[OPE-L:5380] Re: stop watches

Francisco P. Cipolla (cipolla@sociais.ufpr.br)
Wed, 20 Aug 1997 12:19:50 -0700 (PDT)

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On Thu, 10 Apr 1997, Gerald Levy wrote:

> 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

As your intervention indicates, the issue of labor intensity belongs to
the analysis of competition. As such it would belong to a more concrete
level of analysis than the notion of abstract labor. Less productive
capitals may try to compenste their backwardness by means, among other
things, of economies of intensity. Does Botwinick say anything regarding
this? It seems to me that different degrees of intensity with the same
wage boil down to different wages. It is therefore a form of
absolute surplus value. It may be empirically difficult to reduce
different intensities to different amounts of value generated. Nonetheless
this difficulty should not lead us into thinking that abstract labor is
never totally abstract. This is the clearest I can get at the moment and I
reckon it is not saying much for its clearness. Paulo