when we study the matter, he, along with the general body of consumers, has been deprived of the education that would make it possible for him to spend that money intelligently.
We have no precise figures as to the average wages in this country earlier than the year 1840. By that time wages had already risen markedly. With further and further industrialization, they continued to rise. Fifty years later, in 1890, they were nearly double the wages prevailing in 1840. By 1920, they had doubled again, and were approximately four times as high as they were in 1840. They are still going higher. Of course these are gold wages, and not real wages, which would reduce the rise materially. And they apply to the United States only, which for the past decade has been in an exceptional position because it benefited materially from the World War while other highly industrialized nations were injured. But these wages are nevertheless indicative of what the factory does for the worker so far as wages are concerned.
The third thing which the factory has done for the worker has been to lower the prices which he pays for the things he buys. While this affects the worker as consumer rather than as producer, it is necessary to mention it here, because the lower prices which the factory has made possible were very early in the history of the factory an agency of great importance in improving the worker’s material well-being.
At first the manufacturers lowered prices only enough to under sell the custom-made and the work-shop product, retaining an enormous profit for themselves because the buying-public was accustomed to the prices established for the products of manual labor. But when the factory-made goods had taken possession of the market, competition between rival factories brought prices down to a level which gave the public a considerable share of the reduced costs of production.
Yarn of a quality which in 1815 was sold for 3 shillings per pound, brought in the infancy of manufacture as high as 30 shillings. The British mulled muslins which when first manufactured, were eagerly bought up by the rich at $2.50 a yard, are now offered to the poor of less durable quality, however—for six cents a yard.12
The fourth thing which the factory has done for the worker has been to improve his social and political status. He is no longer a serf. He is no longer a member of a disfranchised class. He is no longer hemmed in by a thousand legal restrictions and regulations profoundly affecting the conditions under which he works and lives. The factory must be credited with giving the vote first to men and then to women.
But it has changed the legal and social status of woman even more than it has that of man. In the factory-dominated world, men, women, and children work outside of the home.
Industry transferred the work of women and children from the home to the factory. The workingman’s wife and children perforce forsook their home in order to obtain employment. To the extent to which women and children were drawn from domestic industry to factories it is accordingly fair to say that (factory) machinery entered and broke the circle of the workingman’s home.13
In changing the economic foundation of the family from a domestic production to a factory production basis, the factory changed the entire social status of women and children.
The center of the woman worker’s economic, political, and social life is, as a result of these changes, no longer in a home. It is outside the home.
Home is merely the place where men, women, and children of the factory age “bed and board,” although it is becoming less and less even the place where they board. It is a dormitory—a mere place from which the workers go to work and the children too young to work, go to school, and from which all severally go to be entertained. It is not the place where they really live. It is no longer the place where they take root, and which nourishes the self-respect of every member of the family because it expresses their conceptions of life. The factory has made them into individuals who express themselves in what their jobs enable them to buy; individuals who devote themselves to spending rather than to the work of creating homes.
A shrinking, but still large number of women largely confined to our farms, have remained “homemakers” in spite of the factory. The minority of able women have become “careerists,” while the fortunate group who marry well have become “shoppers.” But the overwhelming masses of the women of the country have been made into “job-holders.” For in our industrialized economy men can no longer support their families from their own earnings. According to Professor Irving Fisher, it requires two wage earners for a family of five to attain the family standard set by the Department of Labor.
In 1920, the continental population of the United States was 105,000,000. In that year, it is estimated that there were 24,351,000 familles in the country. The number of persons gainfully employed was 41,641,000. This gives 1.7 income producers per family of 4.3 persons. For up-state New York, which is highly industrialized, the indicated wage earners were 1.8 per family. For New York City, entirely urbanized and industrialized, the wage earners were 1.9 per family.
Women furnished almost entirely the increased number of wage earners per family. In 1880, the gainfully employed males over the age of 10 were 78.7 percent of the total number. By 1920, there had been an actual drop of 78.2 percent. In the same period the females gainfully employed rose from 14.7 percent of the en-tire female population over the age of ten, to 21.1 percent. In forty years, the number of women in industry, relative to the population, had increased by 50 percent. There is no reason for expecting that this invasion of industry by an equally emancipated, equally enfranchised, equally educated, but of course also equally uneducated, womankind will cease.
It must not be forgotten that the inevitable corollary of making the woman economically independent was to make men as well as women economically independent of each other. Slowly but surely, the law is taking cognizance of this change. Property law, marriage and divorce law, law as it relates to children, to sex-life, to Tabor, is adjusting itself to the new economic status of men and women.
To the extent to which this transformation of the political, social, and economic status of the male and female worker is an improvement, to that extent the factory should be credited with an improvement in the condition of the worker.
