Roland Simon on the transformations of the capital-labour relation which demarcate the present cycle of struggles.
First methodological point.
The capitalist mode of production which arises from the restructuring must be considered for itself, and we must seek a criterion of coherence and of reproduction on its own terms, rather than define or judge it in relation to the norms of capital in the previous period (post-war boom, or Fordism).
Second methodological point
We must avoid confusing the contradictions in which the capitalist mode of production necessarily functions with any ‘crisis’, or even considering its reproduction as a constant ‘potential crisis’. Indeed, that would mean imagining that a fully functioning capitalism is one without contradictions or tensions.
Third methodological point
Everything gets restructured: companies, processes of labour, circulations of capital, transportation, social systems, States, classes, global cycles, etc. Some analysts multiply the restructurings in order to avoid seeing the restructuring of the valorisation of capital, that is to say of exploitation, that is, of the contradiction between proletariat and capital. My aim here is to suggest a synthesis that could qualify the restructuring of the capitalist mode of production. If there is a restructuring, then it is a restructuring of the contradiction between classes— the structure, the content of class struggle, the production of its becoming are then modified. The more one multiplies ‘restructurings’, the more this gets blurred.
We will only consider the restructuring through three determinations: (1) the transformation of the wage relation and of the labour market, (2) the modification of the immediate production process, and (3) the globalization of the reproduction of capital.
The restructuring in its determinations.
1) The transformation of the level of wages and of the labour market.
At this level, the capitalism which underwent restructuring no longer functions on a ‘Keynesian or Fordist equilibrium’ between wages as ‘cost’ and as ‘investment’. This only means one thing: the restructuring is not ‘Fordist’ (Fordism could only be efficient in a limited number of national areas in the Centre.)
The "compromise"’ that was called "Fordist" has no more disappeared than the Welfare State has, yet it no longer structures the relation between proletariat and capital. Instead it has itself become part of the new modalities of exploitation. Precariousness has become generalised in the sense that it structures the totality of the purchase-sale relation between labour and capital, rather than being a pure suppression of what is outside of it. Precariousness is not only that part of employment which can be termed precarious stricto sensus. "Stable" employment also adopts the characteristics of precariousness: flexibility, mobility, constant availability, with a form of outsourcing which makes even the "stable" employment in small companies as precarious as the target-related way of functioning in big companies.
The revitalisation of the absolute mode of surplus-value extraction takes place through a global purchase of labour power. With the general development of precariousness, flexibility and all forms of short labour contracts, unemployment is no longer the outside of labour it used to be during the post war boom. The fragmentation of labour resolves itself in its purchase by capital globally, and in the utilisation of each individual labour power according to the punctual needs of valorisation. Labour power is then presupposed as the property of capital not only formally (workers have always belonged to the capitalist class as a whole before selling their labour power to a specific capital), but also actually, as capital pays for the individual reproduction of the worker independently of its immediate consumption which, for each labour power, is incidental. Inversely, labour power which is directly active, productively consumed, sees its necessary labour come back to itself as an individual fraction which is defined not only by the exclusive needs of its own reproduction, but also as a fraction of general labour power (representing the totality of necessary labour)— a fraction of necessary labour globally. The tendency is toward an equalization between income as wages and unemployment benefits— there being an institutional contagion of each one toward the other. From this point of view, in "developed areas" (we will see below why this concept should be used cautiously), the dissociation of employment income from subsistence income could be a significant simplification. It is the path opened in numerous countries by the "back to work" schemes which involve holding onto a decreasing form of welfare while at once going back to work— the intention being to facilitate the transition from unemployment to part-time jobs—essentially intended for the "inactive" part of the female workforce–or temporary ones. The rise in the rate of employment is one of the essential characteristics of the restructuring. What is at stake for the capitalist class is no longer to reduce the demand for labour (part-time jobs, lowering of retirement age, etc.) but to boost the offer for workers.
