by Mark Chmiel
The factory inspectors had to confront the problem of how the working day might be defined in practice. At what times should laborers get to work? Is the start-up time inside the factory or outside the factory? And what about breaks for lunch?
Marx quotes an inspector’s report: “The profit to be gained by it” [over-working in violation of the British Factory Acts] “appears to be, to many, a greater temptation than they can resist”…These “small thefts” of capital from the workers’ meal-times and recreation times are also described by the factory inspectors as “petty pilferings of minutes,” “snatching a few minutes” or, in the technical language of the workers, “nibbling and cribbling at meal-times.”
Marx then quotes the key idea: “Moments are the elements of profit.” I think this a crucial formation. Capitalists seek to capture every moment of the worker’s time in the labor process. Capitalists do not simply buy a worker’s labor-power for twelve hours; they have to make sure every moment of those twelve hours is used at maximum intensity. And this, of course, is what a factory disciplinary and supervisory system is all about.
–David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital
One minute alive is one minute to serve the revolution.
–Đặng Thùy Trâm, Vietnamese doctor,
author of Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Đặng Thùy Trâm