Christian Palloix – The labour process: from Fordism to neo-Fordism (1976)

Translated by John Mepham and Mike Soneuscher 1


The analysis of the historical development of the labour process and of the complex forms of its current organisation, as well as any attempt to foresee possible future developments or devise alternative scenarios for the future, presuppose an initial definition of the labour process as well as an account of its position within the productive system and the movement of capital.

a) Definition:

The labour process may be defined as that process by which raw materials or other inputs are transformed into products having a use-value. This process is a combination of three elements:

— human activity, or labour, which is set to work as labour power,

— the object (raw materials, unfinished products etc.) upon which labour acts,

— the means (means in general, usually in the form of tools or of ever more complex machinery) by which labour acts.

b) Position of the Labour Process:

The history of the labour process is bound up with both the development of the productive system (or modes of organisation of production) and of the movement of capital (movement of accumulation and movement of valorisation of capital); and also with the rise of forms of division of labour whether within the collectivity of workers (simple labour/complex labour, division of labour as different kinds of activity etc.) or within social relations (mental labour/ manual labour etc.).

The first thing to get clear is that we can only understand the labour process if we understand the relationship between the productive system and the movement of capital. By productive system we mean the ways in which the production of use-values and commodities is organised. This organisation takes place in the context of forces and relations of production which are considered as divided into categories in two different ways: first, into the different departments of production, and secondly into the different branches of industry. The productive system is the material translation in the labour process of the exigencies of the movement of capital.

The analysis of the movement of capital shows that this is in fact a movement which has two aspects (which correspond to the two ways of dividing up the productive system — departments/branches); this dual movement can be seen in the process of valorisation of capital and the process of accumulation of capital. Included in the notion of valorisation of capital is the effect of the requirement of profitability both on the combination and organisation of the elements constituting each individual capital and also on the conduct of the movement of realisation of these individual capitals. Valorisation designates the conditions of productive effectiveness and of profitability of those capitals engaged in the various branches of the productive system.

The notion of the accumulation of capital refers to the requirements placed upon the conditions of production by virtue of the fact that they must issue in a surplus-product, requirements which are expressed in the fact that capital must be used to produce new conditions (intensive or extensive) of production of surplus. The accumulation of capital is what is involved when we are discussing the conditions of productivity.

The valorisation of capital corresponds to a division of the productive system into branches of industry producing ‘commodities’. The accumulation of capital corresponds to a division of the productive system into departments of production, producing ‘goods’ (production goods, consumption goods), from the point of view of the formation of surplus-product.

The production of the surplus-product, like the production of commodities, combines the processes of accumulation and valorisation with the labour process. According to the emphasis — whether on accumulation or valorisation — so one or other aspect of the labour process will be emphasised. The labour process occupies a central position in relation both to the productive system and to the movement of capital, with which it is both tightly bound up and which it serves to define. The productive system and the movement of capital are deliberately directed towards the labour process, which is the real ‘heart’ of the economy, and hence towards the constitutive elements of this process and their particular forms of combination. All forms of surplus-product presuppose both a certain combination of elements of the labour process and their integration into the productive system and the movement of capital. For example, any production of surplus in extensive form involves a labour process characterised by a prolongation of working-time devoted to production (extension of the duration of working-time, increase in the intensity of work) which has consequences for both the structure of the productive system and the movement of capital. Similarly, production of surplus in intensive form implies a labour process characterised by increases in the productivity of labour, with ensuing important modifications in the productive system and the movement of capital. Evidence of this is apparent from any labour process founded upon the principle of automation.

As it is the ‘heart’ of the economy, the labour process, in its involvement with the productive system and the movement of capital, is not isolated from the totality of social relations. Its own development is a necessary corollary to the division of labour in the capitalist system.

Adam Smith’s famous example of the manufacture of pins underlines the capitalist necessity for the principle of the division of labour and the fragmentation of tasks within capitalist production. This principle of specialisation within the capitalist system, however, has been extended to all social activities, giving rise to a social division of labour and notably a division into branches of the productive system in which specific, concrete labour processes differ from one another. The combination of specialisation in the production of commodities and the social division of labour into industrial branches producing different commodities and involving different labour processes gives rise to a ‘separation’ (more social than economic) of complex labour from simple labour.2 This separation becomes the basis of a hierarchy of labour within the labour process, and hence of a hierarchy of wages and also the foundation of the hierarchical principle within the enterprise, i.e. the foundation of the labour process itself.

The growing differentiation of social strata and the formation of classes is a function of the development of the division of labour; the existence of differentiated social classes presupposes a clearly defined division of labour, a division of labour articulated upon the labour process in the case

of the capitalist system.

Furthermore, the integration of the labour process into the logic of the capitalist system requires not only a division of labour in productive activity as well as a social division, but also a division of labour in social relations, involving the separation of mental and manual labour,3 which complements and supports the separation of simple and complex labour, with important effects on the training and dequalification of workers:

‘Mental and manual labour in the technological division of labour are subject to the same general law of extraction of maximum surplus labour from the maximum number of individual labour powers, but that same law produces contradictory effects upon mental and manual labour: whereas it seeks to produce the maximum dequalification of the maximum proportion of manual labourers, it seeks to produce the maximum skill in the smallest possible proportion of mental labourers.’ (Y. Maignien, p.67).

1. The historical development of the labour process

A certain number of phases, linked to specific forms of the production of surplus, have punctuated the development of the labour process: cooperation, manufacture, machinery and the factory, whose appearance led to Taylorism and Fordism, and automation,4 which today constitutes the point of departure for possible developments of the labour process within contemporary capitalism.

But it would be misleading to describe the development of the labour process apart from its relation to the forms of production of surplus-product, in either extensive or intensive accumulation.

1.1. The labour process and the production of surplus-product

Two specific forms of surplus-product have appeared in the development of the capitalist system. These forms have existed in combination, but successive historical phases were marked by the dominance of one form and then the other: that is by extensive surplus and then by intensive surplus,5 corresponding of course to the extensive and intensive phases of the accumulation of capital.

