Redundancy of Work?

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Mystic
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Apr 5 2004 17:58
Redundancy of Work?

Just bear with me here lads and lasses, but I think there's a problem with the workers against the bosses ideology that is at the root of a lot of socialist thought.

You see, as far as I can make out, we live less and less in a world where the "working class" and "boss class" can be broken down under those headings. The class breakdown is the right idea, but the target is wrong. We live in a world where the growing issue isn't the repression of people in wage employment by capitalists (although that is still a very real problem), it's the subjugation of the masses to a life of unemployment on meagre benefits and what they can get out of the system. Unemployment's much tougher psychologically than employment (or at least I think it is), and yet it's one thing that's on the up. Unemployment in the UK is seemingly lower than it has been recently, but it's still much, much higher than it was before Thatcherism, when we had near zero unemployment. But the most terrifying threat is global unemployment: it's higher than it's ever been, and it's increasing faster than ever before.

Capitalists don't just make money from virtually enslaving people, they can also make it from securing a finite pool of resources for the "haves" and limiting it from the "have-nots." The welfare state in the current capitalist society is basically an excuse that appeals to the bleeding heart liberals for taking huge amounts of resources and giving very little of it away. And, they argue, why should they have to? They claim that since "these people" don't work, we're lucky to get what little benefits we can. Screw the fact that our already near non-existent opportunities are dwindling as the rich start to rely on outsourcing, and moreover they know that immigration of skilled labourers means they don't have to give up their precious cash to help train our own inner cities and lower classes.

As I was saying about global unemployment, it's a very real threat. I read in the Economist (yeah, so I'm reading the enemy wink) that something like 50 million are unemployed in the Middle East today, but that figure will be 150 million in 10 years' time. In my area two vacancies at WHSmith's had 350 applications (guess what? I didn't get the job). University students are being forced to do the jobs that schoolkids once did to fund their ever higher tuition fees, and all the while the dole beckons in the future. A classic example of what I'm talking about you might have seen in the papers about the US - the "jobless recovery." Turns out that the productivity gains of the Clinton boom haven't created more jobs, far from it. The "moral side" of capitalist advance goes something like this: technology may make people lose their jobs, but it creates as many as it destroys. This is ever more clearly bullshit, as the US economy grows ahead, and yet no jobs are being created. What the hell is the point of all this technology if more people live in poverty because of it?

In short, I reckon this is where revolution lies. As unemployment grows, so does discontent. Just look at what happened in Iraq: that moron Bremer sacked the army and outsourced Iraqi business to American conglomerates. That's a whole lot of angry unemployed people, who've turned on the US instead of welcoming them as liberators from Saddam. If technology and productivity keeps on getting better and better, soon people are going to start looking at unemployment in a very different way: not as people being lazy, but because the capitalists and state deny them the skills and opportunities they need, as an excuse for monopolising resources themselves. I think that could end up forcing a conversion to socialism, where we either rely on our technology and see work as something merely productive and fulfilling, but not totally necessary, or smash the whole edifice to bits.

I'm not trying to draw attention away from the working class struggle, but I am trying to make what I think is an important point. We often talk about "the working class" and group together unemployed people, benefit claimants, under that same heading, but that makes the term misleading. The "exploited class" might be a better name, and it might help draw our attention to the equally important struggle, between the establishment and the people it denies jobs. Similarly we often talk about "the labour movement," and things like that. In my opinion, it's important to recognise that this isn't just a worker/labour struggle any more, and that the future of revolution could look very different (but even brighter).

Thanks yall, if you read this far grin.

GenerationDecay
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Apr 6 2004 03:32

Whilst your post makes some good points, and I agree with a lot of it (Argentina being a recent example of the force of the unemployed) I believe the term 'working class' is still correct, as it refers to the existing labour pool rather than those who may be employed at the moment. You said yourself, you applied for a job in WHSmith, so you are part of that labour pool, if they want you they will use you. If none of the labour pool is willing to work for the capitalists anymore, thats where you see the current system in trouble. Those who are in work, and the unemployed, are therefore equally as important in bringing about revolution, and there is no real division between them implied by the term 'working class' IMO.

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cantdocartwheels
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Apr 6 2004 14:53

Proletariat, the word used to describe the roman urban underclass weho made up the bulk of romes work force, both in reserve, in agriculture, in construction and in the military.

How is that word redundant exactly?

Thats how its always been under industrial capitalism, all your describing is the decline of certain parts of manufactuiring industry in england.

And even that is a bit overplayed.

