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Labour Process

  The term labour process originally derives from Marx, and refers to the process of production: human labour power is applied to raw materials and machinery in order to produce commodities.

Marx concentrated his attention on the labour process under capitalism in which labour (the workers) is subordinate to the capitalists who own the forces of production. Marx made a distinction between the ‘formal’ and the ‘real’ subordination of labour. ‘Formal’ subordination, he argued, occurred in the early stages of capitalism where ownership of the means of production did not also entail direct control of labour in the production process. It was the development of the factory system of production that entailed a ‘real’ subordination—this involved the loss of the traditional craftsman, strict worker discipline, and the tying of workers to the machines with which they worked.

Marx\'s ideas have been developed by Braverman, who argues that ‘real’ subordination of labour was only fully realized in the 20th century. Braverman considers that control over the labour process by the owners of capital has been extended by modern management techniques, widespread mechanization and the computerization of tasks—which has resulted in a deskilling of workers.

A development believed to be particulary important in the deskilling process is that of Scientific Management. Scientific management originated in the USA in the late 19th century. One of its main proponents was Frederick W. Taylor (1856 - 1915). It involves an approach to job design which entails the separation of mental and manual work, a specialized division of labour (the division of work into simple, routine constituent parts each performed by a different worker), close management control of work effort and the payment of incentive wages. In practice, the need for flexibility and the opposition of workers, meant the principles of scientific management were never fully implemented, though many elements of Taylorism remain.

Scientific management was also linked with the revolution in manufacturing methods introduced by Henry Ford. Fordism is a system of production which entails manufacture of a standardized product, carried out on large plants, produced for mass markets employing an assembly line process. The assembly line was one of Ford\'s most famous innovations. Instead of workers moving between tasks, the flow of parts is achieved as much as possible by machines so that the assembly-line workers are tied to their own work position and have no need to move about the workshop. An important consequence is that the pace of the work is controlled mechanically and not by the workers themselves or by supervisors. Ford pushed job fragmentation to extreme limits.

Subsequent technological developments have led some to refer to post-Fordism—the new economic possibilities that have been made possible with the development of microchip technology, computers and robotics. The distinguishing feature of the post-Fordism era is the foundation of smaller productive units, catering for specialized markets using flexible productive methods. An important element of this is the development of an international division of labour. DA

See also alienation; anomie; bourgeoisie; capital; class; globalization; Marxism; occupation; organization; rationalization; work; world system.Further reading C.R. Littler, The Development of the Labour Process in Capitalist Societies.



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