Re: Labour aristocracy

From: Simon Mohun (s.mohun@QMUL.AC.UK)
Date: Tue Jan 06 2004 - 06:05:37 EST

David Y wrote:
>It is unclear to me what you mean by production workers.

I mean the following 3 groups defined by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Production and related workers. This category includes working supervisors
and all nonsupervisory workers (including group leaders and trainees)
engaged in fabricating, processing, assembling, inspecting, receiving,
storing, handling, packing, warehousing, shipping, trucking, hauling,
maintenance, repair, janitorial, guard services, product development,
auxiliary production for plant's own use (e.g., power plant),
recordkeeping, and other services closely associated with the above
production operations.}

Construction workers. This group includes the following employees in the
construction division: Working supervisors, qualified craft workers,
mechanics, apprentices,helpers, laborers, etc., engaged in new work,
alterations, demolition, repair, maintenance, etc., whether working at the
site of construction or working in shops or yards at jobs (such as
precutting and preassembling) ordinarily performed by members of the
construction trades.}

Nonsupervisory employees. These are employees (not above the working
supervisory level) such as office and clerical workers, repairers,
salespersons, operators, drivers, physicians, lawyers, accountants, nurses,
social workers, research aides, teachers, drafters, photographers,
beauticians, musicians, restaurant workers, custodial workers, attendants,
line installers and repairers, laborers, janitors, guards, and other
employees at similar occupational levels whose services are closely
associated with those of the employees listed.}

>David C Korton pointed out that 'in the modern global economy, production
>accounts for only about 25 per cent of the selling price of a typical
>product. Another way to put it is that 75 per cent of the value created by
>those who produce real goods and services is now being captured by those
>who do only money work.' When Corporations Rule the World (1995 Earthscan)
>Crudely put maybe but you get the point.

Well, I don't think it's empirically true for the US. But then these
figures are acutely sensitive to the precise definitions of productive and
unproductive labour.

>How is this possible? The high standard of living of significant sections
>of those workers employed in financial and business services - my articles
>have pointed out the changing nature of the working class and, therefore,
>labour aristocracy in the contemporary imperialist economy - as well as
>the vast array of other assorted highly paid 'middle class'
>professionals,  can only be explained on the basis of imperialism.
>I think the division between productive and unproductive workers is more
>significant and it is pertinent to ask how the imperialist economies can
>sustain such a high proportion of unproductive workers - with significant
>sections of such workers having a very high standard of living. Yes, at
>the same time,  ever greater numbers of  unproductive workers are being
>forced into very low paid jobs in the imperialist countries as well. This
>is a measure of  the crisis of imperialism.

This is not precise enough. What is a 'high' proportion of unproductive
workers? 'High' relative to what? Ditto for 'very high standard of living'.
And 'ever greater numbers' is a rhetorical flourish rather than an
argument. This is after all a quantitative issue. One of the surprising
features of the US economy has been the lack of any growth in the
proportion of unproductive labour to total labour since the early-80s. It
was about 51 per cent in 1964 rising to about 54 per cent by the early
1980s, and has not changed since then. This is in ftes. (About two thirds
of this unproductive labour are production workers in unproductive sectors,
and about one third nonproduction workers in all sectors.) Measured in
hours worked the story is the similar. Measured in dollars, the story is
completely different of course.

>There can be no doubt that the intensity of work of productive workers has
>increased considerably without significant compensation in pay etc
>especially in the US.

Of course there can be doubt. But I think this is indeed true from the late
1970s - but not before.

>But this level of pay is still as high as it is because of the very high
>rates of exploitation and dismally low rates of pay of the vast majority
>of the world's working class in the underdeveloped world. This point seems
>to escape you.

Again you are right. It does escape me. I think that US workers are
probably more exploited than third world workers, not less, in the sense
that rates of surplus value are higher in the US. But issues of
international comparisons are difficult ones. In any case this says nothing
about comparative living standards.

>There is little doubt that the numbers of privileged workers that
>imperialist economies can sustain is diminishing and will eventually
>return to a small influential minority of the working class  dominating
>the trade unions and other labour organisations , similar to the
>proportion  in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in Britain
>(estimated at around 15%). This still is some way off however.

'Little doubt' is not an argument.

>The issue of the labour aristocracy needs discussing again in some serious
>way. The stability of the capitalist system since the beginning of the
>twentieth century cannot be understood without recourse to an explanation
>along such lines.

I agree that a serious discussion is needed. But to support the thesis that
expoilitation in the third world bolsters wages in metropolitan capitalist
countries and therefore renders them more amenable to the stautus quo
requires a careful specification of
1. its quantitative impact on US wages
2. the actual mechanisms by which this occurs
3. a convincing qualitative account of how and why removal of this support
to wages would make US workers more likely to reject the status quo

In my view, the huge increase in inquality in the US since 1980 has
benefitted nonproduction workers at the expense of US production workers.
Has it made the latter more revolutionary? I'm not actually opposed to a
labour aristocracy argument per se, but the argument needs to be more
rigorous to be convincing.


>At 13:14 05/01/04 +0000, you wrote:
>>>Paul B wrote:
>>>What is actually clear is that relatively few producers/corporations  in the
>>>world, lets say 300, headquartered in very few states lets say 10, but
>>>mostly in the US, have a monopoly ( in the sensible sense of over 25% of the
>>>market ( UK Competition regs)), and that this 'monopoly' allows huge profits
>>>which are in part are used to provide payments to sections of the work force
>>>to ensure loyalty and stability to the system.
>>I don't think this is actually clear. What sections of the work force are
>>being referred to? My computations for the US, using BLS statistics for
>>hourly wage rates of production workers in all sectors of the economy (83
>>per cent of employed workers), making very rough adjustments for direct
>>taxes, social security contributions and receipt of state cash benefits,
>>and deflating by the NDP deflator, seem to show that
>>in 1978, real hourly product wages were 11.79 and by 2000 had risen to 11.97.
>>A total of 18 cents of a 1996 dollar over 22 years doesn't seem like an
>>increase which would ensure loyalty and stability to the system.
>>For nonproduction workers (17 per cent of the workforce), real hourly
>>product wages were 20.88 in 1978 and 34.89 in 2000. Is it these workers
>>(with supervisory responsibilities) to which the labour aristocracy
>>hypothesis refers?
>>Simon Mohun
>>Centre for Business Management,
>>Queen Mary, University of London,
>>Mile End Road,
>>London E1 4NS,
>>Tel: +44-(0)20-7882-5089 (direct); +44-(0)20-7882-3167 (Dept. Office); Fax:


Simon Mohun
Centre for Business Management,
Queen Mary, University of London,
Mile End Road,
London E1 4NS,

Tel: +44-(0)20-7882-5089 (direct); +44-(0)20-7882-3167 (Dept. Office); Fax:


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jan 07 2004 - 00:00:00 EST