SECTION 1
THE LIMITS OF THE WORKING-DAY
We started with the supposition that labour-power is bought and sold at its value. Its value, like
that of all other commodities, is determined by the working-time necessary to its production. If
the production of the average daily means of subsistence of the labourer takes up 6 hours, he
must work, on the average, 6 hours every day, to produce his daily labour-power, or to reproduce
the value received as the result of its sale. The necessary part of his working-day amounts to 6
hours, and is, therefore,
caeteris paribus
[other things being equal], a given quantity. But with
this, the extent of the working-day itself is not yet given.
Let us assume that the line A–––B represents the length of the necessary working-time, say 6
hours. If the labour be prolonged 1, 3, or 6 hours beyond A—–B, we have 3 other lines:
Working-day I.
Working-day II.
Working-day III.
A–––B–C.
A–––B––C.
A–––B–––C.
representing 3 different working-days of 7, 9, and 12 hours. The extension B—–C of the line A
—–B represents the length of the surplus-labour. As the working-day is A—–B + B—–C or A
—–C, it varies with the variable quantity B—–C. Since A—–B is constant, the ratio of B—–C to
A—–B can always be calculated. In working-day I, it is 1/6, in working-day II, 3/6, in working
day III 6/6 of A—–B. Since further the ratio (surplus working-time)/(necessary working-time),
determines the rate of the surplus-value, the latter is given by the ratio of B—-C to A—-B. It
amounts in the 3 different working-days respectively to 16 2/3, 50 and 100 per cent. On the other
hand, the rate of surplus-value alone would not give us the extent of the working-day. If this rate,
e.g
., were 100 per cent., the working-day might be of 8, 10, 12, or more hours. It would indicate
that the 2 constituent parts of the working-day, necessary-labour and surplus-labour time, were
equal in extent, but not how long each of these two constituent parts was.
The working-day is thus not a constant, but a variable quantity. One of its parts, certainly, is
determined by the working-time required for the reproduction of the labour-power of the
labourer himself. But its total amount varies with the duration of the surplus-labour. The
working-day is, therefore, determinable, but is,
per se
, indeterminate.
[1]
Although the working-day is not a fixed, but a fluent quantity, it can, on the other hand, only
vary within certain limits. The minimum limit is, however, not determinable; of course, if we
make the extension line B—-C or the surplus-labour = 0, we have a minimum limit,
i.e
., the part
of the day which the labourer must necessarily work for his own maintenance. On the basis of
capitalist production, however, this necessary labour can form a part only of the working-day;
the working-day itself can never be reduced to this minimum. On the other hand, the working-
day has a maximum limit. It cannot be prolonged beyond a certain point. This maximum limit is