[OPE-L:2962] Taylorism vs Fordism on "affront"

riccardo bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Wed, 4 Sep 1996 11:20:03 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

At 5:53 4-09-1996, Gerald Levy wrote:
>Hans wrote in [OPE-L:2862]:
>> If the capitalists introduce
>> new machinery, so that the workers see that they are producing more,
>> and at the same time real wages are not rising, then this will be
>> taken as such an affront by the workers that they will simply not go
>> for it. Just as they would not go for slavery. No unions are
>> necessary, no organization is necessary, they will oppose this *as
>> one man*.

Sorry to jump abruptly in the discussion, but opening after so much
time the OPE-L posts I found this excerpt found most interesting. I don't
know if I agree or disagree. The reason is that I do not see here - may be
is there back in some other OPE-L post? - a distinction I find important in
this connection: that between an increase in the *intensity of labour*,
given the methods of production (let us say, Taylorism) on the one side,
and an increase in the *productive power* of labour due to a change in the
methods of production (let us say., Fordism).

The former "normally" produces what Hans is saying: if real wages
do not rise, there will be a strong tendency to social unrest (though, if I
remember well, Taylor himself proposed his innovations as a way to increase
real wages!). The latter, I would say, not necessarily: even if real wages
do not rise, since it is not so clear that the "more" which has been
produced should go to the workers - it is not so clear, because the whole
background of class confrontation has been dramatically altered; and also
because in fact it is the whole process of production which produces
wealth, not labour alone - the "affront" may not be perceived as such.

Of course, there may be a higher intensity of labour just *because*
of the introduction of the new machines. But here it is not transparent, as
in the first case, that more production is due to more "effort"; and the
confrontation between the two situations so that we can say there is an
higher intensity is theoretically akward.

In Italy in the early sixties there were big struggles on wages,
with very low unemployment: then came deflationary measures and lay-offs,
and afterwards (mid-sixties) an increase in "productivity" without
investments due to speed up, etc. - a kind of regession to Taylorism. This
originated, even with a still high unemployment rate, big struggles - on
wages, again, but mainly on the "material" living situation on the
shopfloor and on factory discipline. In the mid-seventies the big factories
started introduccing microelectronics (a kind of introduction of new
machines, as at its time was Fordism), without soon attacking workers:
hence what happened in 1974-1980 was, paradoxically, that, though the
labour "embodied" in each commodity declined, workers succeeded not only in
having wages increases higher than productivity but also more "free" time
*within* the factory - the reduction of *their* working time. *But* in the
early eighties capitalists exploited their innovations: they broke worker's
resistance within the factories, and expelled a lot of them, thus
dramatically regaining profitability. This story seems to fit what I was
saying above. There was a slight increase in real wages in late eighties,
lower than the rise in productivity - but in fact a lowering of real wages
for most factory workers taking into account taxes.

With this qualification, if I understand him well, Hans is pointing
to an important issue. But we should also take into account the following.
On a secular basis, capitalist innovations cum workers struggle were a
means by which a higher productivity was (partly) redistributed to workers
without affecting a (growing) slice going towards surplus value. Real wages
going up, relative wages going down. Now in Europe, and in Italy
especially, real wages are going down since (at least) the beginning of the
nineties. Is this a permanent break in that secular pattern?


Riccardo Bellofiore e-mail: bellofio@cisi.unito.it
Department of Economics Tel: (39) -35- 277505 (direct)
University of Bergamo (39) -35- 277501 (dept.)
Piazza Rosate, 2 (39) -11- 5819619 (home)
I-24129 Bergamo Fax: (39) -35- 249975