Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

The Ambivalence of Organisation

I just noticed the following in an article by Kenneth Davidson in The Age Business Day:

It is an inconvenient truth that unionised work forces can contribute to labour productivity by driving up wages faster than non-unionised work forces and this provides a stimulus to innovation, as employers will be motivated to economise on the use of labour by capital substitution.

Although this wasn’t my focus when I wrote recently on Marx’s chapter on the Working Day, this is one of the themes that plays out in that and subsequent chapters: the organisation of the working classes and the regulation of capital by the state and the public sphere are positioned in Marx’s narrative as factors that open the door for properly modern, mechanised industry – for the ongoing increases of productivity that characterise capitalism.

Davidson’s article doesn’t go on to address the paradox that working class organisation can thus lead to a displacement of the need for human labour – or the question so central to Marx, of how the need for human labour nevertheless continues to be reasserted in new forms, no matter how high productivity rises.

For readers from outside Australia who might click through to the article: no, Davidson isn’t just engaging in rhetorical flourish when he mentions the need to reinstate unfair dismissal laws.

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