From D.F. Schloss, "Why Working-Men Dislike Piece-Work." The Economic Review, Vol. I, No.3, April 1891, pp. 311-326

. . . A man employed in a dockyard in making "washers" by the aid of a boring-machine, was asked by a visitor (whom this workman apparently took to be a trade union "investigator") how many washers he was making per day. The answer was -- "Now that I am on piece-work, I am making just about double what I used to make when on daywork. I know I am doing wrong. I am taking away the work of another man. But I have permission from the Society." The words in italics are referable to the belief so firmly entertained by a large section of our working-classes -- whether employed on time-work or piece work -- the conviction that for a man to exert his energies up to the point which just stops short of undue exertion -- to do his level best -- is inconsistent with his own interests, and with loyalty to the cause of labour. The basis of this belief, which is in a large measure responsible for the unpopularity of piece-work, is that noteworthy fallacy to which I desire to direct attention under the name of "the theory of the Lump of Labour."

In accordance with this theory it is held that there is a certain fixed amount of work to be done, and that it is best in the interests of the workmen that each shall take care not to do too much work, in order that thus the Lump of Labour may be spread out thin over the whole body of work-people. As the result of this policy, it is believed that the supply of available labour being in this manner restricted, while the demand for this labour remains (as it is supposed) unchanged, the absorption into the ranks of the employed of those who are now out of work will follow as a necessary consequence. At the same time, since (as it is assumed) two masters will now be running after one man, the operatives, having succeeded in this "corner," will, it is hoped be able to obtain for their labour a very much better price than at present.

In many of the rules prohibiting a man from doing his level best we can recognize the influence of the ideas now under consideration. Thus the Bradford lodge of the Labourers' Union was, during the Trade Union Commission of 1867-1869, shown to have the following rule: --

"You are strictly cautioned not to overstep good rules, by doing double the work you are required by the society, and causing others to do the same, in order to get a smile from the master. Such foolhardy and deceitful actions leave a great portion of good members out of employment all the year round."

The theory of the Lump of Labour will be seen to rest upon the utterly untenable supposition that a fixed amount of work exists, which has to be done, and will be done, irrespective of the conditions under which work is done, and, in particular irrespective of the efficiency of the labour employed; and that, the more work is done by any one workman, the less work remains to be done by all other workmen. A full treatment of this subject would take us too far afield. But the character of this fallacy will best be understood, if the objections entertained to a man's doing his level best is compared with the precisely similar objection to a man's using the best available tools; in other words, with the popular objection to the use of motor power and machinery. No clear thinker believes that, in order to provide labour for the unemployed, it is advisable that we should give up steam-ploughs for ordinary iron-ploughs, these again for wooden ploughs, and, in the ultimate resort, should abandon these instruments and scratch the ground with the fingers. Just so, in regard to this doctrine of the Lump of Labour, it should be perceived that it is against the best interests of the community at large, and, first and foremost, of the working-classes, for working-men to handicap the industry of the nation in deference to a theory which proclaims it to be the duty of every man to work, as it were, with one hand tied behind his back.

With the question of the length of the working-day we have nothing here to do. Still, I shall not conceal my opinion that the claim of the working-classes to possess an amount of leisure adequate for the purposes of rest, of education, and of recreation is one in an eminent degree deserving of recognition. But, while a reduction of the hours of labour -- say, to eight in the day -- may readily be admitted to be, on grounds both economic and social, highly desirable, yet it is no less desirable that during those eight hours every working-man in the country shall, using the best available tools and machinery, and performing as much labour as he can perform without exerting himself to an extent prejudicial to his health or inconsistent with his reasonable comfort, produce as large an output as possible. . .

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