factory-history and the history of labour movement in hungary

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  • Institute of History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy ofSciences

    Factory-history and the History of Labour Movement in HungaryAuthor(s): P. SiposSource: Acta Historica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, T. 21, No. 1/2 (1975), pp. 171-182Published by: Institute of History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy ofSciencesStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42580689 .Accessed: 13/06/2014 07:01

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    Factory-history and the History of Labour

    Movement in Hungary

    By P. Sipos

    The subject of factory history and that of the history of labour movement are conditional upon each other; their relationship is not a series of interactions of cor- relative phenomena but an objective interdependency, a consequence of production ensuring the maintenance of society. But factory-history does not belong to the old

    disciplines; it has not so much a past than a present. One can hardly say that it has al-

    ready an elaborated methodology and that universally valid and generally accepted standards would have been established as to the requirements a study in factory-his- tory ought to meet to be measured at all on the scales of science. In the absence of uniform "rules of game" the level of the studies - rather than in other branches of science - is primarily determined by the authors' skill or their lack of skill, and by their general knowledge of history.

    An especially frequent indecision relative to the inner proportions of the works is apparent. The factory is an enterprise, that is an economic unit; at the same time it is the setting of the manufacture of products as well as of technical operations and technological processes, too; these all are kept moving by the activity of people, and their relationships and conflicts make them day by day alive. To what extent should the historian of factory development think his own research field a part of the history of the economic relations, technological progress and social life?

    Next to the problems of "What does the factory produce?" and "How does it produce?" it is, in our opinion, one of the essential criteria for the appraisal of each study to what extent it can answer the question of "Who produces in the factory?" Thus, going beyond the pictures of the modern social projects - though they elicit

    imposing advantageous impression - whether it can present the working man, the most important constituent of work and force of production in the actual factory taken in the background of his class-struggles in the past and his constructive work today viewed together.

    The methodological literature of factory-history unanimously emphasizes that the history of the factories should be observed in a complex way, that the factory must be interpreted as "an economic technical and social unit which despite its rela- tive stability constantly moves" as a manifold microcosm that can be known and un-

    Acta Histrica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 21, 1975

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  • 172 p. Sipos

    derstood only in harmony with the external world.1 The earliest paper, at the begin- ning of the emancipation of this discipline, had already pointed out: "A scientific monographical work in factory history must cover, in a proper rate, the whole knowl- edge concerning the history and technical development of the factory, the conditions of work and the movements of the workers."2 Some limitation can be felt in this formulation since what factory-history has to say about the workers is obviously broader than a simple demonstration of their work-conditions and movements but, at any rate, it indicates the need of a complex representation.

    A summary of the results of a rather substantial literary production has ena- bled us to set up more complete criteria: "It is a specific task of the history of the plant to draw the special line of the factory, its special products, manufacturing processes, innovations, inventions, its inner organization which had developed of its own, its market relations, business policy; to introduce the capitalist and the top technical. . . leaders in a plastic way as living persons, to show their individual characteristics beyond their typical features; and to reveal the work relations in the most concrete way possible and the society of the factory in its complexity as much as possible."3

    The newer guides4 also emphasize the sociological outline of the working man's social situation, the presentation of the history of labour movement, and their references to the source materials also give surveys about specific archival sources and bibliographies relative to the working class.

    Several studies have been recently written in factory-history but most of them are unknown to the society of historians. This is due to the fact that the circulation of these works is restricted to a rather narrow circle, mostly to the factory concerned and its superior authorities, all of which we have an almost complete lack of criticism as a consequence. Because of this isolation the labour movement research has not utilized the results of the studies in factory-history up till now. This paper makes therefore an attempt to survey studies which had been written from the point of view of labour movement.

    Those works that examine the factory, in an organic unity, as a producing- economy unit and as a human community contribute in many respects to a more many-sided, more concrete knowledge of the Hungarian labour movement. The historian may find such phenomena and events in the life of the factory that can reinforce, enrich in contents, perhaps modify and correct the general picture drawn in historiography.

    1 Kabos, E.: Reprezentatv gyrtrtneti munka a magyar pamutiparrl (A Representative Study In Factory-History on the Hungarian Cotton Industry). Prttrtneti Kzlemnvek 1966/1. d. 189. ViGH, .: Hogyan ir junk zemtortnetet? (How to Write Factory-Industry?). Tortnelem 1964/3. 3 Hank, P.: Probleme der Betriebsgeschichttforschune. Acta Histrica 1968. No. 3-4. Sarkzi, Z.: tmutat az zemtortneti kutatsokhoz (A Guide to the Research of Factory-

    History). Orszgos Npmvelsi Tancs Orszgos Helytrtneti Bizottsg, 1970, p. 34. Jenei, .: Az zemtortnetrs trgya s levltri forrsai (The Subject of Factory-History and its Archival Sources). Levltri Szemle, 1970/2, pp. 335^9.

    Acta Histrica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 21, 1975

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  • Factory History and Labour Movement 173

    The special literature of factory-history can be a gold-mine for a representa- tion of the real , factual exploitation of the workers. Several works include rich ma- terial related to wage, health and social conditions and provide with duty lists and other documents that can make the milieu in the shop floor, perhaps even in the whole industrial sector credible.

    In many cases the remarkable radicalism of the workers in certain factories was motivated by local factors. The monographer of the Gbor Aron (former: Oetl) Ironworks, comparing the change of production, investment and the number of the workers, concludes that work-intensity was significantly increased in the factory between 1926-1929. This fact aggravated by the totally neglected state of social in- stitutions - which can be observed, by the way, in other places too - explains "why the Oetl Antal Ironworks and Engine factory became one of the centres of the labour movement".5

    In many places some special requirements of service or wage reduction methods aggravated the working conditions. The Industrial Explosives Factory of Peremarton was allowed to oblige to perform emergency work, at any time and without paying overtime wage, those workers who lived in the settlement belonging to the factory.6 In the Match Factory of Budafok fine was a recurrent method to keep workers under discipline. "The director kept a wary eye on the change of the payroll day by day. When he discovered any overspending in the course of his ordinary daily control, he imposed fines amounting to 2, 4 or 6 pengoes for little negligences."7

    The studies in factory-history explain the wage disputes, strikes by the specific conditions of the particular factories, stressing in this way the importance of the class struggles in the different periods. For instance, the


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