Miquixote's Reviews > Labor and Monopoly Capital

Labor and Monopoly Capital by Harry Braverman
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Dec 17, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: economics, exemplar2-10000-citations, exemplar-nonfiction, 8-points, best-of-1954-1974-non-fiction
Read from December 17, 2010 to September 27, 2011

I had my doubts that this would be interesting, but in fact it is an easy, and excellent read, not at all the dull one you might expect by the title. A well-deserved leftist classic. The alienation of labor clearly has not ended with technological advance and Braverman argues (to me quite successfully) that is has actually gotten worse.

This 1974 work started "the labor process debate" (finding that there was a decline in the use of skilled labor as a result of managers strategy for control). It critiques scientific management as authored by Frederick W Taylor in the early 1900s.

But why does Braverman focus on an idea so old? It has of course been claimed that other thinkers have since offered better ideas on the roles that humans would play in mature industrial systems. Most importantly perhaps: The human relations school of management in the 1930s. And there is some truth to that, since capitalism is certainly a lot more dynamic than simple scientific management now.

However Harry Braverman insisted here that human relations did not replace Taylorism but rather that both approaches were complementary —Taylorism determining the actual organisation of the work process, and human relations helping to adapt the workers to the new procedures.

Human Relationists would say that today's efficiency-seeking methods clearly include respect for workers and fulfillment of their needs as inherent parts of the theory. So hasn't a syncretism occurred since Taylor's day? The truth of the matter is that the changes are superficial, and they actually consist of a 'pretense of worker participation through gracias liberalities, fractional job movements, illusory decision making among fixed and limited alternatives chosen by management, and ultimately insignificant choices.' The structure remains the same.

Braverman argues: scientific management was merely the first iteration of a long-developing way of thinking, and many iterations have come since. And it is quite obvious that common elements unite them. Here is the long list of its legacy:

1920s and 1930s: through development of statistics came quality assurance and quality control.

1940s and 1950s: operations management, operations research, and management cybernetics.

1980s: total quality management

1990s: "re-engineering" mystique.

Other developments that use scientific management principles:

-knowledge management

-the Toyota Production System and Japanese management culture in general

-universities and government

-modern military organizations use all the principles (except wage incentives for increased output, these do however appear in the form of skill bonuses for enlistments)

-sports: stop watches and motion studies

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