The change in status, however, has been accompanied by a change in the relationship of men and women and children to each other. In this factory-dominated world, with its indifference to whether the workers who keep its machinery in operation are single or married, men or women, adults or children, the home has disappeared as the economic unit of society; the individual has taken its place. The enforced cooperation of all the members of the family in producing the necessaries of life, has been replaced by competition between them for jobs. Individual competes with individual, regardless of sex or age, in the impersonal arena of the labor market. Men and women, whom nature intended to be partners, have become economic rivals. They seek each other out only in response to nature’s imperious biological mandate.
The economic individualism introduced by the factory has re-uced marriage to the status of a sexual adventure. Children endanger the adventure. To support themselves as they desire both husband and wife tend to work. Children interfere with this routine of working outside of the home, lower the scale of living and so endanger the continuance of marriage. The rise in divorce and desertion is a neural consequence. Present day criticism of marriage as an institution is an indication of the fact that mankind is beginning to fully accept woman’s and man’s economic independence. This independence is something which the factory bas produced for the worker. Under it the home has lost; perhaps the individual worker has gained.
So much for what the factory has done for the worker.
Now what has the factory done to the worker, and what is it continuing to do to him?
1. It relentlessly mechanizes the workman and reduces all workers, except the few “blessed with administrative genius,” to mere cogs in a gigantic industrial machine.
2. It decreases the number of workers engaged in productive and creative labor by reducing the number of workers required to produce things and by condemning the remaining workers to elab-orate methods of flunkeying for one another.
3. It arrays worker against employer, separating capital and labor into two independent and mutually antagonistic interests, and inflicts upon society an unending succession of foolish and often bloody strikes.
4. It makes it almost impossible for individual workmen to be self-sufficient enough to develop their own personalities.
5. It destroys the skilled craftsman to whom work is a means of self-expression as well as a means of livelihood, by offering work only for machine feeders and machine tenders, thus making it more and more difficult for skilled workmen to find employment.
6. It creates workers without initiative and self-reliance, and fins the state with citizens who lack a sustained interest in public affairs and good government.
7. It transfers the satisfying of the economic needs of the worker from the home to the factory, robbing the worker, his wife and his children, of their contact with the soil; depriving them of intimacy with growing things—with growing animals, birds, vegetables, trees, flowers; and destroying their capacity for fabricating things for themselves and of entertaining and educating themselves.
8. It condemns not only the natural robot, but those capable of creative effort in the crafts, the arts and the professions, to repetitive work, because it leaves open no field in which they may exercise their talents and earn a livelihood.
It is impossible, within the limitations of a single chapter to do much more than direct attention to the evidence for these conclusions. But an analysis of the most significant aspects of the influence exerted by the factory upon the workers of the world, is sufficient to justify all the conclusions. A glimpse of the worker, while he was still, presumably, a human being and before he became, in the expressive language of Adam Smith, “a manufacturing animal,” furnishes a good point of departure.
The conditions under which the goods were produced which the world consumed prior to the introduction of the factory seem to have been much alike everywhere. The situation in New England was much like the situation in old England, and it is amazing how similar to the pre-industrial conditions in those sections are present-day conditions in those regions of Russia and India where industrialism is still in its infancy.
Farming was then generally accepted and treated as a part-time occupation. The seasons not having been abolished by industrialism, it is still in essence a part-time occupation. We have simply ceased to recognize the fact because specialization has begotten the monstrous superstition that no man can profitably devote himself to more than one occupation. Today we are so accustomed to the sharp separation of the occupations represented by farming and manufacturing that it is difficult to realize how abnormal this separation really is. There are seasons when the farmer has little to do. Those are the seasons when he is free to devote his time to manufacturing.
Henry Ford says:
The real problem of farming is to find something in addition to farming for the farmer to earn a living at.
This is the situation today. But it was not the situation before the coming of the factory. Practically the entire working population devoted itself to part-time farming and part-time manufacturing.
In colonial New England, the villages in which the first steps toward industrialism developed, consisted of the homes of artisans and tradesmen who were also farmers. Each villager had a plot of land.
