THE CULTURAL STRUCTURE OF THE WORKPLACE
Concepts and Practices of Labor
The senses have therefore become directly in their practice theoreticians.
Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
Classical political economy, that garrulous companion to the development of capitalism in the two centuries that preceded our own, poses a riddle that anyone would have recognized had they held the means of answering it. On the eve of the industrial revolution, the British Isles provided a home for the development of a vigorous economic theory that treated the labor embodied in products as the determinant of their relative prices. The most notable contributors to this body of thought in Britain, from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, conceived the purchase of labor from workers as a process equivalent to the acquisition of labor incorporated in a tangible product. Adam Smith revealed this assumption in the Wealth of Nations when he theorized the exchange of labor in an "opulent" society, where the division of labor was far advanced. In this setting, Smith reasoned, "every workman has a great quantity of his own work to dispose of beyond what he himself has occasion for; and every other workman being in exactly the same situation, he is enabled to exchange a great quantity of his own goods for a great quantity, or, what comes to the same thing, for the price of a great quantity of theirs." Even when Smith, as well as the British economists who followed him, took stock of the sale of labor by subordinate wage-earners rather than by independent craftspeople, they continued to imagine the transfer of labor as if it were handed over embodied in a product.
According to influential chroniclers of economic theory, the British economists' understanding of the labor transaction was not definitively exposed and overturned until a foreign initiate, Karl Marx, completed his analysis of the capitalist labor process. Marx himself believed that his greatest contribution to economic analysis lay in his elucidation of the sale of that singular asset he called Arbeitskraft , "labor power." The locution indicated that workers transferred not just "labor" to their employer, but the use of their labor capacity. As is well known, Marx claimed that the distinctions attached to his application of the term labor power unlocked the secret of the extraction of surplus value under capitalism. By what process of logic and imagination did Marx arrive at his discovery? This is the unsighted riddle. Neither laudators nor detractors have noticed, let alone pursued, the question.
Stranger still, Marx himself never pondered the sources of his revelation. But, in ways never intended, he deposited many clues. To pursue his trail, we must leave the noisy sphere of intellectual exchange and descend into "the hidden abode of production," where labor is actually set into motion. Marx's expression Arbeitskraft , it turns out, was adopted from colloquial German speech, although its equivalent in English, labor power , sounds stilted and bookish even to the academician's ear. In Germany the term functioned in the language of the streets as a description of wage labor long before Marx penned it in an economic treatise. In contrast to the British reliance on the indistinct word labor , the term Arbeitskraft lingers today in German popular usage in descriptions of the employment transaction. Could this timeworn difference in vocabulary mark the appearance of a distinctive concept of labor as a commodity in Germany that remained absent in Britain? More important, is it possible that such differences in
concepts of labor accompanied an enduring contrast between the countries in the form of practice down in "the hidden abode of production"?
These high-flying queries can be anchored in the secure ground of material practice by examining procedures on the factory shop floor. A comparison of German and late-developing British textile mills during the nineteenth century shows that the specifications of labor as a commodity did not reflect the labor process, but comprised a constitutive part of its execution. Despite compelling similarities in the settings in which matching German and British textile mills developed, economic agents in the two countries applied different concepts of labor as a commodity to carry out the process of production. German employers and workers indeed acted as if the employment relation comprised the purchase of labor effort and of the disposition over workers' labor activity or, as they termed it, over Arbeitskraft. Through quotidian practice British employers and workers defined the factory employment relation as the appropriation of workers' labor concretized in products. By deciphering the hidden language of factory practice we take the first step in a descent to the underground path by which Marx received his remarkable insights into the means by which workers transmitted their labor in the capitalist labor process.
The Logic of the Weavers' Piece-Rate Scales
The occupation of weaving during the second half of the nineteenth century comprised the single largest job category not only in textiles but in the entire manufacturing sector of the British and German economies. The construction of the piece-rate schedules for weavers provides a neglected but
singularly revealing piece of evidence about the inscription of contrasting suppositions in utilitarian practices. As a tool for extracting labor from weavers, the design of the scales would seem to depend only upon questions of force and pragmatism: How much were employers ready to pay workers for various types of cloth? To what extent could the resistance of weavers lead to modifications in the system's provisions? The physical dimensions of the weaving process and of its products did not provide natural or automatic measures of "how much" a worker produced or of "how much" the employer appropriated. Instead, cultural categories intervened to create contrasting forms of measurement in Germany and Britain. To isolate culture's arbitration, we must first construct a picture of the technical essentials of weaving, for the characteristics of weaving made the design of piece rates in this trade a kind of Rorschach test for industrial culture.
The weaver's job consisted of seeing to it that the weft thread in the loom's shuttle or shuttles moved horizontally back and forth across the vertical threads of the warp. As the shuttles laid their threads, a rotating beam underneath or out to the side of the loom unfolded more of the warp. The speed at which this beam let out the warp largely determined how tightly the weft threads would be woven: the slower the warp moved forward, the denser the weave.
From almost the earliest days of power loom weaving, mill owners in both Germany and Britain preferred to pay weavers by the piece. They maintained that this method of reward gave weavers an incentive to work without close supervision and thereby minimized the costs of superintendence. To be sure, employers in both countries granted time wages for
weavers if the machinery was untested or if weavers were so unaccustomed to the work that a production norm could not be estimated. But they reverted to remuneration by piece once these conditions passed. "If we did not pay them by piece and by results," a spokesman for Lancashire mill owners claimed in 1891, "the manufacturing concerns would not be able to keep above water twelve months." The economic environment limited the mode of payment, but cultural assumptions precipitated its form.
The mechanics of the weaving activity precluded the application of a unidimensional register of the labor spent on an output. If length of cloth alone were the index of output and criterion of pay, workers on cloth with a dense weave, which required the insertion of many weft threads, would earn no more per yard, and probably less per hour, than workers on looser cloth. Weavers on dense fabric in this hypothetical setting would be underpaid and would have an interest in advancing the warp rapidly to produce a looser weave than ordered. But if the number of weft threads inserted by the weaver were measured, weavers on dense fabric would be likely to be overpaid. The reason is clear enough: weavers producing loose cloth use up the warp more quickly than weavers on dense cloth. The removal of a finished warp and installation of a new one in the loom creates a major, uncompensated delay.
The predicaments in these two simplified ways of gauging output—length of cloth or number of weft threads inserted—disclose the unique characteristics of the weaving activity and of its product. Production required multi-dimensional gauges. In contrast to other manufacturing processes in which subvarieties of the product differ by gross size or shape, varieties of cloth differ by the mathematical functions that govern their density and pattern. The product is uniform and continuous, and it has a naturally inscribed metric along precisely measurable and equipollent dimensions: length, width, and number of weft threads. The labor activity itself consists of the regulated linkage of actions which have natural metrics as well: the number of times the shuttle crosses the warp, the number of times the beam rotates to let out the warp, the size and number of teeth on the gears that let out the warp, and so forth. Weaving offered the participants multiple and easily coded axes which could be picked out to define units of output and apportion pay, and it required them to combine these dimensions somehow to avoid the problems illustrated with the unidimensional measures. This natural indeterminacy makes weaving an ideal context in which historical analysts can discern the application of the schema by which factory owners and workers decided how they would measure output and outline the otherwise shapeless stuff called labor.
The model of labor in Britain was concretized in the Yorkshire piece-rate system, as illustrated in the schedule introduced in 1883 in Huddersfield and the Colne Valley (Figure 1). As the figure's vertical axis indicates, weavers were remunerated by length of fabric woven, with the standard interval equaling 180 feet of the warp. But the more weft threads woven into each inch of this standard length of warp, the higher the payment. The chart's horizontal axis specifies the requisite weft threads inserted per inch, which in the trade were called the "picks" or, more precisely, the "picks per inch." For basic weaving, with one shuttle and one beam, remuneration for a fixed length of cloth rose linearly as picks per inch rose. For more complicated weaves, with bonuses for extra shuttles, remuneration for a fixed length always rose with increases in density, but not at a constant rate (Figure 2). To calculate weavers' pay, the taker-in of the cloth from the weavers sampled the picks per inch or weighed the total piece to ensure that enough picks had been woven into the warp. (In the discussion which follows, bear in mind that "picks per inch" always refers to cloth density, not to its length. Density, a geometric concept, varies independently of the thickness of the weft yarn.) The Huddersfield
To compare basic principles, a German pay table of 1911 from a wool firm in Euskirchen on the lower Rhine is shown in Figure 3. Rather than taking adjacent correlates of the weaver's activity—length and density of cloth—for the criteria of pay, as in Britain, the German system centered its categories directly on the weaver's primary activity of having the shuttle move back and forth. The weavers earned a sum for every thousand times their shuttle shot across the warp—that is, per thousand weft threads woven. The Germans called this system pay by the number of Schüsse , literally, pay by the number of "shots" of the shuttle. German managers said they preferred pay by shot over pay by length because it offered a more direct measure of the labor input. As Figure 3 shows, the
remuneration per thousand shots rose linearly with decreases in the shots woven per centimeter. This feature of the scales compensated weavers for more frequent changes of the warp when producing low-density fabrics. On the Huddersfield schedule, one can also identify a linear increase, of course: for basic weaving, remuneration for a fixed length rose linearly as picks per inch rose.
Since the two pay systems manifested their linearity on different axes, they did not "say" the same thing with alternative vocabularies, but concretized fundamentally different statements about the remuneration of labor. On the horizontal axis, Figures 1 and 3 share a common metric, the density of the weave. On the vertical axis, however, the Euskirchen and
Huddersfield scales operated on different dimensions: pay by shot versus pay by length. In both German and English, the referents of ordinary language marked the immediacy of the association between the weft threads and the labor activity, since the words picks and Schüsse could pertain either to the shuttles' motion or to the product, the woven weft. When practice itself became a concrete form of language in the operation of the piece-rate scales, the choice of referent became unmistakable. Verbal utterances were multivocal, the silent language of production—the piece-rate mechanism—invariable. In comparing types of labor, the German and British systems designated distinct objects. The German piece-rate system centered its comparisons of different ways of weaving on the motion of inserting a pick, without respect to the visible length of the complete product. The British pattern compared the picks in different kinds of finished products rather than in motions.
The dimensions of linearity reveal the core axes of thought inscribed in the techniques of remuneration. It is impossible to translate the data from British weaving price lists onto the German dimensions of thought without altering the intelligibility of the distribution. To demonstrate this, in Figure 4 are shown the values for three types of English cloth on the Huddersfield scale but replotted on the German axes of thought, in pence per one thousand picks or Schüsse. Placing the British information on the German dimensions of thought yields two findings. First, the British data lose the shape of a line, in contrast with the German data in Figure 3; instead, as picks per inch decline, the points arrange themselves in a strange curve. The deformation of the line in Figure 1 to the curve in Figure 4 confirms that the British system of measurement embodied a concept of remuneration that began with the length of the materialized
product as an indicator of labor. The linearity on the native British axes would not have obtained if the producers had reflected upon the exchange of labor for a wage with another combination of axes.
The translation of the British data onto the German dimensions of thought also enables us to understand how the unpretentious language of practice—the concepts incarnated in the weavers' daily labor for a wage—guided the weavers' independent reflections upon the appropriation of labor. When British weavers had more than one shuttle or one warp beam in operation—which was very often the case—their payment per shot did not necessarily increase as the number of shots per inch declined on various
weaving jobs. Given a fixed length of cloth, although the net pay rose as the number of shots per inch rose, the pay per shot inserted—the measure of pay per effective motion—followed an erratic course. Figure 4 indicates that the more complex the weave, the more irregular and "irrational" the British method appears from a "German" point of view; that is, the more complex the weave, the more the graph deviates from the ideal pattern of higher earnings per shot as the number of shots per inch decreases. For example, on some types of fabric, the British weaver earned less per shot for weaving 56 weft threads per inch than for 62, although 56 weft threads per inch would take longer, per shot , to weave (because the warp would have to be changed more often). The difference in the cloth produced was slight; the difference in earnings significant and inequitable. What do these anomalies tell us about the producers' apperceptions?
It would seem that such an "obvious" source of inconsistent earnings in payment per weft thread inserted under the Huddersfield system could not have escaped the notice of the workers themselves. But somehow it did. Weavers in the Colne Valley alleged that the 1883 pay table lowered their wages, especially on the loosely woven cloth. They wrote dozens of letters to newspapers explaining their dissatisfaction with it. These workers astutely analyzed its rates and criticized the slope of the straight line on the British axes of thought. They made an effort to analyze the scale mathematically. But since they did not conceive the system in terms of pay per weft thread, they could not identify these inequities or frame them as "irregularities." They looked straight at the problem but did not see it, a remarkable demonstration of how their perception began with the length of the cloth as the basis for pay. Truly, their senses had "become directly in their practice theoreticians."
The weavers were not simpletons who self-effacingly obeyed the dictates of culture: as strategizing actors they knew that their net earnings
were higher if they put more picks into cloth of a fixed length (not taking pay per weft thread into account!). The workers' recognition of inequity and their resistance to exploitation were not given automatically by their resolve to pursue their interests. Rather, the weavers' very understanding of their interests depended on the cultural suppositions they called upon to interpret their predicament. The assumptions about labor through which they defined their situation derived from the signifying process embedded in the very operation of the piece-rate mechanism. Through the form of their everyday practice, the workers identified their human activity only as it appeared to them in the fantastic shape of the fabric's own properties.
The British weavers could not have perceived the anomalies in their payment per weft thread from the experience of work. The earnings of most British and German weavers fluctuated greatly from week to week. The amount of their weekly pay depended on whether they wove their piece on the warp all the way to the end exactly on pay day or, alternatively, had a small swatch left to do on a large piece which could therefore not be finished and credited until the next pay period. The speed at which a worker finished a piece of cloth depended upon numerous shifting factors which combined in unpredictable ways: the dressing of the warp, the quality of the yarn, how well the warp was wound, the weather, and trouble-shooting by the overlooker. Then, too, weavers turned out a rapidly changing mix of product types. These conditions made it difficult for weavers to move from the phenomenal world of work to expected weekly wages for products of a specific number of picks per inch.
Weavers labored with approximate estimates of what they ought to earn and with only a tacit understanding of how it ought to be reckoned. "Wherever a scale, no matter what its base and no matter how the shuttling was arranged, ran to a good day's wage for a good day's work," said Ben Turner, the union secretary, "the weavers were content with it." Yet when weavers at mills that lacked comprehensive piece-rate charts had an opportunity to devise completely original schedules of their own, their choices revealed their assumptions. They proposed, as a matter of course, that earnings rise linearly for extra picks per inch, and they took pay by length as the unquestioned basis for remuneration. They did so even in regions lacking prior districtwide wage agreements to which they could refer.
The length of cloth operated as the basis for remuneration in nearly all Yorkshire and Lancashire scales, both for the base rates with the simplest weaving and after the addition of more shuttles, beams, and healds to the job. The system of pay by length did not necessarily entail inconsistency in the rates of payment per weft thread inserted; but since British producers did not consciously guard against this defect, their system generated it. On the eve of the First World War, the most capable researcher in Yorkshire, George S. Wood, delivered a lecture to the Huddersfield Textile Society on "The Theory and Practice of Piecework." After finishing an extensive survey of pay systems' consistency, he told the Textile Society that "perhaps the best scale in the woollen trade is the famous Huddersfield Weaving Scale." Wood, in a strange illustration of history's vagaries, worked both as a representative for the employers' association and as an adviser to the textile workers' union. His testimony confirms that the Huddersfield table was no less sound than others in Britain.
The method of comparing types of labor via the linear properties of the product also prevailed in Britain during a formal inquiry by the Bradford Chamber of Commerce into new methods for comparing weaving scales in Yorkshire. The chamber's conclusions reveal that even when British managers, overlookers, and weavers started afresh and reconsidered the principles behind their piece-rate scales, they took pay by length as an unquestioned given. The chamber, with committee representatives from the overlookers' and weavers' unions, considered in 1895 the feasibility of establishing average weaving scales for the various classes of goods in the city. A local journal in Bradford observed that the chamber had set itself a difficult task, because the city's numerous worsted mills produced an "infinite" number of fabric types which could hardly be grouped on a comprehensive schedule. To cope with this challenge, the chamber "set about the classification of the boundless variety of fabrics, from the point of view of the weaving labour involved. . . . It ascertained, availing itself of all obtainable information, the average price per pick actually paid for weaving this kind of fabric." The dimensions of the printed scale which the Chamber of Commerce developed as a basis for comparison among firms reveal that it actually took "price per pick" to mean "price per pick per inch" for a fixed length of cloth. When the chamber set out to measure cloth in terms of labor, it ended up measuring labor in terms of cloth (or, more exactly, differences in labor in terms of differences in cloth). The Germans, by contrast, gauged cloth by labor motions. They called a group of one thousand Schüsse "the unit of labor," analyzing the product with this unit of activity.
Anomalies in the rates of earnings per weft thread appeared in schedules from Lancashire as well. Shortly after the First World War, a British manufacturers' commission investigated the precision of pay scales in relation to
labor effort. A member of the committee on costs declared that "hardly one single weaving scale in existence is drawn up mathematically correctly in its relation to picks"—that is, in the effective payment per weft thread woven. These discrepancies occurred because the British method of classification captured the labor activity at a remove. Does this mean that the British point of view was backward or primitive? Before we rush to a conclusion, we must consider the disadvantages of pay by shot as the Germans practiced it. Any framework for viewing production also entails its own forms of blindness. The German way of defining the transfer of labor to employers carried distinctive inaccuracies of its own, which, from the British framework, would have seemed intolerable indeed.
Although German weavers received a higher reward per thousand shots if they wove less dense fabrics, their pay scales evaluated the looseness of the fabric only in approximate terms. If an analyst converts the German measure of fabric density—shots per centimeter—to English units, it turns out that the German scales graduated the increase in pay at intervals that were always larger than five picks per inch. Some German scales registered changes in fabric density only at intervals of eight picks to the inch, or by a few bifurcations of yarn types. (This feature represented a specific way of treating labor rather than an incidental feature which resulted from the specifications by which products were sold in the market. The commercial orders German manufacturers filled permitted no leeway in the number of picks per inch.)
In contrast to German methods, British piece-rate scales adjusted the levels of remuneration to the fabric densities by intervals no larger than four picks to the inch, and normally they gauged the rates at intervals of one or two picks to the inch.
Proceedings in the court rolls indicate that English factory inspectors prosecuted mill owners who had their overlookers set the looms to insert two weft threads per inch more than the weavers knew of or were being paid for. A disparity of this magnitude, an issue of legal concern in Britain, made no difference at all in the rate of pay on most German charts. In fact, the odd irregularities in the Huddersfield scale, which turn up after calculating the rates of payment per thousand weft threads woven, fall in between the grosser intervals of German pay tables. The British focus on the product allowed them to make fine distinctions in the product to decide upon an appropriate price for it, but did not provide the categories for capturing the labor activity itself. In this affair the Germans were consistent but imprecise, the British the other way around. This contrast originated in the German focus on decomposing the labor activity versus the British focus on decomposing the cloth.
In some instances, the reason that the Germans gave less attention in their pay scales to alterations in picks per inch is that weavers received a small sum for helping to install a new warp. This meant they had less claim on compensation via measurement of looser densities of cloth, because some of the time devoted to more frequent changes of the warp on these orders was taken into account directly. Leaving aside the changing of the warp, there was no readily identifiable difference, on loose versus dense cloth, in the labor exercised to weave a thousand shots, apart from differences in the frequencies of yarn breakages due to the diameters of the yarn used to weave loose versus dense cloth. Thus, from the German view, there was less motivation to register the difference in cloth densities carefully; it was only necessary to capture the time lost in changing the warp and the gross differences in yarn types.
How are we to account for the emergence of contrasts in the principles used to calculate weavers' earnings in Germany and Britain? The brute, physical fact that workers receive their compensation via piece rates does not reveal what it is about the products that makes them a suitable index for remuneration, or how the products are interpreted to serve as a measure of work. Workers in less commercialized societies, from ancient Greece to prerevolutionary France, received payment by piece rates, but they did not by any means imagine that they sold their labor as a commodity. The mechanism of payment by output does not entail a particular commodity form of labor. To ascertain the definition of labor as a commodity, one must expose the agents' own concepts as embedded in the symbolic form of the piece-rate schedules. A "Statement of Wages" was indeed a statement: the weavers' pay scales in the two countries attempted to combine two elements—the labor activity and the product of labor—in a relation not of mere correlation but of significance. In Germany the relation was conceived metaphorically and the activity of weaving taken as a model or paradigm for identifying and measuring the product. The scale classified the product as a mirror of the activity; cloth comprised the unit of observation, the insertion of the shots the true subject of analysis. As industrial sociologists from Germany have long taken care to emphasize, a piece-rate scale can use the product as a convenient surrogate for measuring the workers' action and need not accept the product as the object of payment itself. Or, as one student of wage forms in the German textile industry expressed it in 1924, the visible output could be
adopted for the sake of making an "empirical" reading, as distinguished from the actual labor for which the worker was in truth remunerated. If the Germans themselves interpreted the product as a "sign," not as the true object of remuneration, surely we are obligated to take their lead seriously.
In Britain the relation between labor as a concrete activity and its product was conceived metonymically. The British pay scales codified the product as the result of labor but did not identify the value of the product by modeling it on the performance of the weaving. Instead, the product itself became the vessel by which labor was transferred; the materialized labor itself comprised the object of remuneration. The British quantified abstract labor by the substantial dimensions of the complete piece of cloth. As in Germany, workers delivered abstract labor, but in Britain the concrete product functioned as its sign.
Both ways of conceiving the relation between labor and its product interpret a paradox in the employment relation. The worker's labor may generate the value of the finished product, but this labor, since it consists of an ongoing activity, is not a thing and has itself no exchange value. The weaver's action at the loom, because it does not exist before or after its appearance in the world, cannot as such be either sold or appropriated—although the products of this activity can be. "Labor," Marx wrote, "is the substance and immanent measure of value, but has itself no value." Labor as a visible activity produces but lacks value; labor as a commodity in the moment of exchange has value but does not produce it. To order the disparity between an action without exchange value and its sterling product, the Germans and the British drew upon different fictions. The British, with pay by length, first drew systematic (linear) relations between types of whole cloth and then projected these distinctions onto the weaving activity. The Germans took the use of the labor power, or the execution of the activity, as the basis for defining the relative values of fabrics. They did things the other way around from the British: they drew systematic (linear) differences between types of labor and then projected them onto the cloth.
If this interpretation of the contrasting structures of the German and British scales seems incautious, we need only consult the spontaneous evidence offered by the specimens' labels. As early as the 1830s, the tables posted in Germany for remunerating weavers bore the heading "Wage Tariff" or "Wage Table," even when the employees were hand weavers. In 1849, German textile workers called their proposal for a piece-rate system a "Table of Values for Labor Power." The scales for weavers in Britain were entitled "Statement of Prices" or "Weavers' Prices." The phrases hid nothing: the term price could just as well have designated the requisition of a product.
To explain the divergence in the structures of the weaving scales, let us start with solutions that treat the methods as naturally prompted adaptations to the immediate circumstances of production. We do not thereby privilege utili-
tarian reasoning and assign the symbolic a residual explanatory burden. Hypotheses that reduce social practice to a "rational" adjustment to the economic environment are neither more fundamental nor more parsimonious than arguments that accept the constitutive role of culture. But their inadequacies throw into relief the advantages of a cultural explanation.
The simplest conjecture, perhaps, is that the differences in the concepts used to construct the scales derived from the implements used to measure cloth. By the turn of the century, it had become a common technique in German firms to install on each loom a so-called Schussuhr , or "pick clock," which registered the number of shuttle "shots" as the weavers carried them out. The weavers then received their pay based upon readings of this device rather than upon an examination of their product. Pick clocks were virtually absent in Britain before the First World War. Could the difference between the countries in principles of remuneration have arisen due to the greater readiness or ability of German mill proprietors to install this newfangled gadget? No, because the adoption of pay by shot in the textile factories preceded the experimental introduction of the pick clock in the 1880s. Despite general reliance on pay by shot in Aachen, for example, the Free Textile Workers' Union reported in 1902 that only one company there had installed pick clocks. Of the ninety weaving mills which paid by shot that were represented at a national conference of German stuff weavers in 1910, only thirty-five had mounted these gadgets. The German system of pay was not, therefore, originally adopted to take advantage of this mechanical innovation.
