Sunday, 1 December 2013

US Politics and Economy v The UK and EU - Part 8

Source: Capital & Class 19, Spring 1983, “The Decentralisation
 of Production – The Decline of The Mass-Collective Worker?”,
 Fergus Murray
In Part 7, I set out that the process in the US was similar to that described by Steindl in relation to the 1930's, as huge monopolies, like GM and Ford, lived off their balance sheet rather than restructuring. The restructuring that did occur was, as Fergus Murray described, one in which non-core functions were decentralised, leading to a growth of small sub-contracting companies, which in turn created a situation where the advantages workers previously had, of working in large workplaces, were undermined. Trade Union organisation was thereby made more difficult, wages fell, and conditions of employment deteriorated, along with the security of employment. Such changes themselves have an impact on workers consciousness. The more atomised they become, the more they fall prey to the kind of individualistic ideology of the reactionary bourgeois parties.

The extreme variant of that is with that section of workers that become almost permanently detached as a sub-stratum, and who survive on the basis of crime, or other anti-social behaviour, through the black market and so on, which manifests itself in the development of gang culture, or the kind of individualistic outbursts of the summer riots in the UK of 2011. Its not surprising then that the response is the development of support for far right parties and groups that key into that mentality.

Meanwhile, in the US, as had happened in Britain, Japanese and German car makers set up brand new plants that were efficient and profitable, and produced cars that consumers wanted. Of course, one reason that these companies are efficient and profitable is because they use the latest technology and techniques, which raises productivity, which in turn means that relatively fewer workers are employed. This does not mean that more workers may not be employed, absolutely, but as Marx sets out, in Capital I, Chapter 15, it then requires a larger increase in the capital advanced.

That doesn't mean that can't happen. As Marx sets out in that Chapter, in such conditions, Britain saw an increased volume of profits go into the necessary expansion of roads, canals, railways, ports and other infrastructure, which not only soaked up the labour-power “freed” from industry, as a result of mechanisation, but this mass of additional profit was also able to set to work a flood of immigrant workers, as navvies etc., in those construction programmes.

Marx also describes the way the large firms, even of his day, would often not replace their fixed capital with the latest versions. Instead, they would often make their existing equipment manage. In the meantime, newer small firms would set up using the latest equipment and techniques, and then, when the large firms had seen what worked, and when the initial problems had been resolved, the large firms would replace their fixed capital top to bottom.

But, again such a restructuring tends to go along with large scale reductions in employment. This was the situation that confronted US capital as the long wave boom started after 1999. It is one reason that the rise in employment has been sluggish. In both the US and UK, where a policy was adopted in the 1980's of developing a low-wage/high debt economy, the consequence has been the development of a small number of very highly paid jobs at one end, and a large number of low paid, insecure jobs at the other, with an increasing destruction of everything in between. In both countries, this causes the phenomenon of a “squeezed middle”.

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