Monday, November 05, 2007

Organizations and Workers: Marx's Theory of Capitalist Exploitation Elaborated

I fully admit--I am blogging some homework. I am too tired to keep writing, and thus my 2000 word essay on Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Darjeeling Limited, and why such movies should not be viewed anachronistically or overly-criticized using post-colonial theory will have to wait. For now, it clocks in at 1500 words, unfinished.

Anyway, for some random non-pleasurable reading, here are some synopses of articles theorizing worker exploitation, why workers don't work, and why workers work so hard when they don't have to for their capitalist bosses.

Keep in mind, I'm no Marxist, but I am regarded as a socialist by many libertarians. I'm actually not as anti-business as some might think though. Seriously.

Marx: Capital: A Critique of Political Economy:

I. Capitalist Production
a. Capitalist production only begins when a large number of workers, working together at the same place in the same time in order to produce large quantities of the same type of commodity under the same capitalist (439).
b. The surplus-value produced by a given capital is equal to the surplus-value produced by each worker multiplied by the number of workers simultaneously employed (439)
c. à Thus, if the number of workers simultaneously increases, there is an increase in the productive power of the individual.

II. Cooperation
a. Collective working: 12 workers will produce more in their collective working day of 144 hours than 12 isolated workers each working for 12 hours, and more than one worker working for 12 days in a row (444)
b. Take home point: the necessary labor time for the completion of the entire task is decreased if more workers are employed simultaneously in the same task (445)
c. Cooperation: numerous workers working together in tandem in accordance with a plan, whether in the same process or in different-but-connected processes (443). But the workers must be working together.

III. Labor v. Capital
a. The capitalist buys the labor-power of 100 men and enters into separate contracts with 100 unconnected men rather than just one man, but does not pay for the combined labor-power of the 100 (which is what he is getting).
b. The labor process is transformed into a social process, allowing the capitalist to exploit labor, thereby increasing its productive power (453)

Donald Roy, Quota Restriction and Goldbricking in a Machine Shop

I. Roy was a Working Embed
a. Roy studied the restriction of industrial output by working for 11 months as a radial-drill operator in the machine shop of a steel-processing plant between 1944-1945, actinga s a participant-observer
b. Roy was completely embedded, and “one of the boys on the line,” a member of the work group, with complete access to his fellow workers.

II. Thesis
a. Roy suggests that the kind of payment system in place in a firm has a direct impact on the work effort of its workers. If a firm has a poor payment system ( i.e. reward system ), its workers will respond by reducing their work effort.
b. The machine shop, according to Roy, has a lousy payment system because of two disincentives:
i. Low pay
ii. The practice of “downward revision of pay,” meaning that if workers are too efficient, the management will have to pay workers more since earnings are proportional to the amount of work completed. Thus, management will either reduce the payment or make the job harder.

III. Quota Restriction
a. The rational worker will exert as little effort as possible on the job without getting fired, as shown by two kinds of output behavior by the workers: goldbricking and quota restriction
i. Quota restriction: limitation of effort on “gravy” jobs in order not to exceed set maximums
ii. Goldbricking: appears as a “holding back,” or failure to release effort
b. Roy seems to believe that the machine shop is exercising the “remunerative” form of power on its workers through the payment system, i.e. material rewards. The result of which is a calculative working relationship based on exchange between the management and the workers. So when the workers perceive that they are disadvantaged by an unfair reward system, they retaliate by reducing productivity.

IV. Questions
a. Can the kind of payment system alone account for the output behaviour of the workers?
b. Are there other non-monetary factors which can affect the motivation of the workers?
i. By locating the problem of motivation only in the payment system, Roy is denying other possible forms of power play ( other than that of remunerative power ) in the machine shop.
c. Other possible explanations for output behavior:
i. Workplace culture (rather than economic rationalizations)
ii. Individual preferences and habits
iii. Managerial responses to worker-output

Michael Burawoy, Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process under Monopoly Capitalism

I. Burawoy as Response to Marxist Theory of Labor and Organization
a. Marx believed that since the interests of labor and capital are fundamentally opposed, capitalism ultimately oppresses the working class
i. Organizations are merely capitalist tools designed to control and dominate workers, maximizing the extraction of collective labor.
b. Burawoy’s theory of the mechanisms of labor control by capitalism is more concerned with the hegemony of co-optation and subtle coercion

i. Question is not “why do workers work at all,” but rather “why do workers work as hard as they do to increase the capital of their company owners?

II. Manufacturing Consent
a. Burawoy was also an embed: based on his own experiences in a piece-rate machine shop, Burawoy concludes that management controls workers by giving labor the “illusion of choice” in a highly restrictive environment.
b. Co-optation: worker participation creates consent and minimizes the potential of class consciousness, opposition, and labor-management conflict while maximizing productivity

III. Strategies for Manufacturing Consent
a. Piece-Rate Pay System
i. Creates the illusion of labor as a game. Workers compete with each other to “make out” and surpass expected production quotas
ii. Job satisfaction comes from mastering the strategies to “make out” under various production conditions. Those who are most skillful players garner respect and prestige.
b. Internal Labor Market
i. Job mobility within the company (advancement, seniority incentives) allows management to reduce conflict and increase the illusion of choice
ii. This stratifies workers and mitigates potential labor/organizing conflicts
c. Collective Bargaining
i. This also gives labor the illusion of participation and choice. Modern capitalism succeeds in co-opting workers into embracing capitalism to the point of dealing with management rather than resisting management.

IV. Questions
a. Is Burawoy’s study particular to the industry he observed or generalizable beyond the piece-rate pay system?
b. Is the satisfaction of doing good work, or the pleasure achieved in “making out” truly a consent to capitalism?
c. Reward games and other weird micro-incentives for extracting labor and productivity at a macro-level are very popular now. Witness “play rooms” and “free think rooms,” as well as “prizing” productivity with monthly-sales quotas and competition for prizes and bonuses. What are the implications for game-based reward systems for worker exploitation?


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