Pay by shot did not simplify the determination or recording of wages. Before the introduction of the pick clock, calculating the number of shots in
the manufactured cloth was complicated. The German takers-in or production accountants did not measure individually the tens of thousands of shots woven across the warp. They began with only the length or weight of the cloth and a sample of the density, in shots per centimeter. Then they reckoned backwards to arrive at the true object of analysis, the number of shots the weaver had cranked out. Less often, the shots put in were measured by the weft yarn used up, and weavers' pay tables were based on the length of this weft yarn consumed. In any case, the German system did not reduce the requisite calculations. To the contrary, one factory manager who said that pay by thousand shots was conceptually superior also complained that
it required more intricate computations. Yet the adoption of the method even among small woolen firms in Aachen and elsewhere which had negligible clerical staffs shows that company investments in accounting do not clarify the reasons for the diffusion of pay by shot in Germany.
Might it have been easier for the weavers to verify the calculation of their receipts under one system or the other? Weavers in both countries complained that they could not easily verify the length of the cloth they wove. The Germans' adoption of pay by shot could not have been intended to alleviate this problem, since they reckoned backwards to the shots after measuring the fabric's length. Often employers and workers even cited wages per meter of cloth turned in, when the evaluation of the value of a meter depended on the analysis of the shots. What is more, many German firms continued to invest in apparatuses which their takers-in used for measuring the length of the cloth, just like the gadgets used in Britain, even after these German companies had converted to pay by shot. The new system of pay did not result from technical convenience or forced adaptation to the physical instruments of calibration.
The divergent principles of the piece-rate systems could not have influenced the weavers' incentive to work. In both countries, once a weaver had a warp in the loom, the ratio of earnings to the cloth turned out remained constant whether the weaver completed the warp quickly or slowly. The marginal returns to effort in a given time period could diverge in the two countries between densities of cloth, not on a given piece of cloth mounted in the loom. Nor did the divergent construction of the German and British schedules lead to differences in the distribution of earnings among weavers in the two countries. True, when one converts the British piece rates to the German dimension of thought, one finds that British weavers earned less on the middle ranges of cloth density in comparison with either endpoint of the British scale than did German weavers on the middle ranges of cloth density in comparison with either endpoint of the German scale. That this formal incongruity created real differences between Germany and Britain in the distribution of earnings among weavers seems unlikely, however, for the range of fabric densities encompassed by the tables varied by company and by town. In other words, German weavers on middle densities of cloth did not always earn more than
those on middle densities in Britain, because the range of fabrics covered by each scale, and therefore what counted as the "middle," varied from scale to scale. Within the same town, the endpoint of one piece-rate chart might be the midpoint of the next. In the aggregate, the design of the schedules did not have an appreciable effect upon the distribution of earnings.
In a word, the difference between the principles adopted in Germany and in Britain cannot be explained by the ease or efficiency with which the piece-rate structures served the function of appropriating labor for a wage. The two systems served this purpose equally well; they differed, not in their material function, but in their intelligible form. If there were no concrete obstacles in the immediate environment of the labor process that prevented the British from paying weavers per shot of the shuttle like the Germans, could the difference in pay systems reflect nothing more than the lingering effect of business factors that had operated in the past? The utilitarian arguments considered so far attend only to contemporaneous settings. Suppose institutional inertia had frozen into place pay methods that conformed to the necessities of an earlier period?
Before the rise of the factory system, German weavers who worked at home had their remuneration calculated by a variety of payment systems, including the fabric's weight and, in some instances, its length, just as did their counterparts in Britain. The principle of pay by shot prevailed in Germany contemporaneously with the transition from the putting-out system to factory production. Could this endorsement of pay by shot have reflected the economic conditions under which the German factories initially emerged? By this kind of diachronic reasoning, the British might have transplanted the format of the handweaving scales into the newborn factories, where they took permanent root in collective understandings between employers' and workers' unions; whereas the Germans, who founded their factories later, could have started off with more "modern" thinking, shorn of the legacy of mercantile capitalism. This speculative reasoning merits consideration but collides with the evidentiary record.
To begin, comparative logic can rule out conjectures based on the timing of development. The Yorkshire woolen trade, unlike the precocious cotton districts of Lancashire, mechanized production no earlier than did many firms in regions of Germany such as the Wuppertal. When the Germans did mechanize, they passed through the same sequence of development as the British, moving from an extensive network of small manufactories and of home weaving under the putting-out system to a full-fledged factory system. The Germans adopted pay by shot whether they set up factories in regions such as Aachen, where small manufactories with handlooms preceded the factory system, or in regions such as urban Mönchengladbach or rural Silesia, where the path of development usually led directly from home weaving to factories. Therefore an analyst cannot explain the national differences in pay systems either by the timing of development or by the forms of the textile labor process that preceded mechanized production. In some areas the shift to pay by shot preceded the development of factories. In the areas around Aachen and in Berlin, for example, it appeared in artisanal workshops for handweavers during the 1860s, before these shops gave way to large factories with power looms. The change in methods of pay did not simply mirror changes on the shop floor itself. The close resemblance in the products and markets of firms in Aachen and Huddersfield assures us that no technical factor in Germany, which was absent in Yorkshire, spurred the factories in Aachen to move to pay by shot at an early date.
Nor can one attribute the difference in pay systems to the social origins or acquired business knowledge of the pioneering textile entrepreneurs who founded the earliest factories. As in Britain, so in Germany the largest portion of early mill owners had played a role as middlemen in the putting-
out system or had operated workshops for the dyeing, finishing, or fulling of cloth. They had gained an understanding of the organization of trade as mediators between home workers and merchants. The assiduous research of François Crouzet, among others, shows that few of the heads of leading merchant concerns in Britain became factory employers, compared to the preponderance of small workshop owners and of putters-out who had organized the day-to-day operations of domestic production. Such findings make it implausible to surmise that British factory practices based on the appropriation of materialized labor were handed down from the conceptions of employers who had started out as mere traders in finished goods and remained attached to this outlook. The factory pioneers in Britain had the experience of operating small manufactories or of acting as "manufactur-
ers," as the directors of the networks of domestic production were called in their day. Conversely, in the German setting both contemporaries and modern historians have emphasized the contributions of small traders and merchants to the founding of textile mills. The industrial commentator Alphons Thun complained in 1879 that German factory managers on the lower Rhine had commercial skills but less knowledge of production technology than their British counterparts. We need not swallow Thun's judgment whole, but the accumulated evidence casts doubt on the hypothesis that the social origins of German businessmen led to a greater focus on production than on relations of exchange.
Still another problem arises with an argument based on the original setting of development. An explanation based on the retention of assumptions about piece-rate schedules from the putting-out system into the late factory age takes it for granted that the principles of the schedules were immutable. What prevented the alteration of the lists? At many Yorkshire mills the weavers were so unorganized that employers could choose their own rules for defining the product and for establishing remuneration. Indeed, some owners chose not to release a pay table at all, but announced the value of a particular piece, as they fancied, after the weaver had completed the job. In these cases, obviously, there were no barriers to change in the reckoning of pay. In most regions of Yorkshire, the piece-rate tables
were negotiated separately in each factory. In Lancashire, to be sure, the power of a well-organized union movement which regulated the piece rates for weavers made it cumbersome to introduce modifications. But the Lancashire weavers declared their readiness to accept new means of calculating pay, so long as the "aggregate wage fund should not be lowered." The absence of insuperable institutional obstacles to changes in the derivation of rates suggests the operation of another principle: namely, the effect of the lived enactment of the tenet that labor was conveyed as it was embodied in a visible product.
The assumptions about labor that were implicit in the scales were reproduced endogenously by the scales' quotidian use. Not all workers were educated enough to compute exactly the pence or pfennigs owed them for cloth of a given design. No matter: through the scales' material operation they received the ideal definition of the sale of labor. Facta non verba : the principles were communicated in action by signifying practice, not by fine phrases. But in ordinary conversation, when British weavers from different factories described their pay scales to one another, they cited the pay for a density at a fixed length, called the "basis," and then stated by how much the pay rose or fell for each increase or decrease in picks per inch. When the British weavers suffered a reduction in rates, they said the factory employer was "pulling pence off" the picks, as if the remuneration inhered in the cloth. Whereas British workers thought in terms of exchanging the length of cloth for payment, the German workers could assert that pay by length was "categorically erroneous." Workers in
Germany sometimes calculated their output in terms of the number of shuttle motions completed per day, without reference to the length of fabric. They complained about the intensification of work quotas not in terms of cloth delivered, but in terms of the additional shots executed. The secret code embedded in practice became the workers' language of debate and deliberation.
The responses of German weavers to the transition to the principle of earnings per shot in the earliest days of the factory have left no traces. But the discussions of commercial experts, preserved in business newspapers, show that employers preferred this mode of piece rates because it captured the process of carrying out the work. Textile periodicals in the 1870s took pay by shot as a commonplace or described the abandonment of pay by length as a routine occurrence. They spun words around that which practice had already conceived. These journal articles did not mention any instrumental advantage from the shift, but they emphasized that the system seemed logical. Spokespersons for pay by shot considered this method more appropriate once producers had adopted the idea that weavers in the factory sold the disposition over the conversion of labor to labor power. As one proponent summed up his case, only remuneration by shots really paid the weaver "for the quantity of executed labor." When the Chamber of Commerce for the area of Aachen officially rejected pay by length in 1884, it reasoned that pay by shot offered the only "rational" system of measuring labor. Only with this new method, the chairman reported, "is the weaver paid for what he has really carried out." After the turn of the century, a factory owner from Gera, Saxony,
reiterated the causes for the triumph of pay by shot. He said in 1905 that among the city's factories, only one continued to pay weavers by cloth length. "The [length of] filled-in warp cannot be taken for the performance of labor by the worker," he explained. In sum, earnings by shot seemed to the employers more coherent, not necessarily more profitable.
By no means did pay by shot become a universal custom in Germany before the First World War. A great many instances can be found of German mills continuing to pay weavers by the piece or by weight. In borderlands such as the Münsterland, where many factory owners before the First World War were of Dutch origin, pay by shot emerged less frequently. Elsewhere, employers whose mills manufactured only coarse, undyed varieties of cloth sometimes did not specify picks per inch to the weaver or measure the total picks, but simply weighed the product and paid the weaver for putting a minimum weight of weft into the warp. Yet to varying degrees, pay by shot encompassed the major types of weaves and materials: wool, linen, cotton, and silk. Even if payment by shot was not universal in
Germany, it was predominant there, while it was unknown in Britain. In national surveys of German stuff and wool firms in 1910, 75 to 85 percent were found to pay weavers per thousand shots or by a correlatethe length of weft used to insert the shots. The prevalence of payment by shot in Germany marked the outstanding difference between the philosophies of
paying weavers presented in the two countries' business press. "Under any circumstances," concluded a German textile journal in 1910, "the wage calculation for fabric by a certain number of weft threads is more proper than by a piece of fabric or by a certain number of pieces."
If the contrasting principles embedded in the operation of German and British piece-rate scales can be explained neither by the mute exigencies of the labor process nor by the legacy of earlier changes at the point of production, where are we to turn for an understanding of their development and significance? To construct weavers' piece-rate scales, managers in both Germany and Britain could not just measure the effort or time taken to weave a single type of cloth. They had to come up with a way of equating the different kinds of labor that went into different kinds of cloth. They could not accomplish this by empirical tests, because weaving was neither a simple process of tending a machine nor a matter of applying one's skill and energy directly as an artisan would, without the interposition of an unmastered technology. Either of these ideal types of production facilitates the empirical measurement of labor in terms of time or, what may amount to the same thing, in terms of the goods it takes a certain amount of time to produce. Weaving, by contrast, consisted of an interaction between the worker, unreliable tools, quirky raw materials, and weather, to turn out a large and changing array of patterns. In a single day a large mill could have over sixty types of cloth in its looms. The enormous variety of patterns and the interaction of such shifting and unmeas-
urable factors caused managers in both countries to declare it impossible to gauge from experience or trials the time taken to weave each type of fabric. The weavers themselves scarcely considered such an empirical procedure. British weavers sometimes learned to regret the imprecision: some of them who struck work and succeeded in obtaining a piece-rate schedule of their own design found that the scales they had expected to offer an improvement in rewards led instead to an appreciable decline in compensation. In short, the environment was so chaotic that it could not be mirrored in a coherent scale.
Neither lack of attention to the problem nor a naive wish for simplicity led economic agents to deploy a linear scheme for equating different kinds of weaving whose execution had never been individually timed, but a preference for quantifying labor on a linear scale did. The piece-rate tables incorporated a striking difference between specifications of labor as a commodity: in Germany, workers were remunerated for the conversion of labor power into a product; in Britain, they sold their labor as it was concretized in a product. This explanation not only suits the immediate evidence, but it also explains a whole constellation of differences between the institutions of German and British textile mills. By proceeding to show that other forms of practice, such as fines imposed on workers for defective cloth, the categories for wage records, and the transfer of jobs between workers in a single factory incarnated disparate views of labor as a commodity, we may enhance the plausibility and plenitude of a cultural explanation.
Remuneration by piece rates confronted managers with a challenge: how could they ensure that weavers driven to increase the quantity of their output also took care to manufacture cloth of adequate quality? Owners in textiles, as in many nineteenth-century enterprises, found it expedient to impose fines for defective goods—or to hold this sanction in reserve—as a deterrent against workers who might otherwise maximize their earnings by focusing on product quantity alone. But the technology of production made this issue more salient in textiles. The power loom, one of the earliest and inherently clumsiest of mechanical technologies, remained so primitive up to the First World War that under the best conditions it regularly produced defects in the fabric. Managers believed that even well-run machines produced cloth with defects in one out of every ten pieces. Contemporaries therefore agreed that weavers did not have a responsibility to hand in perfect cloth, only to avoid creating severe irregularities or a greater than usual number of errors. Indeed, German and British employers sometimes introduced tolerance limits for the number of flaws that could appear in a run of cloth before fining began.
In both countries, the norms for what factory owners might sell to merchants as premier quality and what they had to sell at a discount as "damaged" fluctuated with the business cycle. Since nearly all cloth was to some extent imperfect, the strength of consumer demand at a given moment influenced the stringency of merchants' standards. A merchant could find after making a purchase from the factory owner that a particular piece was too damaged to satisfy customers and would return the piece to the factory for a refund. Given the indeterminacy of what constituted "bad cloth" in the market, the standard for acceptable quality on the shop floor was estab-
lished through never-ending conflict and negotiation between employers and workers. Fining for bad output ranked as one of the concerns uppermost in textile workers' minds.
The British managers distinguished themselves by sometimes delaying the imposition of a fine for faulty cloth until the effect of the damage had been assessed on the market. They routinely levied a retroactive charge upon the responsible weaver when it finally turned out that a damaged piece fetched a substandard price on the market (in addition to any fines the managers may have levied for faults detected at the moment the weaver handed in the piece). Where the company's cloth examiner was uncertain whether a piece with marginal damage would clear the market, however, he withheld the weaver's wage pending the merchants' inspections. The final deduction might occur many weeks after the weaver had been paid for the piece. A correspondent from Yorkshire, in an exasperated report on the uncertainty weavers experienced over whether they would receive the full price of a piece of fabric, testified, "I have known weavers wait six months for a piece wage." Workers at a firm in Brierfeld reported that their employer followed the market rationale to its conclusion. He notified weavers that they had to cover whatever deductions the merchant buyers in Manchester imposed:" One employer has commenced to give up fining workers for faulty cloth," the Cotton Factory Times reported in 1897, "but should anything be deducted from the piece at Manchester, the weaver has to bear the cost."
Did the British system of delayed penalties for defective output arise to provide a special cloak for arbitrary and irregular exactions? This seems unlikely, since it obviously complicated record-keeping and since employers could raise fines even without demonstrating corresponding losses in the
market. If the system arose because the agents believed that the market functioned as the true arbiter of the value of the weaver's labor product in Britain, might weavers have benefited from the system? Did refunds accrue retroactively to weavers for cloth which, contrary to earlier expectations, managed to clear the market? This would indicate that the system followed an impartial logic that was not uniformly disadvantageous to workers. Refunds of punishments were not unheard of, but they seem to have been rare, as one might imagine. The Yorkshire Factory Times reported in 1889 that a weaver in Halifax had received a refund of a cloth fine. The in-house examiner had judged the piece defective, but it later passed muster with the firm's outside distributor.
In contrast to their British counterparts, German owners made their deductions immediately inside the factory, based on their own judgment and, in some cases, on a posted scale of their invention (Stopf-Tarif ) that codified the withholdings for each variety of damage. Whereas the British employers set fines by the market evaluation of the product, the German employers set fines by in-house assessment of activity at the point of production. Even when German owners complained that customers had sent cloth back as defective, they did not make retroactive deductions. The German fining practices may have been influenced by the concepts of German civil law. The civil law book made a distinction between business contracts for the delivery of a product and employment contracts for the offering of a labor service (Dienstvertrag ). Jurists in Germany classified textile workers who received piece rates as persons who offered a "service," even if the remuneration system paid workers by the quantity of output. This status as an "employee" established the principles for imposing fines: a textile worker "could not be made responsible for defects in the delivered products, only for such, which he committed by reason of gross negligence or malicious intent." The immediate issue was not
whether the finished product was less than perfect or had less than the full market value; the issue was whether the work had been executed negligently or recklessly.
British courts never drew a principled distinction in the nineteenth century between the offering of a service by an employee and the delivery of a product by a trader. Accordingly, some employers required weavers to purchase and dispose of damaged cloth themselves. Textile employers in Britain who imposed fines for defects used the same expression as would be applied to contractors who delivered a product and had to make good the errors in workmanship. The employers announced, "All bad work must be paid for."
Yet another aspect of some fining systems in Germany diverged from the principle of the exchange of a labor product in the market. German management journals in textiles declared that the fines levied on workers for flaws could not accurately measure the loss the owner would suffer in the market. The surviving fine books show how this assumption worked itself out in practice. They show that some mills standardized the amount withheld for damaged cloth at fifty pfennigs for every piece, as if the punishment functioned as a signal to workers rather than as a means for assessing the actual value of the damage. Since German owners treated the fines principally as a deterrent to poor-quality production rather than as compensation for a loss suffered in the market, they often chose an alternative method for giving weavers an incentive to maintain high standards of work: they paid a bonus for each unobjectionable piece. In the way they utilized the fines collected, too, German owners showed that they viewed the fine as a disciplinary measure rather than as a means of market compensation. Many German firms voluntarily altered their factory ordinances to give the money collected in dockages for faulty cloth to workers' welfare committees. In the Mönchengladbach factory district, forty-seven companies donated such fines to committees at the
turn of the century, although they could perfectly well have pocketed this type of fine.
In sum, the fine for damages in Britain compensated the owner for market losses suffered upon disposing of the workers' labor product. In Germany, the fine disciplined the workers for the careless expenditure of their labor power. In Germany, the practice of assessing fines at the point of production reproduced the belief that workers sold the disposition over "labor power" in the production process; in Britain, the practice of delayed, market-based fining maintained the belief that workers transferred a quantity of labor as it was embodied in finished products. The British method of determining the appropriate fine asked what the product was worth, not how the product came to be.
The implementation of adjustments in some piece-rate lists in Britain tallied with this view that workers were paid for bringing materialized labor to market. At most mills in Lancashire, the prices weavers received for each type of cloth were fixed by districtwide rather than firm-specific schedules. When a new list went into effect, it became valid on fabric delivered to the company warehouse after a specified date. The criterion was not when the labor power was expended, but when the product was brought into the sphere of circulation.
The Circulation of Labor
The divergent German and British specifications of the transfer of labor under the wage contract guided the employers' bookkeeping systems for weavers' earnings. Since British factory proprietors thought of themselves as buying labor as it was embodied in the product, their accounting techniques credited funds only to the loom from which the product was delivered, not to the weaver who executed the labor activity. In both Lancashire and Yorkshire, the employers numbered their looms consecutively by row. Usually the wages books indicated only the number of the loom to which the pay went, not the weaver's name. If a weaver left the mill before
finishing a long piece, the company gave the full amount for the piece to the next weaver who came along and had the loom at the moment of completion. Even if the original weaver and the successor did not know each other, the company left it to the weavers to allocate the pay between themselves. When British employers levied fines for defective fabric, they deducted the penalty from the loom, not necessarily from the weaver who had been in charge of the machine when the work was executed. In the Colne Valley, women on the same looms as men worked at disadvantageous piecerate scales, allegedly because the men could do more tuning of the loom on their own and could carry away the finished pieces. But a man who took the loom of an ill woman as a temporary replacement received only the women's rate, because the loom number remained on the company books as a woman's. Each of these procedures treated the weavers as if they were connected to the mill not by a relation of servitorship but by their occupancy of a machine from which the mill received its deliveries.
Like British employers, the Germans identified each loom by cipher and kept track of each loom's output by code in what they called the "weavers' book." In addition, however, they kept records by which they could ascertain the earnings of each weaver as an employee. In German weaving mills, if
one weaver took another's place as a temporary replacement, the firm gave the weavers the choice of allocating the wages themselves or of having the firm do it for them. The German mills directed the compensation to the executor of labor, not merely to the immediate supplier of a good.
The British textile mill owners' bookkeeping faced an unanticipated challenge after Parliament passed the Insurance Act of 1911. Under this law, employers had to transfer weekly deductions from workers' pay to the friendly societies and companies administering the insurance plan. In an address to the Batley Chamber of Commerce in 1912, one manufacturer said that "there was a difficulty arising out of the fact that many manufacturers did not pay the weaver but the loom." How could they know how much to deduct from each weaver's pay when they did not keep track of individual weavers' earnings? To meet the requirements of the act without changing their record system, employers improvised. They subtracted a standard amount regardless of how much the weaver actually earned, "leaving a few odd weavers to claim their penny or two" when the deductions overshot the mark. Despite this unintended intrusion from the state, British employers preserved the integrity of their method of appropriating materialized labor all the way up to the First World War.
The same principles governing the arrangement of numbers on the company ledgers regulated the assignment of workers to machinery. British weavers in charge of a set of looms were responsible for delivering products from the machines, but they did not have to offer their personal labor effort to do so. At many mills weavers escaped punishment for absence from the loom without permission so long as they sent a representative, possibly a family member, to take their place that day. Weaving "sick" became an
established occupation in Britain; that is, one might not have a permanent loom of one's own, but filled in for friends and neighbors who became ill. In Germany, the firms themselves sometimes kept spare hands around, called "springers"—to "spring in" for ill weavers. It was not unknown in Germany for weavers to dispatch their own substitutes, although the sources mention this much less frequently than in Britain. The meaningful difference, however, is this: the British weavers, unlike their German counterparts, sometimes did not need permission beforehand from the overlooker or manager to send a particular person in their stead. In fact, at mills in the Colne Valley, Yorkshire, the weavers reached arrangements with the factory owners to fetch substitutes of their choosing after the supper break if the machinery had to run overtime.
The British weavers' retention of the disposition over their work capacity, so long as their machines delivered sufficient output, influenced the ordinary assignment of looms to their operators. A single set of looms could regularly be shared among several persons. For example, at a mill in the Buttershaw area of Yorkshire, two women in 1894 who needed only part-time work made a compact to alternate on a single set of looms in the course of the week. They could balance the demands of work with their domestic schedules. In Lancashire, a family as a whole could take on the management of a large group of looms and divide attendance among
themselves as they wished. At mills where weavers usually operated two looms each, they typically went down to one loom each when business slackened. They believed that under such conditions they had the right to opt instead for a buddy system with a friend. Each weaver doubled up with a partner and worked alternate days for the duration of the depression, each serving two looms during their turn in the mill. These arrangements ensured the provision of finished products to the factory owner without the commitment of the labor capacity lodged in the person of the weaver.
