Tory hopeful Liz Truss and her supporters blame the corrupt state of the economy on not enough workers working. shows Marx’s analysis that the intensification of work is essential to the operation of the system
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Sunday, August 28, 2022
We know that many of us are exhausted after our daily work and have reached the limits of our capabilities. Working hard seems impossible, but that’s exactly what the ruling class wants.
In a leaked recording, Tory prime minister candidate Liz Truss complained that British workers were not trying hard enough. she snorted.
“There is a fundamental problem with the work culture in the UK,” she admitted, before adding, “That’s not the general message.”
Bosses today make big claims about how they are trying to improve productivity in the workplace. And this is dutifully reported by the media as a positive thing.
They want workers to work “harder, smarter and faster.” But behind this rhetoric is the motive to exploit workers and make as much profit as possible.
Economists compare UK productivity to other Western European countries such as France and Germany. They say our productivity increased at a slower rate.
That’s true, but UK labor productivity has grown by 0.4% each year in the 12 years since the financial crisis. And that’s mostly because our bosses are screwing us.
A recent study, called Work Still Harder, took data from the UK Skills and Employment Survey to understand why work intensity increased between 2001 and 2017. The study shows how job intensification stems from bosses’ desire to make workers more productive.
Disciplined management styles, encouraging competition among workers, and wages that reward workers who work harder all contribute to the intensification of labor, he said. The survey also shows that the increasing prevalence of outsourcing and temporary employment and the decline in trade union power are also likely factors.
The companies making the most obscene profits have mastered the most effective methods of exploiting their employees. Amazon’s fulfillment centers are an example of how technology and surveillance are weaponized to make employees as productive as possible. A system of algorithms calculates how quickly an individual worker can complete a task.
Then the algorithm gives a target to reach. If a worker misses the target or strays too far from the station, they are penalized and given a warning. Too many warnings and you risk losing your job.
Workers are prohibited from sitting, except during the legally mandated 30-minute break, in order to be as productive as possible. However, despite the physical and emotional pain we have to endure, the Tories and their superiors are still dissatisfied.
Capitalists are profitable because they don’t pay workers what they deserve. For example, a worker works 8 hours a day. The boss pays them only the hours they need so that they can buy food, pay their rent and work another shift.
For the next four hours, workers graft only to increase their boss’s profits. This is what Karl Marx called “surplus value”.
He wrote, “The fact that half a day’s labor is necessary to keep a worker alive twenty-four hours by no means prevents him from working a full day.” But even this level of exploitation is not enough to be profitable.
Marx identified two main ways in which capitalists could squeeze more surplus value out of workers. The first is simply to extend the working hours from 8 to 9 hours a day. Marx said that this process increases the “absolute” surplus value. And by increasing working hours and increasing surplus value, bosses can maximize profits.
This crude method of increasing surplus value was popular with the early capitalists, but not surprisingly with the early workers who were forced to work to death. In the 1870s, workers worked an average of 70 hours a week, but often did not live to be 40.
Struggle became the only way to get the bosses to work less hours.London gas workers went on strike in 1889 demanding an eight hour work day and won.
On May Day the following year, about 200,000 workers marched into the streets with banners calling for an eight-hour workday. Throughout the 19th century, various battles were fought over shorter working hours, but it was not until after World War II that the eight-hour workday became the norm.
Employee resistance combined with the fact that bosses realized that employees would be less productive if they had to work every hour led to the change. Companies now had to find other ways to make workers more productive.
Their aim was to find new ways to cover workers’ wages in the short term. If this can be achieved while the worker is working as usual, the boss can increase the surplus value.
Marx called this the ‘relative’ increase in surplus value. He identified three ways in which his superiors could increase their surplus value without necessarily increasing their working hours.
The first was the introduction of new technology into the workplace that could reduce the time it took workers to produce goods. The second was to make the agricultural and consumer goods industries more productive, thereby lowering the cost of the basic necessities workers needed to live. And the last was to pressure workers to work more.
In his book Zombie Capitalism, socialist author Chris Harman explains how bosses embraced the scientific management movement founded by FW Taylor in the 1890s. he wrote:
“In this way, we can eliminate interruptions in the work tempo, and Taylor claims he can increase the amount of work he does in a day by as much as 200%.” “The speed at which people work now depends on the speed at which the line moves, rather than on their individual motivations. Other industries have achieved the same pressure on employees to work their hardest through increased oversight by supervisors. ”
Nowhere has this method of increasing surplus value been practiced as comprehensively as in automobile manufacturing. In a traditional car factory, workers worked “productively” for 45 seconds every minute. In a technologically advanced car factory that relies on “line work”, a worker worked productively for about 57 seconds a minute.
So, suppose the 10 seconds per minute increase applies to a factory of 2,000 workers. So in an 8 hour shift he would have 2,667 extra hours of work done.
This equates to hiring an additional 333 workers, with each worker doing at least an extra day each week. Tories like Truss call them “lazy” when they resist attempts to get workers to work more without extra charges.
But workers have endured more than a decade of austerity since the financial crisis and are now suffering from a cost of living crisis. A labor force that gets poorer, sicker and miserable every year is not particularly productive. And if wages don’t cover the cost of living, why would we work harder for more wages?
This poses a problem for UK bosses. They could step up their tactics to make us work more, pay more, or offer better terms. The answer is almost always to use pressure to target unions so that they can crush worker resistance and keep profits high.
But in recent months, hundreds of thousands of workers across the UK have made it clear they no longer support this. We need more strikes now. Otherwise, workers will not be able to withstand the onslaught in their conditions. The only way to break through the productivity crisis is to destroy the system in which workers’ labor is only measured by how much it yields.