This global purchase transforms drastically the functioning of the Welfare State, which in countries where it exists does not disappear. It rather becomes fragmented in order to secure that the totality of disposable workers are permanently employable. It no longer acts only on the wage-earning population, but now also on the rate of employment and the disposable population. This is the passage from Welfare to Workfare. The increase of surplus-value in the absolute mode is activated not only because, throughout the world, a larger number of workers participate in the labour process while necessary labour time hardly increases, but also because of the intensification of the labour process that results from this expansion of workers globally – global labour time is extended and the rotation of fixed capital accelerates. If necessary labour is extended to the reproduction of global labour power, it is because surplus-labour itself depends on this global labour power, which is a factor of the increasing intensity, productivity, and increase in the number of disposable workers.
To restore a minima the conditions of its realisation, an increasing part of surplus-value is recycled and distributed (via the financialisation of the economy) toward the more well-off section of workers. The growth of inequality is not a defect of this process in the sense that it could be corrected or is contrary to the understood interest of an ideal capitalism. The growth of inequality is instead an essential part—a functional one—of this new "accumulation regime" (if we want to use that expression). It does not resolve the problem of realisation in as "virtuous" a way as "Fordism", but it is this resolution which is the existing one. The high level of self-financing of companies in central countries indicates that the majority of these financial incomes is orientated toward consumption. These financial incomes have a functional character in the actual system of accumulation in that they have become an essential element of the realisation of value.
The current situation contains an enigma: the rate of profit grows at a far faster rhythm than the accumulation rate. It is the lack of profitable investment opportunities which leads to the recycling of extracted surplus-value, and in another way to the swelling of the financial sphere. This swelling is not an obstacle to the "real economy", but its result. The problem must be situated on a global scale. It was easy to speak of a "Fordist compromise" when four fifths of the global population was excluded from it. The massive increase of the labour power mobilised by capital on a world scale suppresses all relevance of the relation between production, productivity, and the realisation of value on a national or regional scale. This means that structural transformations in the relation between production, profit and the realisation of value become "embodied" in a geographical organisation of exchanges (see the commercial and financial relations between the United States and China, for example.) Inherent risks to the current circuit of value realisation are well known: the debt of U.S. homeowners, the perpetuation of foreign investment of US capital… the system is at the mercy of the smallest "incident". But capitalist accumulation has never been exceptionally stable, or without contradictions. It is important to consider the system as it exists and to measure its limits, rather than to assume that it does not exist because its limits aren’t those of the previous one.
2) Transformations of the labour process.
a) The "limits of Taylorism": value and cooperation.
Capital’s basic determinants cannot be considered insurmountable obstacles to its restructuring.
In basing one’s analysis on the accounts of workers the opinion is often held, paradoxically, that Taylorism cannot function without workers’ initiative. Taylorism then would correspond to capitalism in so far as its raison d’être is value accumulation, value which must remain divisible, identifiable and separable into a homogeneous substance: time. But Taylorism would remain inadequate to capitalism in so far as it implies cooperation.
What are sometimes put forward as the limits of Taylorism are simply contradictions inherent to the capitalist mode of production. It is obvious that the latter cannot, in any case, escape from these contradictions. Either the "contradictions" which are inherent to it are also its dynamic, or the domination of capital should have ended as early as its emergence in manufacturing.
b) Technical and organisational innovations.
From the beginning of the 90s "computerized Taylorism" has boosted productivity in a powerful enough way for it to approximate the rate of economic growth it had in the 60s. The second half of the 90s saw the end of the famous Solow paradox: "computers are seen everywhere but in productivity indexes". The gap between execution and management is inherent to capital, and it is therefore not by the elimination of this gap, but by its deepening, that the limits of a historical organisation of labour are overcome. In introducing computer technology into the labour process, capital has assimilated itself to the collective knowledge of workers, along with their functional empowerment which was being developed in the Fordist assembly line. Computer technology eliminated a lot of idle time by saturating labour stations, and maximizing the rotation of fixed capital. It gave to the social forces of labour, which were developed in cooperation, an existence adequate to their own nature: this nature became objectified in specific components of fixed capital. Capital did not make the assembly line more humane, and all the experiences from the beginning of the 70s remained marginal. Yet the bitter irony is that it was on the basis of these organisational experiences that electronics and information technologies gained, a few years later, all their force.
