I haven’t re-read chapter ten in its entirety and I am, as I mentioned, working under imperfect conditions, but so far from my most recent re-read and what I can recall from before, I think it’s striking that Marx doesn’t mention industrial accidents. His discussion of the working day is largely a discussion of occupational hazards, the health effects of work and of the lives workers lead due to work. (There’s also repeated mention in this chapter of child laborers and parents who bring their kids to work, I know I’ve commented on this before but I don’t have the time to look up the old post, either way – seems to me this is relevant to my comment in the last post as well, since child laborers – and at the time of Marx’s writing perhaps women workers as well [I’m not up on English legal history] – were not self-possessing sellers of their labor power, which means that if the presence of free waged labor is taken as a hard and fast requirement for calling something capitalist then Marx’s own examples of English capitalist industry are only partially capitalist, that seems to me like it would be a silly result.)

Given all the info Marx looked at, factory inspectors’ reports and press coverage and so on, I’m surprised that there’s only one mention of a workplace accident as far as I can tell. It comes in the middle of section 3 (it’s on p363 of the Penguin edition), and it’s about a railway accident which killed passengers. The accident happened because the railway workers were working too much and sleeping too little, and their fatigue led to an error. There’s no mention of whether or not any railway workers were hurt in the incident.

It seems to me there’s two basic possibilities for the ommission.

1) They weren’t mentioned in any of the sources Marx looked at.

2) They’re not part of Marx’s goal for the chapter so he didn’t look for sources which mention accidents or he didn’t use sources he found.

Possibility 1) seems improbable to me. If that is the case, I’d be interested to know what sources might have existed, if any, that Marx might have drawn on. Possibility 2) seems more likely to me. In brief, here’s what I think is going on.

I think Marx’s point in the chapter is in part to dramatize that labor power resides in the bodies of workers such that the consumption of labor power is the consumption of workers’ bodies. (Another point of his is that capitalists have a collective interest in the regulation of this consumption even if this or that individual capitalist may not know this or try to fight against the imposition of regulation.) The feeling reading the chapter – at least the sections on overwork and child labor – is one of machinery grinding away human life, relentlessly. The exclusion of accidents, then, might be because accidents are … well, accidental. Accidents may happen rather than being something which labor definitely does to workers. Of course, given high enough probabilities of accidents I think it would be fair to say that industrial accidents are also part of what labor does under capitalism, but perhaps the statistics weren’t collected or if they were it still may have seemed like a sort of gamble – a worker on a dangerous machine is playing a sort of Russian Roulette, which means more will escape. (The same claim could perhaps be made about Marx’s remarks on life expectancies as well, so maybe I’m off the mark here; those remarks, however, seem to me to be further evidence to the claim I’ve made repeatedly on here contra Negri, that capitalism does not become biopolitical in the present – the point about maximum hours law being in the capitalist interest seems to me to be an example of the management of the life of populations.)