1.1.1. The production of extensive surplus6

Let us call:

T the apparent duration of work, or time of production,

tn the time necessary for the reconstitution of labour power,

tv abstract social labour time devoted to production.

The application of labour power in the labour process, as the process of valorisation of capital, can be schematised as follows:


 Surplus labour, or surplus, is equal to tv tn . The yield upon labour power would be:

e = tv tn / tn

The difference between T and tv expresses a certain ‘porosity’ in the labour process as is explained by Jésus Ibarrola:

‘The working day remained for a long time relatively porous, made up, of course, by some particularly intense periods but also of periods of inactivity (for example, at the end of a labour process, or when starting up again, or while maintenance work was going on). It is in the nature of machinery to systematically eliminate porosity.’7

The introduction of machinery had as its initial object the intensification of work (increase of tv) rather than the augmentation of productivity by lowering tn.

The time T tv expended by labour power without creating any surplus cannot be separated from the production of this surplus and from the organization of the labour process. Any change in the conditions of production seeks to transform the labour process in order to expand the yield of labour power, i.e. the rate of surplus. This can be done by:

— lowering tn,

— increasing tv, either without changing the relation of tv to T (i.e. by prolonging T, which involves prolonging tv), or by changing the relation of tv to T (i.e. by increasing the ratio of tv to T).

Lowering tn represents the method of production of an intensive surplus, whereas increasing tv represents the method of producing an extensive surplus.

Historically, the production of surplus as extensive surplus was achieved by extending the apparent duration of work, T, notably in the first half of the nineteenth century. Given the organisation of the working class and the result of the class struggle over time, changes in the conditions of production no longer take the form fundamentally of a prolongation of the apparent duration of work.

The dominant form of production of extensive surplus today is achieved by changes in the relation between tv and T, in the direction of an increase in tv/T . The way in which the labour process is organised to achieve such a result takes the form of an intensification of work, in which it is a question of subordinating labour powers to the more or less continuous movement of systems of machinery, either by Fordist organisation of mass production and its contemporary developments (recomposition of industrial work) or by automated mass production, although today the organisation of the labour process is evolving towards a combination of these two main forms of the organisation of production.

The intensification of work involves reducing the amount of time during which labour power produces no value.8 It thus promotes the production of an extensive surplus. But this form of production of an extensive surplus, linked to mass production, is necessarily related to the production of an intensive surplus. Nonetheless, the limits to the production of an extensive surplus are determined by the resistance of the working class to the intensification of the rhythms of work.

1.1.2. The production of intensive surplus

In a fully developed capitalist mode of production, production of intensive surplus by lowering the labour time needed to reconstitute labour power (lowering tn) depends basically upon the production of commodities by the department of production of consumption goods destined for the maintenance of labour power, and hence depends upon the relationship within the process of accumulation of capital between the departments producing production goods and consumption goods. This involves, therefore, increasing the productivity of labour by developing the productive forces (mechanisation of work) with an ensuing increase in the organic composition of capital and everything which follows from that for the mechanisms of accumulation and the relations between departments I and II. In fact, economies in labour power entering production (reduction of tn) are reflected in a rise in the organic composition of capital, which is expressed in changes in technical composition. This in turn promotes the need to produce material means of production and gives rise to the predominance of department I. But the department producing consumption goods is alone directly responsible for the maintenance of labour power, and it was therefore necessary for the capitalist system to develop — albeit within an uneven development — the department producing consumption goods, with ensuing contradictions arising between departments I and II. Mass consumption, paradoxically, is intimately connected to economics in the use of labour power (lowering of tn) for the production of intensive surplus. This has forced capitalism to opt in a decisive manner for this method of producing surplus, with all the consequences that have followed both for the accumulation in means of production and for the accumulation in means of consumption, and hence, today, an exemplary crisis of accumulation arising from the uneven development of the departments of production.

1.2. Different labour processes as landmarks in the history of capitalism

The first two forms — cooperation and manufacture — characterised the labour process at the time of the transistion from feudalism to capitalism. Only with mechanisation and automation was the labour process fully integrated into the capitalist organisation of the productive system and into the movement of capital.

1.2.1. Cooperation (simple)

M. Freyssenet provides the following definition:

‘The bringing together by an owner of capital of artisans deprived of their means of production, but whose labour power retains its value. The worker loses control of the production process …’9

The principle of cooperation lies in the coordination of labour processes based upon crafts (‘craft’ here being given both a social and a technical definition), processes coordinated10 under the control of the owner of capital11, who takes into his own hands the power to select and design particular use values. This coordination of labour processes based upon crafts reproduces in a modified way the hierarchical productive organisation of artisanal production, characterised by the relationship between the master craftsman and journeyman (the primary relationship) and between apprentice and adult workers (the secondary relationship).

Cooperation, a transitional labour process, existed within the framework of petty commodity production.

From the point of view of labour power, cooperation opens the way to (but only opens the way to) the formation of the collective worker, in which each individual labour is merely part of the whole and is a function of social labour time (concrete labour/abstract labour). In this form of the labour process, however, we are only at the first stage of the social existence of concrete labour, the basis of craft production.

1.2.2. Manufacture (or advanced co-operation)

The principle of manufacture amounts to an extension of the principle of simple co-operation, with an initial dissolution of the preceding labour process based upon crafts. Simple co-operation is effectively a juxtaposition and co-ordination of labour processes based upon crafts, which do not in fact change the processes themselves. With manufacturing, the various work activities centred upon the crafts are decomposed and reorganised thus introducing a division of labour and fragmentation of tasks, even though the craft remains the foundation of the work. In this process, various kinds of work, based upon the old crafts but now reorganised, become interdependent, and from this there arises the collective worker to whom the individual worker becomes subordinated. The artisan becomes a worker with profound ensuing effects on social relationships arising from the process of technical de-qualification and hyper-qualification of labour power within manufacture as a result of the fragmentation of tasks.

This process of de-qualification/hyper-qualification within manufacture is described by M. Freyssenet as:

‘1)The beginning of the “deskilling” of the work of the majority. This is bought about by: reducing the field in which the workers skills can be used and developed: progressively suppressing that part of the workers activity which consists of preparing and organising the work on his own way: eliminating his understanding of the whole of the labour process and, as a result, eliminating his concrete control of the labour process.