As in weaving, so in spinning. An incident from the spinning department of a mill in Yeadon, Yorkshire, illuminates the British treatment of workers as the deliverers of the output from a machine. When the employer at a Yeadon factory restored in 1908 to night overtime, he did not require that the daytime mule spinners extend their own hours; instead, he authorized them to "engage the night men" on their own. The daytime spinners received piece rates for the entire output of their machine and themselves decided how to pay the men who tended it during the night shift. When the night-time workers went on strike in 1908, the Conciliation Board defined the day spinners, not the factory owner, as the strikers' "employers." In other situations, when mule spinners hired young assistants known as piecers, the courts recognized the mule spinners, not the mill proprietors, as the piecers' legal employers. The
factory spinners became middlemen who contracted to deliver materialized labor to the factory owner. In Germany, by contrast, mule spinners and other workers who directed the use of machinery or even selected their own underlings were generally viewed as employees who did not have the authority to assume the legal position of an employer. What differed was not the reliance on subcontracting per se but its cultural significance. Workers who selected their assistants in Germany could not assume the status of an employer, because they remained "in a dependent relation to the factory owner."
Is it possible that the contrasts between the countries in the rules for staffing looms can be attributed to differences in the supply of labor? Perhaps British textile firms allowed weavers to send substitutes as a means of attracting workers when labor was scarce. Female workers in particular might have been more willing to undertake mill work if they had some flexibility to attend to family matters on occasion. This explanation does not accord with the economic conditions, however. In Bradford, for instance, companies accepted substitutes of the weavers' choosing even when they enjoyed the benefits of an overwhelming surplus of labor. The availability of labor fluctuated region by region, decade by decade in Britain, whereas the institutions for staffing machinery remained stable. In Germany, companies confronted with labor shortages attempted to recruit female workers by another means. They allowed women to leave the mill a half-hour early (and on the eve of some holidays) to manage the household meals. German employers thereby shortened the expenditure of labor in time but maintained a claim to the labor power lodged in the person of the worker during the worker's hours on duty.
The textile workers' idioms for employment in the two countries betrayed divergent understandings of the process by which they entered into the wage contract. In the narratives of the textile union newspapers in Germany, weavers who sought employment at a mill asked for "a position." In Britain, however, the weavers asked if the employer "had any looms to let." "Looking for a new pair of looms" stood for going on the job market;
"being given a loom" meant getting hired. British mule spinners who received a job said that they "had taken wheels." To get hired, weavers and spinners in both countries followed the same channels through overlookers and foremen. Yet the expressions of British workers connected them to the company primarily by their use of a machine, as if they were independent operators of equipment for whose output they were paid, whereas the language of the German workers emphasized the occupancy of a social "position" in a relation of servitorship.
The British appreciation of the sale of labor through the delivery of products influenced the language not only of hiring but of joblessness. After British weavers were dismissed from a stint, they said they lacked a loom, not that they were "unemployed." The term unemployment acquired wide currency only after the turn of the century, when political analysts launched the expression. To discharge a worker, gestures sometimes proved more powerful in Britain than speech. When a British overlooker or manager fired a weaver, he did not have to utter a word. In a movement which became a standard symbol, understood immediately by the weaver, upon completion of the piece the boss simply yanked the shuttles from the loom. Disabling the machine indicated the end of the weaver's tenure at the machine; nothing need be spoken to the person.
Traders and Capitalists
Did the differences between the exchange of "labor" in German and British textiles appear in other industries as well? In the mining industry of Britain, which employed more persons than any branch of manufacturing in the country, the understanding of labor delivered as it was materialized in a
product led to the creation during the nineteenth century of so-called sliding scales. Industrial experts of the time recognized this means of compensating workers as a distinctively British invention. Wage agreements under this system pegged the piece rates that miners received to the price of coal in the raw materials markets. In Cumberland, for example, piece rates in the 1880s rose 1.25 percent for every 1.5 percent rise in the price of coal. In keeping with the logic of transferring materialized labor, the valid selling price was registered at the moment the coal came on board ship or into storage at the colliery, not necessarily when the labor was executed. Calculation of wages as a proportion of the market value of the product had a long tradition in districts where miners and employers could come to agreements. In Germany miners argued that higher coal prices justified an increase in their wage, but no one supposed that a wage should be cast in the form of a standard portion of the selling price realized in the market.
The British iron and steel industry, which employed almost as many persons as the textile trade, used scales that automatically adjusted piece rates to vending prices when circumscribed markets developed for standardized products such as nails and iron bars. Experts have despaired of dating with precision the origin of this institution, but they have concluded that by the 1830s, at the latest, puddlers' remuneration was indexed to the iron's selling price. The endurance of piece-rate scales pegged to the finished article's selling price did not depend on formal collective bargaining or
craft workers' power, since the system remained in place even in periods when the iron workers' unions were nearly extinguished, as in the late 1860s. For members of the steel smelters' union, these sliding scales, based on the selling prices of steel plates, were eventually "extended to practically every class of labour which could directly affect production." Workers supposed that under an adjustable scale they became suppliers of products rather than mere employees. The Association of Iron and Steel Workers, for example, advocated the indexing of piece rates on this ground. The president of this association testified in 1892 that he supported the use of sliding scales for pay because "it has been our custom in the North of England under our board, where it was possible, for every skilled man to be the contractor for his own work." In this respect, the aristocracy of skill did not remain privileged. By the beginning of the twentieth century, less qualified underhand workers, too, received their compensation as a percentage of the shifting contract rates for iron and steel.
Both workers and employers believed that the indexing of piece rates was founded on the principles by which agents exchanged labor as a commodity. The practice did not represent a form of profit-sharing, for the prosperity of industries did not conform to the selling prices of their products. Workers saw that under the arrangement they sacrificed control over the price at which they disposed of their labor. "In the sliding scale principle," the secretary of the Association of Blast-Furnacemen said in 1891, "when the wages are regulated by the selling price per ton, in a sense a man gives up his right of sale of labor and puts it into his employers' power to sell it at what price he likes." Employers in the iron trade considered the sliding scales a logical means of assessing the value of the labor they purchased.
They claimed that "no better standard existed of the value of labour in the market than the price of the article produced." The system put employers in the role of merchants who resold finished products at a guaranteed margin rather than that of entrepreneurs who sought a profit by combining labor power with other resources. The British system of sliding scales astounded observes in Germany, where workers received wages for the expenditure of their labor power itself. Indeed, to economic agents in Germany, the fluctuating scales in Britain abolished such a thing as a "labor market," given the German understanding of labor as a commodity. "This type of pay agreement," the organ for Christian unions in Germany declared, "is not based on the supply and demand of labor power . . . but on market relations of the product."
Culture does not function as a steel curtain that bends practices into shape. The humble instrumentalities of manufacture result from the intersection of a cultural logic with the tangible materials of production. Accordingly, the assumption in Britain that abstract labor is exchanged as it is objectified in a product appeared under different guises among the country's industries, depending upon the concrete setting of the labor process. Textiles offers a sector of enterprise which, though not representative of industry as a whole, expresses its essential principles. The systems for remunerating workers in mining and iron-making enterprises indicate that the intervention of culture led not to uniformity but to isomorphisms in practice across different sectors of the British economy.
An employer who purchases labor power, rather than materialized labor, will have first claim to the profit that accrues from improvements in the efficient combination and use of the factors of production. But the sliding-scale system in Britain treated labor not as a raw input into a "value-added process" dependent on management and organization but as something purchased as a finished component. Even in British enterprises that did not use sliding scales, the employers could carry this premise into their procedures for keeping the production process in order. Some manuals for cost accounting show that British manufacturers believed their profits came from buying the
separate components of a product cheaply and then selling at least one of them dearly. Edward J. C. Swaysland, in an insider's book of advice for commercial success in the boot and shoe trade, claimed in 1905 that manufacturers could turn a profit on an order even if they accidentally purchased labor at a higher price than they could receive by reselling the same labor. Swaysland's guide showed manufacturers how to keep a card for each worker that debited the material and labor costs for each shoe order and credited the worker for the good's selling price: "His credit would be the result of his work, and may be divided into the results from the use of material and the value of his labour. It might happen that a loss on his labour would be more than counterbalanced by the gain on his use of material." Here the labor enters the equation already embodied in the shoe, so that the buying and selling price of that element can immediately be assessed. "The source of profit is too abstruse to be fully considered here," the author explained. "There may be no profit on the estimate of prime cost, but considerable profit on the purchase of material." In this depiction, the manufacturer survives like a mercantile trader who profiteers in the sphere of exchange.
When British textile employers reflected upon the hiring of auxiliary workers with time wages, they conceived this arrangement, too, as the appropriation of the labor materialized in goods, not as the purchase of labor power. From their standpoint, the time wage was only a different measure of the product to be acquired. As the business counsel George Wood put it, "We may define Time-Work as 'A Contract to sell all the produce of labour in a certain time.' " A leading organ for British managers, the Textile Mercury , emphasized in 1891 that the employment transaction comprised the renting out of a factory in return for products: "The unexpressed terms of this contract are that the employer shall provide a mill, machinery, motive power, materials to work up into fabrics, and orders for such fabrics; the weaver on his or her side, promising to attend the regulation time for working, and to perform the work given to him or her at the stipulated price."
The journal's summary cast the employers as investors who get a return by furnishing the means of production, not as innovative organizers and controllers of the use of living labor.
British textile workers acquired a corresponding view of their employers. They expressed this in their response to the problems mill owners encountered at the start of the twentieth century when factories switched production to goods slightly different from those for which the machines had been designed. The owners of these factories in Lancashire requested that weavers accept piece rates lower than the official district wages. Employers in certain neighborhoods said they needed the reduction to cope with their "disadvantages" in the market, since the output on the machines was less than that of competitors. "But why in the world weavers should be expected to pay for local disadvantages is beyond me," a correspondent wrote in 1916 for The Power Loom , the journal of the Nelson Lancashire Weavers' Association. "If I own property with certain disadvantages attached to it, I must make allowances for these disadvantages before I can hope to get a tenant." In rejecting the employers' claims, the weavers treated the factory as property that the owner leased to the workers. They could have blamed the owners for poor command of management. Instead they reasoned as if the employers were landlords who rented out a run-down facility, not entrepreneurs who gathered and integrated resources.
The explications of the labor transaction in Britain contrast with the emphasis in the German commercial press upon the employer's purchase of the disposition over the work capacity. The organ of the association of Saxon businessmen, Sächsische Industrie , analyzed the transfer of labor in the employment relation in an essay from 1907 entitled, literally, "Labor-'Giver' and Labor-'Taker,' " a play on the German root words for the terms employer and employee (Arbeitgeber and Arbeitnehmer ). The article took care to define "the modern concept of labor" as " 'labor power' or 'labor execution.' " Nowadays, the article explained, "the concept of 'labor' in the modern economy has received another meaning in some contexts than pre-
viously. Labor is the expenditure of power which is supposed to lead to useful results." Given this more exact usage, it said, the German words for employer and employee were not to be taken literally. This journal's sophisticated emphasis on the "modern" definition of labor echoed that of German business economists. Hans Mangoldt, a pioneer in the development of the "theory of the firm," gave a succinct definition of the wage that highlighted the disposition over a potential. "The wage," he explained in his survey of economics, published in 1871, "is the compensation for the use of one's own labor power which has been entrusted to another person." Karl Marx exercised his wit upon the British employers' supposedly crude appreciation of the acquisition of labor. Had Marx turned back to his land of origin and investigated the understanding of labor as a commodity among employers in Germany, he might have experienced the shock of recognition.
The Strategy for Specifying Culture's Effect
This inquiry did not presuppose that textile factory practices ought to be analyzed as facts of culture. Instead, it used strategic comparisons to rule out alternative explanations that would attribute the shape of factory practices to the survival of customs from earlier stages of development or to forced adaptation to the business environment. The commodity of labor, a fiction of comparatively recent invention, did not assume a natural or generic form in economic exchange with the development of wage labor. It was fabricated out of historically specific concepts that shaped different practices in similar settings. The principle of pay by shot, for example, was rooted in utilitarian practice, but it did not derive from the functional requirements of practice. As a condition for carrying out the "material" exchange of labor for a wage, employers and workers construed the meaning of the transaction with a priori assumptions about what comprised the "labor" transfer.
Social theorists in general and anthropologists in particular have long recognized that agents call upon a symbolic order to organize the material processes of production and exchange. Yet to reaffirm the importance of a
cultural pattern, some analysts are content to argue that it is a necessary component for the realization of social institutions and for their investigation. The premise that culture provides the indispensable coordinates of conduct, if accepted, by itself reveals nothing about the causal significance of culture. It could well be the case that culture represents a necessary ingredient for the construction of institutions but that it is closely shaped by the demands of economic forces. In this instance, culture need not arise as a "reflection" of economic institutions—for, as a pool of symbolic resources, of ever reconstruable signs, it is not produced by those institutions—yet it is neither directive nor formative in its own right. By comparing factories that developed in similar environments, this study shows not only that culture was necessary for building the regimes of the factory but also that it was independent of the immediate economic environment and was constitutive of the form of practice. Only a controlled comparison can advance this more decisive point.
Let us be clear about the way in which this study attributes a causal significance to culture. It does not claim that culture set limits to organizational innovation—the business manager's view of culture as an irrational drag upon change. This approach to culture's effect lends it the force of dumb inertia and resistance, not that of a selective social logic. At illuminating junctures, such as the late creation de novo of piece-rate scales in Yorkshire or during the breakdown of labor-management institutions in diverse industries, we saw that "institutional inertia" alone cannot be invoked for the reproduction of forms of practice. Nor did this chapter unfold by showing that separate cultural beliefs attached to different domains of conduct fit together to form a consistent world view. This approach, like the structuralist understanding of culture, makes culture in the first instance a way of interpreting the capitalist production process rather than a principle composing it. Finally, we have not treated culture as a means of legitimating
institutions. Unlike Reinhard Bendix's landmark Work and Authority in Industry , this comparative inquiry does not show that ideas justified practices that originated this way or that. It does not show that culture upheld the survival of industrial systems from without; rather, the commodity form of labor constituted from within the form of industrial procedure. In the textile industry the operation of the weavers' piece-rate scales, the assignment of looms, the replacement of absent workers, the recording of earnings—all these instrumentalities assumed their shape and were reproduced by virtue of the definition of labor as a commodity they sustained. In a capitalist order which fragments culture and undermines the coherence of collective belief, we may not be able to show that numerous concepts fit together in the "minds" of the "subjects" to form a consistent world view. But we can examine one concept to see how it composes a consistent province of practice.
The discovery that factory techniques were arranged by cultural definitions of labor as a commodity places several questions on the agenda. How did the specifications of labor influence workers' relations with supervisors in the factory? How did these principles configure the techniques of time discipline and the employers' surveillance of the shop floor? The remainder of Part One resolves these issues. If German producers defined the employment transaction as the sale of the disposition over the expenditure of labor, and British producers defined it as the transfer of materialized labor, what were the historical origins of these opposing assumptions? Part Two, the middle portion of this work, presents the genesis of the cultural differences and advances a model of the creation of labor as a commodity of labor that applies to other European settings as well. Did the contrasting ways of commodifying labor influence the pattern of struggle between textile workers and their employers? Part Three, the study's last segment, shows how the workers' concepts of the sale of labor shaped the formulation of demands, the execution of strikes, and the ideological horizons of the trade unions. We will see that the divergent stipulations of labor organized the most fundamental dimensions of life at the site of production: time and space themselves.
The Control of Time and Space
There is always a mediator between praxis and practices, namely the conceptual scheme by the operation of which matter and form, neither with any independent existence, are realized as structures, that is[,] as entities which are both empirical and intelligible.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind
It has become commonplace to assert that the concepts on which we as social agents rely virtually constitute objects by bringing them into view. The categories of a culture thereby become instruments of power, for in defining the setting they demarcate the imaginable courses of action. This view of culture as a schema for representing the world offers a starting point for conceiving culture's effectivity. But it is incomplete. If accepted as a terminus, it obstructs our understanding of how culture is situated at the point of production and of how it is reproduced. By casting culture as a system of representations, practice appears in the first instance as a referent for signs.
Comparative study of procedures on the factory shop floor reveals that the micro-practices of production were constituted as signs, whether or not they served as the objects of a system of verbal representations. As the analysis of the piece-rate scales demonstrated, the bare instrumentalities of the mill had a representational function incorporated into their material operation. The commonsensical notion that culture is a schema that agents own and apply to interpret the environment imitates heroic visions of the taming of external nature: the environment presents itself as a brute fact which is mediated and thereby civilized by each individual's use of the possession of culture. But the factory is culturally constituted through and through: the producers need only follow its palpable logic. The template of labor as a commodity came to life not in the subjective outlooks of individuals but in the orchestration of practice to fulfill a signifying function.
Accordingly, the regulation of workers' conduct in time and space at German and British textile factories did not follow a logic that blindly multiplied the means of control and surveillance to create a common
"disciplinary regime." Rather, the instrumentalities of the production site were perspicaciously assembled in each country by unique specifications of the valorization of employees' labor time. As with the analysis of the piece-rate scales, so with the measurement of time we need to consider the relevant physical properties of the production process in order to discern the constitutive effect of cultural categories upon industrial institutions. Not only the monetized time of the workers but the very passage of time in the manufacturing process incorporated contrasting guidelines in the two countries.
The production of the mechanical loom may have been sensible to the naked eye, but it could be intelligibly organized only through its cultural inscriptions. Power looms in England and Germany by the end of the nineteenth century ran at speeds of 70 to over 200 picks per minute. (This means that 70 to over 200 times per minute the looms' shuttles traveled across the warp.) Foremen and overlookers determined the exact rate by adjusting and locking the loom's speed mechanisms. If managers isolated two figures from the flux of production—how long it had taken to weave a length of cloth and the total number of picks that had been woven into it—they could compare the actual total of picks with the hypothetical total the shuttles would have woven if the loom had run perfectly during the time interval,
without interruption. Comparing the theoretically possible with the actual output revealed the proportion of time that had been "lost" due to stoppages, a ratio of relative "efficiency" (Nutzeffekt ). In the decades before the First World War, textile journals on both sides of the channel devoted increasing attention to managerial strategies for quickening the tempo of production. Yet only in Germany did the concept of the efficiency ratio gain currency.
The efficiency ratio formed part of both material practice and discourse in Germany. In the "question and answer" columns of the country's textile periodicals, mill directors exchanged their calculations of this percentage for various makes of looms and asked whether customary ratios existed for various classes of goods—even for a product so specialized as "colored, light jute," for instance. The number of published questions points to grass-roots interest in the topic, and the level of responses sent in by mill owners who drew their estimates from practical experience indicates that the efficiency ratio held a place in the conduct of their everyday business. Max Weber, in his neglected study of a Westphalian weaving mill, referred to the efficiency ratio as a statistic in habitual use among textile firms. Samples of German production ledgers contained columns for listing the total number of weft threads actually woven, for recording the maximum that could in theory have been cranked out, and for reckoning the proportion between the two. The underlying content of the question, "How much ought particular looms to turn out in practice?" could have been reasoned out and formulated only in terms of the average or expected length of cloth, rather than in terms of this percentage. But in Germany the expression of production in terms of
length frequently appeared in conjunction with calculations of the efficiency ratio.
In Britain, by contrast, the concept of an efficiency ratio was not endorsed in prewar publications about mill administration. An article about "Weavingshed Management" in the Textile Manufacturer of 1907 furnishes eloquent testimony about its absence. This essay offered technical and managerial advice on productivity and recommended that managers tally the length of cloth woven on each loom, so that variations in work among looms and among weavers could be investigated. Despite its concern with quantities of output, with record-keeping, and with precise calculation, the article ventured no definition of efficiency and no comparison of the theoretical limit of production with the real level.
Equally instructive is an address which a Lancashire director, H. Dilks, delivered in 1916 to his peers in the British Association of Managers of Textile Works. He asked how the manager could abstract from the details of "daily routine" and represent to himself "the progress of the factory in a broader fashion"—in other words, how he could map factory productivity. Mr.Dilks argued that the graph he labeled Chart 3 (see Figure 5) offers a good way to picture day-to-day changes in efficiency. He explained: "It deals with individual loom stoppages, and indicates the cause of the stoppage and also its duration. It further shows graphically and clearly, by means of one curve, the total amount of loom stoppage in the shed from day to day." This diagram deals only with absolute quantities. It fails to convert these numbers into a ratio or percentage to tell us how much time has been lost, or what portion of possible production time has been lost. The author's description of his Chart 4 has the same feature: "The 'weavers average earnings' form an important measure of the efficiency of the individual loom or weaver, yet it may be high even when a proportion of the looms are stopped. It is therefore desirable to show also the total weavers' earnings for the whole shed—this is a figure that will probably be quite as useful as the other
in forecasting the colour of the half-yearly balance sheet." Mr. Dilks, in keeping with the treatment of labor as an output rather than a conversion process, saw time not as a continuous function but as a sum of separate days, for he figured how many days each loom runs without breaking, not how much time is lost due to breakdowns. This British manager put into words what the output records of other firms display in their arrangement of numbers. In everyday accounting as well as in prescriptive theory, British managers measured production as a substance, in terms of gross quantities of output.
The negotiations in Lancashire between managers and the powerful textile unions over the establishment of production norms for new varieties of cloth offer another context in which to search for mention of an efficiency quotient. The company managers and leaders of the textile unions met to conduct actual trial runs on the looms. To analyze the results of their tests, however, they measured only the number of threads that broke per hour and the total cloth length. When handbooks for weavers measured productivity, they calculated this in terms of pence per week per loom.
It was impossible for the efficiency ratio used in Germany to remain completely unknown in Britain. The designers and manufacturers of looms,
who sold their machines in the international market, boasted that their inventions could sustain high levels of efficiency under test conditions. But British mill managers rarely adopted such a statistic in their everyday practice or professional conferences. In the exceptional cases where they did, they reformulated it to suit their cultural framework. At the Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire, the accountants for the American-designed Northrop looms, installed after 1909, calculated "total efficiency" by comparing the sum of wages the weavers received as a group with their hypothetical earnings at 100 percent efficiency. This weaving department may have been unique in Britain for routine calculation of a version of an efficiency ratio before the First World War. The company records show that managers calculated this figure without considering the number of looms operated, however. Total looms in use at the mill fluctuated, so low earnings by weavers could result either from having fewer machines employed or from low productivity of each loom. The statistic measured success in obtaining a final output, not the process of using the equipment.
If German administrators, in the course of computing wages, also had to ascertain every week the number of shots executed on each loom, they had on hand the key figures needed for determining the efficiency ratio. Did the Germans decide to calculate this percentage as an incidental consequence of their adoption of the system of pay by shot? After all, their clerks already had a tally of shots carried out that was lacking among the British accountants. Or did use of the ratio carry a meaning of its own, based on the German designation of labor as a commodity? To answer these questions, we need to consider the functions that might have been served by its calculation.
The actual conditions of weaving on the shop floor contradicted the mathematical premises of the ratio in several respects. Given two looms of identical make, supplied with the same yarn and patterns, the loom with a low efficiency ratio could actually produce more than the loom with a high one. This contradiction arose because in the early twentieth century looms remained unreliable contrivances. They presented managers with a trade-
off between speed and stoppages: the higher the picks per minute, the more frequently weft or warp threads broke and became entangled. The efficiency quotient rested on an image of a self-contained machine whose operating speed was regular and given in advance. Looms of the era, in contrast to this ideal, had to be coaxed and felt out. Raising the speed of the shuttles might cause more stoppages and lower the efficiency ratio, yet result in more cloth at the end of the day. Taken too far, however, preoccupation with the shuttles' speed alone might lower output. "I have been in many factories where they pointed to their high speeds," one German manager remarked about his country, "but usually I could reply that I would let the looms run slower and bet that in each loom I would weave more cloth per day."
