Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 10


Summary of Chapter 10: Further Effects of Management and Technology on the Distribution of Labor

This brief chapter discusses the changing composition of the industrial workforce due to management practices and mechanization. Braverman points out several times that this is not simply due to the effects of technological change and increased productivity, but also to the specific demands of the capitalist system, and the form this has taken since the Scientific-Technical revolution:

A necessary consequence of management and technology is a reduction in the demand for labor. The constant raising of the productivity of labor through the organiza­tional and technical means that have been described herein must, in itself, produce this tendency. The application of modern methods of management and machine technology, however, become practical only with the rapid increase in the scale of production. Thus the rapid increase in the productivity of labor tends to be counterbalanced by the growth in production. Chiefly as a conse­quence of this, employment in those industries concerned with the production of goods has not declined in absolute terms. (163)

That is, increased productivity [real subsumption] reduces the need for labor, but overall increased productivity [expansion, formal subsumption], keeps people employed by creating new industries. Also, creating a reserve army of laborers who have been put out of work [and deskilled], lowers the price of labor, and so puts a check on mechanization, since it has to compete with this lowered cost of labor.

Thus the very rapidity of mechanization, insofar as it makes available a supply of cheap labor by discharging workers from some industries or putting an end to the expansion of employment in others, acts as a check upon further mechanization.

The absolute numbers of workers in industry has grown, but as a percentage of the workforce they were fairly consistent through 19th century up until the 1920s, after which they have shrunk. But within the industrial workforce, the percentage of those involved in actual production has decreased, and indirect workers (administration, etc.; those involved in maintaining the “shadow replica of the entire process of production in paper form” (165)) has risen, since the late 19th century. Within this “residual category” of nonproductive workers, Braverman identifies two categories: technical: “engineers, technicians, and the clerical workers associated with production tasks,” (he later adds scientists of various sorts employed in industry), and commercial: “administrative, financial, marketing, and other such employment.” (166)

The point he is going for is that the actual technical personnel are a small group:

On balance, it is probably proper to say that the technical knowledge required to operate the various industries of the United States is concentrated in a grouping in the neighborhood of only 3 percent of the entire working population-although this percentage is higher in some industries and lower in others. (167)

He gives a history of the dramatic rise in the number and diversity of engineers in the US, since the early 19th century, with a rapid rise since the late 19th century

The enormous and continuous growth in demand for engineers has created a new mass occupation. On the one hand, this has, along with other new professions such as accounting, given a place to those thrust out of the old middle class by the relative decline of the petty entrepreneurial occupations in trade and other erstwhile arenas of small business. But on the other hand, having become a mass occupation engineering has begun to exhibit, even if faintly, some of the characteristics of other mass employments: rationalization and division of labor, simplification of duties, application of mechanization, a downward drift in relative pay, some unemployment, and some unionization.

Even design is now broken down into tasks and division of labor; he gives the example of the design of an AO Smith auto frame plant; engineers encounter increased routine and limited responsibilities, with less creativity and independence. Computer-aided design and engineering result in an increasing amount of knowledge and control over the design process being transferred from engineer to computer.

Apart from the labor-saving aspects of the technique, it alters the occupational composition in the same manner as does numerical control. Since such techniques are used in accord with the management-fa­vored division of labor, they replace engineers and draftsmen with data-entry clerks and machine operators, and further intensify the concentration of conceptual and design knowledge. Thus the very process which brought into being a mass engineering profession is being applied to that profession itself when it has grown to a large size, is occupied with duties which may be routinized, and when the advance of solid-state electronic technology makes it feasible to do so. (169)

He discusses the class of technicians, less educated and paid less than engineers, “the routine which can be passed to a lower-paid and slightly trained person goes to the technician.” But with the high supply of people with engineering degrees, an increasing number end up as technicians.

No comments:

Post a Comment