[OPE-L:8316] Re: Re: Electronics and Value

From: Paul Adler (padler@usc.edu)
Date: Sun Jan 12 2003 - 12:59:26 EST

Jerry -- here's what I see, in summary:

1. at the aggregate, empirical level:

* the overall skill level -- understood as "socially necessary 
education and training time" to take us back to value categories -- 
of the US workforce as a whole, of its non-managerial/non-supervisory 
component, and even of its manual component taken separately, is 
higher today than 100 or 200 years ago. (We could broaden the 
discussion to encompass global interdependencies, but it's hard to 
find data.) The white collar component doesn't show aggregate 
upgrading over this period due to the huge growth in low-end clerical 
and sales occupations. These upgrading trends also characterize most 
individual industries and most individual occupations -- but 
certainly not all. While it is interesting to study the skill 
trajectory of individual occupations and industries, if we're 
interested in capitalist development's skill requirements, we should 
allow that overall requirement evolve in part due to shifts in the 
industry and occupation mix.

* Jobs do, on the other hand, tend to become more specialized: there 
is little doubt -- but even less data on the question -- that work 
tends to become less autonomous. But should we make of that? I think 
Braverman's celebration of craft autonomy falls under Marx's critique 
of Proudhon's "craft idiocy" -- B like P ignores what's profoundly 
progressive about the growing division of labor (both social and 
detailed division), namely the broadening of interdependence, the 
abolishing of local geography and craft parochialism. Yes, this 
interdependence happens under the dictatorship of capital, but 
history progresses by its bad side, no?

* Putting these two points together, we have a "socialization" of 
work -- indirectly, via the internalization of society's aggregate 
knowledge in the individual worker's cognitive apparatus (thru 
education and training), and directly, via the broader and tighter 
web of interdependence

2. To take your specific examples:

* ATMs remove the most mundane, least skilled of the teller's tasks 
-- the overall job has tended as a result to become somewhat more 
skilled. But it's been ages since I've seen any data -- the data I 
recall showed a distinct upgrading trend for bank employees as a 
whole and for branch employees in particular

* cashiers might well be an example of real deskilling

* notwithstanding the impression left by David Noble's work, much 
pre-NC machining involved very little skill. It may have involved 
union prerogatives that controlled access to the jobs, and these have 
been clearly weakened, but the skill actually required by the work 
was often very modest. Conversely, much post-NC work actively 
involves "machine operators" in helping to edit programs on the 
shop-floor -- see Maryellen Kelley's work of a decade ago. But as the 
"bottom line," I have never found any good data on the aggregate 
trends in machining. BTW: I would argue that we should include the 
part-programmers in the assessment of the overall impact: (a) their 
skill levels should be included in the overall skill assessment, and 
(b) the interdependence between operators and programmers is 
interesting to compare with the proud independence of the old-style 
machinist (and I'm still with Marx against Proudhon!)

* hospitals are a nightmare. The main issues in hospitals have little 
to do with our current discussion tho, and much more to do with 
ruthless cuts in staffing levels. But the assertion of management 
control (and financial control by insurance companies etc.) is also 
having some good effects -- silver linings in a terrible cloud: if 
you want to focus on the work organization issues, I'd point out that 
doctors' traditional autonomy is hardly worth defending from our 
class vantage point: I'd rather side with efforts to draw doctors 
into "evidence based medicine," which forces docs to justify their 
decisions both to utilization review staff and even to nursing staff 
-- drawing them all into a broader fabric of interdependence.

3. To put it more theoretically, I'd say this: Neo-Marxist labor 
process theory interprets  work conditions through the lenses of 
Marx's account of the transition from the "formal subordination of 
labor to capital" - where, as under insider contracting, management 
profits primarily from absolute surplus value derived from the 
lengthening of the working day, leaving workers to organize the 
details of production - to "real" subordination - where, most notably 
under Scientific Management, management takes charge of the labor 
process and reconfigures it to increase labor efficiency and  thereby 
extract relative surplus value. Labor process theory sees this 
transition as one towards  ubiquitous management control and 
"degraded"  labor.

I think LPT has lost sight of the basic contradictions of capitalism 
in this account: even as capital strengthens its domination, it must 
foster cooperative relations with and within the "collective worker" 
in order to produce the use-values that will be sold to assure 
profits. LPT has largely seen the contradiction between the labor 
process (the creation of use values) and the valorization process 
(the creation of surplus value) in terms of the contradiction between 
production and exchange (JE Kelly, 1985). But the valorization 
process is not only what happens when surplus value is realized in 
sales: it is also the force shaping the labor process for surplus 
value creation within the enterprise.

If we lose sight of the on-going contradiction between labor process 
and valorization process within production, it is difficult to 
account for the contradictory history of Scientific Management, and 
in particular for the coexistence of bitter struggles by workers 
against such rationalization with important cases of workers 
embracing Scientific Management (see, for example, the case the 
Amalgamated Clothing Workers under Sidney Hillman described by 
Fraser, 1991) and with the history of the Scientific Management 
movement's progressive embrace of unionism and the cause of economic 
planning (see Jacoby 1983; also Nelson, 1992; Schachter, 1989; 
Nyland, //).

In the software factory as on the shop floor, purely coercive 
dependence cannot entirely displace collaborative interdependence, 
else production would cease. The effect of the supercession of formal 
subordination by real subordination -- combined with the related 
development of the forces of production -- is to progressively deepen 
and broaden the collaborative interdependence of the collective 
worker, and thereby exacerbate the contradiction between the 
increasingly socialized forces of production (here embodied in the 
capabilities of the collective worker) with exploitative relations of 

Looking forward to reactions!

3. At 8:37 AM -0500 1/12/03, gerald_a_levy wrote:
>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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Prof. Paul S. Adler,
Management and Organization Dept,
Marshall School of Business, 
University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0808
USC office tel: (213) 740-0748 
Home office tel: (818) 981-0115
Home office fax: (818) 981-0116
Email: padler@usc.edu
List of publications and course outlines at: http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~padler/ 
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