These and the tradesmen and manufacturers who live in the country generally reside on small lots and farms, from one acre to 20.14
The weaving, blacksmithing, tanning, cobbling, milling, pottery-making, grist-milling in which these New Englanders were engaged were essentially part-time occupations. Tench Cox discusses this aspect of their life in some detail:
Union of manufactures and farming is found to be convenient on the grain farina; but it is still more convenient on the grazing and grass farms, where part of almost every day and a great part of the year can be spared from the business of the farm and employed in some mechanical handicraft or business. Those persons often make domestic and farming carriages, implements and utensils, build houses and barns, tan leather and manufacture hats, shoes, hosiery, cabinet work, and other articles of clothing and furniture, to the great convenience of the neighborhood. In like manner some of the farmers, at leisure times and proper seasons, manufacture nails, potash, pearl ash, staves and heading, hoops and hand pikes, ax-handles, maple sugar, etc.15
Some quotations from the diary of Thomas B. Hazard, known as “Nailer Tom,” who was a famous mechanic in those days, give a good idea of what this combination of many kinds of work meant to the skilled artisan before the coming of the factory:
Making bridle bits, worked a garden, dug a woodchuck out of a hole, made stone wall for cousin, planted corn, cleaned cellar, made hoe handle of bass wood, sold a kettle, brought Sister Tanner in a fish boat, made hay, went for coal, made nails at night, went huckleberrying, raked oats, plowed turnip lot, went to monthly meeting and carried Sister Tanner behind me, bought a goose, went to see town, put on new shoes, made a shingle nail tool, helped George mend a spindle for the mill, went to harbor mouth gunning, killed a Rover, hooped tubs, caught a weasel, made nails, made a shovel, went swimming, staid at home, made rudder irons, went eeling.16
The notable fact in connection with all these varied activities is the admixture of work and play. If the worker “played” during the day, he labored at nail making or something else, at night. The day was not divided by the dock into mutually exclusive periods of work and non-work. Most of the play had an admixture of productive labor in it—it produced game or fish, for instance, while much of the work had elements of play in it.
Compare this record with the one which a modern factory mechanic would produce if he had kept a diary of his activities:
Worked in the factory, home and listened to the radio. Worked in the factory, went to the movies in the evening. Worked in the factory, listened to the radio; worked in the factory, went to the movies; and so on, ad infinitum.
This would be his record, perhaps varied with an occasional marriage and funeral, or a dance or an outing under the auspices of his church, his union or his political ward leader.
The modern worker is a creature of routines. The general life of a highly industrialized country, which may seem full of interest and color to the traveller from another country, who is not a party to its routines, has no existence for the worker. As he goes through the daily routine which his factory imposes upon him he has neither time nor inclination to see it as a whole. He is a slave to a routine which changes hardly at all from day to day and from year to year. He knows nothing of what might be called the normal routine of life which changes from season to season with the grand cycle of the year, and which used to be broken up into an infinite variety of occupations by the need of solving the myriad of individual problems which develop as summer changes into winter and winter into summer.
The work of the colonial villager was physically harder than is that of the modern factory worker. His life was full of discomforts and privations unknown today. But his life was plainly not without many compensations for the hardships involved in producing for himself what he needed and desired without any of the tools and machines which science has since made it possible for the home producer to use.
Industrialism came and began by putting, as some of the early protagonists of the factory proudly proclaimed, the idle elements of the population to work. The first factory workers were not artisans, who happened to be unemployed—modern unemployment did not yet exist. Neither were they farmers or farm workers who preferred factory work to a landless existence. The first factory workers were the women and children of the villages and the countryside. These were the “idle elements” of the population which were to be put to useful work.
As soon, however, as the competition of factory products began to disorganize the existing economy based upon agricultural and handicraft production, and to create unemployment, the factories found it easy to recruit workers. The growth of the factories was so rapid, however, that shortages of workers developed in spite of these sources of labor. Armies of the unemployed had to be deliberately created in order to make more rapid development of the factory possible.
Artisans, peasants, and domestics were therefore deliberately driven by political, social and economic pressure into the factories. The craftsmen and their families were already being forced into the factories by the destructive competition of the cheaply produced factory goods. In addition, the peasantry, wherever feudal or semi-feudal conditions prevailed, were driven into the factories by shutting off their access to the common lands on which from time immemorial they had grazed their animais, and by rack-renting those foolish enough to stick to the land. Only domestic servants did not have to be forced into the factories. Changing social standards made force unnecessary in their case. The domestic was robbed of self-respect by the decline in the economic utility of the home. So long as the home was creative and productive, everyone in it could feel that they were contributing usefully to the life of society. But with the coming of the factory, the manor-houses and the houses of the rich and powerful ceased to be the economic centers of their districts. They became mere show places. They were used by the wealthy merely for competition in “conspicuous waste.” The domestics in them were reduced to the status of pure parasites. To this day, domestics find the factory a welcome relief from the social ignominy and the social tyranny of domestic service.
In America, the factories relied upon the apparently unending stream of immigrants for their supplies of workers, and when the stream did not come fast enough, agents were sent to Europe to increase the labor supply of the textile villages of New England, the steel regions about Pittsburgh, and the packing-house centers like Chicago.
Degradation of both labor and laborers was one of the first results of the transfer of work and workers from the home-shop and the workshop to the factory. The factory with its labor-saving machinery can be considered a social gain only if its effect upon the worker is ignored.