2) The beginning of hyper-qualification of a small minority. At this stage of development, the activities appropriated from the worker (whether by reducing the scope of his work or by taking away his direct control of the organisation of his work) are transferred by the capitalist to a small number of wage earners who are themselves divided into different categories and subject to the capitalist’s control.

The responsibilities of these groups of workers are:

a) to systematise the fragmentation of work,

b) to adapt each tool, which previously was used for many purposes, to new narrower uses, in such a way as to increase their efficiency.’12

This decomposition and recomposition of craft-based work is fundamentally aimed at increasing the surplus by creating a greater intensity of work (a first form, more mercantile than capitalist, of extensive surplus); this increase in the intensity of work is obtained by turning essentially craft-based labour powers into collective labour, thus recomposing, reorganising, ‘hierarchising’ individual labour processes which are henceforth fragmented, and the social yield of which is driven to the maximum, given the level of productive forces (tools, skills).

But manufacture comes up against not only the narrowness of its productive base, but also and above all, against the contradictory process of the reproduction of labour power, which remains organised around the crafts, so that it is still necessary for there to be a broad stratum of skilled workers, prolonged training (apprenticeship) and autonomy of this stratum of artisans (who have become manufacturing workers but whose social origin is that of the old crafts and trades); all this at a time when it is simultaneously necessary to devalue this labour power now that the process of fragmentation and dequalification are under way. This is ultimately achieved by the introduction of machinery and the modern factory.

1.2.3. The collective worker: mechanisation and the factory

With the factory and mechanisation, the two weaknesses of manufacture, from the point of view of capital, were partially overcome by:

enlarging the productive base,

eroding the autonomy of the reproduction of labour power, which henceforth, was subjected to capital.

Application of the principle of mechanisation in the factory substituted the concept of the machine for that of the tool. The machine is composed of three basic elements:

the motor (or mechanical source of power),

the transmission,

the operating equipment (various tools).

By mechanisation is meant the operation of several tools (now independent of the workers manual dexterity) by means of transmission mechanisms; in place of human energy, in other words, powered by a mechanical source.

The tool integrated into the system of machinery, becomes a ‘machine-tool’, a machine which incorporates social relations. Machinery is not neutral because the machine incorporates in its mode of operation the dexterity and the skill of the individual worker who is henceforth deprived of his skill and subordinated, from the point of view of social production, to the machine, which he can only serve, set in motion, and regulate.

‘What we wish to show, on the contrary, is that the very design of machines is determined by the capitalist use to which they are put, in other words by the mode of exploitation of labour power. The separation of the mental from the manual part of work is materialised in the machines themselves, and appears to the workers as an intangible, external force.’13

Capitalist development of machinery in the factory contributes, on the one hand, to a massive ‘deskilling’ of production workers, together with a loss of autonomy in the reproduction of labour power, and on the other hand to an ‘over skilling’ of a small number of workers responsible for innovation, organisation, regulation and repair. This process of dequalification and hyperqualification is henceforth characteristic of the practical forms of the reproduction of labour power.

Machinery, in its capitalist use, has as its essential object the growth of surplus on an extensive basis (increase of intensity) by integrating the reproduction of labour power ever more tightly to the processes of valorisation and accumulation of capital. In relation to the forms of appearance of surplus, mechanisation leads to an important increase in the intensity of work by increasing the abstract social labour time devoted to production (tv) so that the collective worker becomes an ever greater obstacle to the freedom on manoeuvre of the individual worker. In this way, the production of an extensive surplus has as its corollary a drastic fragmentation of tasks, which are co-ordinated, in an authoritarian and

hierarchical manner, into collective work. This fragmentation is matched by a dequalification of labour power and by the loss of its control over its own training and reproduction. Labour power becomes exclusively a ‘commodity’, compelled to sell itself.

Simultaneously, mechanisation, in substituting dead labour for living labour (although still requiring the latter for setting machines in motion, supplying raw materials, and maintenance) improves the productivity of labour by lowering the value of labour power (tn). ‘Deskilling’ and devaluation of labour power complement each other in a mechanism of production and reproduction which is henceforth more fully subject to the production of extensive and intensive surplus, or, in other words, subjected to capital. The management of labour power becomes a capitalist imperative.

Only at the beginning of the twentieth century did mechanisation culminate — as a means of subjecting the labour process to capital — in Taylorism and Fordism, in which the elements of the labour process are completely taken apart and re-coordinated at assembly-line work, including the first forms of automation. The principal result of mechanisation, arising from the accelerated ‘de-skilling’ of the worker, appears in a new type of worker, the unskilled assembly line worker, who is the product of the capitalist division of labour.

1.2.4. The collective worker and automation

In mechanised production, the worker at the machine is surrounded by many other necessary operations, such as setting up the job, feeding the machine, regulating its operation and checking the product. Therefore a worker can only serve a limited number of machines. This gives rise to a certain ‘porosity’ in the utilisation of machines and in the degree of coordination between different machines within the whole mechanised system, which affects the rate of profit. Automation, in its capitalist use, aims to eliminate all manual intervention by the worker by means of electronic techniques, so that the worker’s intervention is now limited to overall supervision and control. By integrating machinery into a machine-system which eliminates this ‘porosity’, automation ensures the maximum turnover of capital for the production of an intensive surplus, while carrying the ‘dequalification’ of productive labour to its most extreme point.

If we are to produce a precise analysis of the consequences of automation for the labour process we must distinguish between automation applied: a) in discontinuous form, in the production of production goods and consumer durables by mechanical means, b) in continuous form, in the production of intermediate goods (steel, petro-chemicals, chemicals, energy) by a physico-chemical transformation.

a) Discontinuous: In mechanical and electro-mechanical processes, one can discern two sorts of application of automation to the departments of production and consumption goods, involving on the one hand generalisation of mechanical transfer machinery for mass production, and on the other, the general use of numerical control machines for production in small and medium series.