At the present moment, just-in-time production is only the social generalisation of the assembly line. For a long time, social obstacles (labour’s refusal of its division and deskilling, the importance of organisations in specific crafts, maintenance services) and technical obstacles (the complexity of equipment, an inability to store specialist knowledge and put it at the disposal of less skilled workers in a decentralised way, etc.) were enough to prevent the extension of the model of the assembly line beyond the car industry and a few other sectors, despite the new system’s advantages in terms of meeting deadlines and maintaining stocks. Just-in-time production equally allows the substitution of many distinct units for a single "big company", these units being located near their principal clients. The whole logic of the organisation of production based on regional specialisation is shattered. The disappearance of workers identity only follows logically from this restructuring of the relation of exploitation, because the latter comes to consist of a multitude of "small facts" which concern the totality of the reproduction of the relation between the proletariat and capital.
What characterises the current period is the massive extension of Taylorist principles in labour organisation to all sectors, from industry to services. Currently Taylorism is in the process of becoming the dominant mode of labour in the totality of economic activities. The new organisation of labour, it is Taylorism.
c) Organisation of the labour process: workers’ collectivism / cycles of struggle.
Workers rebelled against Taylorism. As an organisation of labour, it had become a key tool for workers’ resistance. The failure in Turin and elsewhere should not be understood as a reduction of workers to a subordinate status in exchange for "high wages". "High wages" were won for those who did not have a subordinate status (skilled workers, white-collar workers), while a subordinate status became the lot of those who did not obtain "high wages". The constant during the Hot Autumn of 1969 in the Fiat factories was the demand by unskilled workers for higher wages, while the CGIL, having their base in other sections of workers than the unskilled, constantly tried to bring conflicts back to capital’s control of labour’s organisation.
The limits of Taylorism in the previous phase of expansion are not to be found solely in the labour process, but instead in its meeting with a homogeneous labour power (in the context of a labour market in which unemployment is low and productivity gains are high). Taylorism was a weapon against skilled workers, but it ended up producing a labour force which was at once collective at the level of the factory, and social at the level of the reproduction of the whole. Taylorism showed itself to be incapable of absorbing this new force. Taylorism was only a limit of the labour process in being itself an instance of class struggle.
On all fronts, from the labour market to the production process in its materiality, as well as the Welfare State, and political and union representation, the capitalist class has been able to de-structure workers power as it emerged, and to create other ways of mobilising labour power. It is this which ended up holding together as a system.
The capitalist class faced two necessities: first to break workers’ collectivism, and secondly to break the relation between wage increases and productivity gains. It is from this that it reorganised, little by little, labour into a new process of immediate production.
Whether it is in sectors previously Taylorised (where the organisation of labour gets profoundly modified), or in the more numerous sectors where the methods of Taylorism impose themselves in a different way, but in keeping the basic principles of Taylorism— workers’ collectivism is shattered. Some sections are excluded or confined to subordinate tasks: unskilled workers, artisans, young people finishing short technical studies. Skilled workers whose technical skills are put into question and whose autonomy is contested are on unsure footing in relation to operators and technicians (this is also the case for supervisory staff). Others are "valorised": the operators who deal with automated systems, and the technicians of production. The latter become the pivot around which this process of collective class restructuring is organised.
Labour has been reorganised into groups or teams around a "monitor" (intermediary grade between worker and team leader), a system of collective and individual bonuses has been introduced, a system of self control inside teams has been established, and foremen have been replaced by young people from technical schools). Bonuses attributed to the whole team lead to the reprimanding of non-compliance being effected by the group itself, with those not wanting to accept minimal standards of "participation" being marginalised. At the same time, the massive presence of temporary workers acts as a permanent threat toward workers’ positions, even if they are often given the most difficult jobs.