With the coming of the factory, the worker found that the skill which he had already acquired was no longer a marketable product. Factory machines could be operated by unskilled workers—untrained women and often children were sufficiently strong and intelligent. Since the factory took over the work of the craft which had formerly given him employment and it was difficult for a skilled mechanic to change his calling to one equally as skillful and remunerative, the market value of his labor was reduced to that of unskilled workers who operated the factory machines.
This consequence of the coming of the factory is well described by Professor Dexter S. Kimball:
The new methods of production have enabled many unskilled people to take an important part in many industrial fields formerly occupied solely by skilled workers. Today in nearly every large manufacturing industry the unskilled or semi-skilled labor greatly outnumbers the skilled, and a product of great accuracy and high finish is turned out by such organizations. This principle of extension of the field of labor is a broad one. As more and more skill and thought have been transferred to hand and machine tools it has become increasingly easy for men and women to take part in what was formerly entirely skilled industry. The actual production of shoes, watches, typewriters, etc., is conducted almost entirely by semi-skilled labor.17
Professor Kimball labors mightily to justify this process in discussing what he calls the factory’s extension of the field of labor and its elevation of labor. Let me quote him further on this point:
Manifestly these new methods have multiplied man’s productive power many fold, enabling him to produce more per unit of time, with a corresponding reduction in the cost of production. This feature, and the principles of the elevation of labor and the extension of the field of labor more than compensate in the long run for the effects of degradation of labor, though as before noted the many benefit at the expense of the few. Human progress apparently cannot take place without someone suffering. Theoretically all should be greatly benefited by these improved methods, and the reason why such has not always been the case is not because of the processes themselves, but because their net result is to increase production solely. They do not carry with them inherently any influences tending to rearrange the distribution of the increased profits derived from them, nor to offset the effects of the fierce competition rendered possible because of this increase in productive capacity. Invention and its result always act quickly; social and political changes move more slowly. The natural law of supply and demand operated quickly under the older and simpler methods. The complexity of modern methods tends to make these laws act much more sluggishly. It is only after a struggle lasting over a hundred years that there is hope, even of instituting reforms that will in a measure restore the equilibrium of distributive methods so badly distorted by the results of the great inventions. * * *18
While the introduction of these new methods may degrade certain classes of labor, they may, on the other hand, elevate others. The skilled mechanic who has been engaged in drilling plates is not necessarily degraded by the introduction of the drilling jig, because his skill can be utilized to make such tools; and this class of labor, namely, the skilled workers in the metal trades, has, on the whole, usually benefited radier than otherwise, by the new methods, though at times trying periods of readjustment have ensued upon the introduction of labor-saving machinery into their own industry.
Again the unskilled worker who is taken from low-paid menial employment and taught to operate a semi-automatic machine can usually earn more money than formerly and be elevated to a higher plane. The history of manufacturing in New England shows very clearly the absorption into the manufacturing industries of the successive waves of immigration of unskilled labor that have from time to time moved into these states.19
Unfortunately it is necessary to call attention to the great probability that the coming of the factory has actually reduced the relative proportion of skilled to semi-skilled workers. Professor Kimball himself has already admitted that the factory has enabled unskilled workers to take an important place in many industries formerly occupied solely by skilled workers. But in addition, he is almost certainly wrong on almost every point he makes about the elevation of labor. He is under the impression that “low-paid menials” (What does he mean by “menials”? Does he include skilled domestic servants—cooks, seamstresses, butlers in the class of “menials”?) are elevated to a higher plane when they are taught to operate a semi-automatic machine? In what respect are they higher? He mentions only their pay for their work. But is he right about the fact that the ex-menials who have gone into the factories are higher paid? Taking wages, board, lodging, washing, medical tare, etc., into consideration, the average domestic servant is much higher paid than the unskilled or semi-skilled factory worker.
He is entirely wrong when he says the “waves of immigrants” to this country consisted of unskilled labor. If he thinks an Italian peasant is an unskilled laborer, then he has never discovered how much skill it takes to raise a garden. The vast majority of these immigrants were skilled workers—highly skilled workers: they were farm workers, stonemasons, basket weavers, tailors, domestics, for whose skill, however, the factory had no use.
But Professor Kimball is most wrong in failing to distinguish between the degradation of labor, and the degradation of the laborer. The distinction between the two is of the utmost importance. If it is kept in mind, it becomes plain that as far as the great masses of workers are concerned, the question is whether it is possible for the factory to degrade the labor which it requires them to do without ultimately degrading the laborer himself.