The efficiency quotient furnished an inaccurate index for a second reason: it supposed that weaving consisted solely of attending to the shuttles. In truth, weaving was not a uniform activity. Up to a quarter of the loom's possible running time could be "lost" while weavers took care of other essential jobs such as twisting in new warps or having the gears that regulated the warp beam changed. The shorter the warp, the greater the proportion of time consumed by these tasks, independent of any efforts of the weaver or the overlooker. The efficiency ratio could not measure different
weaving processes with a common yardstick, because the ratios for warps of differing lengths were incommensurable. Even within the same mill, Max Weber concluded, the efficiency ratio was unusable for comparisons of work on different types and lengths of warps.
We cannot leap to the conclusion that British methods remained intellectually backward in contrast with those of the Germans. Since the efficiency ratio mirrored the realities of production so poorly, its use cannot be explained as a rational adaptation to the circumstances of production. When Quarry Bank Mill installed American-designed Northrop looms with pick clocks on the eve of the First World War, and even paid their weavers by the shot, they still did not adopt the German form of the statistic. This indicates that the categories used for measuring production did not derive from convenience of calculation once the mode of payment was in place. Instead, the appreciation of production, too, depended upon the intervention of different concepts of labor as a commodity. But with all the imprecision and misrepresentations it introduced, how could the Germans have maintained an interest in their efficiency quotient at all?
Despite the inaccuracies of the ratio, German accountants used it to distribute production costs. Where the measure of the theoretically possible output embraced net factory time, the ratio served as an approximation in distributing overhead and general expenses to determine the manufacturing costs of various classes of goods. If accountants knew the firm's ratios of efficiency for diverse kinds of cloth, they could estimate how long it would take to weave a particular fabric on a loom and would know what level of general expenses or conversion expenses the cloth should bear. But here one notes that the same facts expressed in terms of how long it took to weave
cloth of a certain length could have served just as well to distribute the costs. As we have seen, the Germans had information about the length of the cloth on hand anyway, since they reckoned the number of shots on this basis. At least in this context, the efficiency ratio was not uniquely suited for the function. Its utility was more apparent than real and rested on the assumption that total output ought to be gauged by the actual versus the maximum possible output in a time period rather than, as the British preferred, by gross quantity of output during that period.
The German agents' use of the efficiency ratio to help construct piece-rate scales furnishes another context in which the ratio's utility was culturally defined. To find a base point for graduating the piece-rate scales for weavers, German business experts believed, the employer ought to proceed by first measuring the normal efficiency ratio of a loom at a certain speed to see on average how many shots weavers performed per day. Then to reach a target wage the managers would choose the pay per thousand shots. An observer outside the system notices, again, that the efficiency ratio remains arithmetically superfluous in this operation: one only needs to compute the average length of cloth produced per day to choose the pay per thousand shots. Yet German articles about the construction of weaving scales begin with the need to calculate the efficiency ratio, even those articles written by experienced mill directors who otherwise eschewed elaborate formulas. Here the efficiency ratio does not by itself convey any information or criteria of success that could not have been coded just as accurately in a statement about how much cloth of a certain type could be produced during a certain time interval.
In some instances the Germans employed the efficiency ratio, not to convey information about the known, but as a way of coping with the unknown. When factory owners accepted an order for a pattern of fabric they had not produced before on a large scale, they needed some way of moving from the amount of time taken to weave a similar pattern in the past to estimate how long it would take to weave the novel pattern. They carried out this operation by gathering together their hunches based on prior experience and by estimating then how much down time the new pattern would probably cause in comparison with the similar pattern. Once they had ascertained the picks per minute of the loom, they could calculate how long it would take, in comparison with the similar good, to make the requisite number of shots to fill the order. The fundamental yardstick they used to order their experience about relative weaving difficulty and comparative success was differential down time, not, like the British, simply differential output.
Let us not confound form and content: the Germans' greater concern for a particular concept of efficiency did not denote greater concern for the thing itself. On the eve of the First World War, the "Gospel of Efficiency" had become a standard turn of phrase in Britain. British managers manifested their interest in efficiency in their concern with the small details of production and with the causes of machine stoppages. Germany and Britain competed in the same export markets, especially in those for wool manufactures, where the British more than held their own in the decade before the First World War.
Managers in Britain calibrated output at each loom only between the start of a new piece of cloth and its completion. At some mills, their weavers complained that the warps were not marked with chalk or other signs at
standard intervals so that the weavers could judge how close they had come to the end of their piece. Managers tied measurement to the discrete events of assigning a fabric order to the loom and receiving delivery. In the German case, by contrast, managers conceived of production as a continuous function. One reason they gave for using the pay-by-shot system was that it permitted them to divide the worker's activity and output into minutely small segments. In later years, the introduction of the Schussuhr ("pick clock") permitted the output of the loom to be calculated or read daily. German managers urged workers to work at a regular pace and hoped that workers would even monitor themselves hourly or daily in order to learn how to do so. The workers obliged, but with unforeseen consequences. They became attuned to the manipulation of their labor power and used the efficiency ratio as an index of exploitation. At a meeting to induct weavers into the German Textile Workers' Union in Haan in 1899, a weaver warned that the wages workers received should be compared to the efficiency with which their labor power was used. An increase in take-home pay, he cautioned, might not equal capitalists' added profit "if manufacturers achieve a gain of 12 to 16 percent in efficiency."
It would be simple, but also simplistic, to conclude that the method of pay per shot, the reliance on the efficiency ratio, or, in later years, the use of the pick clock allowed German managers to impose tighter production quotas on workers than could their British counterparts. The timing of the introduction of pay by shot in German factories indicates that the practice did not originate as a strategy to control workers on the shop floor. For the new scales went into effect in Germany well before experts began to advocate "scientific management" or Taylorist methods to monitor the execution of labor. Moreover, the British elaborated their own methods for keeping track of the efficiency of individual workers. Especially in Lancashire, but in Yorkshire as well, British overlookers posted the weekly output of the weavers in their charge. The contrast between the countries arose not from the degree of surveillance but from its form.
For all the inaccuracies the efficiency ratio introduced, the Germans still favored a statistic that they could relate directly to the execution of labor during a time period and to the use of a timed potential. When British managers measured output by weavers' wages, they effectively took the price of the labor as a marker for the quantity of labor delivered. Had British analysts focused on the process of transforming a labor capacity into an output, however, they might have realized that such an index can be misleading: weavers on fancy patterns can earn high wages with only one loom in operation while they wait for repair of others in their allotment. On these grounds, Max Weber, in his study of a weaving shed, rejected wages as a measure of labor effort. Weber, like German manufacturers, recommended instead computing the total picks inserted. But principles for denoting output through time did not remain sequestered on paper; what bookkeepers wrote in the internal ledgers was externalized on the gates of the factory.
British managers marked the beginning and close of the daily cycle of production by subjecting their workers to exceedingly rigid controls on entry into and exit from the factory. The most common, though not universal, practice at mills in Yorkshire and Lancashire was to latch the doors at the start of the workday, compelling latecomers to return home. Only at the
breakfast or lunch break several hours after, when the factory as a whole made a ritual of stopping and resuming activity, could latecomers pass through the factory portal and commence work. Interviews with former workers and the complaints published in the union newspapers provide dramatic accounts of workers having the mill door literally shut in their face as they dashed to enter exactly at starting time. Many employers in Britain instructed their porters to secure the gate forcefully even if workers running to it were within sight. "At six o'clock, bang, that's it, shut the gate," remembered a spinner from Halifax. "The man there, his job was to pull it through a yard at once." A female winder in Preston, Lancashire, reported to her union in 1915 that the manager apprehended her entering the mill just as the door began to close. He "mangled and bruised" her arms:
On Monday morning when I went to work I had just got my foot on the threshold of the door when the door was slammed to and my foot was caught between the door and the door jamb. I pushed the door open with my hand and as I entered the manager was standing there who said to me "Outside—you are not coming through."
To be sure, some textile mills, especially in Lancashire, imposed fines for tardiness, generally standard amounts that served as a disciplinary tool
rather than as a carefully graduated form of recompense for the employer. Yet oral testimony and workers' newspapers show that locking out represented the expected and predominant routine. Mills also combined fines with locking out; workers less than, say, fifteen minutes overdue could pay a penny for admittance, before other latecomers were excluded for good.
In some instances textile firms carried the practice of locking out to such an extreme that latecomers were prohibited from entering the mill for the day. "This morning I was about five minutes late," a Lancashire weaver complained to the union in 1912. "The watchman would not let me through." Some mills prohibited latecomers from waiting near the mill entrance for access and instead sent them all the way home. In Lancashire the union received several complaints from weavers who were denied entrance to the mill for several days or even a week because of inconsequential tardiness. For example, in Preston a female weaver complained to the union in 1908 that when she arrived late one day the manager spied her as she was "going through the watch-house" and told her to stay home for the week. These severe penalties applied to the Lancashire mule spinners as well, the masculine "barefoot aristocrats" of the mills.
It would be tempting to explain the practice of bolting the gate as an historical residual, a carryover of primitive management technique from the early industrial age. Stories about locked gates abound in the folklore about the days of violent industrial change at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. When a Marsden woolen spinner, born in 1901, complained that the mill gateway resembled "a gaol—with spikes on top," his words echoed the exact comparison that cotton workers in Lancashire had voiced about the gates more than a century earlier. Could the legacy of this earlier transition in England at large have left its traces even in regions such as Yorkshire, which mechanized much later? The historical record does not support such a hypothesis.
So far as the textile unions could tell, during the two decades before the war the practice of locking the gate became more widespread. The Yorkshire Factory Times at the beginning of the twentieth century followed the exten-
sion of the practice to several mills previously free from its rigidities. One of Yorkshire's most popular dialect poets, James Burnley, in his tour of Bradford textile plants in the late 1880s found one instance in which a firm then shut tardy workers out but in earlier years had fined them. What is more, in these years the new generation of managers who had formal business education sometimes initiated the practice as they took over the reins of directorship. They did so even in neighborhoods where firms suffered from competition for scarce supplies of labor. Locking workers out in Britain thus by no means represented a survival from a previous era.
Could the heads of the British mills have imposed the practice to inculcate time discipline that would pay off in the long run by inducing prompt attendance? In contrast to their predecessors at the dawn of the factory age, mill directors in the late nineteenth century no longer thought it necessary to break an unruly work force to the novel stringency of indoor factory work. The businessmen's forum, the Textile Mercury , concluded that over the long term, the "diligence and punctuality of textile workers may be said certainly to have improved, and it is to their credit that their current lapses from perfection still shew favorably against those recorded in some trades." Even so, mill directors might have reasoned that bolting latecomers out would deter workers from arriving even the slightest bit late. It was not unusual for a mill to have a tardy worker every day. Many workers lacked the time-keeping devices necessary for precise adjustment of conduct to the employers' sanctions.
Had mill proprietors in Britain sought only a display of authority or a demonstration of their power to deny wages, they could have used more apt means. They could, for example, have imposed exceptionally severe fines for tardiness, but also have let latecomers onto the premises. This technique
might have encouraged punctuality without loss of labor power. British mill owners sacrificed some of the labor time available to them, even as they complained of labor shortages. Sometimes the services they cast away remained invisible. If workers were not sure they could get to the mill on time, they might not bother going at all until after the morning break. Shutting workers out also made it more difficult for managers to tell in the morning whether an absent worker had no intention of showing up or had simply met a latched door and might return at lunch time. But the "waste" of labor would have been palpable when, as was sometimes permitted, latecomers waited near the mill for the gates to open rather than make the journey home and back again before breakfast. The excluded labor could reach substantial levels. In Burnley, Lancashire, when the porter at one mill in 1897 allegedly shut the gate two minutes early, sixty-seven weavers who found themselves outside could not work until after the breakfast break. Since employers excluded tardy supervisory workers as well, they denied themselves the vital services of loom tuners who were not instantly replaceable. For example, the minutes of the Halifax Overlookers' Society indicate that in 1897 an overlooker was locked out for arriving a single minute late.
It is conceivable, but undemonstrable, that locking out conferred economic advantages upon British mill employers. If the humiliating experience of total exclusion at the gate stimulated punctuality much better than payment of any fine, locking out may have more than made up for the incidental loss of labor. Whatever the case, the influence of culture cannot be identified automatically in any departure from utilitarian ploys, only in the consistent symbolic forms through which agents strategize.
Could the practice of sending workers home have indicated nothing more than that the British employers did not want the bother of keeping records of fines for lateness or that they did not want to bear the expense of employing a porter to staff the front gate all day long? Oral testimony as well as the tips published in the Textile Manufacturer indicate that the porter at-
tended the entrance at all hours anyway, to receive salesmen and other visitors. During his free moments he did basic paperwork or small craft jobs such as covering rollers. In sum, a system that monitored workers' exact moment of arrival would have added no significant enforcement costs. Most telling of all, when tramways became a means of commuting to the mill for some workers at the beginning of the twentieth century, factory owners exempted workers from the lock-out rule if they arrived late through no fault of their own but because of transit breakdowns. In view of the administrative complications this exception introduced, it becomes clear that the practice of bolting workers out rested on an ideal standard rather than on a strategy of convenience.
British directors, as well as the workers themselves, viewed the technique of bolting latecomers out as part of the logic of running a factory. One manager from Marsden, who had worked his way up from the position of a simple weaver, formulated an explanation for shutting workers out. "If they're not here on time," he was fond of repeating, "they don't deserve to work." This Marsden manager became known for sending latecomers home even if they were his friends and neighbors. The British technique supposed that the worker had a responsibility to deliver products to the firm in prompt fashion. By locking workers out the British employers did not treat the workers' time itself as a form of property for whose loss they claimed restitution. Shutting workers out did not lay claim to the labor power lodged in the person of the offenders but treated them as though they were contractors who had not taken due care to meet delivery deadlines and therefore deserved suspension of the contract. The struggle was over the acquisition of the product. "Discipline," an early employer declared, "was to produce the goods on time." The ritual of locking workers out diverged
from the artisanal ideal of freedom to choose one's hours of work. Industrial practice did not develop from the habitual carryover of routines from the era of domestic and independent artisanal production but was shaped by the form labor assumed as a commodity in the industrial present.
The British workers themselves may have preferred being locked out to being fined, because the lock-out at least maintained the fiction that workers sold the product of their labor. In the earliest days of the factory system, workers reasoned that since they sold merely their output, the employer had no grounds to impose a penalty for lateness. For example, a writer for The Poor Man's Advocate complained in 1832 about the fines for tardiness at a cotton spinning mill: "The machines may not work while the workman is absent; but how can the employer lose, when he only pays for the work that is done?" This reasoning viewed the employment transaction as the delivery of output, not the guarantee of a capacity. At the end of the century, the editorial columns and correspondents' reports of the textile workers' newspaper still maintained that employers had no right to fine workers for lost labor time. The newspapers of the textile unions depicted the hardships imposed by the alternative technique of locking out but did not articulate any objection in principle to the custom. If workers failed to arrive promptly, they lost merely the right to continue the delivery transaction. Fining, by contrast, implied to the workers that the employer controlled the disposition over their labor power and could demand compensation for the loss of the owned time.
On occasion, workers' own actions expressed their acceptance of locking out more clearly than the exclamations of their newspapers did. Workers at a mill in the Colne Valley went on strike in 1910 to demand that latecomers who had been delayed by breakdowns in the public transport system on which they relied be exempted from the shut-out rule. Although the majority of workers there commuted to the mill by foot, they turned out on strike in solidarity with the tram riders until the factory owner granted the riders' demand. The workers never pressed for elimination of lock-outs altogether or for their liberalization by, say, having the employer introduce a grace period for all workers.
Whether locking out represented a spontaneous reflex by managers or a calculated policy, its principle did reach formal exposition. A popular Yorkshire handbook of the era, How to Make a Woollen Mill Pay , argued that the "enforcement of punctuality at work" represented the first and essential prerequisite for the enactment of a "mill routine." Discipline seemed not to rest on workers' mere presence at work, but on their ceremonial entering and exiting of the premises. In Germany, where the workday was conceived as the elapse of continuous time, not just a temporal succession, time discipline placed more emphasis upon the duration of production than on its beginning and end points.
The German approach could lead to anomalous time accounting. When the introduction of a stricter commercial code in Germany required that manufacturers issue factory rules in 1891 listing exact hours of work, German factory inspectors found that almost all mills already had definite starting and stopping hours. Yet many textile factories did not. They had been content until then with specifying that production would begin "in the morning" or "after sunrise" and last for a certain period. These cases revealed that the organization of a meaningful production process had not required a rigid starting point as an anchor for the passage of time.
German employers treated unpunctual attendance as a denial of labor power whose loss could be calibrated and precisely counterbalanced. Many textile factories applied a sliding scale of fines which either adjusted the penalty to the worker's average earnings or specified percentages of aver-
age earnings to be levied as fines for various periods of tardiness. This not only graduated the fine to the worker's ability to pay, but it also gauged the value of the lost time. Other mills in Germany applied a standard fine for each fraction of an hour lost. Rather than fixing the penalty at nominal amounts for gross intervals of tardiness—that is, rather than using the fine as a simple tool of discipline—the Germans thereby monetized the lost time itself and froze it with a metric. Due perhaps to their greater interest in minute-by-minute accounting, rather than in marking only gross intervals, textile mills in Germany introduced punch-in clocks on a wide scale at the turn of the century. German managers did not see punctual arrival as an unconditional preliminary for
undertaking work in the factory. The time of living labor became a form of property for whose loss employers exacted a refined compensation.
Whereas British textile workers who worked in the textile mills before the First World War drew spontaneously in interviews upon many emotional memories about the lock-outs, former German textile workers described the controls of the threshold in the same period as relatively incidental. One woman's response from the Wuppertal was echoed by others: "Fines? Of course you got fined if you came late. That was not so terrible." Like the first generation of factory workers in Britain, the German home weavers who rebelled against the newly emergent factories labeled the mills "prisons." The derisory term for undertaking factory labor was "going to Spandau." In cultural comparisons, the form in which a grievance is articulated may prove more revealing than the simple occurrence of a complaint. In their indictment of the unprecedented indignities of centralized manufacture, the German workers focused on the state of internment rather than, as the British did, on appurtenances such as the locked doors
and spiked gates encountered in passing across the border. For the German workers, unlike the British, the procedure of entering the mill did not comprise a charged ritual that exemplified the industrial wage-labor transaction.
Can we discern statutory interdictions which prevented German directors from adopting the same practice of locking out as their British counterparts? Employers' work rules offer an answer from the domain of practice. The archives of many German cities safeguard a complete set of the factory rules submitted to the police for obligatory inspection. Of the several hundred work codes available from textile companies before World War One, only a handful exclude latecomers. In one of these rare instances, from a
silk mill near Bielefeld, the employer revised the ordinance from locking out in 1892 to fining latecomers in 1894. An exception such as this one, studied and approved by inspectors, demonstrates the absence of state constraints upon employers wishing to shut workers out. Legal experts and industrial
courts agreed that German employers, so long as they included this provision in their work code, had the right to block entry. In contrast with their British counterparts, however, they generally chose not to do so.
An investigator determined to find a utilitarian explanation for the difference in entrance customs between Germany and Britain might try to explain them by the balance of power between workers and employers. If, say, German textile employers suffered from a relative shortage of labor, this might have discouraged them from locking workers out or from stringently marking the start of the day for fear of provoking workers to transfer to other firms. We can reject this hypothesis by relying on comparisons within Germany itself. A comparison of regions that had surpluses of highly skilled workers, such as Krefeld, with areas such as the Münsterland, where directors complained of shortages, reveals no difference in the entrance customs. Conversely, as was noted above, British mill directors locked workers out even during periods when workers were scarce.
The German directors' rejection of shutting workers out becomes all the more significant when placed in its legal context. After 1891, German law forbade employers from holding in their general till the monies collected through fines. Factory directors in Germany had to put such withholdings into special funds devoted to the welfare of workers, such as factory health insurance funds or welfare committees. The German reliance on fining and the British reliance on locking out are the very reverse of the outcomes that would be expected if the employers had obeyed only the crude monetary incentives of the environment. In truth, the legislation in Germany merely affirmed from above what had already been settled from below: since the era of small shop production under subcontracting systems, German textile employers had deposited workers' fines into insurance and support funds,
although they knew perfectly well they were not required to do so. German practice ostensibly hearkened back to the guild ideal of depositing fines for infractions of artisanal rules into the association's treasury. British mill owners, under the same circumstances, could pocket disciplinary and restitutive fines as they pleased.
Since employers and workers in Germany conceived of work time as a continuous process of converting labor power into an output, they treated it as something that could be abstracted from its context and transferred. In the earliest days of the factory system, German workers themselves had proposed that tardy arrivals be allowed to make up lost minutes by working late. Many factory directors gave their work force the option of taking off early from work during unofficial religious or communal holidays under the condition that the lost hours be made up by working an hour of over-
time during the following days. There was nothing surreptitious about this practice, no attempt by managers in this fashion, at least, to gain hours for the week in excess of those allowed by law. Textile directors had specified in early factory ordinances that they could shift hours among the days of the week, so long as the total remained unchanged. In Britain, production time was anchored in discrete beginning and ending points and remained bound to this concrete setting.
The German managers' floating starting points for the measurement of the workday and their reliance on efficiency ratios both rested on their premise that time was transferable and unfastened. The efficiency ratios attempted an "objective" comparison between the use of time on different days, in different years, or in industrial eras that lay decades apart. Rather than comparing technological progress in terms of the length of the cloth manufactured per loom in the course of a day or of a year, as the English did, the Germans looked at progress in terms of the utilization of time. "If the old weaving mills used to get along with 50 percent efficiency," one journal contributor commented in 1914, "that does not come close to yielding a profit at the end nowadays." A German mill director judged the success of his tenure by looking for improvements in efficiency ratios rather than seeking only an increase in the value of output per loom, as
his British counterpart did. In truth, the physical characteristics of the weaving process did not permit any valid comparison of efficiency ratios for looms running at different speeds. The decision to contrast past and present in terms of this ratio therefore derived from an a priori assumption that change ought to be conceived as the differential utilization of abstract time.
The systems for controlling workers' entrances and exits in the textile industry can be generalized to other trades with large work premises. In Germany tardy metal workers and engineers were simply fined, whereas the custom of shutting late workers outside the factory gate emerged in many enterprises in Britain. In the metal-working industry a British manager judged in 1899 that "the usual practice" across the land was to shut latecomers out until breakfast. "The best timekeepers," he added, "are usually retired soldiers, who are accustomed to strict discipline." Likewise, a guide to the "commercial management of engineering works" recommended in 1899 that employers pare their disciplinary rules to keep them simple and memorable. But its author insisted upon the draconian exclusion of latecomers from the premises until the start of the next shift. The adoption of the custom in diverse circumstances—whether the work force consisted predominantly of men or women, whether labor was centralized under one roof early or late in the industrial revolution—implies that the practice embodied a fundamental premise.
Frontiers of Discipline
The entrance to the textile mill served not just as a regulator of the passage of time but as a marker of territory, the boundary of the employer's domain. In each country the walls of the factory furnished an empty slate on which contrasting messages were inscribed. British mill owners manipulated the doorways of the mill to emphasize their jurisdiction over the borderline of the domain. If workers threatened to strike, the employers impounded them by locking the gate. When an amendment to the Factory Acts in 1902 shortened the legal working hours on Saturdays, an employer in Leeds ordered that the workroom doors, previously locked only from the inside, henceforth be locked from the outside as well. Since only top supervisors had keys to unlock the doors from the inside anyway, his action may have been intended more as a signal than as a real safeguard: if this mill director could not choose the duration of labor as he pleased, he could in this fashion display his claim to prohibit movement across the frontier of the labor space during the workday. Other proprietors responded to the forced reduction in hours with the same tactic of heightened border controls. "Some say it is like being locked in York Castle," the textile union newspaper reported from Ravensthorpe. Command over the entry points represented the critical point of confrontation.
