American Management and British Labor: A Comparative Study of the Cotton Spinning Industry

By Isaac Cohen | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Pre-Factory Production

Q. Are no jealousies entertained by the American workmen towards their masters?

A. In America we never hear the word master; they usually speak of the manufacturer by name, or as their employer, and view him rather as a tradesman to whom they dispose of their labour, than as a person having a hostile interest. There are no jealousies between American master and workman of the nature of those which appear to prevail between the English workmen and their employers.

James Kempton of Connecticut
First Report of the Factory Inquiry Commission,
Parliamentary Papers, 1833, XX, E., p. 21.

Factory production in Britain evolved from a highly developed system of domestic industry. The "making" of the British working class was not a spontaneous generation of the factory system. Industrial capitalism in Britain preceded the coming of the factory; the changing productive relations of the Industrial Revolution were not imposed upon some "undifferentiated raw material of humanity," as E.P. Thompson put it, but upon an already formed and highly organized class of wage-earning artisans with well entrenched craft traditions.

Pre-industrial America had no organized class of proletarian outworkers. Industrial capitalism was little developed in colonial United States, and production was organized primarily on a household basis. The small number of American artisans in the eighteenth century did not produce for the mass market as in Britain, but were employed, above all, as independent producers on a custom basis. The weakness of craft traditions in the United States underlay the transition to factory production.

The purpose of this chapter is to describe these essential differences between the United States and Britain and their relation to the rise of the early cotton factory industry.

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