Mechanical transfer reduces a series of machine tools, carrying out a series of specialised operations, to one automated whole. The movement of the unfinished product from one machine tool to another is performed automatically, without it ever having to be taken off and remounted for each operation. The whole constitutes a flow-line. The flow-lines are connected to each other by automatic conveyors which thus act ‘as a depository for the unfinished products. Transfer machinery, which was first developed in the automobile industry, has been introduced into many areas of production, linked to mass production.

Numerical control machines automate the different phases of production (even, in some case, setting up the work and quality control) in the production of small or medium series of mechanical components. The numerical control device is a machine tool in which the series of movements necessary to the working of the machine is directed and controlled by a pre-deterrnined programme instead of by the operator. This type of machine tool, though it involves less use of man-power, at the same time reduces even more the technical skills of the worker to the extent that the skills themselves increasingly disappear.

The new manpower needs associated with numerical control machines include engineers trained in numerical control, programmes and multipurpose electrical and mechanical maintenance personnel. Labour power skilled in mechanical operations is replaced by labour power concerned with programming and control, qualified in electronics.

By distinguishing conventional machine tools, transfer machines and numerical control devices it is possible to summarise the working skills required in the operations of the labour process as follows:14

machine tools:


conventional machine tools

transfer machines (mass production)

numerical control machines (small and medium production)



automation + unskilled





computer + unskilled

setting up production



computer + unskilled






Machine tools already ensured the rise of the unskilled and semi-skilled worker, i.e. they produced the ‘de-qualification’ of workers: automation, using transfer machines and then numerical control machines make the unskilled worker the norrn16; they generalise the disintegration of working activity and the fragmentation of tasks.

By the discontinuous character of production we mean on the one hand automatic production of large series of components, on the other, fitting and assembling these components.

Capitalist utilisation of the principle of automation in the coordination of fitting and assembly operations (technologically possible in the future, probably) by means of assembly lines grouped and integrated into each other by automatic conveyors, would make possible the realisation of continuous processes of mechanical transformation. At the present, however, entirely automated factories are only involved in the production of intermediary goods in which the material transformations concerned are

of a physico-chemical nature.

b) Continuous: The application of the principle of automation to continuous processes has only been developed in the production of intermediate goods (steel,17 petro-chemicals, cement, power stations), where a physico-chemical process of transformation, rather than a mechanical one, is predominant. The tendency is for the production unit to be simply an integrated and automated system in which the workers functions are essentially limited to those of maintenance and overall control.

The automated factory (press-button factory) is geared in its productive activities to mass production. Here the de-qualification of workers is extreme, even to the point of the complete disappearance of points in the process at which the worker has to intervene.

2. The complex forms of the organisation of labour processes in contemporary capitalism

On the one hand there is a labour process directed towards mass production, i.e. towards the production of intensive surplus (relative surplus value) via the lowering of the exchange-value of labour-power. Alongside this there is a labour process directed towards the reproduction of the hegemony of the dominant strata, an hegemony which is based on control of commodity relations (control of innovation and design (conception), of the realisation of commodities, of the organisation of production, of the management of labour power etc …).

2.1 Labour process and mass production

We must always keep in mind that the ‘technical’ methods involved in the different labour processes — or methods of manufacture — have been progressively and historically formed by the conditions in which capital has been realised (by the mise-en-valeur of capital), and also by the processes whereby capital has been accumulated. These have been, and remain, the motive forces in the evolution of the labour process at this level, and can alone explain the changes that have taken place in that process in the different branches and departments of social production. It follows from this that one cannot say anything about the evolution of labour process(es) without putting forward a number of hypotheses (albeit implicit) about the changes which have taken place in the processes of valorisation and accumulation of capital. Therefore, we must summarise briefly the general tendencies concerning the valorisation and accumulation of capital (which it is possible to identify on the basis of a century of capitalist practice) — tendencies which thereby have also affected the evolution of the labour process. Then one can go on to formulate certain hypotheses about the factors which might act upon these general tendencies in such a way as to modify them.

a) For the last one hundred years the main elements characterising the conditions of the valorisation of capital have been related to the conditions of the production-reproduction of a dual labour market with:

on the one hand, a relatively skilled workforce, capable of bargaining rather high wage levels, but representing an ever-decreasing fraction of aggregate labour power;

on the other hand, an unskilled workforce (drawn at the beginning from pre-capitalist modes of production) available for low, or even very low, wages.

This dual labour market, found at first within advanced capitalist social formations (related to the conditions of valorisation and accumulation) tends increasingly to be formed only at an international level.

For example, in the US at the end of the 19th Century, the skilled workers, those with trade or craft training, together with those immigrants who had experience in trades-union and political activities, engaged in a political struggle which was widespread enough to ‘form an obstacle to the valorisation and accumulation of capital. At the same time there was arriving from Europe a mass a peasant immigrants who could not be incorporated just as they were into the process of production. Labour processes therefore had to be modified. On the one hand they had to be adapted so as to make possible the deskilling of the ‘craft’ workers, and on the other hand they had to be adapted so as to allow the employment of workers who were unskilled, or who could be very easily rendered unskilled. Taylorism and Fordism provided a solution; they came up with a particular kind of labour process suitable for the employment of definite kinds of labour power.

The reconstitution of this dual labour market, necessarily going together with two labour processes in constant interaction, is a necessity for the capitalist system, a necessity which is expressed, as regards the working class, in a double movement of capital:

— tendency to equalisation

— tendency to differentiation.

