(OPE-L) the politics of productive and unproductive labour

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri May 21 2004 - 10:17:12 EDT

Hi Paul B.

> All sorts of sections of workers, creating or circulating capital are 
> constantly under attack by capital. It is certainly true that a particular
>  time, in the 1970's, the distinction was specifically seized upon by 
> Thatcherites to divide the workers. The answers then included the 
> need to establish that the distinction did exist for capital .Both 
> were exploited and both needed to avoid  discounting the other on 
> the basis of some latter day Smithianism fanned through the press. 

I agree. What some seem to think is that productive workers have
some kind of standing which means that their struggles are more
privileged and important that those of unproductive workers. That 
standpoint must be rejected from a working-class perspective.  From
our perspective what is needed is solidarity by _all_ workers 
irrespective of whether they are productively employed by capital
or unproductively employed by capital _or_ the state.  To begin 
with, we have to recognize as Marx did that it's not an honor to be
a productive worker: "It is a misfortune to be a productive labourer.
A productive labourer is a labourer who produces wealth *for
another*" (_TSV_, Progress ed., p. 225).  Also, we have to recall
that some important trends in the composition of the working class
in the post-WW2 period (especially in the advanced capitalist nations)
include an increase in the proportion of workers who are employed
as service workers (and, as we've seen there workers can be productive
or unproductive or their working day can be partially productive) and
state employees.  What is important politically is that we support the 
struggles of all of these workers rather than just privilege the struggles 
of industrial workers.  This is vitally important because working-class
unity can not come about without working-class solidarity. E.g. we
must reject the conservative and liberal political effort to blame state
employees for budget deficits and to drive down the size, wages, and
benefit packages of those workers. (btw, the bourgeois conception
on this question can be seen in mainstream public finance theory. I
mention this because it relates to another thread we've been discussing.)
Such an effort makes 'sense' from the perspective of many workers but 
it must be strongly argued against and fought.   Sometimes, also, I think 
than a willingness to downplay the struggles of service or state workers
reflects gender and racial biases.   (I would be surprised if you disagreed
with any of the above.)

> Where's the political beef?

Clever!  Well, the 'political beef' in the US is the following: there has been
a net decrease in manufacturing jobs which tend to be higher-paid jobs
than jobs in the service sector.  So, by re-designating macworkers as
manufacturing workers it makes it appear that the loss of manufacturing
jobs isn't as great as it is and that the higher-paid jobs aren't being lost
to the extent that some claim.  

in solidarity, Jerry

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