Re: [OPE-L] Intensities of Labour

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Thu May 11 2006 - 22:08:12 EDT

A quick note-- I'm in Havana with no Capital but expensive internet.
I am inclined to view the section on intensity of labour as
reflecting the interpenetration of absolute and relative S-- ie.,
absolute S within the discussion of relative. For me the essence of
the question is that in absolute s, coercion plays the role of
compelling additional expenditure of labour by the worker; in
relative, introduction of a superior method of production permits
greater productivity with no greater exertion by workers. (Anything
not logical about this distinction?) As I argue in my book and even
more in the Deutscher Lecture (Politics of Assumption, Assumption of
Politics), due shortly in Historical Materialism, however, that
greater productivity is not a sufficient condition for relative surplus value.
ps. I refuse to treat an increase in intensity of work as an increase
in productivity--- that's capital's accounting!

At 19:41 11/05/2006, you wrote:
> > If you indicate the period as a workday without specifying its
> > length, the result is the same when you increase the workday or
> > increase its intensity. In both cases, output per worker increases;
> > and, in both cases, the worker gets tired.
>Hi Mike L,
>Isn't absolute surplus value _explicitly_ defined in terms of
>the _length_ of the working day?  (It could, though, be extended
>in _some_ other ways without changing its meaning, e.g. increases
>in the length of the workweek; increases in working days/year, by
>decreasing vacation time and holidays.)  So, in both cases, workers
>get more tired.  Why is that similarity more important than the
>difference in effect in terms of productivity?
> > This is to be
> > distinguished from pure increases in productivity, where output per
> > worker rises but there is no additional expenditure of units of
> > labour.
>Whether there is labor-saving technological change or increases in labor
>intensity, output/worker/hr. (i.e. physical productivity) goes up.
> > In fact, an important challenge is to separate increases in
> > productivity from speedup--- which is why accident rates seem
> > interesting as a proxy.
>I agree -- statistics on labor productivity should be disaggregated to
>show changes due to technical change and changes due to labor intensity.
>They are not and hence they are misleading.  Since neither of us can come
>up with a decent measure of labor intensity or adequate proxy, I guess we
>can't be too critical of the effort of statisticians in this regard.
> >>> 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?
> >>No.
> > by your limited definition
>Why is the definition I am using any more limited than the one you are using?
> > useful point but what's the alternative measurement of intensity?
> > bladder problems?
>Aren't bladder problems associated more with a sedentary lifestyle and a
>_low_ intensity of labor?  As labor intensity increases, (at some point)
>fluids are "sweated out".  The problem (insofar as it concerns liquids)
>then becomes dehydration.
>I suppose workers in different branches of production could be given a
>physiological test, like a stress test, which measures changes in blood
>pressure, pulse, etc.  You'd have to find 'average' workers
>(physiologically) and then measure their vital signs when they are working
>the 'average' labor intensity in a branch of production.  You could then
>compare labor intensity (as so measured) in different branches of
>production and calculate an average.  Why would workers ever agree to such
>a test, though?  They'd have about the same incentive as having their work
>measured by a time-and-motion expert.
>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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Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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