The conditions for the reproduction of this dual labour market, historically connected with internal precapitalist forms of production in advanced countries, rapidly became established at the international level, and this has an effect on the process of internationalisation and the international division of labour; i.e. it has an effect on the differences that become established throughout the world in respect of the conditions of production and reproduction of the working class.

b) The dual labour market, together with new forms of valorisation of capital, with the employment in production of new scientific knowledge (nuclear energy, cybernetics, automation, etc.) with the large-scale use of new materials (80% produced at the ‘periphery’, 80% consumed at the ‘centre’), all of these things taken together gave rise to a mode of valorisation of capital based on mass production (or, to put it another way, on the ‘large-scale production of surplus value’ where this is extracted via products manufactured in very large numbers). This mass production depends on the domination of capital. Capital no longer comes up against any technical limits to the scope and degree of its domination; the only limits are social ones.

c) In the context of this dual labour market, the two main kinds of labour process take the following forms:

as discontinuous processes; Taylorist and Fordist organisation of labour (assembly line work); repetitive and fragmented work involving a large number of unskilled workers provided either by immigration from abroad, or by internal transfers of labour (peasants, women workers, marginalised strata of the population); the automobile industry, electronics, electrical household goods, traditional textiles, etc;

as continuous processes: automatic mass production, involving very large investment of constant (and fixed) capital, and few, even very few, workers, some of whom are relatively skilled (petrochemicals, chemicals, synthetic textiles), in the spheres of regulation and control, the others of whom are completely unskilled.

d) It is possible to make certain observations concerning the location of these different labour processes.

As far as Taylorist and Fordist assembly line organised processes are concerned, there have been historically two successive tendencies:

in an earlier period, as long as rural expropriation continued in the central imperialist countries, the reproduction of the dual labour market was assured (although it was supplemented as the need arose by the importation of workers from the periphery); in this period the imperialist countries retained manufacture and transformation of products within their own borders, only allowing underdeveloped countries the job of extraction of natural products (rawmaterials, energy, certain agricultural products). This international division of labour has reached its culmination in the 1970s;18

in a second period, the political and social preconditions for the reproduction of the labour market, in relation with the productive system, were no longer assured in the imperialist centres; the periphery begins to change in character as a result of a certain delocalisation of the labour process and of the process of production. Certain kinds of manufacture are shifted, are ‘located in underdeveloped social formations, with the imperialist centres reserving for themselves those processes which require some know-how, some technological knowledge, and a skilled labour force.

We can see, therefore, a growth in the imperialist centres, of the ‘brain-power’ industries (production engineering, R&D), while the peripheral countries rapidly take on a new specific character with the appearance of mass production industries (cars, domestic electrical appliances, transistor radios, cameras, textiles).

As for automatic mass production, this remains by and large located in the central imperialist countries, or in certain intermediate countries, although this general tendency is complicated by certain factors: by the necessity for finance (nowadays petro-dollars are involved), problems of pollution (petrochemicals, steel), the unavailability of sufficient skilled manpower (which threatens to prevent the process of redeployment on the scale envisaged in certain countries, e.g. France).

e) We must emphasise that Fordism, which still characterises the labour process today, is not the same as Taylorism; it is a real innovation. As B. Coriat remarks19, Ford took over the essential aspects of Taylorism (separation of design and innovation from execution, division and sub-division of jobs, each movement allowed a specific time), but he also went further in introducing two further principles:

a new method of control of labour-power;

the introduction of the flow-line principle (conveyors) in the concrete shape of the assembly line.

As for the assembly line, the innovations of Fordism can be summed up as follows:

‘The flow of parts is as much as possible achieved by machines (conveyors, transporters, moving assembly frames) and is always separated from the work of assembly itself. The assembly workers thus have no need to move about the workshop and are tied to their work positions;

a consequence of this is the fact that the speed of movement of the unfinished product (and therefore the work rate) is controlled mechanically, and not by the workers themselves, on whom it is imposed.

The principles of Fordism give rise to two contradictory propositions:

— on the one hand there is established a mechanical system based on the consistent movement and circulation of parts, tools and materials;

— on the other hand, this whole circulation is designed so as to “fix” the worker to his work position so that he never has to move a step away from it’.20

As for the methods of control of labour, Ford introduced the Day Wage (in place of piece-rates), thus making it possible to ‘regulate’ the externally-imposed control of labour power. The famous ‘Five Dollar Day’ (FDD) was a necessary addition to the new labour process. Without going into any detail, we can say that the FDD had the function, as a method of control of labour power, of:

‘Assuring for capital an uninterrupted supply of labour-power; preventing the occurrence of large-scale workers’ rebellions, which had occurred regularly in 19th Century Europe, by “disinfecting” the working population, and by training inspectors to control them; thereby assuring in the best conditions the rapid advance of mass production, and of the accumulation of capital’.21

f) The processes of internationalisation of capital and of production, the basis for the development of the multinational firms, gave rise on an ever-increasing scale to world-wide mass automatic production. Labour processes came to be definable only on an international scale, and hence there arises a new worker, viz the mass-worker22, bound to the vicissitudes of the multi-nationals, i.e. to the movements of the internationalisation of capital.

2.2 The labour process and the control of commodity relations

The reproduction of capitalist relations of production takes the form of the production of ‘commodities’; the concept of the commodity is central to the capitalist system. The control of reproduction, from the point of view of the hegemonic strata, takes place via the control of the commodity, not only in relation to the conditions of production of commodities (organisation of the labour process in mass production), but also in relation to the reproduction of commodity relations (i.e. the reproduction of the domination of the hegemonic strata).

Because of this necessity, the social process of commodity production is divided into three distinct stages (a division which is the source of growing contradiction): ,

the process of ‘conception’ of commodities, limited to design engineering firms, research departments, development firms ;23

the process of ‘production’ of commodities, entailing a particular organisation of the labour process for mass production;

the process of ‘realisation’ of commodities, via the act of circulation, entailing not only the productive activity of transportation, but specialised transport firms and departments24, commercial firms, firms specialising in marketing, etc.

It is interesting to note that the field of production design engineering is recognised in the professional literature as being an outcome of Taylorism and Fordism (i.e. as the product of the capitalist development of the labour process, with ever-increasing sub-division of work).