If we omit the casualties which involve degradation, but which are due to those periods of readjustment caused by inventions to which Professor Kimball referred, we can make what has taken place clear by simplifying the issue. At all times, we have a certain proportion of potentially skilled laborers. Whether or not they find skilled labor at which they can work and earn a living is determined by conditions over which, in an industrialized world, they have no control. Limited numbers of them will find skilled work to do, and if they find employment at such labor as tool-making, they may enjoy an elevation of labor. But Professor Kimball has shown that in many industries the proportion of skilled workers has gone down; that in many of the new industries only unskilled and semi-skilled workers are employed, and there is no evidence furnished that the tool-making necessary for these industries offers sufficient employment for the skilled workers who are excluded from the industries which might formerly have employed them. On the contrary, there is a considerable body of evidence that large numbers of potentially skilled laborers never do find employment that really utilizes their capacities. They are forced to work as semi-skilled or unskilled laborers—perhaps never have the opportunity to learn a skilled craft because of that. For them, as compared to their forebears, there has been a real degradation not only of labor, but also of the laborer. The potential journeyman machinist finds himself compelled to be a mere machine-operative and to live upon the relatively lower scale of existence which that involves.
The higher productivity which industrialization makes possible —the higher wages and the lower prices which follow—cannot really compensate the laborer for the loss of satisfaction involved when the work he has to do is constantly degraded. They are a form of compensation which in effect means that in return for accepting the mechanization of his working life, he should devote himself to extracting happiness only from the time he devotes to consumption.
If each new invention, if each new automatic machine, if each new factory means a degradation of a particular type of labor, then cumulative inventions, cumulative labor-saving machinery, cumulative industrialization must involve a cumulative degradation of labor. With the perfection of factory production, the degradation would reach its apex. The work he did would express nothing of the worker’s own capacities. The worker would become an automaton. He would have to compensate himself for his dehumanized labor by the increased joy which he would get out of the consumption of the things which greater production and lower prices would enable him to buy. Having been cheated out of all chance to get happiness out of his work, he would have to be satisfied with the happiness he could extract from an ever-increasing consumption of factory-made products.
The modern factory has use for three types of workers, says Mr. John C. Duncan in his Principles of Industrial Management.
First, unskilled workers, mere manual laborers, of which it uses many especially in the continuons industries. According to Mr. Duncan, improvements in the technique of these industries tend to reduce the numbers of these workers, but they can hardly become, as he hopes, extinct, as long as there are inefficient—marginal—factories in existence.
Secondly, semi-skilled workers, an intermediate grade of labor between the unskilled manual laborer and the highly skilled mechanic. The semi-skilled worker, according to Mr. Duncan, is the ideal type for the efficient factory. He is already the most numerous of the three types and should become universal in the future. According to Mr. Duncan the semi-skilled worker’s qualifications are as follows:
In addition to regularity and good health [he] must have: (1) Ability to learn to handle machinery of a more or less semi-automatic type without injury to himself. (2) A willingness to attend closely to such machinery, seeing that it is constantly running properly, and is always supplied with material to keep it producing. (3) Ability to keep the machinery in his charge in good running order.
These qualifications are modest in the extreme. By comparison, “Nailer” Tom Hazard was a veritable genius.
Thirdly, the factory has use for skilled workers, the most highly intelligent and best educated non-professional class in the country, often earning wages which compare favorably with the incomes of teachers, lawyers, doctors, and other professional men.
In the interest of efficiency, and of course in response to the economic pressure exerted by efficient competitors, each factory is driven to increase the proportion of serai-skilled workers and to reduce the proportions both of skilled and unskilled workers which it employs. Mr. Duncan says:
The great problem of a manager in any place is to introduce machinery and so arrange the work that the unskilled worker will be unnecessary, and the call for the highly skilled man will be small. . . . An organization which must have a large number of the third class of workman, the highly skilled man, is likewise undesirable, not be cause his services are not valuable, but because so much depends upon him. His grade is so high that it is difficult to obtain him. . . . It is highly desirable to get machinery to do as much of his work as possible.
The second class of worker is most desirable. The advantages of this class are: (1) A short apprenticeship makes the mari valuable to the employer. (2) The employee with his limited capacity feels his dependence on the employer, and is likely to be a faithful and attentive workman because he receives a larger income than ordinary laborers, and could in most cases obtain employment only as a less valuable man in another place. (3) The employee becomes proficient in doing one thing, and is thus able to turn out a large product.2°
Machiavelli could not have stated the reasons for the factory’s warfare upon the skilled worker more cogently.
But if modern industrialization is therefore credited with elevating the status of the unskilled workers, it must be debited with degrading the status of the skilled laborer and the craftsman.
