Thursday, 11 October 2012

Capital I, Chapter 14 - Part 2

2) The Detail Labourer and His Implements

The worker who specialises in some particular type of work, obviously becomes more adept and productive. In addition, the fact that several generations of such workers work alongside each other means that the tricks of the trade can be passed on one to another. The fact that all the workers perform the same task means they operate as one collective worker, so that the differentiation one to another disappears into an average, and their collective output is higher than the sum of their individual efforts.

This tendency drives greater differentiation of tasks in order to obtain these benefits of the division of labour. But, at the same time this degree of specialisation, as a lifelong occupation, also drives towards particular trades or skill becoming hereditary. That is a throw back to previous types of society where this led to to the establishment of castes and guilds.

This also encourages the development of specific skills and industries to particular geographic areas.

Having described the quality of textile production from Dakka and Coromandel, Marx writes,

It is only the special skill accumulated from generation to generation, and transmitted from father to son, that gives to the Hindu, as it does to the spider, this proficiency. And yet the work of such a Hindu weaver is very complicated, compared with that of a manufacturing labourer.” (p 322)

Marx describes some of the ways specialisation raises productivity. For example, the worker who performs several different tasks one after another has to change tools and maybe even location. The time to do that is lost to production.

The extra expenditure of power, demanded by every transition from rest to motion, is made up for by prolonging the duration of the normal velocity when once acquired. On the other hand, constant labour of one uniform kind disturbs the intensity and flow of a man’s animal spirits, which find recreation and delight in mere change of activity.” (p 322)

This has been recognised in some of the more modern production techniques, developed originally in Japan, and which are utilised in the development of work groups, flexible specialisation etc. which utilise modern technology, to move production to such work groups along tracks rather than traditional conveyor belts, or assembly lines. The work groups are then given a degree of control over the work process to arrange according to how they see fit, with each worker in the group performing several tasks.

Whilst traditional Fordist mass production raised productivity spectacularly, these new neo-fordist, or toyotist techniques have in turn often raised productivity by more than 100% over traditional mass production.

In the same way that workers become more specialised in the functions they perform so too develops the need for more specialised tools to assist in those tasks.

In Birmingham alone 500 varieties of hammers are produced, and not only is each adapted to one particular process, but several varieties often serve exclusively for the different operations in one and the same process. The manufacturing period simplifies, improves, and multiplies the implements of labour, by adapting them to the exclusively special functions of each detail labourer. It thus creates at the same time one of the material conditions for the existence of machinery, which consists of a combination of simple instruments.” (p 323)

However, this should not be confused by the profusion of different products arising from historical development, and which in turn stands in the way of standardisation, and rationalisation which in turn facilitates a considerable increase in productivity.

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