[OPE-L:8314] Re: Electronics and Value

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sun Jan 12 2003 - 08:37:26 EST

In [8313] Paul A wrote:

> As I interpret it, it implies a position quite contrary to Braverman's.
> Specifically, it implies that capitalists are forced to upgrade (not
> degrade) workers' capabilities (since these are part of the forces of
> production), and in doing so to create a class
>  increasingly intolerant of capitalism's limitations (recurrent
>  crises, inequality, wars, ecological devastation, etc.) and
>  increasingly capable of taking a leading role in governing society.
> This upgrading of capabilities (the "class in itself") is seen in
> rising average skill and education levels, a tendency to greater
>  responsibility at work, and growing breadth of workers'
>  world-horizons. These trends in turn seem to me to reflect the
>  growing knowledge-intensity of advanced economies and a concommitant
> increase in interdependence within and across firms firms.

Hi Paul.
Was upgrading a typical consequence of automation in the banking
sector?   Hasn't the ATM meant deskilling and loss of jobs for many
bank tellers?   Similarly, it is hard for me to see how electronic cash
registers cum bar code identification systems have resulted in upgrading
for cashiers in retail stores.  In the case of banking, it is true that
there are some new skills and jobs that have developed as a consequence 
of the diffusion of  information technologies,  but has this meant that
_most_ workers in that sector have experienced a skill increase?

>  I have explored these issues in connection with the impact on work of
> advanced technologies in manufacturing and engineering and with the
> Toyota Production System,

Have computer numerical control machine tools resulted in an
upgrading of skills or deskilling?   In the case of robotics, except for
robotics programmers, technicians, and maintenance & repair workers
(which is a small fraction of the industrial workforce)  how has there been
an  'upgrading' of workers' skills?

It may, however, be the case that there are certain aspects of the
Toyota Production System that don't represent deskilling, e.g. the
dynamic of 'quality circles' where workers assume for themselves
some of the traditional control functions of managers (to
increase the intensity of work and product quality) does imply an
extension of knowledge about other jobs besides their own and the
interconnection of those jobs.  There are other cases in the same
industry where there has been upgrading of skills as a consequence
of technological change (e.g. the radically different design of work
at Volvo's Kalmar auto assembly plant beginning in 1971) but
these have tended to be special cases (the main rationale for the
Volvo Kalmar plant was the high rate of absenteeism among
Swedish factory workers and the difficulty getting Swedish
workers to agree to work 'on the line'.  It was believed that an
attempt to 'humanize' the work environment would help overcome
these problems.)

> and I'm currently looking at large-scale
> software systems development organizations and hospitals.

I think that specialization has extended from doctors to nurses
and many other workers in hospitals.  This suggests increasing
skill levels but perhaps less of a holistic understanding of
medicine.   It is hard to see how a reduction in 'manpower' (sic)
levels at hospitals, e.g. of nurses who might now watch
videocameras for all of the patients in an area rather than looking
in on them individually, represents upgrading.  OTOH,  the
existing health care system in many countries encourages new
technological developments in medicine _relatively independent
of the price of services_ and this is a different dynamic than in
most sectors where the decision to diffuse a particular technology
is more constrained by cost considerations (i.e. doctors and
hospitals can  adopt new technologies and pass along the
increased cost to consumers: although, this is being resisted by
health insurance companies who frequently have to pay the bill).

In solidarity, Jerry

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