Since the factory proprietors rarely had contact with workers in the course of the daily cycle of production, the entryway itself remained as their primary zone of contact, at once symbolic and material. Both employers and workers viewed the threshold this way. Sir Titus Salt positioned his guests by the mill gate so that they could watch the ceremony
of the workers leaving. Salt's factory must be counted among the largest in Britain, offering less chance for exchanges between the employer and ordinary workers. For this reason, the ritual of entering Salt's mill took on added importance: if workers arrived late to his mill in the morning, they "knew they dealt not with delegated authority, but with the master himself." Isaac Holden, an owner in Bradford, listed as one of his key management principles for a mill he owned that "the hands going in and coming out must go tranquilly." Among workers at Crossley's Dean Clough Mill in Halifax, the legend persisted that the elderly mother of the owner had had a mirror installed in her room so that she could inspect the crowds of workers daily as they entered and exited the mill. From their countenances, the story maintained, she could deduce their current attitudes. This tale indicates, all the more so if untrue, the way workers at this mill saw entering as a ritual moment of contact with employers and point of exposure to scrutiny.
The everyday experience of the entry controls made the doorway a potent vehicle in popular thought for condensing relations between employers and workers. A tale circulated in the heavy woolen district of Yorkshire illustrates the displacement in folk culture of the mill owner's exercise of authority onto the entranceway:
A Queensbury mill-owner always stood at the mill gate each morning, watch in hand. One morning the carter, who had been at school with the mill-owner forty years before, and had worked at the mill since then, was late. The very next morning the carter was late again, and the mill-owner duly sacked him.
—"What? Sacking me for being five minutes late—after forty years?"
—"Ah'm not sacking thi for being late, Ah'm sacking thi for defying me!"
—"In that case Ah suppose Ah can go wheer Ah like for a job?"
—"Tha can go just wheer tha likes!"
—"Right," said the Carter, "Ah'm starting here again!"
Former textile workers recalled in their interview that one boss or another always stood at the office window peering out over the mill gate. When workers quit their job in anger or rejected an employer's authority, they cried out, "I'll not be passing through your gateway again!" "The gate" did not just become a familiar turn of phrase but came to signify an opening into the life of the textile worker. A periodical about life in the north of England, which began publication in Manchester in 1905, chose the image of the entryway for its title: The Millgate. The editors' column of observations in each issue of this journal bore the heading "From the Mill Window." A magazine edited by a Huddersfield socialist contrasting the factory of the present with the society of the future called itself The Gateway.
By comparison with Britain, the form in which labor was commodified in Germany depreciated the importance of the doorway as a zone of contact with employers. At many German mills the managers relinquished central responsibility for recording entry and shifted the onus of keeping track of workers' attendance and punctuality to the individual overlookers. Was
not the heart of the matter control of the workers' labor power, not of their crossing a line? In some instances the company rules for conduct in Germany defined late arrival as failure to set one's machinery in motion by the specified minute. The overlookers' prospects for keeping their jobs depended on their ability to make sure that the workers in their charge appeared at their machines on time.
The Factory Acts restricting the length of workdays in Britain defined the workers' period of labor by their presence in the factory, defined as including any area within the confines of the mill gates. Space marked the boundaries of employment. In Germany, by contrast, the laws regulating the length of employment in the factory referred to attendance at machines or in manual production. Accordingly, the courts determined that the period of work was determined by use of the employees' labor in the manufacturing process. They reasoned that workers could remain on the premises of the mill for any period if they were not engaged in material production. The courts naturally feared that employers might coerce workers to undertake miscellaneous tasks at all hours, so they were reluctant to exempt all categories of workers from time limits if they were not engaged in manufacture. In contrast to the unambiguous classification in Britain based on the
position of the worker in space, however, the German limits on time focused on the use of the labor capacity.
In regulating border crossings, British employers made more of a claim to the workers' presence in the confines of the factory than to their time at the loom. The most popular treatise on "scientific" management published before the war, Edward Elbourne's Factory Administration and Accounts , took care to define the worker's arrival as his standing on company property, not as being positioned at the machine. The Textile Manufacturer reported in 1901 in a matter-of-fact tone that directors did not force workers to begin work promptly after they were inside the gate. "Most men weavers consider it a disgrace to be in their places waiting for the engines to start," the journal claimed. "They knock the ashes out of their pipes just as the gates are being closed, and then saunter leisurely to their work." In this instance, crossing the border zone between the inside and outside of the mill carried more significance than beginning to produce.
In each country the workers' clothing on factory premises complemented the border controls. In Germany textile workers typically arrived at the mill in their street clothes and changed into work clothes before they reported to their machines. Sometimes the firm designed, procured, and washed the work clothing. The alteration in German workers' exterior signaled
the consignment of their labor power to the factory owner's dominion. British workers, who transferred labor time in products but not the labor power in their person, rarely changed their pants, skirts, or blouses when they entered and exited the mill. Even if work inside the mill coated them with waste, they wore the same clothes home. No wonder the lack of changing rooms was never debated in Britain as it was in Germany, where having to remove clothing in the mill became an important grievance among female workers where facilities for changing in private were lacking. Female textile workers in Britain, like their male co-workers, of course removed their outerwear, such as shawls or vests, but as a rule did not change to a company outfit. In Britain employers emphasized the momentary regulation of workers' bodies as workers stepped over the factory threshold. In Germany the dressing ritual used workers' bodies as a marker of the continuous alienation of the labor power lodged in the person of the worker.
The emphasis on the control of border points that characterized British textile factories prevailed in other trades. The general manager of the Salford Rolling Mills, in an 1896 guide to the administration of iron mills, devoted an
entire chapter to the layout and use of "The Entrance Gates." His depiction of the factory perimeter employed the military analogy of a citadel:
the gates of a factory should be as rigidly watched as those of a fortress, and for this purposes an official, viz. The Gatekeeper, should be appointed. . . . The gates must be absolutely closed at the prescribed time, such, for instance, as when the whistle has ceased blowing. No relaxation whatever must be tolerated.
The ideal of a walled fortress to which this writer referred influenced not only the use of factory buildings but the ponderable design of the structures themselves.
The Partitioning of Space
The differing physical layouts of British and German textile mills in the late nineteenth century furnished contrasting stage settings—true "foundations"—for labor's transmission. Technical manuals of the nineteenth century treated the selection of mill architecture as part of the "science" of manufacturing. Modern British woolen and worsted mills stereotypically were arranged like closed, defensive fortresses: the various rooms for spinning, for assembling the warps, and for weaving formed a ring enclosing a central courtyard or "mill yard." The entrance gate, often set under an archway, offered the only opening from the outside that led into this yard and into the workrooms (see Figure 6). Otherwise, the factory presented a solid barrier to the surrounding world, sometimes with no windows on the ground floor. The layout could also call upon a row of workers' dwellings
on one or more sides of its perimeter to form part of the barricaded zone. Naturally, these houses on the boundary had no openings into the mill yard.
The fortress-like enclosure of a mill yard by the workrooms appeared in the design of mills in Lancashire and elsewhere in the northwest, once factory design had come into its own. The arrangement became an emblem not only in the actual conduct of manufacturing but in the fancies of literature. The frontispiece to Andrew Ure's famous tract The Philosophy of Manufactures , published in 1835, portrayed a factory whose wings were shaped to enclose a courtyard. The assumptions of this graphic depiction achieved verbal expression. Ure, an advocate of the mill system's satanic regimen during the youthful phases of industrial growth, emphasized the textile workers' encapsulation by referring to the hapless operatives as "factory inmates."
To be sure, the enveloping design occurred more frequently in built-up urban areas, where the need to mark off one's own territory and to guard against intrusions was greater than in the countryside, where isolated mills, which expanded incrementally, sometimes consisted of small, scattered buildings, without a comprehensive model. Therefore the castle design was far from universal and, indeed, was realized in pure form in only a minority of cases. Yet it represented something of an architectural stereotype, a
layout which appeared when unprompted by the environment. For instance, Sir Titus Salt in the 1870s built his mill in the middle of an undeveloped parcel of land large enough to accommodate an entire town, yet he, too, adopted the fortress structure. This arrangement struck German observers of British developments as representative of British thinking. Once it was crystallized in factory layouts in the north of England, the British carried it to contexts where land values, the landscape, and the infrastructure were far different. For example, in his treatise on mill construction William Fairbairn presented a blueprint for building a woolen factory in the open countryside of a foreign country, Turkey. He incorporated the classic sealed yard into the design of the U-shaped building itself. The Platt Brothers' plans for integrated cotton mills in Brazil at the beginning of the twentieth century came in various sizes, but they arranged the workrooms in an unbroken circle around a secured yard. The transference of this pattern into such diverse habitats offers a hint that it conformed, not to the physical requirements of the surroundings, but to a cultural model.
Apart from their structural emphasis on control of access points, British mills were distinguished from German ones by the attention they gave to the design of the main portal. The entrance exterior was some-
times flanked by imposing towers or crowned by intricate ornamentation. On the inside, the entrance hallway might feature extra doors which managers used as backup devices to seal off access to the main workrooms or, from the other direction, access to the main gate. This design appeared in the very earliest mills. The Poor Man's Advocate investigated a spinning mill in 1832 where the gates were "numerous, being placed one within the other, in order, we suppose, that if any of the wretched inmates should escape through the first they may be secured by the next." Similar arrangements appeared in later facilities. At the West Vale textile works near Halifax, constructed during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, owners even installed a special lever for the gatekeeper which ran from his office perch to a second door on the inside of the entry corridor, permitting him to inspect the arrivals a second time in the corridor and decide whether to let them proceed.
What information did the factory's design encode? Let us extract the elementary structure behind the visible architecture by mapping the passages between rooms on the premises. Figure 7 delineates the apertures between the compartments of the illustrative floorplan. The diagrams reveal, first, that the fortress design could turn the mill yard into a nodal point. The yard served not just as an unloading or storage area but as a connector for human traffic. In fact, movement even between work rooms that were contiguous frequently had to flow through the central yard. Each of the major rooms is organized as a self-sufficient space, which opens to the others via an interchange that serves every room in the
complex. In sum, once workers negotiated the entry passage into the facility, the design gave them easy access to every corner of the interior. This basic principle underlay the design of some mills, such as that of the Blackburns in Batley, Yorkshire, even when at first glance the mill buildings did not seem to be arranged as a castle, but all of whose rooms nonetheless fed into two courtyard passages. The layout created an encompassing perimeter while permitting rapid movement in the interior.
Surveillance of the central yard could give a comprehensive view of important traffic at a glance. To take advantage of this, British textile
directors occasionally incorporated large lookouts or jutting bay windows into their mill offices. These impressive windows did not face away from the factory perimeter for an enjoyable view, but looked instead toward the interior mill yard. At Grecian mills in Bolton, Lancashire, the management offices had such an obtrusive bay window facing the main gate that it may well have shunted entering traffic to the side. At Bean Ing mills in Leeds, Yorkshire, the surveillance windows were placed at the curved tip of a projection that pointed toward the middle of the inner yard. A visitor to a coarse cloth factory at Knightsbridge during the 1840s described a more elaborate contrivance at a rotunda-like factory: "On the summit of the building, at a considerable elevation, is a small square room, provided with windows on all four sides. From this an extensive view may be obtained in every direction." Of course, a simple window peering inward could serve as the observation site almost as well: the strategy was to position the management complex so that it could receive vendors and customers from without but also scan the interned laborers within.
When the Germans constructed their facilities, they consciously imitated other, superficial features of British mill design, such as styles of ornamentation. The Germans also followed the English methods of
transmitting power from the steam engine to the machines. But they incorporated different structural principles into the layouts of the buildings themselves. Their factories did not arrange the workrooms to cordon off the outside world and impound laborers inside. Where German mill owners fenced in their property, as was often the case, this did not form an integral part of the design of the building itself. Rather than arrange workrooms as a fortress to accentuate the frontier between outside and in, the German facilities emphasized the constriction of movement once laborers were engaged in the labor process. Except for the essential transport of materials, the German building layout segregated the principal workrooms from each other and from the ancillary rooms that housed processes such as carding raw cotton or preparing warps for the looms. Moving from one corner of the mill to another required workers to proceed through intermediate chambers of the interior. Figure 8 reproduces the floor plan of a German mill. Figure 9 diagrams its basic structures. In contrast to the British mills, traffic does not converge on a nodal point but flows among links on a chain. There is no "center" from which the privileged observer can inspect traffic on the premises as a whole, yet the lack of central oversight is balanced by greater obstacles to movement between distant points. Counterfeit instances of symmetrical fortress-like structures appear in Germany. With one plan, sketched in 1849 for
a Saxon village, the castle layout may have fit an aesthetic ideal of a noble court, but it actually contained multiple entrances and was ill adapted for forming an impenetrable perimeter. With another, the Spinning and Weaving Factory Ettlingen in Baden, erected in 1838, the constructor designed the mill according to the same plan he had drawn up earlier for an army barracks. The mill was inserted in a complex that created numerous openings and did not direct traffic through the central court. This was representative: the editor of one set of German mill plans even boasted that an exemplary weaving building was accessible from three separate points after workers had entered the grounds. When large German complexes were erected at once around a central space, such as the Flax Mill of Schoeller, Mevissen, & Bücklers in Düren, they could have emphasized the enclosure of workers and observation of their movement through a central yard. Instead, they opened up onto the adjacent gardens and fields. In Britain, the fortress design could be employed in "rationalized" mills, where each processing room was located around the perimeter for the most efficient movement of raw materials, as well as in haphazardly organized older mills, where the stages of processing the materials were not necessarily assigned sequentially in adjacent work rooms.
German commentators believed that contrasts in building materials and climate could not account for differences in structural design between their country and Britain. Taste, they said, determined the ultimate format. As early as 1844, the engineer Ludwig Kufahl of Berlin observed a crucial difference between British and German plans:
I am familiar with the example of an extremely large flax spinning mill in Leeds. . . . With very scrupulous concern this building ensures above all that the workers can be watched over with complete ease. With us this very important point is often neglected. In fact, one could say that our factory buildings often appear to have been deliberately laid out to hinder surveillance of workers. For this one cannot combine every conceivable kind of work process together; but this is by no means necessary, just so the various jobs are grouped in such a way that a suitable control is possible and so that raw materials pass through the hands of the workpeople in the proper order, proceeding in their conversion from a raw condition to a completed manufacture.
Kufahl did not think that work processes should be combined or connected to a single open space simply for the sake of comprehensive oversight of workers from afar. He considered it sufficient to organize traffic to move components through the mill in a logical sequence. The German factory designs were "cellular," with numerous partitions and no centralized pathway for movement between chambers.
The fortress layout in Britain rested upon a combination of technological limits and opportunities. It took the liberty of breaking up the total production space of a factory premises into smaller units to form the fortress wings. Given the engineering techniques of the day, this represented a useful way of partitioning the land parcel. The width of work rooms in multistory spinning mills had in any case been limited by reliance upon iron frameworks to support the weight of the building. Rooms were long and narrow, a shape that was easy to configure around a large court. Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, however, an increase in the size of machines and in the scale of production made it preferable to unify floor space. Cotton spinning
mules, for example, reached a length of 140 feet, so that the width of new buildings had to triple to organize aisle space efficiently. Meeting this requirement became possible only with changes in construction methods. The introduction of steel girders and new techniques for supporting weight in the 1890s permitted the development of huge, squarish rooms that used space efficiently but were no longer arrangeable around a yard.
These innovations in engineering changed the visible edifice of the labor process in newly constructed spinning facilities in Britain. Yet the principles of the underlying structure were preserved and manifested in fresh ways. The cavernous new buildings built in the British towns that were still expanding production were distinguished by an absence of dividing walls between the work processes. Managers in the Bolton cotton trade, for instance, suggested that the preparatory processes be housed on the first floor without boundaries between the drawing, slubbing, and jack frames and the carding engines. At Gil mill, expansion of the mill allowed the preparatory and spinning processes to be installed in the same room as the weaving machines without partitions. By contrast, German mills of equal capacity retained internal walls between departments. This became a characteristic difference between British and German mills that did not escape the notice of contemporaries. A technical writer based in Manchester presented a cotton mill plan in 1897 borrowed from the Continent but made a suggestion on how to adapt the foreign blueprint to British expectations: "The supervision and management of the mill is greatly facilitated," he said, if "the whole of the machinery can readily be
seen. If desired . . . the internal division walls can be removed and columns substituted." As with the fortress design, the undivided British layout in giant mills depreciated control over the rapid circulation of workers once they were inside the mill, but it lent the observer a sweeping view of their movement. In contrast to the "cellular" design of German factories, the British designs were "circumferential," emphasizing the outer boundary but not partitions within.
The definition of labor as a commodity did not conjure the factory layouts out of thin air, but started from the technical preconditions of building design. Despite changes in these requirements in the late nineteenth century, the tangible materials of production could still be sculpted into shapes that carried the same implications for the treatment of labor as a commodity. Mill architecture and rituals for entering the factory in Germany and in Britain reified contrasting fictions about the employment relation—again, the disposition over labor power versus the appropriation of labor incorporated into products. In Germany, the production process was conceived as the continuous transformation in time of labor power into a product. In this process the worker's labor activity was consumed inside the factory owner's domain, so the divide between inside and out
did not become marked as the crucial zone of subordination. The layout of the German mills corresponded to an emphasis on the overlooker's responsibility for attaching the worker to the machine and a comparative depreciation of controls at the perimeter of the building. In Britain, by contrast, the workers retained ownership of their labor power but conveyed labor through products that were appropriated; since the workers' labor was not incorporated into the employers' domain through a continuous process in time , it was incorporated at a discrete moment through the ritual event of entering the factory. Rather than being transformed in the factory, labor was merely circumscribed and observed at a distance, by emphasizing the boundary between the factory and the world outside. Both the centripetal paths for traffic in older British mills and the atrophy of room partitions in the newer cotton spinning mills relaxed controls over rapid movement. Within the German factory, by contrast, the workers were segregated in compartments that curtailed passage between various corners of the mill. Their activity itself was appropriated in space.
Because German and British factory buildings concretized information about the labor transaction, they could take on the task of imparting and reproducing—truly, "holding in place"—definitions of labor among the
workers. To receive this knowledge, the participants did not study messages; they enacted and lived them. In the critical mind of the analyst, the tendency for a conformation between architecture and accounting, between spatial and temporal demarcations, makes for a charming coincidence; in the experience of the producers it created an encompassing constellation. For those who lived through the procedures of entry and the partitioning of space under the factory roof, concepts of labor became influential not because they were embodied in literature but because they were literally embodied. The enclosed mill yard and internment of workers in a centripetal space characterized factories in other British trades, including leather-making and sewing.Vide et crede: the fictive inventions of labor as a commodity were written in stone.
Theory in the Mill Yard
The present study suggests that powerful impressions of labor as a commodity, which showed prominent variations between countries, were not deliberately generated by formal organizations for the dissemination of ideas. They were not subsidized by the state or by a class but were born in the producers' lived experience at the point of production. Cultural formulations are transmitted through the form of instrumental practice, in addition to conventional verbal communication. For example, the procedures for entering the mill comprised both a humdrum action of individuals' daily routine and a public ritual through which the meaning of labor was communicated and re-endorsed in a shared setting. The ideologies of labor as a commodity were sustained not because they were consistent with or corresponded to everyday procedures but because they were part and parcel of them, brought to life because practice was designed as a mode of communication. Unless analysts reconstruct the signifying function of the forms assumed by the instrumentalities of everyday life, they will pass over the lived context in which verbal discussion assumed its meaning and its power. Furthermore, they will necessarily miss the lucid ideas of a culture that are incarnated in material techniques, transferred from enactment to enactment
and visibly articulated without passing through a moment of verbal elucidation. Individual agents borrowed the specifications of labor but never became their appropriators and owners, for these designs remained lodged in the shared house of public, sensuous practice.
The Cultural Location of Overlookers
[Persons] performing the same motions side by side, might be said to be performing different acts, in proportion as they differed in their attitudes toward their work.
Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives
Investigators who conduct cross-national studies of the labor process take the "organization" of production as their object of analysis. They assume that cultural differences are revealed in organizational structures. Marc Maurice and his colleagues, in their classic studies of contemporary French, German, and British factories in the 1970s, compared such organizational features as the chain of command, the proportion of blue collar "works" employees, and the distribution of workers among maintenance and production departments. The team of Gary Hamilton, Nicole Woolsey Biggart, and Marco Orrù is bringing this same focus up to date. They have identified national differences within East Asia in the "organizational characteristics" of economic undertakings such as the patterns of subcontracting relations and of social networks for financing. The inquiry at hand diverges from these prior efforts because it finds national differences not in organizational structures but in the humble instrumentalities of production, in the micro-procedures by which workers and employers treated labor as a commodity that could be registered, manipulated, and accounted for. Consider our initial exemplar, the construction of the piece-rate scales, which specified the terms by which weavers' labor was valorized. The piece schedules anchored the essential terms of the labor transaction. Yet obviously the functioning of the piece-rate scales—or of the indicators for output, or of accounting for the
costs of weaving—did not comprise part of the organizational structure of the factory, insofar as they did not by themselves constitute significant differences in job responsibilities or in social interaction among the agents of production in the workplace. They point to a dimension of production separate from face-to-face interaction and distinct from social structure. They mark the formation of inconspicuous but vital micro-procedures for conceiving the valorization of labor.
The constraints of the manufacturing process in nineteenth-century textile mills provide uniquely favorable terrain for illustrating the analytic difference between organizational structure and the instrumentalities of discipline and production on the shop floor. The historian Sidney Pollard, in his distinguished essays on the development of industrial supervision, offered a remarkable comment about the textile business: although this trade included some of the most dynamic enterprises of the first phase of industrialization, it seemed to Pollard that even for the early, "heroic" stage of textile development there was less to be said about administration in this branch of enterprise than in many others. He reasoned that the labor process in the mills was so circumscribed by its essential machinery (in comparison with mining or metal-working) that little scope remained for originality in the layout or design of production. By the latest evidence of the day, some may question Pollard's logic, but we have faint reason to revise his judgment as a statement of historical fact, at least for a comparison of weaving mills. Yet the relative uniformity of industrial organization in this branch of production, far from closing it off to cultural examination, provides a privileged site for highlighting the lodgement of different cultural practices in similar social organizations.
The separability of social organization and micro-procedures becomes evident in the ensemble of practices that defined the activity and the labor contribution of textile factory supervisors. In the weaving branch, overlookers in Germany and Britain had similar training, the same position in the chain of command, and parallel job responsibilities. Yet contrasting procedures were used to conceptualize their wage and to account for its cost to the firm, and the concepts used to compare and distinguish overlookers from workers were different indeed. In other words, although the overlookers had
the same productive functions in each country, these functions received divergent cultural inscriptions.
In the movement of production, weaving supervisors stood in a structurally ambiguous position: they were paid for their labor, in some form, like any other employee; yet in the name of the capitalist they also supervised underlings' performance. Given the overlookers' equivocal status, the definition of the employment transaction in Britain as the delivery of materialized labor could highlight the aspect of the overlookers' activity which corresponded to that of productive agents who incorporated their labor into the product of their subordinates. In Germany, given the same job functions and responsibilities of overlookers, the cultural understanding of employment as the transfer of a service potential framed the overlookers' activity as the execution of the owner's authority over subordinates. The definition of the textile overlookers' role depended upon the template by which labor was commodified, rather than upon differences in the distribution of responsibilities, technology, markets, or societal differences in the style of command in private and public organizations.
Imagining the Overlookers' Contribution
The purchase of labor in the capitalist enterprise confronts social agents with a paradox when they analyze expenses and earnings. The moment workers expend their efforts, their labor no longer belongs to them and cannot be sold. Therefore as a visibly constructive activity, labor lacks an exchange value. It exists as a commodity in the marketplace as a projected activity or as it is materialized in another good—in effect it is brought to market before it is created and remunerated as it disappears into another object.
Yet textile directors had to quantify this apparition. To establish the receipt of labor at a cost, textile employers in Britain and Germany confronted a challenge more difficult than the one they encountered in draw-
ing up scales for the weavers. To establish the price of weavers' labor, owners resorted to measuring the product, either as an index of activity or as a vessel for materialized labor, and on either basis compared the value of fabrics that differed only in their formal properties. For the overlookers' pay scales, however, it was not immediately evident to employers and workers whether there was in fact any "product" of the overlookers' activity to take as an emblem for labor. Overlookers assisted in manufacturing but did not accomplish the weaving themselves. Employers relied upon fictive concepts of labor as a commodity to identify the contribution of the overlookers' activity to the company's overall production effort. To isolate the independent effect of these shared concepts on owners' decisions, we must appreciate the overlookers' visible functions in the weaving process.
