The factory inspectors had to confront the problem of how the working day might be defined in practice. At what times should laborers get to work? Is the start-up time inside the factory or outside the factory? And what about breaks for lunch?
Marx quotes an inspector’s report: “The profit to be gained by it” [over-working in violation of the British Factory Acts] “appears to be, to many, a greater temptation than they can resist”…These “small thefts” of capital from the workers’ meal-times and recreation times are also described by the factory inspectors as “petty pilferings of minutes,” “snatching a few minutes” or, in the technical language of the workers, “nibbling and cribbling at meal-times.”
Marx then quotes the key idea: “Moments are the elements of profit.” I think this a crucial formation. Capitalists seek to capture every moment of the worker’s time in the labor process. Capitalists do not simply buy a worker’s labor-power for twelve hours; they have to make sure every moment of those twelve hours is used at maximum intensity. And this, of course, is what a factory disciplinary and supervisory system is all about.
–David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital
One minute alive is one minute to serve the revolution.
–Đặng Thùy Trâm, Vietnamese doctor,
author of Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Đặng Thùy Trâm