The new organisation of labour made the "workers elite"—skilled workers autonomous in their section—disappear from sight. Skilled workers, the essential figure of the previous cycle of struggle, used to socialise the unskilled ones in specifically working-class institutions and used to represent a hope of promotion. Now, there is a big gap between the level of unskilled workers and the level of the technicians, who are completely remote from the workers despite their physical presence on the shop floor.
The globalisation of capital is not a characteristic among other characteristics, it is the general form of restructuring. It is only in this new form that the fluidity of capital’s reproduction exists. It is not its dynamic, as the dynamic remains that of relative surplus value, but it is the synthesis of all the restructuring’s characteristics.
Globalisation is not a homogeneous extension of capitalist relations onto each parcel of territory constituting the planet, but a specific structure of exploitation and of its reproduction, such that it restructures itself geographically. Fragmentation, flexibility, the lowering of the value of labour power in the social arrangement of its reproduction and maintenance, have all become in themselves processes of unlimited diffusion, and are akin to the transformation of surplus-value into additional capital, or the latter’s appropriation of the social forces of labour. To approach the transformations of the global market only as a matter of competition between capitals is to have merely a partial vision of globalisation.
a) Homogeneity, hierarchy and endogenous capitalist development.
Capitalism no longer presupposes a homogeneous arena wherein each commodity owner is equivalent to the next. When it concerns the owner of that very special commodity, labour power, capital takes delight in the diversity of its origins, of its particularities, or the originality of its modes of formation and reproduction, and its segmentation. Both the fragmentation and the homogeneity of the arena of capitalist accumulation lie in the transformation of value into prices of production, with the equalisation of the rate of profit that this includes.
Capitalism no more presupposes a "homogeneous space" (the one of petty commodity production) than it presupposes that a country can only become a capitalist one by developing the conditions of capital in an endogenous manner. To ask the question "can they industrialise the Third World?" (Souyri), while imagining that a positive answer would mean an equal competition between the United States and Taiwan, with both of them being coherent and self-centred states, obviously implies that the answer is going to be negative. In the game of global competition, for sport shoes for example, it is obvious that Indonesia or Vietnam cannot compete with the American manufacturer Nike (or conversely...?). Entry onto the world market is controlled by a restricted number of firms, and this arena is from the start an "enmeshed space" (Michalet). It consists in the tangling of three levels: the structures put into place by large firms and their subcontractors, the hierarchical internal "markets" of multinationals, and the alliances between multinationals. Access to the world market can rarely avoid this entanglement.
b) Financial capital and globalization
Globalisation is a three dimensional phenomenon: the dimension of exchange of goods and services, the dimension of direct foreign investment, and the dimension of the circulation of financial capital. These three dimensions are obviously interdependent and the succession of the historical configurations of globalisation results from the transformation of the hierarchy of interdependencies between these three dimensions (Charles-Albert Michalet, Qu’est-ce que la Mondialisation, Ed. La Découverte). On this basis Michalet sets up three configurations as "ideal types”: the inter-national configuration, the multi-national one, and the global one. The latter is the current configuration, linked to the domination of financial capital. But Michalet does not go beyond this typology, that is to say he does not organically relate the hierarchy of interdependencies and the modalities of surplus-value extraction as the general process of capital.
It is totally true that financial circulation neither creates value nor surplus-value. However it should be noticed, and this is not negligible, that it redistributes profits, and that it is the essential vector of the balancing out of capital. It carries out this balancing act not only between capitals of the "real economy", but also between the functional fractions of capital (productive capital, commercial capital, financial capital). In this sense it is formative of the global cycle of capital. In this formation financial circulation and its logic overflow and extend themselves to the so-called "real" dimensions of the economy: production and exchange of goods and services. Productive capital functions through financial dynamics that define its profitability and the structure of the crisis at that level.
In the global system, states and regional ensembles of states now find themselves to be spaces necessary to the definition and management of the differentiations internal to the totality. These areas, in the logic of finance, have the tendency to merge into monetary zones (dollar, yen, euro), between which an arbitration between the different rates of the financial markets and exchange rates can be played out which, if they depend on anticipations (and on the effective realisation) of profits, translate the conditions of the valorisation of value into a language which determines the transfer of capital. If the national frame loses some relevance as it is no longer the basic element of a multi-nationalisation, in the framework of continental regrouping it still assumes the responsibility of managing, as a middle term, the regional infra-national specialisation.
