Monday, 28 July 2014

Notes on the struggle of Working class vs Capital in UK.

·       Inspired by

In contrast to orthodox marxist ideas of inevitable laws , there has been changes in capitalism and developments of each phase in response to working class resistance/broader struggles by the oppressed against the oppressors of the world.

Each phase represents changes in the nature of capitalism and attempts by it to defeat resistance.

  •           Industrial revolution- Factory system.
  •          1920s resistance to this system by the working class. closeness fostered solidarity and strength. UK 1926 general strike.  Closest UK has ever been to revolution.
  • ·         Taylorism  brought in by capitalism. Working class resistance.
  • ·         Henry Ford and Fordism of the assembly line
  • Syndicalism in the 20s and 30s.

“The greatest exponent of this trend was Henry Ford, who dramatically demonstrated the concept of relative surplus value by doing what at the time – the early 20th Century – was considered impossible. He paid workers 4 or 5 times the ‘going rate’ (actually the bare minimum that could be screwed from the bosses), yet still made a huge profit. By vastly increasing the production of relative surplus value through the use of the assembly line, coupled with FW Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ of the work process, he was able to vastly improve the productivity of his plants. This was a true [capitalist] revolution and its effects are still with us today. This story is fairly well known. Less well known is what Ford and his like also brought into existence, and that was the worker of the assembly lines, sometimes known as the ‘mass worker’. Whereas before the capitalist had relied largely on skilled workers to manage the production process – and in some countries and industries this is still the case – the mass worker was a new type. During the development of the working class, it discovered the secret of the production of relative surplus value and learned to exploit this knowledge in its struggle for a fairer share of the product of the national economies of the industrialised world. This in part explains the powerful workerist movements of the 1940s-1980s.”

  • ·         Keynesianism of the 40s & 50s.  'Social peace' strategy.  Welfare state and NHS to stave off revolution. massive Co-opting of working class movement. 
  • ·         Workers strong in 60s,70s and 80s. 
  • 1970s oil crisis, recession.

 “At first capitalist states attempted to contain and demobilise working class resistance by granting it a greater share of the social product, running up big budget deficits in the process. In the UK we had prices and incomes policies and at plant level many non-existent productivity deals were negotiated. But this economic response to a new social reality failed to contain the working class. In Western Europe, the most frightening aspect of the long campaigns against Fordism during this period was not the ever-increasing wage demands – which could, after all be accommodated within capitalism – but the rejection in many places of the system of ‘factory discipline’ itself; though occupations, strikes, sabotage, marches and riot. In France, Italy, US and the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s we saw a period of more or less open class struggle. Always at the centre of these struggles was this new ‘mass’ worker. All attempts to contain this mass worker – who had discovered that the Fordist system could be destroyed by collective action - failed. ‘Scientific management’ was no answer to workers who collectively could impose their will on the productive process. In Britain the attempt to buy off the workers ended with the intervention of the IMF in 1976, severe recession, the period of defensive struggle from 1978-1983 and the long-term demobilisation of the working class following the Miners Strike of 1984-85. Monetarist policies of the 1980s were re-introduced as within each nation state attempts were made to limit the share of the social product going to labour.”

  • ·         Neo-Liberalism in the 1980s. Austerity. Thatcher in the UK, Reagan in the US . Attack on NUM ,strongest union in the UK. Destruction of the working class resistance movement by about 1984. Destruction of working class communities in the UK. 

·         “First austerity policies were deliberately introduced to break the ‘cycle’ of wage demands, inflation and more wage demands. This brought about the biggest unemployment level since the 1930s. With the mass worker now relatively subdued but still looking to the unions who were an integral part of the imposition of the austerity measures, the stage was set for a more long-term strategy. Capital became more mobile – that is it ran away from an insurgent industrial working class to exploit a global proletariat – globally. This necessitated changes in technology, especially communications technology that was needed to monitor and control a productive process that was now geographically disparate. But crucially it also needed an ideological offensive to sell the new form of work to a new working class.
·         The result of this has been the intensification and lengthening of the working week. The value we get for the work we do, which is itself a measure of the value capital can extract from us by way of investment, has decreased steadily over the last twenty years of so. The long campaigns of workers to reduce the working week have been halted and reversed. Where capital has never conceded shorter hours to workers – for instance in the fast-industrialising Majority World – workers are often at their machine for 60-80 hours a week. This accounts for the fact that though wages are absolutely higher than they were yesterday, most people actually are or feel much poorer than before.

·         ‘Work’ is now something we do throughout our lives. We are no longer ever away from it – mobile phones and mobile computers bring ‘work’ to us when we are at leisure, socialising – even when we are sleeping. Workers are now on ‘permanent call. Even the unemployed are now engaged in the ‘work’ of ‘looking for work’. And there is an even greater contradiction. Even as the productive capacity of the economy has exploded hugely so that in the 1980s it was seriously suggested by some unions that our problem in the 21st century would be filling the ‘leisure time’ that the new automated economy would bring, at the same time ‘work’ has become even more imposed on greater numbers and most ‘work’ is now devoid of any genuine content at all.”

  • ·      90s- present day:  Capitalism is now more dispersed, more technological, globalized etc. Increased tendency towards casualisation/ part time work/ temporary work/ zero hour contracts/ workfare/ work placements. Out-sourcing. Rise of the 'precariat'.    Post-Fordism, the increased shift to the service sector  e.g. retail etc , Affective Labour, Globalization, use of sweatshops and slavery in the ‘third world’, ongoing forceable dispossession of people off their lands, permanent austerity. Terrorism as excuse for repression and war. Difference intellectually though similiar in ways to 30s and 80s. No way back to Keynesianism.
"McDonaldisation (the modern form of Taylorism, though management courses will not mention either word) is a system of producing goods and services in which the process is broken into its smallest part, systematically analysed, re-engineered to maximise profit and replicated in each and every working environment that produces those goods. Making things becomes a series of entirely independent, discrete, controllable actions, eliminating independent thought and creativity."

"      "GOOD WORK
One of the serious problems facing militants in general and workers in the service industries in particular is that they can end up hurting the consumers (mostly fellow workers) more than the boss. This isolates them from the general mass of the population, which enables the authorities to whip up 'public opinion' against the strikers. One way round this problem is to consider techniques which selectively hurt the boss without affecting other workers - or better still are to the advantage of the public. The 'good work' strike is a general term which means that workers provide consumers with better service or products than the employer intended. One good side-effect of the good work strike is that it places the onus of stopping a service on the employer. Even if ‘good work’ leads to a lock-out of workers by the boss, service-users would still blame the employer rather than the worker. And lock-outs can be avoided by ‘wildcat’ good working: suddenly, without notice, and for limited periods - repeated at intervals until the bosses cave in. In New York City restaurant workers, after losing a strike, won some of their demands by heeding the advice of organisers to "pile up the plates, give 'em double helpings" and figure bills on the lower side. You can imagine similar situations in other industries, for instance postal workers behind a counter only accepting unstamped letters or people working checkouts refusing to work the tills. Here’s a final example: Lisbon bus and train workers gave free rides to all passengers. They were protesting because the British-owned Lisbon Tramways Company had not raised their wages. Today conductors and tram drivers arrived at work as usual, but the conductors did not pick up their money satchels. On the whole the public seems to be on the side of these take-no-fare strikers."

 As Alexander Berkman argues:

"We do not live by bread alone. True, existence is not possible without opportunity to satisfy our physical needs. But the gratification of these by no means constitutes all of life. In a sensible society…….. [t]he feelings of human sympathy, of justice and right would have a chance to develop, to be satisfied, to broaden and grow."


No comments:

Post a Comment