In the great Ford factories few of the operations require much training in order to make the workers proficient, and there are very few jobs for highly skilled workers, as Henry Ford himself makes abundantly clear:
The length of time required to become proficient in the various occupations is about as follows: 43 percent of all the jobs require not over one day of training; 36 percent require from one day to one week; 6 percent require from one to two weeks; 14 percent require from one month to one year; one percent require from one to six years. The last jobs require a great skill—as in tool making and the sinking.21
By reducing practically all the workers to the status of machine feeders and machine tenders, taking from them all initiative and responsibility, and dividing and sub-dividing the work, all kinds of human material can be used equally well. Cripples and morons can do much of the work just as well as whole-bodied and whole-minded men. In the Ford factories no one is refused work on account of physical condition. The crippled are paid the same minimum wages as able-bodied men who may be doing the same work. Out of 7,882 kinds of jobs in the factory, at the time of which Mr. Ford writes, 4,034 did not require full physical capacity. In fact, 3,595 could be performed by the slightest, weakest sort of men and most of them could be satisfactorily performed by women and children. Of the lightest jobs 670 could be filled by legless men; 2,637 by one-legged men, 2 by armless men, 715 by one-armed men, and 10 by men entirely blind. At the time of the analysis the factory used 9,563 sub-standard men-123 had crippled or amputated arms, forearms, or hands; one had both hands off; 4 were totally blind; 207 blind in one eye; 37 deaf and dumb; 60 epileptics; 4 with both legs missing; 234 with one foot or leg missing. The others had minor deficiencies.
This is magnificent! Especially if we shut our eyes to the fact that many of these cripples are produced by the factory system which thus prides itself on finding useful work for them. But to appraise judiciously the combination of good-will and ingenuity displayed in this achievement we must consider the conclusion which Mr. Ford draws from his efforts along this line:
Developed industry can provide wage work for a higher average of standard men than are ordinarily included in any normal community.22
This is at first sight rather ambiguous because it does not state clearly what Mr. Ford meant by the expression “average of standard men.” The context, however, makes it clear that Mr. Ford really meant almost the exact opposite of what the statement seems to say. What he meant to say, and what his statistics proved, was that the division and sub-division of labor as he practiced it, made it possible to employ more sub-standard men than the community provided. What he proved and should have said was: Developed industry can provide wage work for more men of certain types—physically or crippled types of various kinds—than are ordinarily included in modern communities. He should have added: it therefore provides less wage work for men of other types those capable of highly skilled work—than are ordinarily produced in the average community.
The factory in which scientific management has divided and sub-divided labor and introduced the most efficient and powerful machinery not only reduces the opportunities for work for skilled workers, but makes it possible to use more sub-standard men than mankind provides! With the community furnishing, as yet, an insufficiency of cripples and morons for the needs of the efficient factory, normal men and women must be impressed into jobs far below their true capacities. They must, however, be compensated for the sacrifice of their personalities upon the altar of the moloch of factory production. For implicit obedience to the rules and formulæ established by the management and the surrender of all individual judgment and initiative, they get what all factory workers get, if everything works perfectly: higher wages and shorter hours than they would have received under a non-factory regime.
The ingenuity of the devices in the modern factory, which make it possible to use low-grade workers for dangerous tasks and to make their movements automatically synchronize with the needs of the machines they operate, is amazing.
In the automobile factories, large numbers of men have to stand all day before presses which punch sheet steel. The operation of inserting and withdrawing the material requires no skill at all, but it does require that the worker withdraw his fingers and hands before the press, which rises and falls automatically, cuts them off. In spite of screen guards of various kinds, a steady stream of accidents nevertheless used to come from these punch presses. The workers, in moments of carelessness, perhaps due to the fatigue of monotony, or the indifference which repetitive familiarity breeds, left their fingers and hands in the presses. The problem before the management, if accident costs were to be kept down, was automatically to insure that the worker withdrew his hands before his press descended. The problem was finally solved by the simple expedient of handcuffing the worker’s hands to a lever which pulled his hands away from the machine at the moment that the press descended.
Go to the press rooms today and you will see the lines of workers standing before their presses, their hands jerking away each time the presses move. As the individual workers do not control the movement of the presses, which are started and stopped by the foreman, once they are handcuffed to the machines their hands are jerked automatically backward until they are released. Even though they may be out of material, they have to stand before the press, their hands jerking back and forth. There they work, chained to their machines, as the galley slaves were chained to their oars. They cannot leave even to attend to the needs of nature until they attract the foreman’s eye and he unlocks their handcuffs and releases them.
The process of making the low grade worker measure up to the necessities of the factory machine can hardly go much farther.
Is it necessary to point out in further detail how the necessities of the factory relentlessly mechanize the worker, decrease the number of workers engaged in creative labor, and produce workers without initiative and self-reliance? In factory work no means are afforded the worker for self-expression. There is no possibility of joy in work without it. Indeed, no joy is permitted or sought. As the greatest factory genius America has produced says:
When we are at work we ought to be at work. When we are at play we ought to be at play. There is no use trying to mix the two. The sole object ought to be to get the work done and to get paid for it. When the work is done, then the play can come, but not before.23
This compensation is logical enough in a system of production in which repetitive labor, “the doing of one thing over and over again and always in the same way,” is an essential factor.