Of course its a labour struggle, its teh struggle for a fair distribution of labour.

john

Mystic
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Apr 6 2004 17:32

Lol, redundancy might have sounded a bit extreme.

A combination of factors: rising capitalist productivity, and the double blow of outsourcing and immigration of skilled workers, are contributing to unemployment in this country. The rich don't bother to give any resources to help the poor get skills, 'cos it's much easier to let skilled workers who've been educated elsewhere come in. It's a crucial issue, and saying that unemployed people are potential members of the workforce, while 100% true, understates the problem. Plus it's not just this country I'm talking about, the picture across the world is just as bad, if not worse (I mean, we've basically given up hope of full employment in this country thanks to Thatcherism). If global unemployment goes up, along with the population, and productivity continues to increase (the amount of resources produced per amount of time worked), that's a lot of people getting screwed over by the system.

Because with increasing productivity, unemployment actually suits the rich. Especially when they can import skilled workers from outside, or merely hire them in their own countries, and leave the poor to rot. Maybe my prediction will be wrong, but it makes sense. As technology gets better and corporations get ever more efficient, it's easier and easier to force people out of the system, especially when resources are finite.

I'm not arguing that we shouldn't be fighting for the rights of the workers (and I suppose the right to work is part of that), just that there's a double issue here, which is growing. Unemployment in this country now is much, much higher than in the years before Thatcher, maybe even higher than ever before, and it's rocketing all across the world.

http://www.btimes.co.za/96/1208/trends/trends1.htm

The first half of that article is quite useful, then it starts going on about how jobs have become progressively more stable in the last three decades, which, as everyone knows, is bull.

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cantdocartwheels
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Apr 6 2004 18:49

I know what your saying, but my point is i think your misjudging how people have used terminology and hwo workers rights campaigns operate.

The word proletariat was deliberately chosen by marx because it referred to the labour pool, not just the employed workforce.

When people campaign specifically for shorter hours as they have done for over a century, it isn't just mindlessly stabbing in the dark

Plus you have to control the workforce, the unemployed are unlikely to ever overtake the employed in numbers, simply for the reason taht long grinmding hours are used by capitalists to keep people down.

Thats why something liek the campaign for a four hour day is fairly logical, it unites teh proletariat.

And yes your probly right about iraq, what you've got is an angry proletariat, taht is sudenly deprived of national status, ezpecially in the poorer areas of basra. Unfortunately it will probably be diverted down reactionary channels in the form of various islamist factions.

Its not that i don't think you have a point when looking at reformist trade unions, but thats always been a part of the nature of reformist trade unions. I just don't see theres such a vast difference in teh labour market and employment practices as you do.

john

Mystic
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Apr 7 2004 08:31

I think you guys are concentrating so part on my bullshitting about terminology, I didn't really mean that, it just sounded catchy. I don't think I even mentioned the word "proletariat" in my original post, though if I did I didn't mean to smile.

My hypothesis is that what we're seeing is a combination of productivity and labour factors that mean capitalists don't actually need people to be involved in their system any more, the real labour pool is limited to the productive sectors (about 15% of the workforce). That's very different from before, where technology meant that it was in the capitalist's interests to force as many people to work as possible in the big wage slavery system that was the capitalist-industrial factory base, or even the peasant farming economy.

That explains the expansion in services and unemployment in the West to unprecedented levels. We now live in a country where something like 70% of the workforce is employed in services, and unemployment is something like 10% of the eligible population at the bare minimum (I'm not using claimant count figures here, they're just barefaced lies). So, I can't be arsed to figure it out completely, but that works out at something like 15% of people at the absolute maximum (probably less if we include just manufacturing and agriculture) involved in actual productive labour. That's what productivity gains mean: fewer and fewer people need to be involved in resource exploitation to maximise the amount the bosses get, and then it's in the bosses' interests to force as many people out of the workforce as they can get away with without outright revolution, and the rest go into services.

The fact is, in the modern environment, if we were all involved in productive labour, at current technologies and productivity levels, we would produce too much for ourselves and the world to handle. That's where I think the future lies. We can share the labour between us, and no-one will even need to work that hard - the socialist solution, it gives us room to work where we want, say brizzul's sort of vision of going to the factory for a couple weeks then taking a car out to help bring the harvest in over the next few days. Only 1% of the population is employed in agriculture, and yet a huge amount of food is produced with modern farming methods. Shorter hours is a part of that, because the upper classes reckon they can get away with making the productive workhorses work harder, longer hours, while forcing the rest of the people to grind away in services or on benefits.

