July 23, 2008

Chapter Nine: Labour (Living and Dead) and Time

This chapter seems straightforward in its logical exposition of what Marx has already distinguished as capital’s constitutive components – constant capital (dead-labor, or means of production) and variable capital (socially-necessary labour and surplus labor[time]).

The distinction Marx made between the consumption of dead-labor’s use-value and the valorization of capital’s investment by means of living-labour’s productive capacity - not only it’s necessary ability to bring ‘to life’ dead-labor but also the unpaid component of labour-time (surplus-value) - is extended now into the rate of surplus-value, which is largely understood through time (labour-time, and Marx’s critique of Senior’s “last-hour”). In this regard, it might be interesting to bring in E.P. Thompson’s observations on time and work-discipline…which also can lead into Marx’s discussion of the ‘work-day.’

For Thompson, the problem is posed as: “how far, and in what ways, did [the] shift in time-sense [increasingly determined by industrial production] affect labour discipline, and how far did it influence the inward apprehension of time of working people. (57)”

He begins, in the familiar humanist move, with laying out what the relationship between time-sense and production might have been before capitalism:

“a community in which task-orientation is common appears to show least demarcation between ‘work’ and ‘life’. Social intercourse and labour are intermingled – the working-day lengthens or contracts according to the task – and there is no great sense of conflict between labour and ‘passing the time of day.... to men accustomed to labour timed by the clock, this attitude to labour appears to be wasteful and lacking in urgency. (60)”

This echoes the common rhetorical device of positing an organic life-world before the violence of capitalism’s alienation and abstraction (think Lukacs as well).

Once the distinction between those who labor and those who manage/put others to work (i.e. industrial production) appears then you have a radical change (differentiation) in the experience of time:

“As soon as actual hands are employed the shift from task-orientation to timed labour is marked.” (61) and “those who are employed experience a distinction between their employer’s time and their ‘own’ time. And the employer must use the time of his labour, and see it is not wasted….(61)”

Temporality is experienced (and determines social classes) differently; something akin to a sociology of temporality. Anyhoo, linking this then to the section from Marx that Andy cited earlier:

[Marx] “the greater part of the eighteenth century, up to the epoch of large-scale industry, capital in England had not succeeded in gaining control of the worker's whole week by paying the weekly value of his labour-power ... the fact that they could live for a whole week on the wage of four days did not appear to the workers to be a sufficient reason for working for the capitalist for the other two days (Capital, p. 385).”

Thompson’s analysis of 19th Century England reiterates Marx’s observation:

“Enclosure and the growing labour-surplus at the end of the eighteenth century tightened the screw for those who were in regular employment; they were faced with the alternative of partial employment and the poor law, or submission to a more exacting labour discipline. It is a question, not of new techniques, but of a greater sense of time-thrift among the improving capitalist employers. (78)”

Class exploitation is refracted through the social-differentiation and experience of time, although this still seems to be a class-driven process (rather than abstract labour time as the subject – a la Postone). But what is most interesting is that this is not just an explanatory narrative of time, discipline and social class, but also of the socio-political imaginations that were cofigured along with social-time/work-discipline:

“The first generation of factory workers were taught by their masters the importance of time; the second generation formed their short-time committees in the ten-hour movement; the third generation struck for overtime or time-and-a-half. (86)”

Thus labour-politics is largely understood as a battle for TIME. This, I think, can tie into the section from Marx that Andy cited and also what will appear in the next chapter on the workday…….

To finish this out, Thompson ends with these following thoughts:

“If we maintain a Puritan time-valuation, a commodity-valuation, then it is a question of how this time is put to use, or how it is exploited by the leisure industries. But if the purposive notation of time-use becomes less compulsive, then men might have to re-learn some of the arts of living lost in the industrial revolution: how to fill the interstices of their days with enriched, more leisurely, personal and social relations; how to break down once more the barriers between work and life. (95)”

“If men are to meet both the demands of a highly-synchronized automated industry, and of greatly enlarged areas of ‘free time’, they must somehow combine in a new synthesis elements of the old and of the new, finding an imagery based neither upon the seasons nor upon the market but upon human occasions. (96)”

Here is the citation if anyone wants to download from Jstor:
E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” in Past and Present, No. 38 (Dec., 1967)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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