The protagonists of the factory justify this repetitive labor on the theory that the great majority of workers prefer it and that most of them are incapable of any other. Henry Ford makes the flat assertion that he has not been able to discover that repetitive labor injures a man in any way. And he gives a number of specific illustrations to prove his assertion. He goes further. “Scarcely more than five percent of those who work for wages, while they have the desire to receive more money, have also the willingness to accept the additional responsibility and the additional work which goes with the higher places,” he says on page 99 of his book. On page 103 he says: “The average worker, I am sorry to say, wants a job in which he does not have to put forth much physical exertion—above all, he wants a job in which he does not have to think.”
There are, however, good grounds for suspecting a major in consistency in the arguments of the proponents of industrialization on this point. If it is true that most men prefer the repetitive work which the modern factory offers them, how explain the dislike of their jobs which is indicated by the high turnover of labor in most factories, and the almost universal prevalence of “soldiering” in our factories? Frederick Winslow Taylor, in the Principles of Scientific Management, calls attention to the contrast between the energy an American workman will put into a game of baseball and the energy he puts the very next day into his job. Taylor asserted that deliberate “soldiering” in many instances cuts down by more than one-third to one-half what should be a proper day’s work and maintains that this constitutes the greatest evil with which the working-people of both England and America are now afflicted. In the packing-houses and the automobile factories and in all factories in which the speed of the worker’s operations are determined for him by a continuously moving platform, “soldiering” may be eliminated. But the dislike of the work remains even though this particular consequence of the dislike be eradicated. As a matter of fact, it is not repetitive labor that is the damning fact; for there is repetition in labor of all kinds. It is the fact that the repetitive labor is without significance: that it is an isolated operation, and not a process with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Mr. Marlen E. Pew relates a story which illustrates how dreary human life may become through the humdrum of factory life. Years ago, Robert Hunter met a stew-bum on the Bowery and questioned him. He told this story:
“I was born in a New England shoe manufacturing town and as a child went to work in a factory. My parents were poor and needed the two or three dollars I could earn by sweeping floors. There was a road through the town that led to the country and I used to yearn to follow that road to some country-ride where boys could lie and dream under the trees or play in the brook, but I kept on sweeping from early morning till late at night. As a youth I was put onto a machine. It was necessary for me to make a certain number of motions to operate the machine. Once I counted those motions. There were only nine. This was my life, making those motions. All day, six days a week, fifty-two weeks per year, I repeated those nine motions. As a man I got a larger machine and it required of the operative fourteen motions. Day in and out for ten years I fed my life into that machine. In the meantime I had married a girl who operated a machine in the same shop. We had some glimpses at happiness, but after all, existence for us both came down to those fourteen motions. Because I felt nothing was ahead for me I became ugly and on occasion would seek relief in booze. All the time the road was calling to me—‘come out and play, lie under the trees and dream and bathe in the babbling brook.’ One day I saw red and started to walk on that road. I have tramped over the country. I have been hungry and cold and thread bare a thousand times. I have been in jails, slept in flop-houses and box-cars, panhandled on the streets, drunk when I could get the price of booze and now I am a Bowery bum.”
Mr. Hunter said: “Well, was it a mistake?”
“Mistake?” snapped the hobo. “I will say it was no mistake. I’d rather freeze and starve than go back to those fourteen motions; no sir, I’m still on the road and on the way out.” 24
Henry Ford has recognized the fact that factory workers can not be kept to their work unless they are given some relief from it in the shape of shorter hours and fewer days of work per week. The fact that the factory has made work more and more monotonous and more and more mechanical has been an influence in shortening the hours of labor. This is clearly recognized in the report of Industrial Conference called by the President.
The problem of hours has undergone a fundamental change through the introduction of large scale factory production and the growing concentration of our population in cities. Men and women can work relatively long hours at work which is interesting, which calls upon their various energies, which gives some opportunity for creative self-expression. Work which is repetitious, monotonous, and conducted under the confining indoor conditions of even the best industrial plant, especially where the plant is located at a distance from the homes of the workers, makes much more exacting physical and nervous demands. If the inevitable conditions of modern industry do not offer variety and continuing interest, the worker should have hours short enough for more recreation and for greater contact with his fellow workmen outside of working hours.25
Henry Ford thinks that men should work fewer hours per day and fewer days per week in order to have leisure in which to consume what the factories produce for them. If a man works only five days per week, instead of six, he will have two days per week in which to use his automobile instead of only one day. He will wear out his automobile twice as fast, thus enlarging the capacity of the market to absorb the products of the automobile factories; he will use up twice as much gasoline; wear out twice as many tires, in short, double his ability to consume while cutting down the time he devotes to production.