I mean, I don't like to reduce things when it comes to history, but you can break down the phases (in employment terms, I'll avoid Marx's more in-depth analysis, and I'm making up these figures completely if you want to call me on them tongue):

Peasant-rural economy: 90-99% of people work in agriculture

Industrial-urban economy: 70% of people work in industry, 20-25% in agriculture

"New" economy: 15% productive labour, 80% unemployed & services

(the bosses being the missing figures)

Now I don't think the new phase is just some kind of "services" economy, because services, although it involves exploitation, job instability and wage slavery, just isn't productive like manufacturing and farming are. It isn't 100% necessary to everyone's survival. Maybe instead of seeing services and unemployment as just part of the economy, we should see them for what they are: a way of keeping down a huge part of the population. If the bosses were to lay everyone off and just keep the resources from the productive sectors of the economy, they'd still make the same amount of money, but they couldn't keep us down with 70% unemployment. The bosses need services, but just enough for themselves: such massive service sector employment, from a system point of view, is a natural way of keeping everyone just happy enough to stop the outbreak of revolution.

But what I think we're seeing in the US and the world is a problem with that system solution - productivity means that economic growth doesn't mean jobs any more. And soon people are going to start waking up to the fact that we don't need to limit productive labour to such a small section of society, and that sharing it will make everyone better off. I mean, only 1% of UK citizens in farming and whatever it is for industry (10%?) - splitting that work between ourselves would be no problem. 4 hour working days would be about right, and even give a ton of spare capacity (which capitalism can't take). Instead of being forced to spend our days behind telephones and pasting up adverts the majority of the "services" workforce can get the rights we deserve.

People need to see that the socialist solution isn't just better, it's the only possible solution to the current levels of productivity. And I reckon that's going to happen as soon as the bosses lose control of the unemployment-services balance I'm suggesting exists.

AlexA
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Apr 7 2004 09:16

I see what you're getting at, Mystic - especially your conclusion that most work is pointless etc. and we'd be better off if we all shared productive labour.

But I think you're going a bit wrong when you suggest that the bosses might lay off (eventually) all non-productive workers (by your terms "non-productive" anyway).

There's a reason that despite massive increases in technology etc. we still work long hours in shit jobs, and I believe it's because of the capitalist drive to profit. The only way to produce profit is by paying workers less than the value of their labour - extracting surplus value. The bosses have to keep most of us in work to maximise the surplus value they take. A large unemployed labour pool is also maintained to put a downwards pressure on all wages/act as a potential scab labour pool etc.

So I don't think we have to worry about all being put out of work, or there'll be no one to make the capitalists' profits!

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pingtiao
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Apr 7 2004 09:39

Very thought provoking posts Mystic, thanks.

What I don't really understand is your classification of service workers as "unproductive". From our point of view this is probably true, but it seems to me that you have conflated our perspective on this (that commodity production should be shared among all of us) with the capitalist perspective (where everything is commodified, including services). The shift to a tertiary economy- the "service economy"- is in the interests of the capitalists, so I don't see why they would start imposing less work on us?

Money is generated by setting people to work for you, and when you don't even have to buy any raw materials to do that, the profit rate could be even higher (what is the average profit rate in primary, secondary and tertiary economies?). As far as I understand it all, Capital wants a small pool of unemployed people, the 'reserve army', to keep wages down, and then everyone else to be employed.

Where am I going wrong here?

red n black star

Disclaimer: the above may be factually and/or logically incorrect.

Mystic
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Apr 7 2004 13:36

alexa: very true, but what value does the services sector have to the upper classes? They couldn't care less about what happens to the majority of society, they can get their own services. It is true that keeping a lot of people in the services sector lets them force down wages in the productive sectors, but then the same applies to having a pool of unemployed people.

pingtiao: I don't think they're going to impose less work on us, just more people are going to end up going from the services grind to the benefit grind as productivity increases and the number of people involved in manufacturing and agriculture decreases in response (the jobless growth thing). Land, food and industrial commodities form a finite pool of resources, right? The capitalists control the land, and if you aren't a producer of food or goods, then your position in the labour pool surely doesn't actually mean that much to them. They'd take all the resources if they could, but they can't because the people would wake up immediately. So instead the system responds naturally by allowing the services sector to grow, which provides money to people and gives the capitalists a market. But the services sector could be removed from the equation tomorrow and they could still take all the food and goods.

You see, the concept of a Roman/feudal/industrial rev. labour pool implied that the labour was necessary in some way to the capitalists, and that unemployment provided a capacity for extra labour. But I think that's deliberately misleading when applied to modern productivity, when, if everyone was in 50-hour week productive work, overproduction would be massive. A lot of labour nowadays in services is only necessary to the capitalists in that it keeps people in employment, and so stops them from rising up. But that balance will surely break if productivity keeps going up and more people are forced out of work.