In contrast with such enterprises as mining or steel, where an owner needed the overlookers to guide and coordinate the labor of work teams, the role of overlookers in weaving rested more exclusively on an immediate technical demand: namely, the need of prewar power looms for frequent repair, for replacement of worn parts, and for adjustment to each change in fabric pattern. Certainly up to the time of the First World War, looms required constant repair. Even for the most experienced weavers, the loom's output in experimental trials varied considerably with the attention given by the overlooker to the instrument's ongoing adjustment. Textile directors in both Germany and Britain assigned each overlooker responsibility for maintaining a number of looms grouped together in a section of the weaving room. Having a team of overlookers take collective responsibility for all the looms in a room proved impossible, for each machine in the mill had its quirks and idiosyncratic history of repairs. Overlookers worked most efficiently on machines they knew individually. At mills that manufactured short runs of different kinds of fabric the overlookers might also take responsibility for assigning warps to particular weavers.
The weaving overlookers in Germany and Britain also shared the same position in the factory hierarchy. Above them stood the foremen, usually assigned one to a department. Below stood only the weavers themselves. Depending on the difficulty of the pattern and the fragility of the materials, a weaver served from one to four looms: in cotton, four represented the norm; in worsteds, two; and in woolens, one. Any attempt to formulate these averages in a straightforward manner brings out a host of exceptions. Yet in both countries these assignments were the typical ones.
Just as the ratios of looms to weavers corresponded in Germany and Britain, so did the ratios of looms to overlookers. Although employers in both countries saw the overlookers as the key agents responsible for the maintenance of discipline in the mill, the need for adjusting the machinery rather than the need for oversight set the major boundaries for the hiring and allocation of overlookers within the factory. Hardly any manager considered hiring more overlookers than necessary for servicing the looms, although additional superintendents might have offered tighter surveillance over the weavers and greater opportunity to catch faults before weavers ruined a run of cloth. One director of a Yorkshire woolen mill said, "It is far better that the [overlooking] staff should be inadequate rather than too numerous, for men are never so discontented as when they have too little work to do." The precise ratio of overlookers to looms depended primarily on the design of the machine. In both countries, according to oral reports and technical journals, an overlooker for, say, narrow, plain cotton cloth had in his section eighty to one hundred looms and, for checked cotton cloth, fifty to seventy. Due perhaps to relative stagnation in mechanical design in the decades near the turn of the century, these ratios remained stable from at least the 1880s until the
First World War. In silk mills, both German and British businessmen considered fifty looms per overlooker the maximum. In the woolen trade, an overlooker might have charge of fewer than twenty-five looms. The matched numbers of looms per German and English overlooker across the wool, cotton, and silk branches suggests that the actual division of labor in weaving followed down-to-earth technical imperatives in the two countries.
Contemporaries believed that the supply of capable overlookers by far exceeded the demand. Until the First World War, weaving overlookers seldom received specialized technical training, apart from optional attendance at night school. The earliest German investigations into the availability of overlookers, undertaken by the factory inspectorate in 1887, concluded that in Germany as a whole employers very seldom complained of shortages of skilled overlooking applicants. Overlookers' associations in Germany had members on call to fill in or to take up permanent positions.
In Bradford, Yorkshire, the weaving overlookers' union considered the surplus of overlookers so serious that after the turn of the century it periodically prohibited its members from taking on apprentices, even their own sons. The abundance of qualified overlookers in Yorkshire can also be assessed from the circumstance that some owners there, to take advantage of the competition for overlooking jobs, opened bids from candidates for a position and hired the person making the lowest offer. The overlookers may have dominated their underlings, but above the overlookers there towered a forbidding market.
In view of the parallels in weaving overlookers' technical responsibilities and market predicaments in the two countries, it ought not to occasion surprise that German and British weaving overlookers also shared about the same levels of pay, reckoned as a proportion of that received by an average weaver under them. The Board of Trade in the United Kingdom found in its survey of 1906 that overlookers in the north of England earned 50 to 75 percent more than an average weaver. Local surveys and company wage books in Germany reveal about the same differential.
If the level of compensation for overlookers was proportionately equal between the two countries, the business procedures for conceiving it followed contrasting principles. In Lancashire, by "universal custom," an overlooker received the whole of his pay in the form of a commission. It was reckoned as a fraction of all the pay received by the weavers in his section. An overlooker earned a certain amount—from a shilling and twopence up to a shilling and fourpence—on each pound sterling of the weavers' take-home pay. This equaled a commission of 5 to 7 percent. The participants called this the "poundage" system (referring to the unit of currency, of course, not that of weight). Elsewhere in the north of England the methods by which overlookers received their pay varied. In Yorkshire, only 8 percent of overlookers received their wage exclusively in the form of a commission. More often, each received a minimum weekly sum, supplemented by a bonus determined by the earnings of their subordinate weavers.
A variety of payment conventions for textile overlookers also arose in Germany, but remuneration purely by commission was extremely rare. German weaving overlookers, including the lowest loom fixers, generally
worked for a fixed weekly wage. They also received year-end salary bonuses. In contrast to arrangements in Britain, a major portion of the German textile overlookers' compensation seldom fluctuated with the productivity of the immediate underlings they assisted.
How did German and British employers imagine they received the commodity of labor from overlookers? In the case of the overlookers, unlike the weavers, the product could not be decomposed to serve as a model for the activity put into it. For the overlookers we must look beyond the form of remuneration to consider how employers apportioned the cost of overlooking wages in their company books. Since each textile enterprise manufactured a spectrum of products, companies had to estimate the expense of producing each type of fabric. With the maturing of the industry and the consequent crowding of the yarn and cloth markets, cost accounting became increasingly important for the survival of the enterprises in both Germany and Britain. "Many mill men will say with pride that they can tell what it costs to produce a pound of yarn, or a yard of cloth, to a small fraction of a penny," the Textile Manufacturer reported in 1907. Although directors and
their scriveners tallied labor expenses with great precision, they used contrasting reasoning in Germany and England when they conjectured about the expense of overlooking for different fabrics.
Managers in Yorkshire who cared to reckon their expenses with precision used different methods than in Lancashire, yet in both districts they followed a logic that was generically different from that used in Germany. In Lancashire, the system of pay directly reveals the accounting method in use: owners automatically lumped the overlooker's wage together with the weaver's wage in the cost of each piece. If the employer wanted to handle not only the weaver's labor but also the supervisory and technical contribution of the overlooker as a commodity embodied in the finished product, this method was the most suitable. It offered a formal advantage in the event of a downturn: not only did overlookers' wages decline automatically, but they did so exactly proportionately to weavers' wages, as if to buy exactly so much "labor" from the overlookers as was necessary for the productive tasks at hand. In terms of Weber's criterion of formal calculability, this system of pay ranks as the most rational: it makes supervisory "labor" a totally flexible production factor. The employer remained free to buy only so much "labor" as he needed at the moment and could shift all the uncertainties of the demand for labor onto the overlookers themselves.
Although the Lancashire system had a high degree of formal rationality, its measure of the "labor" purchased had little to do with the substantive realities of production. Because it piggybacked an overlooker's wages onto those of the weavers, the Lancashire procedure gave an overlooker a bonus when the weavers in his section wove cloth with complicated patterns, which required more skill and thus commanded higher wages. But the overlooker might not be called upon to do proportionately more tuning for the weavers in this case; he received a bonus for their skill unrelated to his own input of time or effort. (Furthermore, an overlooker might let the machinery fall into a poor state of repair and then move to another shop, reaping the pay in the short term for the completed fabric and avoiding the long-term investment in equipment maintenance.) No matter what the conse-
quences, the Lancashire system looked at the value of the labor embodied in the product and reckoned backwards to surmise the overlookers' contribution embodied in the product.
The Yorkshire costing method shared the premise of the Lancashire system that the overlookers' wages ought to be figured as if their labor were embodied in the fabric like other workers'. In Yorkshire, the textile book-keepers costed the production expenses of a particular run of cloth by adding the overlooking wages onto the cloth in the same manner as finishing and burling wages: by length of the fabric. The firm took its total cloth production for a year, in yards, and divided this by the overlookers' wage bill for the year. (Less often, the average costs were tallied separately for several major varieties of fabric.) For purposes of costing a particular fabric, Yorkshire mill accountants treated overlookers' salaries as "Productive Wages," together with those of the finishers and burlers and with those of the weavers. Company records show that the overlookers' costs were distributed per piece of fabric, adjusted for length.
In Germany, standard accounting procedures separated the overlookers' wages from those of the subordinate workers. The clerks merged the costs of overlookers' salaries with the costs of machinery, insurance, property taxes, energy, and so forth into a category called Regiekosten. A modern accountant might translate this as "administrative overhead," but the term also connotes something like "costs of directing production." Having created this general classification, German factory owners relied upon two different methods to distribute the costs of supervision onto a weaving mill's product. With the first method, German accountants calculated how long it took a loom to turn out a particular length of cloth, based on the average efficiency ratio for the firm as a whole or for that particular kind of cloth; then the annual overhead, including the overlookers' salaries, was added to the cloth based on how much of the loom's time, including the changing of the warp, the piece would have been expected to claim. The
German accountants apportioned the wage costs of the ordinary weavers by a different means than they used for the overlookers; they simply read off the amount specified on the piece-rate scales for fabric of a certain grade. But they did not merge overlooking outlays with these expenses, because they did not regard the costs of overlooking as a form of wages (Arbeitslöhne ).
German accountants also used another system for distributing overlooking costs. This second method distributed weaving overlookers' wages, like other overhead costs, as a percentage of material costs and ordinary workers' wages. The firm recorded its total annual expenditure for ordinary wages and materials and then calculated the ratio of this total expenditure to the yearly overhead expenses, including overlooking. For each piece of cloth, then, the company first considered the cost of the materials that went into it, plus the piece-rate wages for the weaving and warping and the average per meter for burling and finishing. Then the firm assumed that for this particular length and type of cloth, the ratio of these primary costs to overhead costs should be the same as for the mill's output in general, so the firm added on this standard percentage to arrive at the cost of that cloth.
Both German methods merged funds expended on overlooking with general overhead, processing overlooking expenses as part of the underlying cost of maintaining the firm, not, as in England, as an ingredient, like weavers' labor, that was used up and embodied in a length of cloth. Neither German method distributed overlooking outlays as a separate component per length of the cloth, as the Yorkshire and Lancashire systems did. In particular, the first of the German methods considered only the time required to turn out a number of shots with a given efficiency ratio rather than the length, that is, rather than the product. This German method
operated more accurately at a given juncture in the business cycle than the Yorkshire method, in that its focus on the activity also properly measured the time taken up by producing the various densities of cloth, whereas the British either proceeded by length alone or by only a few benchmark densities for which separate yearly tallies could be kept. The Yorkshire method, however, ran with greater accuracy than the German over long time periods, in that overlooking outlays were distributed per length as a separate component rather than as capital investments, which might not behave like overlooking costs through the business cycle.
What, then, were the practical implications of the methods of allocating overlooking expenses? British costing rested on the assumption that overlooking represented a cost that fluctuated with output: under the Lancashire procedure, if a mill turned out more fabric than the previous year and improved its efficiency, overlooking expenses in costing procedures for the following year remained constant per cloth length. This also meant that overlooking costs rose both absolutely and, since capital overhead for machinery would decline per length, as a proportion of total manufacturing costs per length as well. The system treated the overlooker's contribution as an ingredient embedded in the product. Cloth had the same "amount" of this input even if efficiency improved. The Yorkshire costing procedure assumed that overlookers' pay would behave like the pay of other ordinary workers, that is, would remain stable per length of cloth.
Under the German accounting system, if the factory improved its efficiency after the course of a year, then for costing purposes in the following year the expenses of overlooking, like other overhead, would decline as a proportion of total manufacturing costs per length. Companies treated overlookers' supervision as a precondition for production, part of the "base" for manufacturing, rather than as a quantity which was incorporated into the product. This procedure incarnated a cultural procedure more than it corresponded to the actual conditions of production; in practice, the Germans dismissed overlookers in the event of a business downturn, so overlookers' pay did not represent a fixed cost like that of a standing loom or like the company's key clerical staff.
Can we derive the difference in these procedures from the demands of the business environment? Is it plausible that the German costing procedures in textiles, which fused overlooking costs with general fixed expenses, resulted from a greater tolerance for high or invariable outlays on supervision? German business manuals argued that if a firm confronted a need to reduce manufacturing costs, it caused less turmoil in the factory to cut the salaries of the overlookers than the piece rates of the workers. German business magazines stressed the need to cap outlays for overlooking. Want ads in German professional journals sometimes specified a preference for unmarried applicants among candidates for overlooking positions, presumably so that the applicant could accept a lower salary or undertake repair work during the evenings as needed. The contrast in accounting logic for overlooking outlays did not mirror thrifty administration in Britain and prodigal management in Germany.
To attribute the difference in modes of payment to Britain's "earlier" industrial development would be fashionable but unduly facile. The British arrangement resembles systems of management which have been called "subcontracting" or "indirect control." In many branches of industry, the pioneering factory owners, unable or unwilling to take direct command of production on the shop floor, started by delegating authority to their foremen, whom they paid by the turn-out of goods (and who in turn hired and
controlled their own workers). Research in a range of historical settings, from Europe to Japan, has found that in the early industrial era, systems which paid overlookers as subcontractors predominated in many trades. At a time when manufacturing still depended on craft knowledge or on the secret know-how of the overlookers and foremen, graded monetary sanctions gave owners the only feasible check on, and evaluation of, the overlookers' loyalty and efficiency. An explanation of the British method of paying weaving overlookers based on this ground seems especially plausible since Lancashire, the earliest center of the textile industry, also offered the practice's clearest expression.
Yet such an argument based on the timing of development does not apply to the question at hand. The Wuppertal, a forerunner for the rest of Germany, moved only a few decades behind Lancashire in mechanizing its weaving mills; indeed, in wool weaving it kept pace with Yorkshire. But the Wuppertal had a pure salary system for overlookers and allocated overlooking costs as a fixed expense. Even if payment by results first arose in an earlier stage of development, its survival depended on active propagation, not institutional inertia. Management experts contended that the commissions graded by weavers' wages "stimulated" overlookers' interest in efficient production and encouraged them to be punctual. At J. T. and T. Taylor's mill at Batley, Yorkshire, in 1912 managers shifted the overlook-
ers to pay based solely on output. The methods British owners used to remunerate overlookers resulted from contemporaneous reasoning rather than unexamined tradition inherited from an earlier phase of development.
A final utilitarian approach to the difference between Germany and England might dissect the consequences of the payment methods for production costs. The textile industry was exposed to price fluctuations on both the input and the output side. On the input side, since the trade's raw materials consisted of vegetable and animal products, their prices varied with the weather and growing conditions. Raw cotton prices could change by as much as 50 percent in a few months, and prices for wool yarn fluctuated even more severely. Merchants and manufacturers alike speculated in the market for these raw commodities. On the output side, the fortunes of many firms and of whole branches depended, season to season, on unforeseeable shifts in clothing fashions.
If a company cut back on production, the Lancashire and Yorkshire systems, by basing the overlookers' wages on those of the weavers, automatically reduced overlooking expenses. At first blush, the German technique would seem to rigidify overlookers' salaries; but in the event of a downturn owners simply laid overlookers off. In 1893 and 1894, members of the German overlookers' and foremen's union (which, to be sure, included non-textile overlookers) reported nearly eight hundred cases of changes of employers; of these, 60 percent were due to the employer having given notice.
Alternatively, mill directors could reduce the days of work and pay of those German overlookers on weekly wages. In short, the German procedure featured a degree of elasticity. The two systems did not diverge greatly in their ability to conform to the business cycle.
Finally, mills in both countries specializing in long runs of fabric for which demand was relatively stable did not deviate from the standards set by firms with fluctuating orders. The same accounting logic prevailed regardless of the market niche in which the firm operated, from simple towel makers to fancy goods manufacturers. It also applied to the spinning branch. This relative invariance within each country makes it implausible to contend that the variation in accounting systems evolved to cope with differing business experiences.
The owners' payment of overlookers and their procedures for allocating overlooking expenses fit the commodity forms of labor German and British producers used in carrying out production. As in the construction of weavers' piece-rate scales, so with overlookers the British relied upon the fiction that owners buy the labor embodied in completed products. The employers paid overlookers so much per length of cloth received and calculated the cost as if it represented labor incorporated as a fixed expense in each portion of cloth. As a British textile accountant put it, all machine workers "expend direct labor," because their work is "seen in the finished product." The guidelines for discharging weaving overlookers in Britain also confirmed that overlookers received their payment for materialized labor. In many districts, a weaving overlooker was not to leave his place of employment until the weavers he had supervised had turned in all the cloth he had
superintended. Otherwise, the overlooker had not "delivered" his labor and did not receive credit for it.
As in the measurement of weavers' activity, so with the overlookers the German producers relied upon the fiction that employers had the right of disposal over the workers' capacity and effort. The German procedure for adding up production expenses mixed the elements of supervisory labor and capital expenditure in apportioning overhead costs. In an accounting manual written in 1903, a costing expert from Aachen saw no incongruity in combining these elements: he suggested a 50 percent cost addition for a category called "overlookers' salaries, electricity, and steam" and joined together supervisory costs and the depreciation costs of looms. The German accountants handled the overlookers' labor capacity as a kind of "human capital," a conveyable resource rather than a substance received in a product.
To trace the construction of a "commodity" out of the ephemeral activity of the overlookers we have so far relied upon the cultural assumptions inscribed in manufacturing practice. In contexts where these suppositions had to be articulated explicitly, they can be found in discursive practice as well. The assumption in Germany that textile supervisors sold the disposition over their work activity, not merely objectified labor, came to light in the judicial interpretation of overlookers' employment contracts. The most arresting legal question for German mill owners in 1911, gauging by the coverage given it by the trade's professional journals, centered on a complaint filed by an overlooker in a town near Düsseldorf. Today the minutiae of this conflict seem, in a word, dull—but not the participants' perception of the facts. The news accounts indicate that the owner of a silk mill hired a certain Herr K. in 1910 to oversee his dyeing department. By the terms of the four-year contract they concluded, the foreman held the title of Obermeister (chief foreman) and headed the whole department. He agreed to obey the firm's production directives under all circumstances. Twelve months after the start of the agreement, the owner found it necessary to divide the velvet section from the remainder of the dyeing department, and
he entrusted supervision of the new section to another person. Herr K. retained his title and salary. Yet he charged the owner with a violation of the employment contract on the grounds that the owner had to let him keep the entire department or dismiss him altogether. Before the provincial court in Düsseldorf, Herr K. demanded payment in full of his remaining (three years') salary, since the contract specified that this was due to him in case of dismissal.
How is it that this course of events, whose unfolding makes today for such pedestrian reading, managed to hold the interest of contemporaries? The manner in which the business community endowed the conflict with significance represents an odd fact; its strangeness offers a riddle about the culture of production.
Although the courts ultimately resolved the suit through an evaluation of the pettiest terms of the employment contract, the business community thought that the case raised a basic question about the nature of the factory staff's employment contract. Owners and staff asked whether Herr K. might not have "the right to fully utilize his own capacity for work." One technical journal summed up the issue at stake this way: "A company official, who has bound himself by a contract, naturally has the duty to place his full abilities at the disposal of the enterprise; but it is not so automatic that he also has the right to see that his capacity for work is taken advantage of to the full." Certainly this organ's coverage of the affair threw the foreman's right into question. Yet in its analysis the magazine formulated the possibility of the right as the reverse side of the foreman's contractual obligations. And in so doing the journal, like the foreman's lawyer, revealed something about the business community's understanding of the labor transaction that was set in motion by the employment contract.
In formulating Herr K.'s rights, the press assumed that he offered for remuneration, not the successful turn-out of a quantity of dyed materials, but the disposition of his activity. The business community took the foreman's Arbeitskraft as the basis of the exchange, applying the same generic term for the factory official's productive capacities as for those of ordinary workers. This focus on the sale of the capacity for executing work, rather than on its external outcomes, was widespread: in discussions of the legal fine points of hiring factory staff, German business periodicals did not state,
for example, that by accepting a position factory officials obligated themselves to do the best job they could for the owner; they said that the staff had to devote all their abilities and knowledge to the interests of the owner. Only with the premised sale of "labor power" in view could the foreman's lawyer possibly have articulated his client's complaint in terms of a "right to the full exploitation of his labor power." Since the owner understood that he bought the foreman's full capacity, the argument went, he could not alter that capacity's sphere of operation or application. The contract's provision that the owner still had to pay Herr K.'s full salary even in case of dismissal also follows the supposition that the contract covers the disposition of the activity rather than of the output: Herr K. offered up his full capacities and therefore deserved compensation for having offered them even after he was released from the firm.
In its decision the provincial court of Düsseldorf in 1911 sided with Herr K. The owner appealed the decision on the grounds that it interfered with his prerogative to manage his own business. Finally in 1912 the imperial court at Berlin ruled for the owner; it judged that if the owner had the right to dispense with the foreman's services (at the cost of paying him his full salary), then the owner also had the right to dispense with a part of the foreman's services. In this instance the court ranked the right to full exploitation of one's labor capacity as subordinate to another principle—the owner's management authority. For my cultural analysis the fact of primary significance is simply that the conflict was expressed in terms of the sale of Arbeitskraft at all.
My interpretation of the German courts' emphasis on labor power, far from representing a kind of philosophic abstraction, does nothing more than follow the thoughts of the participants themselves. In an age when owners usually regarded the small stratum of professional employees as a species apart from the manual workers under command, the owners nonetheless used the term labor power for a factory official's technical services. Only
on the basis of logical assumptions about labor activity on behalf of the enterprise in general could they have abstracted this essential similarity between types of action whose overt appearances and prestige seemed otherwise so discrepant.
If the history of Herr K. discloses something about Germans' perception of the labor activity in general, as opposed to something about the status of overlookers, then we ought to be able to find analogous cases for lower grades of workers. This poses a special challenge, since most factory labor codes governing the employment relation specified the owner's right to switch ordinary workers to another machine or task. Yet a German technical journal in 1900 described a dispute involving a lower worker that offers a close parallel to Herr K.'s case.
The facts of the case were these: a regular factory hand in Berlin stayed on the job after a portion of his company's work force began a strike. The management suspected the worker of organizing support for the strikers at the shop. It requested that he cease actual labor but continue to show up briefly at the company's desk twice each day. In this fashion the firm could isolate him from his fellows but avoid freeing him for an entire day to earn money elsewhere. These check-ins were to continue during four weeks, because, according to the factory labor code issued by the owner, both worker and owner had to give four weeks' notice if they wanted to terminate the employment contract. During this period the firm offered to continue paying the worker his full wage. But the worker objected that unless he worked, he was not obligated to check in at the office at all. After the firm fired him, he complained in court that four weeks' pay was due him for his unjustified removal. His employer argued in court that by requesting that the worker check in, he had simply wished to verify the worker's readiness to work (Arbeitsbereitschaft ). In any event, the employer reasoned, a worker had to report in twice during a regular workday, so the firm was not demanding anything exceptional of him. In the dangerous atmosphere of a strike and at a court which was not known for its support of workers' interests, the judge ruled in favor of the worker. "The plaintiff had a right during the [four-week] interim period not just to payment of his wages," the judge decided, "but to the carrying out of his contractual employment as well."
The Berlin court's decision attached the complex of legal norms to the employee as a bearer of work capacity, not to a person who merely received pay. In a similar case a decade later, the business court of the city of Chemnitz judged that the employment contract required the owner to use the workers' labor capacity and not merely to guarantee compensation. In Britain, by contrast, the laws pertaining to employment were the same as those covering agreements for the delivery of products. Workers could be dismissed without obligation, even if the employment contract required prior notice, so long as they received compensation for the work they could otherwise have completed. The concepts of labor that the manufacturers enacted in practice, the courts sanctified in words.
