Monday, February 14, 2022

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 4


Summary of Chapter 4: Scientific Management

This chapter is an overview of the role of Taylor's "scientific management" in the history of the development of management. Braverman argues that it is incorrect to dismiss Taylorism as a failure or as something that has been superceded, because it is the foundation of modern management; also, related later schools such as "human relations" are actually more circumscribed, and do not get to the bottom of the issue like Taylorism. Finally, Taylor is very direct and outspoken in how he explicitly articulates the motives of his method, which are the ideology and perspective of the capitalist ruling class; later theorists are more muted and circumspect in their explanations. Taylor’s understanding of the workplace in fact derived from his own experience as a worker, and he in turn understood that the workers were being rational in fighting his system, and even admitted this to a group who asked him for advice (69). Braverman contrasts Taylor's awareness with the Hawthorne investigators (who founded the "human relations" school), who assumed workers were just irrational in resisting incentives.

He discusses the details of Taylor's physiological definition of a "fair day of work," even though Taylor clearly knew quite well that such a thing is socially determined; his fight against "soldiering" whereby workers in a piece work system conspire to keep the rate down. [It is interesting that “soldiering” is a bit like contractors or other business owners making bids, in that they want to see how much the other party is willing to pay; it is in a way typical market-driven negative reciprocity (although with the added effect of solidarity among the workers). Essentially this is the same kind of competition that the market system eulogizes in the marketplace, but shifted to the working place because of working conditions; and that shift is what Taylor and other of this monopoly over knowledge to control each step of the labor process and its mode of execution. In passing in this discussion the question of who has and controls knowledge, or could or should develop a science, is explored (e.g., why not scientific workmanship rather than scientific management?) Taylor's answer to this, stated before congress, (80) is very reminiscent of the "Why Are There No Great Women Artists?" argument – workers don’t have the opportunity, they can't afford the costs or the time for study, because they are busy working for a living. Braverman points out – this is all just the effect of the capitalist system].

 Braverman discusses how Taylor’s methods, such as the instruction list, creates the illusion, from the management perspective, that the work is in fact created by the manager, with the worker becoming only a tool (or at most a motive force, but no longer a creative force). [A parallel investigation of the "creatives" in design could be pursued, not to mention the entire "concept art" idea in which the actual production is done by someone else who gets no credit as the "artist"].

 Braverman makes an ironic point about labor and knowledge:

This same instruction card inspired in Alfred Marshall, however, the curious opinion that from it, workers could learn how production is carried on: such a card, "whenever it comes into the hands of a thoughtful man, may suggest to him something of the purposes and methods of those who have constructed it.” The worker, in Marshall's notion, having given up technical knowledge of the craft, is now to pick up the far more complex technical knowledge of modem industry from his task card, as a palaeontologist reconstructs the entire animal from a fragment of a bone! (82)

[Marshall’s claim is ironic because the worker's knowledge was in reality the starting point of the process, which management studied and replicated in the form of tasks, then hired new workers who did not have the knowledge. The "palaeontologist" line is very fitting for algorithmically controlled workers, such as drivers trying to comprehend the soft cab algorithm].


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