Harry Braverman Labour and Monopoly Capital
Harry Braverman Deskilling
The process of turning workers into commodities is continually being extended into more areas of the economy.
Further, each succeeding generation has to be acclimated to the new mode of work. Each has to be socialized to overcome the initial revulsion to the other, more detailed labor division, and human beings’ consequent rending.
This ever-widening process, Braverman claims, becomes a permanent feature of capitalist society.
Laborers are increasingly seen as machines, machines that can be readily adapted to most any job requirements.
This view of man as a machine, Braverman says, has become more than a mere analogy.
For the capitalist class, the laborers’ machine is how the class has come to use labor, and It is how it has come to view humanity.
Braverman claims the process leads to American society’s polarization, with a few at the top of the hierarchy having tremendous power, wealth, and control and the great mass of workers at the bottom with few skills, resources, or prospects.
To demonstrate this polarization, Braverman performs an analysis of census data to determine the working classes’ size throughout the 20th century.
The working class, he says, consists of those who come to the labor market with nothing to sell but their labor.
This labor is systematically exploited and degraded by the capitalist system.
To enable growth in profits, businesses break skills down to simple tasks, automate where economically feasible, and manipulate production speed.
These processes do not just occur in manufacturing operations but throughout the capitalist economy.
While the first separation of conception and execution of tasks occurs between the factory in the office, the second occurs within the office itself.
In the US, the proportion of Clerks and administrative assistance in the working population climbed from 3% in 1900 to 18% by 1970.
While traditionally classified as white-collar, Braverman points out, the vast bulk of these jobs involved minimal skills and initiatives and garner wages and benefits roughly equivalent to manual occupations.
The number of service workers rose from one million at the turn of the century to some nine million by the 1970 census.
While there are a couple of occupations in this grouping that requires some educational credentials and extensive on the job training, most a low skill, low pay, and often temporary.
Braverman adds retail sales workers and cashiers to this group, people with the same skills and compensation as most service workers.
By 1970 Braverman reports, there were a total of three million such workers, So the percentage of the workforce engaged in essentially wrote manual labor with little skill, educational requirements, autonomy, or decent compensation had been growing each decade from the turn of the century through 1970 then comprising almost 70% of the working population.
Work in the American economy has become very polarized, with a few people having all of the technical expertise and managerial control over a mostly unskilled and uneducated workforce.
As conception and execution are separated, more and more technical expertise is concentrated in fewer hands.
Braverman estimates that at most, only 3% of the 1970 workforce consisted of such technical specialists as engineers, architects, draftsman designers, natural scientists, and technicians.
In addition to this, 3% Braverman acknowledges that there are a significant number of individuals engaged in lower levels of management and professional specialties.
He estimates that this middle level accounted for about 20% of occupational employment in 1970.
However, like Mills before him, he points out that these occupations should not be equated with the old middle class of independent entrepreneurs of an earlier era,
Most wage earners dependent upon corporations or governments for their employment.
Unlike the old middle class, they are part of the exploitation system, taking their character from capitalists and workers. They take part in the appropriation of surplus from the workers. Still, they have the same dependent characteristics as other workers with only their labor to sell.
The sheer productivity of the working class and the takeover of a large part of the surplus they produce make the number of middle-level managers possible.
While Brave Woman’s working class has continued to grow in terms of absolute numbers, going from 55.3 million workers in 1972 to almost 81 million in 2002, the percentage of working-class occupations as part of the total labor force has declined since 1970, going from 70% of the workforce to 60%.
It is interesting to note the differences in the relative numbers among the four basic categories.
Clerical and service and sales workers grew rapidly clerical from 12% of the workforce in 1970 to 14% in 2000 and one service and sales from 15% to 22%.
Only one category experienced an absolute decline, that of operatives and laborers.
It would appear that the proportional decline is due to the relatively slow growth in the number of manufacturing jobs in America.
These manufacturing jobs have been slow growing due to automation and international trade, in which many goods now come from other countries. And many low skilled American manufacturing jobs have been exported or outsourced.
Compared to manufacturing, it is far more difficult to automate or export most personal service work. And this is what accounts for much of our legal and illegal immigration. If you cannot have the services provided from cheaper overseas labor markets, another option is to import cheaper foreign laborers.
Clerical work stands somewhat intermediate between manufacturing and service occupations.
The personal computer has made it relatively inexpensive to automate typing and filing services, even in small offices.
While some of these jobs could be shipped overseas, cultural differences prevent too much offshoring for such occupations
So for the 1st 70 years of the 20th century, Braverman found that the percentage of the American workforce engaged in essentially wrote manual and clerical occupations with little skill, educational requirements, autonomy, or decent compensation was growing each decade.
However, this trend was halted and reversed in the latter third of the century, though it should be pointed out that even today, the working class is still a majority of the employed population in hyper industrial society or about 60% of the total workforce.
The trend now seems to be in the opposite direction. How far this trend could go is open to question.
- Can an industrial society exist without a significant portion of the working population engaged in wrote manual or clerical labor?
- Is a capitalist industrial society even possible without the bulk of the people employed in the detailed labor division?
- Doesn’t this very division define such a society?
The bulk of U. S. Jobs’ growth since Braverman is mainly attributable to the rapid growth of managerial and professional specialty occupations.
Braverman estimates that by 1970 some 20% of the workforce was engaged in lower management levels and professional specialties.
By 1983 these occupations accounted for some 23 million employed, or 23% of the population. By 2000 and one, these occupations had ballooned to 31% of the employed population.
Add to this the technical and sales occupations, non-retail and non-clerical, and the figures go up to 39% of all employment for 2001.
This middle level of employment has grown dramatically since Braverman’s time.
Within this broad category, the fastest growth was experienced among executive, administrative and managerial occupations (E. A. M )
E A. M grew from 11% of the workforce in 1983 to 15% in 2001. Braverman would attribute this growth as further evidence of the centralization of coordination and control.
The professional specialty categories grew from 13% of the total workforce in 1983 to 16% in 2000 and one. About half of this category is from education and medicine.
Braverman estimated that only 3% of the 1970 workforce consisted of technical specialists such as engineers, architect draftsman designers, and natural scientists.
In 1983 this had grown to only 3.5% of the workforce and 4.7% in 2000 and one.
Interestingly, computer scientists accounted for this growth’s bulk, technical expertise almost unknown in the 1970 census.
Excluding their numbers, the concentration of technical expertise for both 1983 2000 and one is a brave Emmons estimate of about 3% of the labor force.
The hyper-industrial society workforce is not entirely congruent with Braverman’s industrial society as it is necessary for complex technological infrastructure and bureaucratic structure.
There are a higher proportion of executives, managers, and professionals in the workforce. Some of these positions, no doubt, are given high degrees of latitude and freedom. Some are highly paid and prestigious as well.
However, contrary to the postindustrial dreamers, these elite do not, nor can they ever make up the bulk of the society.
Nor are most of them part of the elite. As mills described in white-collar, they depend on the bureaucratic organizations of private industry, non-governmental agencies, and governments.
The economy still depends on a large, working-class population, both domestically and increasingly globally.
The bulk of these jobs are unskilled or semi-skilled occupations; an increasing proportion of them in the U. S. are in sales and personal services.
Because our economic and political system is dominated by capitalism, the entire sociocultural system is organized around expanding capital.
This drive is behind the evermore detailed division of labor, the adoption of computers and other technologies to replace workers, immigration and offshoring, the degradation of work and workers, and the polarization within and between societies.