We can’t simply acknowledge the importance of the logic of finance whilst reassuring ourselves that truth is in productive capital, as if the former did not help form the latter. Capital never escapes in a fictitious valorisation, but the valorisation of capital as productive capital can be subordinated to the rules of valorisation of fictitious capital, that is, the rules of "capitalisation". We are here simply confronted with a tendency contained in the concept of capital itself as a social force, the independence of money-capital being the accomplished form of this social force.
c) Globalisation, valorisation of inequalities and territorial dissociation.
The territories of so-called "underdeveloped" countries (now called “new industrial countries" or "emerging countries") are "dissociated territories" or "mosaic-systems". (Laurent Carroué, Géographie de la mondialisation, Ed. Armand Colin). Such a dissociated and systematically extroverted national territory creates problems of unity and national construction for the state, while, for the proletariat, the constraints to its reproduction escape all the necessities which confine it to this "national" area. The logic of the "dissociation of territories" is not only a determination of the North-South relation, but a general one of the restructuring— it equally transforms the previously constituted dominant areas.
For the many countries that depend on it, foreign trade is not the juxtaposition of truly autonomous entities, but, more often than not, an organisation internal to multi-nationals. Neither the development of heavy industries nor the development of those industries producing consumer goods take place within a national framework of extensive accumulation, the only framework in which their development could be considered blocked in relation to an "external variable", the global market being considered a constant.
d) De-structuring and re-composition.
The destructuring of all national capital appears as an obvious fact, both in emerging economies and—far more interesting if we want to understand the nature of the phenomenon— in most developed centres. Considering the national or local framework, capital destructures; considering the three levels (global, continental, national or local), whatever the sector of activity, capital strongly structures the space of its valorisation, that is to say of the reproduction of capitalist social relations. The structuring is elsewhere, in the state/infra-state/supra-state forms of territorial planning and management of the workforce, in the structure of firms and networks. If those are only responsible for a minor fraction of global capitalist production, they nonetheless control and order the sectors in which they are active and, for the quasi-totality of companies, they are a necessary path to market access.
Destructuration is only an illusion of scale. But the juxtaposition of corporate strategies which are coherent, at their level, does not imply ipso facto the coherence of the reproduction of capitalist social relations.
e) Globalisation: disjunction between the valorisation of capital and the reproduction of labour power.
The new global capitalist organisation dictates, at the global level, the content and form of the capitalist relation of exploitation as it emerged from the restructuring which arose from the workers defeat at the beginning of the 70s. The combined localisation of industry, finance and labour was replaced by the disjunction between valorisation of capital and reproduction of labour power.
It is easy to imagine a global coherence of valorisation if we remain at the most general level: the capitalist hyper-centres concentrating the highest functions (finances, high technologies, research centres), secondary zones concentrating the activities which necessitate intermediary technologies, such as logistics and commercial distribution, zones whose limits are fluid with the periphery, (concentrated on assembly activities, often through sub-contracting), and lastly, crisis zones and “social sinks” where a whole informal economy based on more or less illegal products flourishes.
This "black" economy not only enables these zones to survive but also enables the fluidity of the regions around them, thanks to the traffic of workers, energy, and capital of "un-declared" origins.
If the valorisation of capital is unified through this zoning, the situation is nonetheless different for the reproduction of labour-power. Each of these zones has specific modalities of reproduction.
In the first world there are some sections with high salaries along with a privatisation of social risks, interwoven with other sections of the labour force which still benefit from “Fordism”, and others, more and more numerous, submitted to the global purchase of labour power.
In the second regulation takes place thanks to low wages imposed by the pressures of internal migrations and the precariousness of labour, islets of more or less stable international subcontracting, no or almost no guaranties against social risks, and migrations of labour.
