7. Factory Legislation
In the earliest stages of the Industrial Revolution, when machinery was crude, soon obsolete and worked by the uncertain and irregular power of water, factory owners were determined to get the fullest possible use out of this machinery in the shortest possible time. Hours of work rose to sixteen and even eighteen a day. In this way the greatest output could be obtained with the least outlay of capital.
When the facts about factory conditions became generally known they shocked the most part of the early nineteenth century Englishmen, and agitation for the prohibition of some of the worst abuses was started.
As early as 1800-1815, in the years during which he managed the New Lanark mills, Robert Owen had shown that output was not in direct proportion to the number of hours worked, and that it was possible to work a 10 1/2 hour day, to do without the labour of very young children, and yet to make substantial profits. With the development of faster, more accurate, more powerful, and more costly machines and with the substitution of steam power for water power, the advantages from a very long working day became less. It was always the water power mills where hours and conditions were the worst and whose owners put up the most stubborn opposition to any kind of change.
More capital was sunk in machinery, and the relation between the capital so used and the capital used for the payment of wages gradually changed. The amount of actual manual labour needed to produce a given article decreased, and at the same time the speed at which the new machinery would work became increasingly greater than the speed at which men could work for a day lasting for sixteen or eighteen hours. It became less economical to work the machine at part speed over a long day than at full speed over a shorter one.
The first legislation, passed in 1802, was a very mild act to prevent some of the worst abuses connected with the employment of pauper children. It was followed by the Cotton Factories Regulation Act of 1819 which forbade the employment of children under nine in cotton factories and limited the hours of those between nine and sixteen to 13 1/2. As no machinery was ever provided for the enforcement of this Act it remained a dead letter.
It was not till 1833, after the passing of the Reform Bill and under pressure of the workers that an effective Act was passed. This prohibited the employment of children under nine except in silk factories, limited the hours of older children and provided a number of inspectors to see that these restrictions were carried out.
Factory Legislation was a necessary part of that development which included the displacement of water power by steam, the wholescale use of machinery to manufacture not only consumption articles but the means of production themselves and the transfer of the decisive point in production from the small to the large unit.