In the factories of the “free market economy,” if new machines arrive that are more productive in comparison to the older ones, which thus yield more products with the same expenditure of labor-time, this means for the workers neither that they finish work earlier, nor that work becomes more comfortable with the improved means of production. There is even said to be workers who wish for their “old” machines back. This is not natural!
If an old washboard is replaced by a washing machine, everybody knows that this machine saves quite a lot of work. If somebody buys himself a drill, he knows exactly why. The means of production should make work easier, save time and effort.
In this country, this self-evident fact ceases when it is a matter of producing capitalist wealth. Sophisticated machines, equipped with numerous functions, completely automated, perform complete manufacturing processes and churn out boots, light bulbs, cars and other chunks of wealth in gigantic quantities, thus making a lot of work superfluous. This society disposes over amazingly productive means of production.
And what are they good for?
On one hand, an always growing mass of means of living and means of production leaves the production process every single day, thanks to modern technology. On the other hand, the majority of working humanity drudges most of their waking existence merely to procure a more or less secure existence. The construction and application of ingenious machines does not ease or the shorten work of those who work with them, but strains their health; at best, in some different way than before. Every progress in the development of the means of production which “can do” what workers had to do before means new strains. For less muscular strength, more nervous tension and concentration. An increased operating speed is announced, and with it the compulsion to exhaust the energy of the body and mind in the workplace. The machine dictates the cadence, and the worker has to follow it like a robot. The decisive qualification consists in obeying the requirements of the machines hour by hour and in sustaining, serving or supervising them.
The worker is the servant of the means of work. They apply him, he does not apply them. It is also not the case that the producers of social wealth decide which technical instruments to procure for the production of which goods, and above all how they want to use them and how they will divide the work for the desired means of satisfying their needs. They are not the masters of the production and distribution of wealth. The means of production which are necessary for work do not belong to them. They are the property of others. To get the necessary means of life, they must put themselves completely at the service of the owners, i.e. they must increase their property. Their labor-power is bought to be subordinated to a ready-made production mechanism, so that as many goods as possible in as short a time as possible leave the factory in order to be transformed into money and to increase the capital of the factory owners. Capitalists buy machines, in the end, not to increase the free time and consumption of the workers, but to advance the efficiency of the business.
The determinate interest in this country requires that the entrepreneurs deal ruthlessly with the class which is dependent on wage-labor. This ruthlessness towards the necessities of the “employees'” health and lives therefore takes effect as an “objective constraint.” The capitalist profit-calculation demands saving not the workers work, but saving the entrepreneurs the costs of work. New machines serve this goal and are therefore only purchased to slash wages, i.e. people's livelihoods, or to squeeze from the “labor cost factor” more output to be converted into profit. In their function as profit-machines, the means of production are valuable for capital. So valuable that it appears to the capitalist as a waste if the wheels don't run day and night. They push for the expansion of operating times, for the introduction of additional shifts and weekend work to increase the productive power of capital through this ruthless use of human labor around the clock. On top of this, the new machinery delivers the opportunity to re-establish wages for some workers, namely to lower them, with the argument that, with the new machines, less strength and skill is needed for the job. Indeed, the work does not become easier, but lower valued.
One learns from “technical progress” and its “results” only this: the workers get nothing from machinery but work and strain, as long as they relinquish rule over production to capital.