The third world it is humanitarian aid, diverse forms of trafficking, agricultural survival, regulation by all sorts of mafias and more or less microscopic wars, but also the revitalising of local and ethnic solidarities which defines stability. Capitalism is in the process of transforming clans, ethnicities, and "primary sociability" into specific organs of the reproduction of its available labour power. The disjunction between the unified valorisation of capital, and the reproduction of the labour power adequate to this valorisation, is total. Between the two we find the disappearance of the strictly equivalent reciprocal implication between mass production and the modalities of the reproduction of labour power distinctive of Fordism.
The “mis-en-abîme” of this zoning is a functional determination of capital: it maintains, despite the rupture between the two, the expansion of global markets and the global expansion of the available workforce, outside their necessary relation within a predetermined area of reproduction. The rupture of a necessary relation between the valorisation of capital and the reproduction of labour power breaks the coherent areas of reproduction in their regional or even national delimitations. In this new world, a system of repression is set up almost everywhere, pre-positioned in a narrow conformity between the organisation of violence and the organisation of the economy, to the point of obliterating the distinction between war and peace, between policing operations and wars. A mode of regulation.
f) Unification of capitalist space.
This unification has never before been as strict, precisely because there are no longer any autonomous and self-centred spaces, and because it takes place, on all scales, through the interpenetration of the most modern and most marginal spaces. It is precisely this extreme unity of interpenetration—the end of a clear distinction between these different spaces—that we usually, in our nostalgia for Fordism, only see dispersal.
Disjunction between reproduction of labour power and valorisation of capital / “mis-en-abîme” of the global hierarchy in each particular space. It is on these two interlinked points that the coherence of the global reproduction of capitalist social relations is now based. The "chaos" is so obvious that it prevents us from seeing beyond it. But this chaos is only the order of the capitalist restructuring. The fundamental determinations of the restructured relation of exploitation are extended globally and everywhere reproduced on all scales by the fluidity of the reproduction of capital which is imposed by the relative mode of surplus value extraction. The territorially connected localisation of the reproduction of labour power and of the valorisation of capital was the paradigmatic obstacle to this fluidity and summarized all the others.
In China, Mexico, Africa, the vertiginous expansion of urban misery is concomitant with a huge extension of exchange. These recently urbanised masses are seized by these exchange circuits— their very misery is the result.
General principles of the restructuring: a criterion, cycles of struggle.
What is essential to decide, if there was a restructuring of the capitalist social relation, is not an accumulation of facts, but the criterion by which they are judged. If the dynamic of the system is taken as this criterion then the only possible conclusion—as long as one takes this criterion seriously (that is to say doesn’t expect a modified system to fulfil the promises of the previous one)—is that a restructuring took place.
The basic synthetic principle of the restructuring consists in the abolition and transformation of everything that can constitute an obstacle to the self-presupposition of capital— to its fluidity. Restructured capital is still capital, it experiences serious difficulties, but these are its own specific difficulties and not due to the fact that it is no longer what it was "previously". In a system of exploitation in which wage labour is organised as precarious, and is rotated as sometimes enormous masses, capital frees a mass of available labour superior to the one it absorbs productively. This mass is at the same time the condition of the new modalities of exploitation and a real problem of "regulation". The disjunction between the valorisation of capital and the reproduction of labour power, which is a general characteristic of the globalisation of the relation of exploitation, creates a problematic regime of development in which the readjustment of the rate of profit does not translate itself ipso facto into a readjustment of the rate of accumulation. In the current labour process, the capitalist class finds with difficulty the "optimum combination" between organisational and technological modifications. The economy of contemporary neo-Taylorism has managed to break, at least provisionally, the secular tendency of capitalism to constantly augment its capitalistic intensity, that is, the need of immobilised capital for each unity of surplus-value produced. However, this "new lease of life for capitalism" (Guillaume Duval), is still problematic: productivity gains are no longer increasing, the progress of automation which could make them increase is partly blocked, material investments—and therefore the production of means of production—are regularly held up. . . the surplus value produced, because of the very modalities of the increase of profitability, find only with difficulty profitable opportunities for investment, companies’ need for capital is limited, restrictive wage policies, corollary to organisational policies, structurally limit the realisation of value.
