Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 8


Summary of Chapter 8: The Scientific-Technical Revolution and the Worker

In another short chapter Braverman further explores the scientific-technical revolution and its treatment of the worker, in particular its reduction of the worker to a machine. There had been two stages in capitalist/industrial development during the original Industrial Revolution: first, a change in the organization of labor, and second, a change in the instruments of labor. Those two stages, as described by Marx, refer to the initial industrial revolution; the ensuing scientific-technical revolution cannot be so simply described, because it involves revolutionizing all aspects of production, and manufacture in this time is also continually changing at every level:

It is in the age of the scientific-technical revolution that management sets itself the problem of grasping the process as a whole and controlling every element of it, without exception. (118). 

This involves an attack on the unity of thought and action leads to a “crisis:” labor as a subjective process is removed from the process of production and treated as an object which can then be added (or re-added) to the process conceived as steps controlled or designed by management. This ideal is not achieved in all industries, often for technical reasons; it also creates "new crafts and skills and technical specialties which are at first the province of labor rather than management" [though what these are is not specified]. Workers leave the places where tech has taken over, but move into different fields, some of which have been created by mechanization, others move into fields resistant to mechanization. Braverman promises to return to this subject in future chapters.

In addition to actual mechanization, there is the move to treat workers as machines. Gilbreth, the follower of Taylor, adds motion to Taylor's time studies, and new, more scientifically elaborated ways of studying and representing motions, the units of which are called "therbligs" (120). Gilbreth and his followers developed detailed lists of motions with initials that stand for them, like G for “Grasp,” TE for “Transport Empty.” There are also finer distinctions, such as subcategories of "grasp" [all this is clear machinification of human labor, preparation for automation, or at least dreamed-of automation].

To pick up a pencil, therefore, would involve the proper categories of Transport Empty, Pinch Grasp, and Transport Loaded, each with a standard time value, and the sum of the time categories for these three therbligs, given in ten-thousandths of a minute. constitutes the time for the complete motion. (121)

He gives further examples of "the charting approach to human sensory activity, visual, auditory, and tactile, which have been developed since the early 1950s and which aim at comprehending a larger range of work activities outside the purely manual, in order to apply them not only to clerical work but also to professional and semi-professional specialties." (122) The Universal Operator Performance Analyzer and Recorder (UNOPAR) records human movements using sound waves; other devices measure force exerted by worker, or "kinematic characteristics" of limb movement, etc. These allow the "human factor" of labor to be engineered ahead of time; instead of conducting on the job studies like Taylor had, engineers now use accumulated data to plan out work movements, breaks, etc. before even hiring people; from this point of view labor can appear to be something that is plugged in to an existing process. The numbers and statistics give the whole process an aura of authority; even greater authority is achieved as the calculations come to be carried out by computers.

Braverman provides a great summary of the view of humans as machines:

The animating principle of all such work investigations is the view of human beings in machine tenns. Since management is not interested in the person of the worker, but in the worker as he or she is used in office, factory, warehouse, store, or transport processes, this view is from the management point of view not only eminently rational but the basis of all calculation. The human being is here regarded as a mechanism articulated by hinges, ball-and­-socket joints, etc. (124)

He quotes a psychologist (Kraik) who in fact states this quite explicitly:

" ... as an element in a control system, a man may be regarded as a chain consisting of the following items: (1) sensory devices ... (2) a computing system which responds ... on the basis of previous experience ... (3) an amplifying system-the motor-nerve endings and muscles ... (4) mechanical linkages ... whereby the muscular work produces externally observable effects."

[This is immediately reminiscent of Wiener, who would no doubt wonder just what the objection is to this way of thinking. Per Braverman’s discussion, it is in part the critique of the "partial identity" in contrast to the whole or species being; or more generally, a freedom to create oneself (whether this is or is not seen as part of a "whole," it is about not being objectified or "humiliated" in Vaneigem's terms); and, of course, the struggle over control of the production process and knowledge, identity, etc.].

This attempt to conceive of the worker as a general-purpose machine operated by management is one of many paths taken toward the same goal: the displacement of labor as the subjective element of the labor process and its transformation into an object.

This means that a predetermined rate can be decided or engineered (based upon the authority of the data) and then imposed on actual workers:

In this, the manager counts not only upon the physiological charac­teristics of the human body as codified in his data, but also upon the tendency of the cooperative working mass, of which each worker is, along with the machines, one of the limbs, to enforce upon the individual the average pace upon which his calculations are based.

But, as Braverman notes in a lengthy footnote, workers are rebellious and the actual production process "assumes the form of a struggle, whether organized or not." Humans, like other machines, have "internal friction" which prevent them from working exactly as imagined or engineered.

In conclusion, Braverman observes that the process of abstracting and dividing labor into classified and generalized types of motions, is a process of making it abstract; this corresponds to Marx's concept of abstract labor, completely interchangeable, and shows that actual capitalist thinking confirms Marx’s analysis.


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