Quote:
Very thought provoking posts Mystic, thanks.

smile

AlexA
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Apr 7 2004 14:19

Mystic i think you're misunderstanding the very basis of capitalism - we are not kept in service sector employment because capitalists need the services we provide: people working is the ONLY way of creating surplus value, or profit, which is the driving force of capitalism.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Capitalists are capitalists because they live off the labour of their workers. Without workers under them they're nothing!

(People aren't kept in work to stop them from rising up - that's what unemployment bebefit does.)

Mystic
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Apr 7 2004 19:06

You can trade in services, but in the end that concrete amount of "stuff" you have, your wealth, is measured by how much land you have, how big your house is, how much high-tech stuff you have around your house, how easy it is to buy good food, and so on. Money doesn't equate to real affluence, it's how much of the finite pool of resources you can secure for yourself, with all the machinery of state violence backing you up. My point is that services labour doesn't provide profit for the capitalists in the same way that productive sector work does. The sector being directly exploited for its produce is shrinking as productivity grows, and the masses involved in service sector work and unemployment increases all the time.

I'm equating benefits with service sector work - both are ways of providing a sop to the lower class, even though unemployment and service work are largely unnecessary, and productive labour could easily be shared at a much greater capacity across the general population.

Ben
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Apr 9 2004 02:19

Lump of labour fallacy here for a start.

Capitalists will (left untouched) make people want things. These things will require inputs from intelligent beings (being quite futuristic grin ) from which, capitalists would get "surplus value" (not a term I like but I'll use it anyway).

butchersapron
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Apr 9 2004 10:05

"The production process has ceased to be a labor process in the sense of a process dominated by labor as its governing unity. Labor appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous point of the mechanical system. Subsumed under the total process of the machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but rather in the living, (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty organism."

This of any use to people? (from the Grundrisse btw).

Mystic
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Apr 9 2004 16:24

Yeowch, I had to re-read that a few times smile. I think Marx is totally right about the labour system (especially in the way that systems work - the capitalist system is always evolving to contain threats to itself, and even thrive on them, international terrorism being the current example). Systems do act like conscious organs.

But, back to my point, the actual productive sectors of labour are much smaller than they used to be, right? I mean, it's fine to say "capitalists put people into services to make a profit off them," but their money isn't real in that sense: real things are things like commodities, textiles, food, buildings, land, electricity. The services sector simply isn't involved in the kind of labour that involves those sorts of production. I fail to see how capitalists make real gains from services except in terms of keeping down the vast majority of the population, giving them something to do (something like 70% of the workforce, that's an awfully large part of the total wage slavery in society), and using them as a market for their goods (again, capitalist goods & mod cons like TVs are clearly useful in keeping down the population, even though there's no way I'd give up my TV for that!!). See what I mean?

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cantdocartwheels
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Apr 11 2004 10:58

The labour of transport and retail is still used in production. I mean if it wasn't transported and sold what use would a product be to the capitalist?

None.

Dividing the economy into Primary, secondary and tertiary is commodity fetishism. Economsits talking about our post-indutrial world is commodity fetishism.

They exclude the social relations behind how these products were made.

The idea of work being redundant is a bourgeois fallacy i think.

john

Vaneigemappreci...
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Apr 17 2004 18:58

the word proletariat can be used to describe anyone who has no effective control over various aspects of their everyday life, whether it be in terms of their social time and space or their dependency on others to supply them with work and income, someone who has no freedom from the economy, who lives under the dictates of an external force, anynumber of the people involved in wage labour.

We shouldnt think of any significant change concerning society as being dictated by external forces, eg capitalism in crisis, unemployment etc. Unemployment is something that we should stive for in a new society, a free society, in that employment involves the appropriation of time, energy and labour hence exploitation. We are in control. Whether we choose to revolt, consciously construct our own lives is not a matter of any external force but our own conscious decision. Capitalism can be working perfectly well form a capitalist perspective but that doesnt ensure its perpetuation, look at the revolts of 1968, although various cretinous sociologists attempted to link it to a downturn in employment that didnt exist, the reality is the revolt, wildcat strikes, occupations, riots occurred in a perfectly functioning capitalist environemnt. We shouldnt need external incentives or catalysts to trigger our own revolt simply lucid consciousness and critique in action. A lot of people seem to refer to revolt/revolution as if its something that other people do, something we need to incite or make other people partake in and construct, i think if we did more acting ourselves, with relation to our everyday lives we would at least have a starting point.