William Morris

Work In A Factory As It Might Be II

In a recent article we tried to look through the present into the future and see a factory as it might be, and got as far as the surroundings outside of it; but those externals of a true palace of industry can be only realised, naturally and without affectation by the work which is to be done in them being in all ways reasonable and fit for human beings; I mean no mere whim of some one rich and philanthropic manufacturer will make even one factory permanently pleasant and agreeable for the workers in it; he will die or be sold up, his heir will be poorer or more single-hearted in his devotion to profit, and all the beauty and order will vanish from the short-lived dream: even the external beauty in industrial concerns must be the work of society and not of individuals.

Now as to the work, first of all it will be useful and therefore honorable and honoured; because there will be no temptation to make mere useless toys, since there will be no rich men cudgelling their brains for means for spending superfluous money and consequently no "organisers of labour" pandering to degrading follies for the sake of profit, wasting their intelligence and energy to contriving snares for cash in the shape of trumpery, which they themselves heartily despise. Nor will the work turn out trash; there will be no millions of poor to make a market for wares which no one would choose to use if he were not driven to do so; everyone will be able to afford things good of their kind and as will be shown thereafter, will have knowledge of goods enough to reject what is not excellent; coarse and rough wares may he made for rough or temporary purposes, but they will openly proclaim themselves for what they are; adulteration will be unknown.

Furthermore machines of the most ingenious and best approved kinds will be used when necessary, but will be used simply to save human labour; nor indeed could they be used for anything else, in such well-ordered work as we are thinking about; since, profit being dead, there would be no temptation to pile up wares whose apparent value as articles of use, their conventional value as such, does not rest on the necessities or reasonable desires of men for such things, but on artificial habits forced on the public by the craving of the capitalists for fresh and ever fresh profit: those things have no real value as things to be used, and their conventional (let us say sham) utility value has been bred of their value as articles of exchange for profit, in a society founded on profit mongering.

Well the manufacture of useless goods, whether harmful luxuries for the rich or disgraceful makeshifts for the poor have come to an end, and we still being in possession of the machines once used for mere profit grinding but now used only for saving human labour, it follows that much less labour will be necessary for each workman; all the more as we are going to get rid of all non-workers, and busy-idle people; so that the working time of each member of our factory will be very short, say, to be much within the mark, four hours a day.

Now it may be allowable for an artist, that is one whose ordinary work is pleasant and not slavish, to hope that in no factory will all the work, even that necessary four hours work, be mere machine-tending; and it follows from what was said above about machines being used to save labour, that there would be no work which would turn men into mere machines; therefore at least some portion of the work, the necessary and in fact compulsory work I mean, would be pleasant to do; the machine-tending ought not to require a very long apprenticeship, therefore is no case should any one person be set to run up and down after a machine through all his waking hours everyday, even so shortened as we have seen; now the attractive work of our factory, that which was pleasant in itself to do, would be of the nature of art: therefore all slavery of work ceases under such a system, for whatever is burdensome about the factory would be taken turn and turn about and so distributed would cease to be a burden, would be in fact a kind of rest from the more exciting or artistic work.

Thus then would the sting be taken out of the factory system ; in which as things now are the socialisation of labour which ought to have been a blessing to the community has been turned into a curse by the appropriation of the products of its labour by individuals, for the purpose of gaining for them the very doubtful advantages of a life of special luxury and often of mere idleness; the result of which to the mass of the workers has been a dire slavery, of which long hours of labour, ever increasing strain of labour during those hours, and complete repulsiveness in the work itself have been the greatest evils.

It remains for me in another article to set forth my hopes of the way in which the gathering together of people in such social bodies as properly ordered factories might be may be utilised or increasing the general pleasure and raising its standard material and intellectual for creating in short that life rich in incident and variety, but free from the strain of mere sordid trouble, the life which the individualist vainly babbles of but which the Socialist aims at directly and will one day attain to.


Justice, 31st April 1884, p. 2.