Forms of Authority
German and British weaving overlookers shared the same dependencies and capabilities with respect to employers above and weavers below. In each country the structure of the production site generated similar conflicts among these parties. Yet due to the understandings of labor as a commodity, the paradigms on which people could draw for interpreting friction varied between Germany and Britain, endowing identical problems with contrasting significance. The British and German definitions of labor as a commodity hold contrasting implications for the owner's authority in the workplace. The German view of employment as the command of "labor power" made the exercise of authority over the execution of work an integral part of the process of earning a profit. The German view unified the relations of appropriation and domination. When capitalists purchased "labor power," their receipt of a profit depended on how successfully they converted that labor capacity into labor itself. Without the immediate domination of the worker, the owner did not appropriate a surplus. Marx believed as a matter of theory, not of rhetoric, that the capitalist organization of work was despotic. Although profit may have been realized through exchange on the market, it was generated and appropriated in production.
The purchase of embodied labor in Britain, by contrast, denied any necessary connection between the exercise of authority and the generation of profit. The producers may certainly have believed that the factory proprietor took advantage of his command over capital to pay workers less than he ought. Even so, the owner secured a surplus through an exchange relation
set up by the trade of resources rather than in an immediate relation of domination. The generation and appropriation of surplus were accomplished at a remove, not through the owner's command over the labor potential and person of the worker and not through the owner's authority over social relations in the factory.
Weaving offers an exemplary environment in which to explore the influence of these concepts of labor as a commodity, because the technical characteristics of the labor process made the overlooker's role more ambiguous in this than in many other industries. Weavers worked on their own when all was well with their looms; the overlooker did not coordinate the work of machines or of people, nor was he required to show initiative in leading a team of workers. He did not have to exercise authority as an intrinsic part of his technical function. Furthermore, the overlooker did not contribute to output by combining in his department diverse outputs or mechanical procedures; he only aggregated outputs from similar machinery. Production was the sum of the individual loom outputs, a feature which made it easier to think of the overlooker as bestowing his labor upon the lengths of cloth rather than as acting in the capacity of a manager. Textile businessmen in Britain referred to their weaving overlookers as machine "operatives," even when they gave overlookers the right to hire and fire subordinates. Finally, in comparison with a metal-working plant, where each of a company's overlookers might have command over a set of different machine tools and make different kinds of products, a weaving mill had many weaving overlookers, each with a quota of similar kinds of machinery. Because they could compare overlookers who did the identical jobs and they hired many different overlookers for the same job, owners could equate the overlookers' labor and think of it as a homogeneous "input" bestowed upon the fabric.
In this complex situation, how did people on the shop floor define the role of the overlooker? The words used in Britain to designate the overlooker's occupation offer evidence of the participants' emphasis on his role as a technical and productive one. Mill workers in Yorkshire, and on some occasions the owners as well, called their weaving overseers tuners , a title which put these employees' technical function before their supervisory one. The word overlooker may have appeared in management journals and social
scientific descriptions, but not in the ordinary language of the people on the shop floor. Their interviews and their union newspapers' descriptions of mill life used the word tuner. In Lancashire the popular term was tackler , a metonymic derivative that referred to the overlooker's tools—his tackle—rather than to his authority and place in the chain of command.
The evolution of textile production from home weaving to the centralized factory allows the analyst to place the dimensions of the overlookers' role—the exercise of a technical skill and the exercise of authority over other people—in a diachronic progression. Loom tuning or tackling had become a recognized occupation in England and on the Continent before the rise of the factory system. By the early nineteenth century handlooms had become complicated enough that special tuners made house calls to fix or adjust them. In this era the fixers were commonly called loomers. (If the fixer specialized in dobby looms, which had parts called witches, the occupation's popular title carried a pun: "witch doctors.") The chore of overseeing workers' conduct was added to the "looming" occupation with the rise of factory production. But when the occupation acquired a new popular name in the transition, the workers did not apply to the overlookers the range of terms, such as gaffer or simply boss , that they used for persons in higher authority.
In Germany, despite a path of structural evolution similar to Britain's, the overlookers' titles did refer to their supervisory responsibilities rather than to their technical function alone. The lowest-level weaving overlooker, who had responsibility for a certain section of looms, the workers called the Webmeister ("weaving master") or Reviermeister ("section master"). In contrast to the English weaving overlooker, the German overlooker bore a title that placed him in an integrated system of supervision, part of a hierarchy of officials. The system gave higher-level foremen the title of Saalmeister ("room master") or Werkmeister ("shop master").
These phrases were not empty punctilios; they betrayed the essence of the overlookers' performance in Germany. German officials articulated
the overlookers' role when they were called upon to elucidate a new pension law for "professional technical workers." The law, which took effect in 1913, was based on the longstanding proviso that employers contribute to a comprehensive pension and insurance fund for white-collar workers. It extended this requirement to cover higher-level workers in the workshops as well (technische Angestellte ). Government administrators had to decide exactly which persons the law admitted to the pension system as professional technical workers. According to the district reports submitted to the German Foremen's Union, the owners of large weaving mills recognized the weaving overlookers (Webmeister ) as such professionals for insurance purposes without hesitation. But some employers tried to evade requests for insurance coverage by changing the overlookers' occupational titles from Meister of various sorts to mere Vorarbeiter ("preparatory workers").
To adjudicate the resulting disputes, the imperial insurance bureau in Berlin studied in detail the functions of overlookers in the weaving branch. How could this office decide whom to designate as a professional, not just as a schooled technical expert? In the end officials took the employees' exercise of an oversight function, rather than their level of technical expertise, as the critical requirement for classification as a professional. If weaving overlookers did simple manual work such as installing the warps, they were still higher-level professional workers so long as they also were in charge of watching the weaving process, distributing warps, or enforcing the factory work codes. In another illustration of the importance given to authority, the imperial insurance bureau decided that in departments smaller than the weaving rooms, such as those for carding or dyeing, supervisors had to have at least two workers under them to be classified as tech-
nical professionals (technische Angestellte ). Income levels and the time intervals by which the salary was calculated were judged to be irrelevant. Command over other workers was considered the distinctive part of the overlookers' work role. Even technically trained foremen complained that they were viewed by some employers "only as a driver of the employed workers."
When the German courts were called upon to interpret the overlookers' labor contracts, they too made the exercise of authority delegated by the owner an essential part of the employment relation. By the provisions of the German business law, overlookers, unlike ordinary workers, could be dismissed without the usual notice required by contract if they were proven "disloyal" in their service. What constituted "disloyal" conduct? The construals of the courts discloses the conventional interpretation of the labor transaction. An industry journal, in an article about the legal definition of an overlooker that appeared in 1912, asserted that an overlooker, by the implicit terms of the labor contract, "obligated himself to devote his skills fully and completely to the interests of the employer." In this magazine's view, overlookers became instruments of the owners' will, and to support this claim it cited legal verdicts. The German courts had ruled that overlookers, unlike ordinary workers, could not give notice together at a firm. Giving such notice would amount to an attempt to bargain collectively for better employment conditions and therefore would mean that the overlookers were no longer acting "faithfully" to advance the proprietors' interests.
The employment contract was void if the overlookers did not minister to the owners as servants.
This bond of service let the courts designate overlookers as literal agents of the owners. According to German law, if a worker grossly insulted the employer, he or she could be dismissed immediately. The statutes, however, did not specifically address the question of whether overlookers, like owners, enjoyed this privilege. When the courts were called upon for an interpretation, they decided that even the lowest-level overlooker ought to be regarded as an "agent of the employer." On these grounds, disrespect toward an overlooker equaled a direct insult to the owner. The German judicial review for business courts reprinted the rulings of the imperial court in Berlin that emphasized the view that overlookers were agents of the proprietors. The review in 1901 summed up the precedents: "The authority of the employer is transferred to the foreman, for without the accompanying carryover of the 'prestige' of the owner, the transfer of part of the owner's legitimate authority would be unthinkable, otherwise it [the transfer] would directly contradict the interests of the employer, for whose protection the transfer is consummated." The authority of the employer was distilled in the overlooker's everyday activities.
Although the specification of the overlooker's labor as a ware differed between Germany and Britain and the exercise of authority by overlookers carried different implications, the responsibilities of the overlookers in the two countries did not diverge. Even in the most important area in which overlookers exercised authority—in hiring—the German and the British overlookers occupied approximately equivalent positions. To be sure, one finds great variation within each country in the weaving overlookers' responsibilities for production. There were two benchmark systems. Under the first, the owners or mill directors took responsibility for recruiting and hiring new workers and assigned them to overlookers as
they pleased. Under the second system, overlookers or departmental foremen did the hiring entirely on their own. This could lead to extreme decentralization: at a mill near Bradford, a female weaver whom an overlooker fired in 1902 for acting as a ringleader in a "disturbance" immediately found a job under a different overlooker at the same firm. These two pure systems of responsibility for hiring, in which either factory directors or the overlookers themselves took sole responsibility for hiring, formed in both countries the exception rather than the rule. Between the two extremes lay various mixtures of authority between overlookers and higher managers. At many factories, the overlooker did the hiring, but the director exercised veto power or carried out an interview with each worker before the final decision. At others the manager did the hiring but restricted the main field of candidates to people recruited or recommended by the overlooker.
In these mixed systems of hiring the producers never arrived at consistent rules for finding new hires. If a manager happened to see a vacant loom one morning, he might immediately put someone on without asking the overlooker, yet assume that the overlooker as a matter of routine would fill
other empty looms. This vague apportionment of responsibility for hiring at mills in northern England could result in overlookers and managers at a firm promising the same loom to more than one person. Workers in Yorkshire complained that when they wanted to leave the firm they did not know to whom they should give notice. Likewise in Germany the weavers said they were unsure about which of their supervisors was "really the master" and whose permission they needed to take a day off. In Germany, on the one hand the newspapers of the textile workers criticized overlookers for abusing their arbitrary powers of dismissal; on the other, the papers acknowledged that in effect overlookers also needed, but did not always get, upper management's consent to fire a worker. In both countries the compass of the overlooker's jurisdiction was ill-marked and specified more by imputation than by official notice.
If the exact boundaries of the overlooker's responsibility for hiring remained unclear, his influence was nonetheless real. In light of their command over people, how could British producers have crystallized the overlooker's activity as the delivery of materialized labor? Even where British overlookers hired weavers themselves, this could be seen as a technical function, a means of equipping looms with weavers, not weavers with looms. James Burnley, a textile worker and well-known dialect poet, described overlookers' roles in mill life after he revisited a Bradford weaving company: "There are several overlookers in the room, each of whom has the superintendance of a certain number of looms. Their duties are to keep the looms in repair and to supply them with weavers." Burnley, who had a
firsthand acquaintance with weaving, expressed himself with precision—and his choice of words made the looms, rather than the workers, the overlooker's real object of attention. Then, too, the ultimate means by which overlookers supported or dismissed weavers was not that of official commands but of covert deeds. If a weaver got on the wrong side of the overlooker, he or she might as well leave the firm, even if the overlooker said nothing. When a piqued overlooker began to withhold prompt technical assistance, the earnings of the ancillary weaver declined quickly. The authority of the overlooker could be transmitted through their care of the machinery as much as through a chain of command.
The specification of the overlooker's transmission of labor did not alter the overlookers' functions and responsibilities in Germany or Britain, but it provided the template for workers to formulate their grievances about superiors. For a ground-level view of workers' complaints, I coded the local reports that appeared in the newspapers of the textile workers in Britain and Germany. In Britain, the Yorkshire Factory Times focused its coverage on the everyday concerns of textile workers. This journal, whose premier edition appeared in 1889, devoted most of its pages to a feature called "Echoes from Mills and Workshops." Each week this revue described incidents at factories in more than a dozen towns and villages, based on correspondents' reports and on letters and tip-offs sent in by workers. Nowhere else, the paper boasted, could one find "so true an index of the life of the textile factory."
In Germany, reports from textile factories reached two newspapers. In 1889 the "free" (or Social Democratic) trade union of the textile workers began publishing the complaints workers submitted to union officials or voiced at meetings. The Christian union for German textile workers fol-
lowed suit with a similar publication in 1898. I coded the complaints of workers about practices on the shop floor from the earliest surviving volumes of each of these newspapers. In both countries, these early volumes had the richest and most extensive coverage of problems on the shop floor. The British sample covers the years from 1890 through 1893, the German sample the years from 1899 through 1902. I coded the complaints concretely, with over one hundred separate categories. With such a naive procedure, I could register problems ranging from the cleanliness of the toilets to the timbre of the factory bells used to dismiss the labor force.
The catalog of major complaints listed in Table 1 suggests that in many respects the immediate grounds for conflict were parallel in the two countries. In both, the four most frequent complaints concerned the level of pay, reductions in pay, the fines imposed for allegedly "bad" work, and the disrespectful attitude of supervisors toward their workers. Since the question of interest is how complaints varied within manufacturing processes that were organizationally and technologically alike, I compared the distribution of complaints between countries within the same occupation. The most significant divide is that of the weavers versus those in other textile occupations. In both countries, about two-thirds of the grievances recorded in the newspapers came from the weaving branch (66 percent in Britain, 68 percent
in Germany). Table 2 compares the twelve complaints that appeared most frequently among weavers alone. The non-weavers were fragmented among so many labor processes that the sample does not allow for such comparisons across other occupations. The figures serve as one piece of evidence among many, not as an arbiter of hypotheses. I cannot derive the meaning of problems as they appeared to the weavers themselves from a set of codings. What appears to have been the "same" complaint for German and British weavers may have come to life in substantially different cultural forms.
To help us begin to appreciate the cross-national differences in the import of complaints, in Table 3 I compare the distribution of persons blamed in the newspapers for workplace problems in all branches of textiles. The Germans assigned blame to the "firm" as a whole for problems nearly twice as often as the British. On the face of it, the meaning of this divergence remains uncertain. It could imply that the German papers considered it less important to censure particular categories of persons, as opposed to the "system," as the cause of problems. Assigning responsibility to the "firm" might also serve as just another way of blaming the firm's owner. If we leave aside complaints about the "firm," the German papers blamed owners and managers in 75 percent of the cases, compared to 54 percent of the cases in the British paper. Rather than looking upward to the top of the company to assign blame, the incidents reported in the British papers stayed closer to the persons with whom workers labored side by side. Among the complaints that blamed particular categories of persons, the British paper blamed the overlookers in 30 percent of the cases, whereas the German paper assigned only fifteen percent of problems to that lower-level party. If we treated complaints about the "firm" as referring to owners and higher managers, the German complaints would appear even more top-heavy. Finally, the same table shows that within the German sample, the Christian and socialist newspapers assigned blame among the factory personnel in almost identical proportions. If these two journals, which originated in markedly contrasting ideological milieus, assign blame to the same categories of persons in the workplace, we have more secure grounds for supposing that the stories to some extent replicated the workers' formulations, not just the agendas of the editors who processed the stories in their offices.
The German workers' tendency to focus more often on higher-ups is slightly more pronounced among weavers than among the sample as a whole (Table 4). This only accentuates the question of how factories that appear similar not only from the standpoint of organizational structure and technology but in the sorts of conflicts and disagreements they generate can differ significantly as institutions that "produce" a human experience of the labor activity. We need to rely on contextual evidence to assess the cultural significance of the German assignment of responsibility to overlookers. One of the most frequently voiced complaints, that concerning the supervisors' disrespectful manners, illustrates how British and German workers attached different meanings to complaints that appear categorically similar.
For weavers and for textile workers in general, the British newspaper complained more about the disrespectful treatment workers received from supervisors than about any other difficulty. The late-nineteenth-century factory provided a setting in which overlookers could indulge in severe verbal abuse of their underlings. Employers considered it something of a prerequisite for maintaining discipline that overlookers be able to swear in the local dialect. A reporter from Elland said that some overlookers treated their spot in the mill as a "privileged place." In the overlooker's corner, the reporter said, a female underling might hear "a voice addressing
her in language known as profane, and which, if used on the public streets by a drunken man, would see him taken in hand by the police." The textile workers' unions tried without great success to elicit the cooperation of the overlookers' unions in restraining the corrupt language. They had better
luck in securing the assistance of the courts. One judge in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, ruled in 1913 that a worker who objected to a supervisor's lewd comments could quit work without waiting to give proper notice.
German workers complained that managers addressed them in military-style, "barracks" language. They claimed that the supervisors' dictionary of abusive terms included "scoundrel" (Halunke ), "rogue" (Spitzbube ), and "old ass" (alter Esel ). At a spinning mill in the Mönchengladbach district, workers testified that a supervisor had "badly cursed even older people." The workers at this mill, trying to discover whether the supervisor could be prosecuted for such conduct, sought the advice of police, who would, they supposed, be knowledgeable about the law.
Not surprisingly, workers picked out their immediate supervisors, with whom they had the most contact, as the most frequent users of humiliating expressions. In both countries, overlookers received a greater share of complaints about rude conduct than about other problems. British workers blamed overlookers for the ill treatment in about two-thirds of the reported incidents in the Yorkshire Factory Times. In Germany, overlookers received the blame for harsh manners less frequently, in about 42 percent of such complaints. Yet German overlookers received the blame for poor language more often than did managers or owners (see Table 5).
The raw numbers do not show that British workers reviled their overlookers more than the German their own. Rather, they provide clues whose meaning for the participants can be reconstructed by examining the style of the evidence. The British newspaper framed its comments about the overlookers differently than did the German papers. In Britain, workers criticized the overlookers as individuals; their complaints portrayed the
personalities of the overlooker. The epithets applied to the overlookers reproduces this personalistic framework. Many of the insults refer to the physical appearance of the overlooker, such as "Golden Whiskers," "Little Darkey Tuner," or "the fancy-moustache stroker." Others summed up the conduct of the supervisor with nicknames such as "Growler & Howler," "Woman Hater," or "Sleepy." The British workers' conflict with their overlookers rested on a foundation of familiarity. The British complaints also characterized the behavior of the overlookers by comparing them to animals: a "puddledog that can do nothing but bark," a "bull terrier," a "wild bear." These analogies removed the overlookers' conduct from the context of the factory hierarchy. They emphasized the overlookers' personal failings rather than their exercise of the authority that inhered in their office. One story about an unpleasant overlooker (which cited an unfortunate cliché) captured the way workers attributed problems to an unchangeably bad character: "How true it is," the correspondent wrote, "the black man cannot wash his face white, nor a bad-tempered man forget his ways."
German workers also used epithets for their overlookers, but of a less personal sort. They labeled their overlookers with general names in popular circulation, such as "brute" (Grobian ), "beast" (Vieh ), and "ape" (Affe ). These were the impersonal insults that might well be applied to an over-bearing stranger. The German newspapers criticized overlookers as the occupiers of an office who insisted on exercising their authority in the name of the owner. Overlookers, they claimed, had nothing better to do than to demonstrate a "service of love" for their employers. "One constantly observes that the overlooker at every moment supports only the interests of his master employer," the Textil-Arbeiter reported. "Direct personal contact with the owner," it added, "is suited, like no other practice, to illustrate the superiority of the position of overlooker."
Another major complaint points to different understandings of the exercise of authority in Britain and Germany. As is shown in Table 2, twenty-three complaints about people who squealed to higher-ups in the factory appeared in my British sample for the weaving branch. Sixty percent of these cases identified overlookers as the culprits. A story from a mill in Dewsbury, published in 1893, conveys the spirit of these reports:
A tuner here is to get married shortly, and the weavers, like good weavers, chaffed him in good fashion. He could not stand it and went and complained in the office. Wasn't it nice to go and complain over a paltry affair like this? I wonder what his affianced will say about it?
The story illustrates the belief that the overlooker's conduct violates the norm against tattling. Its concluding question hints that the overlooker, by snitching on his underlings, will suffer the censure of his friends. The account also suggests that workers and overlookers were co-producers, enough on a level for them to form joking relationships.
Most of the tales British overlookers took to superiors concerned the alleged errors weavers made in production or the slow pace of their production. An overlooker who tattled became known as a "greasy" tuner, a "greasehorn." The British complaints regarding tattling about production foul-ups reflect the workers' assumption that the overlooker should not have acted as if he were merely an agent of the owner. The British weavers believed that the lower-level overlookers ought to support their efforts to labor with a degree of autonomy.
In contrast to the frequent complaints about snitching in the British sampling, the German cases revealed only one example. In this exception, from the Bergisches region, the workers had already launched a movement against the authority of the central management. They complained that an overlooker had informed on the weaver who he believed had given a signal to the others to stop work at their looms before the rest period. The account mentioned the overlooker's conduct only as a detail in its narrative of the work stoppage. The significant comparison to draw about tattling is this: in Germany, no grievances appeared regarding overlookers' informing about everyday production errors or about workers' demeanor. Instead, the German workers' comments about the overlookers' "service of love" indicate that workers took it for granted that overlookers would keep the owner informed.
The frequency of complaints about the rude manners of overlookers in Britain suggests that overlookers and workers stood in a closer, more equal relation to each other in Britain than in Germany. British workers, in comparison with their German counterparts, expected overlookers to classify workers as colleagues and were perhaps more sensitized to disrespect. Respondents from Yorkshire said that supervisors and weavers drank at the same pubs. Indeed, the textile workers' newspaper in Yorkshire complained that weavers who shared pub rooms with the overlookers tried to get better warps for themselves or jobs for their relatives by buying drinks for their overlooker. Yorkshire weavers expected their overseers to socialize with them and accused them of "putting on airs" if
they did not. British weavers were familiar enough with their overlookers to play practical jokes on them without fear of reprisal when the perpetrators revealed themselves. As a weaver correspondent from Bingley expressed it, "Tuners are only workers like ourselves." A spinner from Halifax in an interview put it even more simply: "We was one."
A careful reading of the textile workers' newspapers in Germany provides insight into a different set of relations in Germany. To be sure, the workers there complained that some of their colleagues used all manner of tactics to bribe overlookers for preferential treatment. They alleged, for example, that some workers gave overlookers free pies and turkeys or agreed to buy trinkets from overlookers at inflated prices. In their coverage of these incidents, however, the German newspapers did not mention an equivalent to the British workers' tactic of tipping a drink side by side at the pub, perhaps a relationship more intimate or socially reciprocal than the German overlookers would have tolerated. A respondent from Oerlinghausen in Westfalen, for example, volunteered the insight that the overlookers and weavers in town drank at separate inns and that social mixing would have broken an unspoken law.
The farewell gifts workers gave their overlookers also serve as an index of national differences in relations between these groups. The workers' newspapers in Britain reported that weavers frequently took up collections to provide farewell presents for tuners and managers who were retiring or
transferring between mills. Since the gifts went only to departing supervisors, they could not be reciprocated in favors at work. By all accounts, British workers offered the gifts spontaneously and apart from those bestowed by management. In Germany, by contrast, stories about unsolicited collective presents from workers to exiting supervisors seem practically unobtainable.
According to German journals of the textile trade, many German owners preferred to hire supervisors from distant areas, on the grounds that strangers could better maintain their distance from the lower workers. A respondent from Barmen, who became a loom tuner himself, said weavers believed that the manager "deliberately" hired outsiders from other towns as supervisors, with the aim of keeping them separate from the workers. By comparison with this explicit discussion in Germany, the professional literature for textiles in Britain remained silent about this tactic. Factory ordinances issued by German employers warned that each overseer had the duty "to protect his prestige against the workers." Indeed, the separation
of overlookers from workers in Germany took the most solid form possible: factories' architectural design. A number of mills in Germany provided toilets or eating rooms for supervisors separate from those for workers.
The pattern of fining for indiscipline also betrays the greater emphasis placed on the overlooker's authority in Germany. In both Germany and Britain, workers received petty fines for "misconduct." For example, overlookers and foremen punished workers by withholding earnings for offenses such as looking out the window, talking, or letting bobbing lie on the floor. All of these fines might be explained, perhaps, as measures to ensure high output or to provide greater safety on the shop floor. Beside the fines that bore upon output, however, the German supervisors, unlike their British counterparts, also imposed disciplinary fines for actions they perceived as insults to their authority. At a firm in Mönchengladbach, for example, the foreman fined a weaver who once forgot and twice refused to take off his cap upon greeting the foreman. At a firm in Birgden, near Geilenkirchen, a weaver who expressed irritation at the overlooker for not adjusting the loom received a fine for disrespectful conduct. German managers listed these punishments into "fine books," which include entries for "insolence," "insult," "is always coarse toward me," and "affront."
