Harry Braverman

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Harry Braverman and the Working Class
By Dr. Frank Elwell Rogers State University

Note:
This presentation is based on the theories of Harry Braverman. A more complete summary of his and other macro-social theories can be found in Macrosociology: The Study of Sociocultural Systems, by Frank W. Elwell.

In Brief
In 1974 Harry Braverman published Labor and Monopoly Capitalism, an analysis of the impact of capitalism on work in twentieth century America. Using the concepts and theories developed by Marx in the first volume of Capital, Braverman’s book was a biting critique of the growing degradation of work in America.

In Brief
A large part of Braverman’s argument centered on the “deskilling” of jobs in a capitalist economy in a systematic effort to more efficiently control and coordinate the labor force to maximize profit.

In Brief
Braverman then documents the growth of working class occupations from 1900 to 1970 using U.S. Census data. This presentation briefly reviews Braverman’s argument and data and then extends the analysis through 2001 to determine the validity of the Braverman/Marxist critique.

Marx
Braverman’s problem—a study of the objective conditions of the working class—is identical to the task Marx set for himself in the first volume of Capital.

Work
Work, Marx (and thus Braverman) asserts, is central to the human animal. It is through work that men and women realize their humanity. Capitalism begins with labor power, specifically the purchase and selling of labor power. This has consequences for the entire sociocultural system.

Work
The value of all goods and services (all commodity value) is created by human labor. Capitalism is a system built around the drive to increase capital. In order to expand his capital, the capitalist invests in the purchase of labor.

Work
The capitalist then attempts to get more value out of this labor than he has invested in it. The more surplus the capitalist can expropriate from the workforce, the greater the profitability, the greater the accumulation of capital.

Work
For the purchase and sale of labor power to become widespread in a society, three conditions need to be met: 1. Separate workers from the means of production. 2. Free the worker from serfdom or slavery, allowing them to sell their labor. 3. Establish an economic system in which individuals strive to increase their investment.

Work
With the establishment of a labor market the worker enters into employment because there are few other options to make a living. The capitalist enters into the relationship to make a profit.

Work
And that is the heart of it. The working life of the vast majority in capitalist society is dominated and shaped by the needs and interests of the capitalist class. Primary among these interests is to expand capital, to maximize profit. It is this “aspect which dominates in the mind and activities of the capitalist, into whose hands the control over the labor process has passed.”

The Problem of Management
All management has the problems of coordinating supplies, scheduling, work assignments, records, payroll, sales, and accounting. Also, with the rise of more complex production processes, the need for managerial coordination increases.

The Problem of Management
The capitalist problem of management is different in kind, however, in that the capitalist is working with “free” labor, in a system of constantly expanding technology, and spurred on by a driving need to expand production and profitability. The capitalist problem of management is rooted in the buying and selling of labor.

The Problem of Management
“What the worker sells, and what the capitalist buys, is not an agreed amount of labor, but the labor over an agreed period of time.”

The Problem of Management
“Such labor represents a cost for each nonproductive hour. Workers have an interest in conserving energy, capitalists in expending it. There is, therefore, a...
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