[Marxism] Character of Assembly Line Work
nmgoro at gmail.com
Fri Sep 25 23:10:16 MDT 2009
I would add that the "contemplative" mood described below is of itself
a most demanding job, because it requires full attention of the worker
to a most boring process, and diminishes the worker´s abilities to the
single ability of pushing buttons. It would be funny if it wasn´t
tragic, to stress that the transformation of human beings into things
has advanced so deep they are looked on as a lack of effort. Physical
effort is only a crude form of the general process of alienation.
Lukács had written some most interesting things on this, harping (but
finely tuned) on Marx´s great job on alienation, commodity fetishism,
2009/9/25 ehrbar <ehrbar at lists.econ.utah.edu>:
> Discussion question 263 in my on-line class on Marx's *Capital* is:
> "Do you know production processes in which humans participate without
> having to spend any effort?"
> Pseudonym Kay answered:
>> A lot of manufacturing jobs actually do not require humans to spend
>> any effort. The technology available today has made it so that most
>> people just sit back and watch as machines take care of all the work
>> ... The most poignant example ... within the automobile industry
>> ... Workers in this industry have been replaced by machines
>> ... Employees are still hired, but most often it seems their job
>> descriptions include pushing a button; this is really not an
>> "effort" in the real sense of the word.
> The full answer is here:
> This completely contradicts my own experience as an assembly line
> worker for Chrysler in Detroit 1971-79. Work was very unequal, a
> night and day difference between the paint shop which was a modern
> incarnation of hell, and final assembly. But even final assembly was
> gruelling hard. I had nightmares for many years afterwards of being
> in the "hole" and not being able to catch up. I was not the only one,
> young men in the prime of their lives, early 20s, were afraid of this
> work. Lifting the wheels in place and bolting them on could only be
> done at this breakneck pace if you were very strong and very skilled,
> you had to be some kind of acrobat to do this. Others, the hilo
> drivers who had to replenish the stock, thought they had easy work and
> felt like little privileged kings with their Union wages. And some
> people on a feeder line had their stock built by lunch time and went
> home, the foreman punched them out at the end of the day. But in 1973
> Chrysler had several months downtime because of the oil embargo. When we
> came back, they had reorganized the work and much of this slack was
> removed. Just at the end of my tenure, Chrysler installed the first
> automatic welders. I only caught the very beginning of the
> automation, and I don't know how this affected the character of the
> work elsewhere in the plant. I was assuming final assembly is still
> about the same as in the 70s, but maybe I am wrong? Has the character
> changed as Kay describes or is this an urban legend?
> Someone else wrote the following, which is much more in line with my
> own experience:
>> I knew someone who worked in [an assembly line] for garden hoses.
>> It was quite a demanding job, physically and mentally. While not
>> too much mental power had to go into the production itself of garden
>> hoses, she had to keep her wits about her. Otherwise she could be
>> seriously hurt by the machinery. The long hours made the job
>> physically hard.
> Someone else brought up a different point:
>> I think this question would be better if it addressed how many workers
>> in the labor force are getting paid to do nothing. I would say there
>> is a lot more downtime now than when the assembly lines were the only
>> place lower class individuals worked, and worked all day very hard.
>> In a single work day everyone I know is for sure not working every
>> second they are getting paid.
> I've heard similar complaints from businesses who said: Utah has low
> wages but in exchange you won't get people to work very hard. Is
> there some truth to it or is this just my guilt-relief thinking that,
> since wages are so ridiculously low, people simply don't work very
> hard? After all, they have to economize their strength for their
> second and third job.
> Thank you for your insights.
> Hans G. Ehrbar http://www.econ.utah.edu/~ehrbar ehrbar at economics.utah.edu
> Economics Department, University of Utah (801) 581 7797 (my office)
> 260 S. Central Campus Drive Rm 343 (801) 581 7481 (econ office)
> Salt Lake City UT 84112-9150 (801) 585 5649 (FAX)
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