[OPE-L:1668] Re: wages, productivity and climate

Subject: [OPE-L:1668] Re: wages, productivity and climate
From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Sat Nov 13 1999 - 08:00:23 EST

Re Jurriaan's [OPE-L:1665]:

> think for the
> purpose of e.g. the political economy of development (development studies)
> climate can be an important consideration.

Writers in the field of economic development and international trade who
have emphasized the role of climate have tended - overwhelmingly - to
be very conservative in their perspective.

This, of course, doesn't mean that climate has _no_ role in the
interpretation of contemporary developments in particular socio-economic
formations. E.g. the impact _of_ capitalist development _on_ climate (as
in the destruction of tropical rain forests) is certainly a contemporary
issue of importance. The impact, _then_, of the change in climate
brought about by capitalism can have other significant socio-economic
effects (even mainstream economists recognize this with their use of the
concept of externalities).
> >How an increase in the productivity of labor increases the level and
> >variety of needs by the working class remains to be demonstrated. My
> >question to you would be: how and why?
> Well since you worked in an auto plant, you will know that auto workers
> become more sophisticated about the choice of their own cars, what kind of
> car they need, as a result of what they experience in the auto plant. I was
> making a general point, and I take it to be fairly self-evident, and I am
> surprised you don't get it.

This rests on a misconception of the labor process in the auto industry.
The nature of assembly line production means that workers rather than
having their knowledge and skills increased as a result of their work
often experience "de-skilling". Indeed, one doesn't even need to know what
a car is! (let alone how it is put together, or how it operates, or the
variations in quality in different models and brands) to work "on the
line". _All_ one needs to know is the particular sequence of tasks
associated with the particular job that you perform on the assembly line.
Thus, anyone in reasonably good health with 2 arms and 2 legs and an
average dexterity (and a high willingness to tolerate repetitious activity
and the stress associated with a job where "scientific management", i.e.
Taylorism, is employed) can work in an auto plant. Except for a small
minority of skilled workers (such as tool-and-die makers, machinists,
electricians, etc.) no skill is required or desired (at the Ford and GM
plants where I worked, all unskilled jobs required a maximum of 2 days
training). In this sense, an auto plant could perhaps be said to be one
of the most highly developed examples of "modern industry" (in the above
sense, btw, I think that the category of "abstract labour" is one which
mirrors an actual historical process and the internal logic of the labor
process under late capitalism).

What you take to be self-evident is apparently the proposition that the
activity of production results in increased knowledge and increased needs.
Yet, there is nothing apparent about this. If one, for example, works in a
shipyard producing luxury yachts, this does not mean that one comes to
desire or "need" yachts. Indeed, one could make a counter-argument that if
you are aware of what goes on in some factories, your desire for the
commodities that you produce might decrease. Thus, if you have ever worked
in a meat-packing plant, your desire for meat would be altered and, quite
probably, diminished. Similarly, I would _never_ even consider buying a
automobile I helped to build.

On the other hand, one can see that _as consumers_, workers' "needs"
change in accord with the growth of the variety of consumer goods
available. To understand this, however, one must look beyond the range of
"consumer choices" to see how firms help to create and manufacture "needs"
through the process of advertising and marketing. And this topic, as
we have discussed recently, is obviously of increased relevance when we
are discussing advanced capitalist economies where markets are
increasingly dominated by oligopolies. Even in less developed capitalist
economies, one can see an increasing degree to which markets are
oligopolistic, especially given the increasing role of transnational
corporations (and their advertising!) on world markets.

In solidarity, Jerry

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