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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  • RAPPORT SUR LES RECHERCHES

    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 study written about the history of the Gbor Aron Ironworks and Engine Factory clarifies the circumstances of the outbreak of the iron and metal workers' general strike in 1905. 8 In the early thirties great struggles were started in the Ganz Shipyard against the introduction of the Bedaux-system that aimed at the increase of the work-intensity. In the monograph treating the history of the Ganz Electric Works the reasons for this fact are traced back to the apparent narrow-minded business policy of the Klein-family and the Credit Bank who owned the majority of the shares of the concern since the turn of the century.9

    It is one of the deficiencies of our historiography of labour movement that, with a few exceptions, it concentrates mostly on Budapest. The utilization of the results of

    5 Jenei, K. - SRKZI, Z. - SziLGYi, G.: . A Gbor ron Vasntde s Gpgyr trtnete 1862-1962. (A History of Gbor Aron Ironworks and Ensine Factory 1862-1962), d. 86. 6 Gldonyi, . - Szab, F.: Peremarton 50 ve (50 Years of Peremarton). Peremarton 1970, p. 38. 7 ARNA, J.: Kpek a 75 ves Budafoki Gyufagyr trtnetbl (Pictures from the History of the 75 Year Old Match Factor- of Budafok). Budapest 1971, d. 75. 8 Jenei, K. - Srkzi, Z. - Szilgyi, G.: ibid. p. 39. ff

    SzEKERES, J. - Dr. Tth, .: A Klement Gottwald (Ganz) Villamossgi Gyr trtnete (A His- tory of the Klement Gottwald [Ganz] Electric Works). Budapest 1962, p. 184. ff.

    Acta Histrica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 21, 1975

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  • 174 p. Sipos

    the studies dealing with the development of the factories in the country can extend the geographical horizon of the special literature and enable the comprehensive works to represent the movement in such a manner, in a national frame, as it used to be in reality. Important contributions are provided by the history of the Sophiana Machine Factory in Pcs to the description of the special situation in which a small iron factory could serve as the base of class struggle even in an important provincial industrial centre. On the other hand the Lowlander Textile Factory in Mezberny where the local branch of the Textile Workers' Union initiated strikes time and

    again, illustrates what a role an industrial plant can have in the temporary rise of labour movement in an industrially underdeveloped region.10

    Noteworthy data enrich our knowledge about the political activity, mood and views of the factory workers. In Hungary, it was an essential ambition on the part of both the state and the employees to prevent at any means the labour organizations from getting into the factory. They could manage to realize their attempts only in

    part. It appears from the monographs that one could hardly find factories where class-conscious workers had not worked in lesser or greater number. These people were the stimulators of social unrest and they were those persons around whom a

    larger or smaller group of sympathizers with changing composition was formed. "The pattern makers' workshop was the meeting place of the left wing workers" says the historian in characterizing the conditions in the Heisler factory. Those workers of the factory were working here who had been organized for the longest time and "who

    kept systematically contacts with the Union, who went to seminars and were familiar with political issues. Mny people called at the workshop for a short conversation to know what the situation was on the front for the workers did not believe in the Ger- man victory".11 At the same time in Kisgyn, a mine-village in the Bakony, also the

    organized workers played a similar part. They were in contact with the external world i. e. the Miners' Union and the communists in Tatabnya too. The efficiency of their

    activity is proved in the general manager's account in November 1943.: "The de- crease of workspeed noticeable in other mines occurred in Kisgyn too."12

    The scholars of labour movement are faced with several phenomena that could not be explained without concrete facts given by factory-history, but being aware of the particular features of these facts they have become understandable. Thus, only the local analysis can answer the exciting problem characteristic throughout the whole Hungarian labour movement: why the intensity and radicalism of the labour movement were relatively weak in the north-eastern industrial region of Hungary

    10 Kopasz, G.: (ed.)v4 pcsi Sophiana Gyr (1865-1965) [Sophiana Factory of Pcs 1865-1965]. Pcs 1965, p. 68.

    Dtsch, Zs. - Jakab, M.: 50 ves a Pamuttextil Mvek mezbernyi gyra (The Mezberny Branch of the Cotton-Textile Works is 50 Years Old). Gyula 1970, p. 37. ff 11 Holls, J. - Kiss, E. : tven Esztend. A Szerszmgpipari Mvek kbnyai gyrnak trtnete (Fifty Years. A History of the Kbnya Branch of the Machine Tools Works). Budapest 1968, p. 29. 12 Pera, F.: A kisgyni-balinkai sznbnyszat tven ve (Fifty Years of the Coal-Mining of Kisgyn-Balinka). Trtnelmi Trsulat, p. 76.

    Acta Histrica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 21, 1975

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