But even this criterion is not pertinent, for it remains within the objectivity of an economic discourse and analysis. A restructuring of the capitalist mode of production is a restructuring of the contradiction between proletariat and capital.
What had become an obstacle to valorisation on the basis of the extraction of surplus-value in its relative mode was the way in which were interlocked: first, the integration of the reproduction of labour power; second the transformation of surplus-value into additional capital, and lastly the increase of surplus value in its relative mode in the immediate production process.
Unlike the previous cycle of struggle, the restructuring abolished all specification, status, welfare, "Fordist compromise", and division of the global cycle into national areas of accumulation, in a fixed relation between centre and periphery. All that could be an obstacle to the fluidity of the self-presupposition of capital—in the immediate production process (assembly line, cooperation, production-maintenance, collective worker, continuity of the process of production, subcontracting, fragmentation of the workforce), as well as in the reproduction and mobilisation of labour-power (work, unemployment, training, welfare) and in the modalities of accumulation and circulation—is abolished. The novelty of the period lies in the structure and the content of the contradiction between the proletariat and capital which is situated at the level of reproduction.
This restructuring abolished and overcame the contradiction which used to underlie the previous cycle of struggle between, on the one hand, the creation and the development of a labour power produced, reproduced and used by capital in a collective and social way, and, on the other hand, the limited forms of the appropriation of this labour power by capital in the immediate production process and in the reproduction process. It was the conflictual situation which in the previous cycle of struggle manifested itself as a workers' identity, confirmed in the very reproduction of capital, which was abolished by the restructuring. From this workers’ identity produced and confirmed in the reproduction of capital ensued both a powerful workers movement and practices in rupture with it, such as autonomy and self-organisation. There is no restructuring of the capitalist mode of production without a workers defeat. This defeat was the defeat of workers’ identity, of the communist parties, of unionism, of self-management, of self-organisation, of the refusal of work. It is a whole cycle of struggle which was defeated, in all its aspects. The restructuring is essentially counter-revolution, and the latter cannot be measured according to a death toll.
To act as a class at the moment is, on the one hand, to have capital and the categories of its reproduction as one’s only horizon; on the other, it is, for the same reasons, to be in contradiction with one’s own reproduction as a class, to put it into question.
We are not speaking here of a simple change of form or even of content, but of a transformation of the composition of the working class and thus of its practices. The new cycle of struggles is not a structuralist miracle, but the action of a recomposed working class. We are speaking of the disappearance of workers strongholds and the proletarianisation of white-collar workers, of the transfer of factory work to the service sector (maintenance specialists, machine drivers, truck drivers, delivery men, warehousemen, etc— this kind of employment now represents the majority of blue-collar jobs). We are speaking of labour in smaller companies or sites, of a new division of labour and of the working class, with the exteriorisation of activities with low added-value (young workers, paid at minimal wage, often temporary workers, without any job prospects). Of the generalisation of just-in-time production, of the existence of young workers for whom school education broke any continuity with the previous generation and who massively reject factory work and the working class condition in general. Of the shifting of production offshore, of the global segmentation of labour power, its employment and its reproduction.
It is not the figure of the precarious worker, as a specific social position, which is, in itself, the new central figure of working class recomposition— it is instead the figure of the worker which is socially Taylorised and, because of this, is contaminated by all characteristics of precariousness.
The paradox of this new class composition is that it prevents the recognition of the existence of the working class at the very time as its condition is spread, and this "disappearance" is only the effect of the new composition and of its fragmentation. Now that the contradictory relation between the proletariat and capital is only defined in the fluidity of capitalist reproduction, the proletariat can only confront capital in the movement in which it is itself reproduced as a class. This confrontation of the proletariat with its own class constitution is now the content of class struggle. What is at stake in this struggle is the putting into question by the proletariat of its own existence as a class and of all classes.
Translated by MJJ