‘Under the influence of Taylorism there began to appear, between the two world wars, the practice of selling technological know-how and the negotiation of contracts for the sale of “turn-key” factories. Production designers began by teaching factory managers how to cut down on the time taken by the various movements of the workers, and then how to lay out the machines in the workshop. From there they went on, in the search for greater efficiency, to pen and paper studies on the construction of whole factories starting from scratch. After the Second World War countries which needed to reconstruct, and those in the process of development, began to order whole industries’.25

The commodity control of the reproduction of the relations of production is decisively located at the stages of conception and realisation, which has led to a development of the capitalist system towards a so-called ‘tertiarisation’ of the economy. But the significance of this famous ‘tertiarisation’ can only be grasped in relation to the demands of the class struggle from the standpoint of the hegemonic strata. In fact, confronted with an increase in the intensity of the class struggle of the proletariat in production, with no economic or political solution to this struggle available to the ruling capitalist strata, traditional class alliances were endangered. It was essential that the hegemony of capitalist domination could be exercised not only through commodity control (conception and realisation) but that also new social strata be brought into class alliances, by broadening those strata in society that could be brought to function ideologically within the ruling ‘historical bloc’ (cf. Gramsci Prison Notebooks for this concept — Trans.)

Tertiarisation gives rise to those famous white collar workers who have been so much misunderstood by the unfortunate S. Mallet and so many other sociologists; i.e. designers, administrative staff, technologists, research staff, etc. who take part in the commodity reproduction of the capitalist system, i.e. in the reproduction of the hegemonic strata of the bourgeoisie, who use them in order to disguise the contradictions that develop at the level of production and of the organisation of the labour process of mass production.

The capitalist system conducts a massive ideological offensive in order to mould these workers into the logic of commodity reproduction, with, for example, business schools, management institutes, the mystique of computers and so on. Nevertheless, capitalism is forced to organise the labour process of commodity production in the only way suited to it, with a hierarchical system and with fragmentation of the work of conception and realisation. The same organisation of the labour process of the mass production of commodities gradually takes over the labour processes of conception and realisation of commodities, even though a growing burden of ideology, together with the specific aspects of the production of the particular kinds of labour power involved in these processes, have an influence in determining class relations within the so-called tertiary spheres. The recent French bank strike against the organisation of work testifies to the crisis in the reproduction of capitalist relations of production, from the central point of view of commodity reproduction.

M. Bel and J. Perrin have noted the growing complexity of the division of labour in design and production engineering:

‘We can see, therefore, that design and production engineering, inasmuch as it is an autonomous function of conception and of the realisation of investments, reflects one of the process of the division of labour which is at work in the present time. But we must emphasise that this process of the division of labour is becoming more complex, and that it is developing in a non-linear fashion.’26

This is reflected in the deskilling of a large proportion of workers and the hyper-skilling of a small number.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to take note of the much advertised moves of the bourgeoisie (simultaneously political and economic) whereby they have relaxed control to some extent over the production of commodities, while maintaining their hegemonic strata. There is a risk that demands for workers’ control (or self-management — autogestion) might prove illusory if they are limited to demands for control of production and do not confront head-on the control of commodity reproduction.

The problem of the distinct stages (conception, production, realisation) of commodity production raises the question of the analysis of productive and unproductive labour.27

Because they fail to grasp the existence of these two distinct labour processes, the one centred on the production of a surplus-product via mass production, the other centred on the capitalist control of the reproduction of commodity relations, certain writers (Stephen Marglin, A. Gorz, Dominique Pignon, Jean Querzola, etc.) have attempted to argue that the fragmentation and sub-division of work have nothing to do with the extraction of a surplus, but are fully explained by reference to class domination, to the reproduction of hegemonic strata:

‘The fragmentation and specialisation of work, the separation of intellectual and manual labour, the monopolisation of science by elites, the gigantism of plant and the centralisation of power which is its result — none of this is necessary for efficient production. These things are necessary rather for the perpetuation of the domination of capital.’28

Perpetuation of the domination of capital of course (by means of the control of commodity relations), but this takes place via the production of a surplus-product, i.e. by the development of the conditions of production, and the inevitable revolutionising of the labour process in the context of mass production.

A further revolutionising of the labour process appears at first sight to be involved in various ‘job-enrichment’ schemes, both in industrial production (recomposition of industrial work) and in the service sector (by ‘job motivation’).

2.3 Theproblem of job-enrichment: neo-Fordism

The critique of Taylorism and Fordism, a critique which often follows in the wake of practical struggles in which the present organisation of work is called into question, has developed a great deal since the pioneering works of G. Friedman29. The critique by and large takes the following form:

‘The scientific organisation of labour leads to the introduction of flow-line work, of which assembly-line work is the most restricting form: such work involves no intelligence, responsibility, or creativity; is a source of dissatisfaction and of degradation of the personality. The price paid is a high rate of absenteeism and of turnover, a large amount of wastage and of rejects, and an increase in stoppages and sabotage. The contradictions of fragmented work are the more acute as the workers’ level of education increases.’30

This way for formulating the problem, however, misses both the theme of exploitation and that of the reproduction of the hegemonic strata. It calls Taylorism and Fordism into question only from a humanist standpoint (work involving no intelligence, responsibility, or creativity, source of disatisfaction and of degradation of the personality’), and it notes their effects only on the profitability of capital (high rates of absenteeism and turnover/wastage/rejects/sabotage).

Hence the question: is not job-enrichment31 an adaptation of Taylorism and Fordism to new conditions of struggle in production, with the aim of preserving the profitability of capital, rather than a radical revolution of the labour process?

By job-enrichment is meant a change in the labour process which calls Taylorism and Fordism into question in relation to the fragmentation of work. This involves both the regrouping of several work operations of the same basic kind as before, but now with greater variety at each work station (instead of the very small number of operations at each work station on a typical assembly line) so as to increase the duration of the work-unit (from one half to more than fifteen minutes); and also allowing the workers themselves to monitor their own work (they take over a limited number of the operations of regulation, quality-control and maintenance). Job enrichment would lead to the abolition of the assembly line.

Experiments along these lines have been conducted in the USA in some large multinational firms such as Texas Instruments, Polaroid, Corning Glass, IBM, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors32. In Europe they have been tried at, for example, Volvo, ICI, Philips, Olivetti and FIAT.

Semi-autonomous groups are only an extension of the idea of job-enrichment, in which small work-teams are free to organise and plan their own work — free, it need hardly be said, only within the limits established by the general production quotas.

In a rather subtle analysis, Maurice de Montmollin has umnasked the basis of job-enrichment: it is a neo-Taylorism rather than an anti-Taylorism, with the ideological function of enabling Taylorism and Fordism to survive in new conditions of control of labour-power (in particular, new conditions of control of a dual labour market).