German overlookers also charged their underlings in court with having affronted them. In fact, the records of the local arbiters from textile towns indicate that this was not uncommon. In Odenkirchen, a textile center in the Rhineland, the summary transcripts show that the legal complaints during a twelve-year period at the turn of the century included charges of insult brought against employees by the following supervisors: a spinning overlooker, a weaving overlooker, a carding room supervisor, two foremen, a maintenance overlooker, and a factory director. Where such records also specify the location of the alleged offense, they often refer to the factory itself. The overlookers took seriously the supposition that they shared in the employer's dignity.
The lists of mill complaints in the Yorkshire Factory Times , and, less frequently, in the Cotton Factory Times might have been expected to mention fining for "affronts" to overlookers' authority. Yet accounts of such incidents are wanting. To the contrary, workers seem to have teased their supervisors to their face. The autobiographies of textile workers describe how workers mocked their overseers. One female weaver from Bradford mentioned her encounter with her overlooker, Harry:
I have not forgotten how he tried to set Ellen Jaratt's loom right . . . and he had no sooner set it on when the shuttle flew right through the window into the dam, and they never found it yet. I asked him if he had made a goal with that shuttle, and if it counted to his side the other goal, but he pretended not to hear me. . . . I can say a great
deal more about Harry if he tries to be so witty about me being an old maid again.
Weavers near Baxenden played a game with authoritarian overlookers to shame them. They handed such overlookers the gift of a whip, ridiculing them as slave drivers. Perhaps the most telling demonstration of British workers' assertion of their equality with overlookers came from Great Harwood, Lancashire. The weavers who struck a mill there in 1893 succeeded in having their overlookers sign an apology, which said, "We, the undersigned, do admit that we have been guilty of driving and humbugging the weavers employed under us. . . . We herewith guarantee that in future we will not speak to any weaver when going round with the slate or when fetched to tackle their looms." The autobiographical stories of British workers leave no doubt that they were exposed to tyrannical abuse from some overlookers. At issue is not the degree of cooperation or conflict but the intimate and equalitarian framework British workers used to condemn mishandling.
The factory owner's first motivation for hiring an overlooker, according to the working-class press in Germany, was not to acquire the skills of a technical expert; it was to obtain an agent through which he could exercise his authority
over the factory. As the Textil-Arbeiter said, "The owner of the production shop naturally says to himself that it is in his interest to place the tasks of the workers under control by putting a person there . . . so that a mere glance from this personage will spur workers to the strictest fulfillment of their duties." The German practice of fining workers for mere "affronts" to supervisors reproduced the view that the overlookers' exercise of authority in the name of the owner was essential to the extraction of surplus. In Britain, on the other hand, since the overlookers did not act merely to extend the owners' authority, the extraction of a profit for the owner of the factory was severed from the exercise of authority on the shop floor. The Northern Pioneer , a journal for the labor and the "liberal radical" movements in the Colne Valley, expressed the view that the exercise of authority was not an essential aspect of the employment relation and extraction of profit. Textile workers and factory owners, it said in 1883, were merely exchanging their commodities. "Employers should not want to be masters anymore than the men should want to be masters," it concluded. For the British textile workers, as for artisanal workers in an earlier age, the exchange of labor as a commodity could be not only separated from but contrasted with the exercise of authority. "You are no master of mine," a rule-maker told his employer in the 1840s, "but only a man who buys my labour for a good deal less than it's worth." The formulation acknowledged a relation that included both formal equality in the marketplace and real exploitation.
It would be simple but superficial to imagine that the differences between practices at the point of production in the two countries resulted from a greater emphasis in general in German society upon authority for building social relations. Such an approach would confuse the ideologies celebrated in the public sphere with actual practice on the shop floor. If the famed tradition of liberalism in British political discourse lent support to notions of individual liberty and autonomy, such ideals did not have any elective
affinity with actual use of the British idea of labor as a commodity. After all, the confinement of inmates in fortress-like enclosures scarcely embodied the notion of liberalism. The specification of labor as a commodity in Britain did not inhibit employers from attempting to exercise control episodically in heavy-handed fashion on the shop floor. Although the practice formed no part of the usual organization of production, British employers, if it struck their fancy, fired underlings without warning for looking at them "the wrong way."
The contrasts between factory procedures in the two countries were based not on degrees of authoritarianism but on the modalities by which employers asserted their domination. British employers devoted no less attention to cultivating a paternalist regime in pliant neighborhoods outside the factory as their German counterparts did. Rather than consecrating their mastery of the transformation of labor power into a product at the site of production, British employers displayed their superordinancy in the community, where they could influence workers' mobility and sense of dependency. The Strutt family, acclaimed in the early nineteenth century as factory pioneers, watched over their employees' morality by imposing fines for such mischievous behavior outside the workplace as maltreating a neighbor's dog. In the second half of the nineteenth century, British factory owners did not just support recreational and educational clubs at the mill site. They subsidized workers' clubs, schools, and churches in the community at large. Interviews with former textile workers from Lancashire
and Yorkshire towns reveal that into the first decade of the twentieth century many workers still felt compelled to attend the same church or chapel as their employer. Even in large towns with an adequate stock of housing, some British textile employers (like several of their German counterparts) erected company homes and required subordinates to occupy them. British textile workers in employer-provided housing denounced the "tyranny" of their dependency. But the textile industry was in this respect typical of British business.
The prominent commitment of British employers to molding an obedient community outside the point of production attracted the criticism of German employers. As a businessman from the German wool trade judged in 1886, "To encourage the factory director to exercise surveillance over his people even beyond the work hours in order to look after their moral health—this is one English institution that has been taken too far. By this means one develops only empty-headed workers." We should not accede unreservedly to the national contrast this executive wished to draw. But his sentiments undermine the presumption that German employers were automatically more custodial. What differed fundamentally between British and German employers was not the general readiness to supervise or control workers but the catego-
ries of social consciousness by which they defined the exchange of labor at the point of production. If the emphasis on the disposition over labor power in the German factory had derived from a general cultural emphasis on authority, we would expect the authoritarianism to carry over into all contexts. Instead, in the community, where social relations were mediated by capitalist relations of production but not cast directly in their image, British employers appear no less interested than their German counterparts in controlling subordinates' leisure, religion, and education.
Culture's Contemporaneous Effect
This chapter has compared structurally equivalent cases to identify the distinct contribution of cultural assumptions to the status of overlookers. In both Germany and Britain, weaving overlookers occupied an ambiguous position between workers and owners. On the one hand, they sold their labor for a wage, like a worker; on the other, they exercised authority over the production process, like an employer. The production process in textile factories was sufficiently standardized by the late nineteenth century that it offers the comparative analyst approximate controls for differences in the social organization of work. Weaving overlookers in Germany and Britain had the same technical roles, similar locations in the factory hierarchy, similar positions in the labor market, matching levels of pay, and the same responsibilities for supervising workers. Given these structural parallels, the divergent cultural definitions of labor as a commodity in Germany and Britain intervened to give overlookers different statuses. In Britain, the view that labor was sold via its products accentuated the aspect of the overlookers' activity that corresponded to that of a productive agent. In Germany, the view that labor was sold as a service placed an emphasis on the overlookers' exercise of authority in the name of the owner rather than on the delivery of a product; in this manner, the German view defined the overlooker's role as essentially unlike that of a worker.
Historians of late-nineteenth-century factory organization have often emphasized the willingness of British employers to dedicate the real control of production on the shop floor to the workers themselves, particularly to those with craft skills. Compared to capitalists in other countries of the time, economic historians reason, British employers generally enjoyed greater access to pools of highly trained workers who inherited their know-how from the country's generations-long edge in manufacture. Since many British enterprises were founded early in the nineteenth century, when entry costs were lower, British companies in branches of production such as iron and steel production or metal work were smaller and more numerous than counterpart firms in later-developing countries. These circumstances made it more difficult for British firms to muster the great resources needed for investing in new technology and management organization in the course of the century and made it less costly for them to rely instead on the technical and organizational skills of their workers. By this line of reasoning, the British specification of labor as a commodity could well have emerged as a natural reflection of an organizational structure in which employers were compelled to renounce control in reality, not just in ideology, over the conversion of labor power to a product.
A comparative study of the textile industry reveals the limitations of this approach. As we have seen, no prominent organizational differences existed between Germany and Britain in key branches of wool textile production. Yet important cultural differences did arise between them, revealing that the immediate institutional context is not responsible for differences between the materialized specifications of labor as a commodity. At most historical junctures before 1914 in the Yorkshire textile industry, where trade unions were comparatively weak, and at critical moments in the craft trades, such as metal-working after the wholesale defeat of unions in 1898, British employers had carte blanche to reorganize practices on the shop floor to match the self-conscious conversion of labor power to a product. They did not try. What is more, analysts' reasoning in terms of adaptation to inherited constraints and opportunities fails to explain the structure of practices in large, recently founded companies in new branches of produc-
tion, such as motor vehicles. The Engineering Employers' Federation successfully combated the establishment of formal collective bargaining in the British auto industry. Despite the freer rein given to employers to reorganize shop-floor practices in this innovative business, especially after 1922, management left control in the hands of craft workers and relied on payment by results to stimulate productivity. Surely the employers' premises about the labor transaction, not just structural constraints, contributed to these outcomes.
In view of the visible decline in competitiveness among most branches of British industry since 1914, it is all too easy to read history backwards, attributing the differences between German and British practice before 1914 to German owners' greater push for efficiency. But certainly up to 1914, German textile mills did not operate more successfully than their British rivals. In the branches of wool textiles in 1907, the length of cloth produced annually from a loom in Germany approximately equaled that produced in Britain. Among the European competitors, Britain's share of world trade in wool fabric rose in the decade before 1914. In the cotton branch, German businessmen who measured output in Britain near the turn of the century had no doubt that British weaving mills produced more cloth
In both countries the character of textile technology before 1914 discouraged contemplation of the systematic conversion of "labor power" into a product. The raw materials could not be manipulated by the available technology according to standard rules, only by knack that defied analysis. "The loom of today is practically identical with the loom of fifty years ago," the Textile Mercury complained in 1912. "The loom may be ranked today as the crudest piece of widely used mechanism extant." The technician Charles Vikerman remarked in the 1894 edition of his manual on woolen spinning that "no significant technical advance" had occurred in spinning during the preceding fifty years. Technical experts in Germany voiced similar opinions. In the hands of workers with only general experience in a textile branch, the equipment that twisted fiber and finished cloth operated too harshly for satisfactory results. Each town became a specialist in a different range of types of yarn and fabric, due to the mysteriously acquired knack of local labor for pushing obstinate varieties of fibers and yarns through the insensitive machinery. Even in the same neighborhood, however, a manufacturer sometimes failed to turn out a particular weave while the nearest challenger down the street, relying on the same kind of loom and material, succeeded.
The reliance on the workers' knack for product specialties led the participants in the trade to think of fabrics as the result of confecting rather than of manufacturing. Factory managers drew analogies between the spinning
of yarn and the distilling of fine drinks. To produce yarn suited for different kinds of twistings, a director from Bolton explained, "one mill may have five or six different 'mixings,' as they are called, each mixing [of cotton types] more or less skillfully adapted to the requirements of the yarn. This is as important, in its way, as the blending of teas, wines, or spirits." Like the distiller who coped with seasonal variation in the character of the grapes harvested, the spinner dealt with crops of cotton and wool that differed in unpredictable ways, year to year, lot by lot, depending on the season's conditions for growing cotton and raising sheep. Textile production depended on nature in other ways. The direction of the wind affected humidity and temperature and thus yarn breakages, so workers learned to pace their motions in response to the weather. At a mill sheltered behind a hill they learned a different rhythm of work than in a neighboring establishment exposed to the wind.
By reason of this technical foundation, the textile industry developed in both countries into a "folk" trade, dependent on native lore and resistant to systematization. The relatively stagnant design of equipment and the reliance on hit-or-miss tinkering indicates that the specification of labor as a commodity in German textiles did not arise as a consequence of attempts to keep pace with technical change or to rationalize the use of technology. As the introduction of pay by shot first suggested, the German producers imported the definition of labor into the labor process in the early days of the factory system. They maintained their focus on the transfer of labor power to the employer although the surprisingly primitive technology of textile production during the second half of the nineteenth century discouraged employers from methodizing the conversion of labor power into a product. The adoption of a particular concept of labor in Germany did not reflect utilitarian demands but served as a premise for meeting them. The specification of labor was reproduced, not by its conformity with the tech-
nological environment, but through the symbolic configuration of micro-practices that communicated labor's definition.
In this chapter, as in the two preceding, I have relied on three forms of argument to demonstrate that the cross-national divergences in textile factory institutions had a cultural origin. Most important, I have compared similar business environments in detail to rule out alternative, utilitarian explanations for differences in factory procedures—in this instance, the allocation of overlooking costs—or for differences in the ascription of authority. In particular, my comparisons have excluded explanations based on the timing of the founding of textile mills, on adaptation to the business cycle, or on national variation in the factory directors' commitment to improving efficiency. Second, I have shown that the differing views of labor as a commodity in Britain and in Germany extended into minutiae of factory life where variation did not bear strategic consequences, such as the formal methods for distributing overlooking wages over various types of cloth. The shape of practice in these instances, too, is unamenable to utilitarian explanation. Finally, the contrasting cultural definitions of labor as a commodity in Germany and Britain which found expression in the methods of defining overlookers' remuneration serve as the core principles for interpreting an entire constellation of factory customs. The scope of the instrumentalities elucidated by a cultural principle raises our confidence in the method of analysis and challenges the advocates of purely utilitarian reasoning to account for this range of differences between German and British textile mills. Let them bring their case before the court.
Concluding Reflections on Part One
Part One of this study has not attempted to decide which of two forces, culture or material circumstances, was the more powerful. Analysts who conceive of these forces as variables to be laid out side by side might suppose that their effects were conjoined, but their admixture is in fact more fundamental than that. Not only were both prerequisites for the composition of production, but the very operation of each remains inconceivable without the other. Material constraints assume their social effectivity only as they are encoded by culture; culture operates only as it is materialized in the concrete media at hand. The two forces are different moments in the same social process. Nonetheless, we can still isolate the effects of culture if we ask, not which had the most influence, but which comprised a social logic. The brute conditions of praxis in capitalist society, such as the need to compete in a market, did not provide the principles for organizing practices in forms that were stable and reproducible, for by themselves they did not supply a meaningful design for conduct. Rather, practices were given a consistent shape by the particular specifications of labor as a commodity that depended, to be sure, upon the general conditions of praxis for their materials, but granted them social consequences according to an intelligible logic of their own.
The discovery that factory production in Germany and Britain was orchestrated according to its signifying function bears important implications for sociological theories about the distinguishing character of human action in the capitalist order. Many in the tradition of Western Marxism have viewed the increasing salience of exclusively calculative, instrumental conduct as a characteristic developmental tendency of capitalist society. But looking at the sensuous realm of practice on the shop floor from a comparative perspective discloses a more complex process. One can, perhaps, refer to the "rationalization" of the labor process at the very end of the nineteenth century, when formal ideologies of management appeared and the legal system, at least in Germany, elaborated more explicitly the rules governing the transmission of labor in the factory. But the development of capitalism was not marked by the progressive reduction of the activity of labor to the logic of instrumental action alone, without respect for action's communicative function. Instrumental action, rationalized by progressive adjustments
to end-means logic, was still ordered by its conveyance of meaning and followed the cultural coordinates of a commodity form that varied apart from immediate economic conditions.
If micro-procedures at the site of production were grouped in a meaningful pattern that incarnated different concepts of labor, how did this cultural logic tend to be incorporated consistently into practice? The concept of culture has drawn researchers' attention to the systematicity and global patterning of practices and signs, of strategies and life forms in society. Yet it is too easy to take this patterning as evidence for the influence or presence of something termed culture without asking how culture produces this configuration—or this configuration, culture. No social agent craftily designed the constellation of instrumentalities in the factory to embody, across the board, different specifications of labor as a commodity. By what processes did people create and reproduce not just an accidental assemblage of practices and concepts but an undivided cultural system based on concepts of labor?
To explain the survival of consistencies in the form of practice we need not invoke the notion of an overarching, harmonized normative order, internalized by the agents, that restrains deviant action. Once practices were installed as a consistent ensemble, their very execution could reproduce the concept of labor they embodied. Adherence to an ideal did not descend downward from contemplative knowledge of the general but percolated upward from practical knowledge of the concrete. It was the encounter with ideas residing in these humble instrumentalities that gave producers a practical knowledge of the ideal form by which labor was transferred as a commodity. The micro-practices contained within themselves the principle that structured the social whole; execution of specific practices could reproduce the structure of the whole from the ground up.
The question that remains unanswered is not how a patterned cultural system was maintained, but, simply, why and how do practices cohere to
begin with? The matched comparison of economic environments for British and German factories shows that, in each country, alternative conventions would have met the requirements of the firm in the realm of capitalist competition equally well. If a method for, say, the imposition of fines is installed under one form of labor as a commodity, the choice of form for other techniques is not entailed by practical necessity. What generated the tendency toward consistency of form?
Even if one admits that agents' cultural schemata are arranged into a systematic whole, it by no means follows that the institutions of the factory must themselves incorporate this coherence. Instead, culture could be used by the agents to formulate only a subjective response to practices shaped by external necessities. The built-in requirements of the mind for the production of meaning, which the cultural structuralists present as the ultimate cause of the coherence of culture, may well dictate a kind of formal patterning in language and in conceptual designs. If this holds true for the constitution of language and signification, however, the question—altogether separate—remains of how and why industrial practice in the newly emergent capitalist factory methodically embodied such adroit schemata.
Max Weber's sociological perspective offers an advantage in responding to the riddle of systematicity in factory practices because it views cultural patterning as a contingent accomplishment open to historical investigation. As is well known, Weber identifies intellectual specialists as the historical actors who are responsible for the creation of doctrines that make possible the systematic patterning of culture and of conduct. Yet the details of the
cases at hand disqualify the Weberian approach to the development of a meaningful configuration of micro-practices in the factory. The principle of labor as a commodity did not form part of a formal management doctrine imparted to factory employers. To be sure, general precepts about the mutual responsibilities of the employing and the working classes had wide currency throughout the nineteenth century. But those sanctimonious philosophies about virtuous relations had nothing to say about the organization or execution of manufacturing techniques themselves. "So far as we know," Sidney Pollard concluded for the period of early industrialization in Britain, "the management pioneers were isolated and their ideas without great influence." Since so many factories were family-operated, the technical mysteries of the trade could be passed between generations through firsthand experience in the enterprise. In point of fact, there was as such no formal management doctrine to disseminate during the early development of the factory system. Professional administration of employees did not form an object for sustained reflection and study in either Germany or Britain until approximately the 1880s. Until then the managerial function on the shop floor was not differentiated from that of technical oversight. Accordingly, books on the management of textile mills most often referred to machinery, not people. At least until midcentury, the very term manager in Britain lacked a clear referent. The usual title for a supervisor of employees was clerk , a locution directed toward the older activity of book-
keeping. The crystallization of factory practices based on specifications of labor that varied between Germany and Britain occurred decades before the emergence of management science in either country.
The functioning of the networks of communication in the textile districts also excludes the possibility that similarities in practices across regions arose from the diffusion of formal doctrine about the efficient deployment of labor among machines. Although factory procedures in Yorkshire and Lancashire were based on similar principles, in the formative years of the factory system factory owners in these provinces did not remain in contact with each other to transmit information about those practices. The language of shop-floor life confirms the independence of development. In each of the neighborhoods of Lancashire and Yorkshire counties, managers used distinct vocabularies for parts of the loom and jobs in the mill. Information about technical innovation—a subject of great concern to mill managers—was slow to diffuse. For example, managers in Elland, just outside Bradford, did not acquire for two decades the attachments for automatically changing the weft color on multi-shuttle looms that were standard in the city of Bradford by the 1870s. How much less likely is it, therefore, that communication at length among factory managers about the interior social life of the mill led to the standardization of procedures within each country for managing the purchase of "labor" in the factory. The patterning of conduct according to the specification of labor as a commodity did not reflect a deliberate systematization of administrative rules.
If the patterning did not result from agents orienting themselves to environment with a certain schema and then creating a world in the image of this schema—the solution of idealists—neither was it the trace of the imperatives of the capitalist system imposing their image on people's consciousness. We cannot derive the cultural pattern from the functional requirements of the economy operating behind people's backs, for the
differing specifications of labor were both equally well suited for the reproduction of capitalism. Moreover, they could have been used together indiscriminately in one setting. The conditions of the capitalist system may have sustained a cultural outlook, but they did not by themselves inaugurate it; conversely, a cultural template lodged in concrete practice may have served as a moment in the reproduction of the capitalist system, but it did not create a capitalist economy.
The execution of practice incorporates a cultural schema, as Bourdieu always reminds us. Yet even in his studies of kin-based societies, Bourdieu did not consider seriously the next issue: whence, not just culture, but a cultural system? If action requires conception, still there is no requirement emanating from the agents themselves that requires diverse practices to follow a single, generalizable idea. The record of anthropological research shows time and again that agents seem to have an inexhaustible capacity for synthesizing contradictory assumptions into a coherent, though perhaps imperfectly consistent, outlook. The systematicity of practices on the shop floor did not reflect some cognitive necessity lodged in the agents themselves that required them to "think" the structure of society or of the factory with a single principle. Such an explanation would reduce culture to a constraint of the contemplative mind, as if agents engaged in practice so as to gaze upon it from without as upon a work of art—and a simple one at that.
In each country, the operative concept of labor had two guises. Within the rude walls of the factory, the producers transmitted "labor" as an imaginative construct of their lifeworld to their employers through their tangible actions and face-to-face social ties; yet, beyond the realm of lived experience, abstract human labor formed the common denominator by which diverse kinds of products with incomparable use values could be brought into relation with each other and exchanged in the market, awakening to life an impersonal world of commodities in motion. The category
of labor did not function as a pivotal concept because it expressed the detached logic of the capitalist system, or, from the other side, because it revealed the supremacy of culture in the producers' negotiation of a meaningful order; instead, it bridged these two realms of a market-integrated social structure and the experienced world. If people monitor and organize their conduct in accordance with the commodity form of labor, they reproduce the networks of exchange and of objectified social relations that constitute capitalist society. Georg Lukács, who insisted on linking the dynamic of the capitalist system to the forms of understanding that people used to constitute their practice and experience, gave this insight a classic formulation long ago. "Objectively, in so far as the commodity form facilitates the equal exchange of qualitatively different objects, it can exist only if that formal equality is in fact recognized—at any rate, in this relation, which indeed confers upon them their commodity character," Lukács wrote. "Subjectively, this formal equality of human labor in the abstract is not only the common factor to which the various commodities are reduced; it also becomes the real principle governing the actual production of commodities."
In capitalist society alone could a concept of labor serve as the organizing principle for a multiplicity of humble practices. Where labor has not been subsumed under the commodity form, it may be recognized as the source of material sustenance but it does not take on the social function of structuring the relation of person to person through the exchange of abstract labor time. Definitions of labor may not surface at all in kinbased or precapitalist societies as a principle for structuring social relations; should they arise, they remain subordinate to other categories coordinating social reproduction. Only in capitalist society is labor both a form of understanding and the integrative principle that regulates social relations in society as a whole; only there does it bridge lived experience and the invisible functioning of a system.
If these considerations render intelligible the patterning of practice by a specification of labor as a commodity, yet they do not explain why the concepts of labor differed between Germany and Britain. To answer this question requires us to uncover the historical genesis of the divergent concepts and the conditions governing their transmission in quotidian practice. That is the task in Part Two of this work.