Gainful work, even in the most efficient industries, absorbs more than fifty percent of the worker’s waking hours. It is, however, so tedious, so uninteresting, in the modern factory, that it can be said truly that the worker is required to yield half of his life to boredom in order that he might devote the other half to eating more than is good for himself; wearing out more things than is rational; and destroying the natural resources of the earth faster than real comfort and true enjoyment make necessary!
One of the most interesting consequences of the great development of our factories is referred to in the brief extract from the report of the Industrial Conference called by the President, above quoted—the fact that factories tend more and more to be located at considerable distances from the homes of workers. With domestic production and with workshop production, home and the place of work were generally one and the same. With the factory, they are never the same. In our factory-dominated civilization there seems to be a tendency for the home and the place of work to move farther and farther apart.
Most often the factory is located in a large city because among other advantages, the city furnishes it an ample reservoir of labor. It is not easy for the factory to get away from city congestion because even the factory located in the suburbs of a city, or even in a rural region, tends only too quickly to build city conditions around itself.
Time must therefore be spent by the workers in going to and from work. Lunches have to be eaten away from home. And in the larger cities, much of what is gained by the shorter hours of work in the factory, is lost by long trips back and forth in crowded street cars, elevated trains, subways, and suburban commutation trains. The worker flatters himself that he works only eight hours a day, while his grandfather worked ten or twelve. He forgets that he often spends from one hour to as high as four hours each day going to and from work, and that he dissipates some of the increased wages of which he is so proud for luncheons and transportation expenses. The luncheon restaurants multiply in every city in direct ratio to the increase in its streetcar systems and its suburban population.
But surely the very worst of the influences of the factory upon the worker has been the extent to which it has added to the in security of his economic life. It would be absurd to say that the worker of the pre-industrial age was without fears that are comparable to those of the modern factory worker. But while comparable, they were often ameliorable. He was dependent upon the favor of the lord of the manor, if a farm worker, or upon that of his journeyman master, if an indentured apprentice. But in neither case was there any insecurity about his “job.” That he might suffer injustices from those for whom he worked was true, but at least he was face to face with his employer. It was the coming of absentee and corporate ownership which made appeal from injustice so difficult and unsatisfactory for the worker.
Today he often finds himself unemployed as a result of conditions which neither he, nor the impersonal corporation for which he works, may be able to control. As W. L. Chenery says, “Unemployment and the fear of unemployment are twin evils created by the factory system.” These are among the gravest of the disadvantages from which the modern worker suffers that he may at other times enjoy the material well-being with which the factory system justifies itself. Chenery presents an excellent picture of what this means to the worker:
The possibility of being workless and without income hangs over the great majority of wage earners. The factory worker of today knows little else that he could turn to account. He must live by his trade or not at all. In order to obtain employment he must ordinarily reside in congested cities, where the possibilities of subsidiary means of support are denied him. Usually he does not own the house or the tenement he lives in. He neither cultivates nor harvests the vegetables and fruits which his family consumes. If he is able to eat eggs, or to drink milk, he obtains these articles from dealers who are themselves far removed from the scene of actual production. His clothes are bought, not made at home. The modern factory worker must retain his job if he wishes to continue alive, and yet he knows that at recurrent intervals, regardless of zeal or fitness, many men and women will not be employed.26
“At recurrent intervals!” When business is bad; if there is overproduction in his particular industry; when he engages in one of his periodic strikes, or if some change in industry, such as the introduction of a new product, or movement of the factory to a new section, results in throwing out of work those in particular factories or particular regions—at these recurrent intervals he is unemployed. Is it any wonder that the fear of unemployment robs the factory worker of the security which is essential to any orderly economic, social, biologie life?
We have had about a hundred years of the factory in America. What has it done to the workers of America? The World War revealed the facts: Our workers are neither physically nor mentally creatures of which America might be proud, of which she might say, “These are my sons, in whom I take great delight!” Lewis Mumford describes the situation aptly:
It is no special cause for grief or wonder that the Army Intelligence Tests finally rated the product of these depleted agricultural regions or of this standardized education, this standardized factory regime, this standardized daily routine as below the human norm in intelligence: the wonder would rather have been if any large part of the population had achieved a full human development. The pioneer, at worst, had only been a savage; but the new American had fallen a whole abyss below this: he was becoming an automaton.27
But the factory worker is not merely an automaton. He is a joyless automaton.
There is no song on his lips; no laughter in his heart.
Gone are the spring songs, the harvesting songs, the chanteys and the lays.
The factory worker at the top works grimly to accumulate profits; the factory worker in the ranks, grimly to remain on the payroll. The strain numbs nerves, sears spirits, and imprints it self indelibly on the expressions of the faces of the workers from top to bottom.
Go where men whose faces are marked like that are to be found; there you will find the factory.
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