[OPE-L:4724] Re: stop watches

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 10 Apr 1997 19:21:23 -0700 (PDT)

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What is "normal intensity"?

Can it be measured with a stopwatch?

I think not. In practice, the intensity of labor varies significantly both
within a branch of production and within a firm where a firm has
multi-plant operations.

Thus, while time-and-motion studies are made of comparable jobs at GM's
Linden, Lordstown, Framingham, and Flint plants, it is well known that the
average intensity of labor varies among these plants (and sometimes even
within different departments in the same plant). In different plants
operated by different firms in the same region the intensity of labor can
vary very significantly. Thus, "normal intensity" was significantly
greater at the Ford-Metuchen assembly plant than the GMAD-Linden plant
even though the Ford plant is only a few miles south of the GM plant on
the same road (I can vouch for this from personal experience since I
worked "on the line" at both plants). When one examines the intensity of
labor internationally in the same branch of production, the differences
can even be more dramatic (as all of the reports of U.S. autoworkers
visiting Japanese auto plants have indicated).

Thus, the estimation of "normal intensity" is an _abstraction_ which
_only_ has some resemblance to the truth. Stopwatches and efficiency
experts alone can not equalize the intensity of labor in different
locations. This is because the intensity of work, even more than
capitalist attempts to increase relative surplus value via technical
change, is a source of struggle between capital and labor. The fact that
some locations have a lower intensity of labor is a result of the level of
militancy and solidarity at any plant location. Workers, consequently,
can sometimes successfully resist attempts by capital to reduce their
labor to mere "abstract labor." Indeed, the very idea of "abstract labor"
is an abstraction since labor can never be _completely_ abstract. Instead,
labor, by its very nature, is both incompletely abstract and concrete.
Ultimately, while capital attempts to reduce workers to mere cogs in a
machine they nontheless remain individuals who have subjectivity.

If "abstract labor" is an abstraction which only _partially_ mirrors a
real social process, don't we have to recognize that to the extent that
surplus value is created it is not created by abstract labor alone but
rather by heterogeneous productive labor? If, on the other hand, we
insist that "abstract labor" alone creates surplus value, then *who* are
these "abstract laborers" who create s? To make this point even more
dramatic, if only "abstract labor" creates s, then don't we reduce s
to a "metaphor" and a heuristic device?

In solidarity, Jerry