Saturday, 18 May 2013

Labor and Monopoly Capital

This is one of the most interesting books I have read for a long time. Obviously I don't share the author's Marxist view of the world, but for a book that came out in 1974, there is a lot of good/relevant stuff in it. The subject is the nature of work in 'monopoly capitalism'* and a particular emphasis is the way that technology can serve to deskill the workforce. Here are a few snippets.

"The mass of humanity is subjected to the labor process for the purposes of those who control it rather than for any general purposes of "humanity" as such... Machinery comes into the world not as the servant of "humanity", but as the instrument of those to whom the accumulation of capital gives the ownership of machines... [I]n addition to its technical function of increasing the productivity of labor - which would be the mark of machinery under any social system - machinery also has in the capitalist system the function of divesting the mass of workers of their control over their own labor."


"The complexity of the social division of labour which capitalism has developed over the past century, and the concentrated urban society which attempts to hold huge masses in delicate balance, call for an immense amount of social coordination that was not previously required. Since capitalist society resists and in fact has no way of developing an overall planning mechanism for providing this social coordination, much of this public function becomes the internal affair of the corporation. This has no judicial basis or administrative concept behind it; it simply comes into being by virtue of the giant size and power of the corporations, whose internal planning becomes, in effect, a crude substitute for necessary social planning."


"In the period of monopoly capitalalism, the first step in the creation of the universal market is the conquest of all goods production by the commodity form, the second step is the conquest of an increasing range of services and their conversion into commodities, and the third step is is a "product cycle" which invents new products and services, some of which become indespensible as the conditions of modern life change and destroy alternatives... In the end, the population finds itself in the position of being able to do little or nothing itself as easily as it can be hired done in the marketplace by one of the multifarious new branches of social labor...

It is characteristic of most of the jobs created in this "service sector" that, by the nature of the labor processes they incorporate, they are less susceptible to technological change... Thus while labor tends to stagnate or shrink in the manufacturing sector, it piles up in these services and meets a renewal of the traditional forms of pre-monopoly competition among the many firms that proliferate in fields with low capital-entry requirements. Largely nonunion and drawing on the pool of pauperized labor at the bottom of the working class population, these industries create new low-wage sectors of the working class, more intensely exploited and oppressed than those in the mechanized fields of production."

* just a reminder that Colin Crouch's book on neoliberalism is really good on what "actually existing capitalism" looks like - big firms do tend to dominate, and significant barriers to exist in many important industries.

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