‘This movement must be given a new name. With the important exception of semi-autonomous groups, Anti-Taylorism is in fact Neo-Taylorism. ‘Why is it only now that this movement has appeared? In fact it is not a new movement. Because neo-Taylorism is in effect the response of Taylorism to new conditions of the labour market, but it is not, in reality, such a reality. It is an interesting adaptation, but it does not do away with the older methods of organisation. Its sudden appearance is thus not as sudden as all that. It has not the profound antecedents of a revolution, preceded for a long time by submerged tensions, but it appears on the scene as the calm and opportune development of a reform’.33

In fact, job recomposition never really calls the division of labour into question (intellectual and manual labour, hierarchy) because it builds into the functioning of the small work groups the fact that they are a subordinate part of the collective workers.

As for semi-autonomous groups, a study by P. Bernoux and J. Ruffier could only come to the conclusion that:

‘It appears that we must make a distinction between those groups of workers who are aware that they sell their labour-power on condition that they show passive obedience to the firm and those who experience this simply as an exchange (the product of their labour for a price) … While for the former, semi-autonomous groups may result in yet additional alienation (inasmuch as they require even further commitment to work which remains, when all is said and done, repetitive and monotonous), for the latter semi-autonomous groups can give more meaning to work in that they make it possible to recover some sense of conscious activity of production. However, it seems that whatever may be the case as regards feelings of alienation for either of these kinds of groups, the notion of exploitation, both as an objective reality and as the way the producers represent things to themselves, remains quite unchanged’.34

For example, in the car industry job recomposition is no more than an adaptation of Fordism based on new methods of organising the flow of components and unfinished products, as has been emphasised by Yves Debrost in relation to the example of Renault:

‘In the 1970s the overhead track has been divided into sections; sub-lines have been built along the length of the train line so that engines and gear boxes can be disconnected from the line and held at the work stations. Thus the engines and gearboxes are carried along the line, disengaged at the sub-assembly points, where the various assembly operations are performed, and then replaced by the worker on the main line which carries them to another work point. On these sub-loops, therefore, there are several engines or gear-boxes awaiting attention, the workers himself controlling the rhythm of the various operations that he has to perform. Thus one finds a variety of line arrangements in the different department of Renault and FIAT, with a variety of techniques for transporting the work to the work points, of supplying buffer stocks, and of organising the different aspects of the work (workers divided into sub-groups have a choice as to whether each member performs all the different assembly operations on an engine or whether each of them perform specified tasks).

‘Innovations such as these have been made at the Terrnoli engine factory; the Cléon gear box factory; the Douvrins engine factory At Le Mans, in a workshop for assembling suspension systems, job enlargement experiments started in 1972 resulted in the duration of the unit work cycle being increased to 15 minutes, and the experiment is to be extended to the whole workshop.’35

At the Volvo factory in Kalmar, the job recomposition experiment is based on the use of new types of wagon, substituting for the assembly line for the assembly of the Volvo 164:

‘[The Wagons] perform three functions at the same time:

— they convey information to the factories from computers;

— they transport bodies and chassis;

— work benches are mounted on them.’36

Industrial job recomposition and enrichment seem to be, then, only an adaptation of labour processes in mass production (Taylorism and Fordism) to new conditions of control of labour power, to new conditions of reproduction of the domination of capital in relation to the conditions for the production of the surplus-product, and constitute a new capitalist practice: Neo-Fordism.

Neo-Fordism amounts to a purely formal attempt to abolish the collective worker, taking into consideration the social tensions which necessitate the setting-up of an absolute despotism in the coordination of the labour processes based on automation, of several groups of workers, autonomous in appearance, but which are in reality forced to submit to the logic of the collective worker.

11. The author is grateful for help in preparing this text, from B. Coriat, J. Perrin, R. Tiberghien.

2Cf Ramor Tortajada, ‘La Réduction du Travail Complexe en Travail Simple’, unpublished thesis, University of Grenoble, 1974.

3Cf Yannick Maignien, ‘La Division du Travail Manuel et Intellectuel’, Maspero, Paris 1975.

4Michel Freyssenet (‘Le Processus de Déqualitication-Surqualification de la force de travail’, Paris, C. Sill., 1974) also makes this same distinction of the four important historical phases of the ‘division of labour’: he confuses ‘labour process’ and ‘division of labour’ (p.26).

5Extensive surplus refers to absolute surplus value, and intensive surplus to relative surplus value.

6I owe the notation involved here to the thesis of Michel Aglietta, ‘La Regulation du Mode dc Production Capitaliste dans le Longue Période. Exemple des Etats-Unis’, Doctoral Thesis, Paris 1, Nov 1974, 738pp.

7Jesus Ibarrola, ‘Histoire du Travail et des Mouvements sociaux’, duplicated lectures, 1974-5, Grenoble University, vol.I, p120-121.

8Cf Michel Aglietta, op cit., p.23: ‘Acceleration in the work speed of each worker is connected with the simplification of the precise work movements he has to perform and to a better coordination of the work of the collectivity of workers’.

9Michel Freyssenet, op cit., p.26.

10This coordination can take two forms:

— by bringing the work together in one workshop;

— by ‘putting out’ (sub-contracting), or quasi-integration, which leaves the work scattered in the different workshops, each of which remains more or less under the control of some individual.

11Commercial, not industrial, capital.

12Michel Freyssenet, op cit., pp.35-36.

13Michel Freyssenet, op cit., p.40. On the same theme see Stephen Marglin: ‘Origines et Fonctions de la Parcellisation des Taches’, in ed. A. Gorz, ‘Critique de la Division du Travail’, Paris, Seuil, 1973, pp.4l-81 (English translation The Division of Labour, the Labour Process and Class Struggle in Modern Capitalism’, Harvester Press, in press); (‘it was not the steam engine which gave us capitalism; it was capitalism which gave us to the steam engine,’ p.81).

