Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Despite my antipathy to that Charles Platt piece, it just gave me a mind-blowing insight. (Possibly :-)

Maybe read with the John Robb too.

OK, here's the simplified history of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The 19th created the industrial model of production, and also therefore the industrial model of organized labour mirroring the work structure. Aggregation around the mine, or factory or industry "sector" etc.

From the mid to second half of the 20th century, that industrial model broke down to be replaced by a more free-wheeling, network shaped economy : smaller, more specialist companies; service businesses; fiendishly complex, transnational supply chains etc. etc. And organized labour on the old model similarly evaporated because there were few large, monolithic, employers and labour was spread across multiple smaller-scale groupings with divergent and out-of-sync. interests.

However, here comes Platt's quite breathtakingly stark and explicit defence of low wages : why should anyone believe that they have the right to a salary sufficient to live by themselves? Or put this another way. As the employers relentlessly try to drive down the cost of labour, there's no reason to think that they should stop at the minimum required to support distinct nuclear families.

It would be even more cost-effective for the employer if workers were aggregated together in larger clusters, sleeping in dormitories, eating in shared canteens and with food, bedding and life-support services bought in bulk.

This is not science fiction. It's China. The "China price" can always undercut the UK or America if it doesn't need to support workers living in family units. And the Platt answer is (presumably) that the workers of the US and Europe should move in together to compete. This is what is meant by "race to the bottom".

But what may draw our attention is that whenever capital creates a new aggregation of workers it also create a new locus of political awareness and action. A new political entity, united by common fate and interest. Could the "dormitory" become such a unit?

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