Sunday, February 18, 2007

Labour and Leisure

by F. Keston Clarke

If economic organization exists for the happiness of citizens -why else?- its purpose must be, while supplying the needs of life, to lessen labour and increase leisure. It has always been claimed that mass-production does this.

Now appears the necessity for our definitions. Real labour -the most toilsome and least interesting of work- is precisely that least touched by mechanical processes of this blessed age. The drudgery of drain-cleaning and weight-heaving and pipe-laying, and house-scouring is still, after a century-and-a-half of industrial organization, done mainly in the sweat of the labour's brow. Such machinery as exists is scarce, expensive or crude. The twentieth century has produced many wonders, but it did not produce the pulley and the plough 0that labour-saving was done in a darker age. It has produced the motor car, and verily we die daily. And even a Ford van saves the labour, not of the errand-boy but of the horse.

Mass production, so far from saving labour, increases it sevenfold: that is its most solemn condemnation. For plainly, whenever the call for skill or mental application is taken from a task, by so much it becomes less interesting and more laborious. To remove the interest from work is quite definitely to create labour. That toil-making is the whole policy of Mass Production. Its ideal is more and more unskilled or semi-skilled (!) labour and more fool-proof gadgets. A hundred men worked contentedly at the fashioning of chairs and tables with simple tools. Now, five of them invent and organize, the rest pull levers when they are told, and standard woodwork comes out of a spout. Meanwhile, after incredible struggles, they have gained some reduction in the hours of labour and millenium-mongers rise up to prophesy men like gods. For ten hours at a task full of interest, done under pleasant conditions, they are given eight hours of Robotism under Army discipline. Is that labour-saving?

Yet Mass Production, if its goods are nasty, if its processes are soul-destroying, if its labour-saving pretensions are a verbal quibble, can at least claim to have delivered the goods. The massiveness of the mass is undeniable. And if there be a community on earth which honestly values bursting warehouses above the happiness of its citizens, we can recommend them the system whereby "wealth accumulates while men decay."

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