Re: [OPE-L] Intensities of Labour

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Thu May 11 2006 - 09:43:01 EDT

I note that jerry seems to be distinguishing between increasing
intensity of labour and absolute surplus value. But, doesn't the more
intense workday extract more labour (and exhaust the worker) just
like the longer workday-- except in a given time period? If the
workday were lengthened (eg., by 10%) and intensity fell by 20%
(ie., big pores open up) on the whole, wouldn't that reduce absolute
surplus value?
         As for measurement (a very important question), I seem to
remember (way back-- 80s?) the use of accidents as a proxy (which
made a lot of sense to me). Has anyone explored this since?

At 07:36 11/05/2006, jerry wrote:
>Noticing that Massimilliano Tomba is going to be presenting a paper
>which concerns the "intensity of labour and the integration between
>relative and absolute surplus value" at the ISMT conference (which
>Riccardo just sent us information on) reminded me of the following
>article.  The _Mute_ article by John Barker concerns _recent_ changes
>in the intensity of labour.
>An issue -- which I have long thought about -- is: how best to
>empirically measure changes in the intensity of labour in and,
>especially, across branches of production?  How best do we move
>beyond anecdotal and personal stories (of which, of course, there
>are many) to best demonstrate the extent to which the intensity of
>labour has changed?  I've thought about a number of proxies that
>could be used but they all seem to suffer from severe inherent
>I think that the intensity of labour _has_ increased in branches of
>production in many, if not most, branches of production.  In part,
>this is related to technological change.  For instance, consider how
>the *cell phone* is a technology which is used by many capitalists to
>increase surplus value both by increasing the intensity of labour and
>absolute surplus value.  In that sense, it could truly be seen as
>a technology which increases the *integration* between the two.
>Of course, as Barker notes, there's also amphetamines and cocaine.
>Yet, the introduction of new 'substances' in working-class
>consumption which increase the intensity of labor is hardly new:
>consider, historically, the role of sugar and caffeine (the latter
>especially through the consumption of tea and coffee) in increasing
>the intensity of labour of wage-workers in the textile mills in
>England during the industrial revolution (for which, of course,
>slavery and the whole system of triangular trade played a vital
>In solidarity, Jerry

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
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