14The notation in this diagram is based on a very approximate translation from the French classification:—

HS Highly skilled worker (Ouvrier Hautement Qualifié)

S Skilled worker (Ouvrier Professionel)

US Unskilled worker (Ouvrier Specialise)

The OS category includes all those working directly on an assembly line including semi-skilled workers. The OP category includes those with some degree of technical, engineering or administrative training or qualification.

15The high degree of training required for these operations of supervision and control has allowed some to argue, somewhat theologically, that: ‘the prospects for small series production in the next ten years are astonishing: the shop-floor worker will become much more rare than the machine-tool minder or the trained maintenance engineer’, (Ronald Indédale, ‘Les Liens avec 1’Usine de demain’, CECIMO — Comité Européen de Cooperation des Industries de la Machine-Outil — 1975, p.4).

16Cf. Usine Nouvelle, June 1975, p. 135. ‘For small series production numerical control also gives us a solution to the problem of highly-trained manpower, which more and more difficult to recruit in the engineering industry. One can, in fact, obtain the required degree of precision using operators with a level of training less than would be needed for conventional machine tools.’

17In fact discontinuous processes are still involved in steel production.

18Cf. R. J. Barnett and Ronald E. Muller, ‘Global Reach, the Power of Multinational Corporations’, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1974.

19Some of these points are taken from a duplicated paper by B. Coriat, ‘Un Development créateur du Taylorisme: le Fordisme’, Jan. 1975, 21p.

20B. Coriat, art, cit., pp.5-6.

21B. Coriat, art. cit.; p.20.

22Cf. — S. Bologna, P. Carpignano, A. Negri, ‘Crisi e Organizzazione Operaia’, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1974, 199p.

— A. Serafini, ‘L’Operaio Multinazionale in Europa’, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1974, 244p.

— S. Bologna, C.P. Rawick, M. Gobini, A. Negri, L. Ferrari-Bravo, F. Gambino ‘Operai e Stato’, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1973, 236p.

— L. Ferrari-Bravo, ‘Imperialisfno e Classe Operaia Multinazionale’, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1975, 362p.

23Cf. research conducted by the Industrialisation and Development Department IREP, in particular to the studies directed by Jacques Perrin;

— ‘Place et Fonction de l’Ingénierie dans le Systeme Industriel Francais’ Grenoble, 1973, 2 vols.

— ‘Les Entreprises d’Ingénierie. Les Besoins en Formation Supérieure’, Grenoble, Feb. 1974.

24Research in progress by the Industrialisation and Development Department: ‘Sur l’Evolution du Systeme de Transport, les Transitaires, auxiliaires …’

25‘Transfert des Techniques et Usines Clefs en Mains’, Telonde, No. 1., 1975, p.42. For a critical analysis cf. P. Judet and J. Perrin, ‘Du “Clef en Main” au “Produit en Main”’, Grenoble, IREP, May 1975, 12p.

26Cf. M. Bel and J . Perrin, ‘Les Entreprises d’Ingénierie, les Besoins en Formations Supérieures’, Grenoble, IREP, Feb. 1974, p.83.

27Cf: — Michel Freyssenet, ‘Les Rapports de Production: Travail Productif et Travail Improductif’, Paris, CSU, 1971, 50p.

— J . Nagels, ‘Travail Collectif et Travail Production’, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1974, 324p.

— A. Berthoud, ‘Travail Productif et Productivité du Travail chez Marx’, Paris, Maspero, 1974.

— Jacques Gouverneur, ‘Le travail “Productif” en Regime Capitaliste’, Louvain, Université Catholique de Louvain, Institut des Sciences Econorniques, Jan. 1975, 68p.

28André Gorz, ‘Critique de la Division du Travail’, Paris, Seuil, 1973, p.112 (English translation: ‘The Division of Labour: the Labour Process and Class Struggle in Modern Capitalism’, Harvester Press, in press; this book also contains the essays by Marglin, and Pignon and Querzola mentioned above). Gorz also says (ibid. p.254): ‘technical and scientific workers have, at the very centre of their technical role, the role also of reproducing the conditions and forms of the domination of capital over labour’.

29— Georges Friedman, ‘Problemes Humains du Machinisme Industriel’, Paris, Gallimard, 1956, 419p.

— Alain touraine, ‘L’Evolution du Travail Ouvrier aux Usines Renault’, Paris, CNRS, 1955, 202p.

Ph. Bernoux, D. Motte, J. Saglio, ‘Trois Ateliers d’OS’, Paris, Les Editions Ouvrieres, 1973, 215p.

— ‘Conditions du Travail, le taylorisme en Question’, Sociologie du Travail, Oct-Dec, No 4, 1974.

— A. Wisner, A. Laville, E. Richard, ‘Les conditions de-Travail des Femmes OS de la Construction Electronique’, Paris, CNAM, 1973.

30Claude Duran, ‘Les Politiques Patronales d’Enrichissement des Taches’, Sociologie du Travail, No.4, 1974, p.366.

31On the problem of job-enrichment, see Sociologie du Travail No 4, 1974, and also:

— Rapport Delamotte, ‘Recherches en Vue d’une Organisation plus Luminaire du Travail Industriel’, La Documentation Francaise, March 1972.

— John R. Maher, ‘New Perspectives in Job Enrichment’, New York, van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971.

A critique of job enrichment is developed by Dominique Pignon and Jean querzola in ‘Dictature et Democratic dans la Production’, in ed. A. Gorz, op.cit., pp 103-159.

32Cf. D. Pignon and J. Querzola in A. Gorz, op.cit., p.127.

33Maurice de Montmollin, ‘Taylorisme et Anti-Taylorisme’, in Sociologie du Travail , No 4. 1974, p.382.

34Ph. Bernoux and J. Ruffier: ‘Les Groupes Semi-autonomes de Production’, Sociologie du Travail, No 4, 1974, pp.400-401.

35Yves Debost, ‘L’Evolution de la Manutention dans l’Industrie Automobile’, in Yves Debost and Bernard Real, ‘Les Rapports des Industries de la Manutention avec l’Evo1ution des Processus de Production at des Moyens de Transport dans le Cours de l’Internationalisation du Capital‘ Grenoble, IREP, March 1975, p.130.

36Le Monde, June 19th 1974.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s