WORK - ALIENATION
Alienation theories in an era of chronic under-employment and over-work
Synopsis: The ideological disorientation of the working class demands a restatement of the once obvious. This return to basics needs to be done in ways which rework those insights for the current stage of globalisation. The task calls for both fact-grubbing and concepts. In ten years of research, ACIRRT has established an unrivalled empirical base about working life in Australia. Those reports have been done from an empiricist position which is part of the impasse confronting labour movements everywhere. This discussion paper reaches out for a counter to the grand project of capital expansion by renewing debate over the meaning of work itself.
The Australian economy since the 1940s
market socialism as oxymoron.
previous commentaries on alienation:
the benefits from work.
a teleology of work.
consumption as work time.
Conclusion: The new fetishism of capital.
paper offers little survey data for such a decline in interest in
alienation, or for why it has occurred. My guess is that the urge to
increase the number of jobs has deflected attention from their capacity
to accommodate creativity. Nowadays, quality employment means limiting
hours or ensuring parental leave, in short, being away from work.
changes to management and unionism since the 1980s are unlikely to have
increased job satisfaction, or the operative’s control over work
processes. In many cases, the new rules have made matters worse.
Insecurity of tenure and the greater effort expected over longer or
broken shifts have intensified displeasure, lifting levels of stress.
Any waning of Fordism has not ended the degradation of labour.
ALP’s erstwhile shadow minister for employment, Cheryl Kernot,
recalled her introduction to the idea of “the dignity of work”
through the 1974 television series of Jacob Bronowski’s The
Ascent of Man. After acknowledging the problem of the jobless, she
turned aside from work as a source of human dignity to “the one issue
that Bronowski didn’t have to address for those who do have work, and
that is, balancing work and life”. Chernot argued that “workers with
a stable and happy life outside work are better, more productive workers
inside working hours”. She failed to consider whether happiness at
work is a good in itself, and whether a satisfying job enriches life
outside the workplace.
Beder’s Selling the work ethic
(2000) pays little attention to the improvement of life at work. Her
five passing mentions of “alienation” indicate scant acquaintance
with the vision that work should be rewarding in every dimension.
A further indication of the fading concern about alienation is to be found in ACIRRT’s Australia at work (1999). Its concluding chapter on new directions for managing work says little about a sense of fulfilment from work. Instead, its authors promote a new pattern of employment across a life cycle, “a working life model” which focuses on “workers defined more broadly as people who work for multiple employers over the course of key phases of their life cycle, within the context of integrated industrial and social security rights provided by the state”.
Nonetheless, Australia at work proposes that “the treatment of people at work is one of the leading indicators of a civilised society” (italics in original). This sentiment comes close to alienation without quite getting there. The emphasis is on what management does and what governments provide by way of rights and entitlements. The ACIRRT volume also neglected industrial democracy, or worker participation. Did the anxiety to hold back the erosion of conditions through individual agreements twist attention away from the collective control of the work processes, and hence away from the provision of work that enlarges the humanity of its performers?
reason for raising the topic of alienation is political. The socialist
project collapses once it neglects the dignity of labour. Marxism
discredits itself when it fails to pursue the sources of immiserisation
in capitalism. One task for socialists is to keep the ideological stakes
high. In particular, we must demand more than a return to full
employment. All should have work that is as attractive aesthetically and
socially as it is materially. The utopian element in both strands is
what makes them part of practical politics. To ask why more jobs and
greater satisfaction are impossible is to question the logic of
capital’s expansion. A utopian dimension about goals has never been in
conflict with a scientific approach to their implementation.
The degree of interest
in alienation among socialists has swerved along with the level of
employment and the political strength of the labour movement. That
strength requires a class analysis of its interests and opportunities if
it is not to be trapped in its own achievements in holding back the
demands of capital expansion. The
dissolving of the distinction between Left and Right brings the
advantage of allowing us to see that those labels have always concealed
how the crucial political divide is the expansion of capital at the
expense of labour and nature.
economic contexts, 1945-65
The good old days
Pope Products Ltd in Adelaide opened a recreation hall in 1954 as part of the paternalism of its founder, Barton Pope. At the opening ceremony, the audience of business executives, union officials and employees stood “to attention while a record of ‘The Call to the People of Australia’ was played” – “The Call” being an appeal for moral regeneration in the fight against Communism. In a move typical of South Australia’s political economy, Pope had initiated, in 1950, an annual cricket match between unionists and employers, playing for the “Ashes of Industrial Discord”.
Industrial relations in Australia were constrained on both sides by the Commonwealth and State systems of conciliation and arbitration, with their standardising of wages and conditions, and by the legislative interventions of Labor governments. The employers’ desire to dismantle the uniform system in favour of incentives and managerial prerogatives never disappeared but was displaced by their use of its penal powers to hold down wages in the 1950s. Queensland employees, organised through the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs, mounted a campaign against a new social order of planning. Tame-cat unions became company unions in the vehicle building and other industries, often by employers’ backing the Industrial Groups in union elections.
During the 1950s, the “human relations” approach gained ground often from larger firms transferring procedures from the United Kingdom or the USA, and as managerial training moved into universities. As offices came to resemble factory production lines, managers of both were advised to adopt a human relations approach to industrial relations. A primer in this movement, J. A. C. Brown’s The Social Psychology of Industry, enjoyed fourteen reprints in the twenty years after its publication in 1954. The aim was to make the employee feel at home at work, mitigating the effects of alienation in order to prevent their eruption into strikes or anti-capitalist sentiments. What management sees as alienation is often their workers’ resistance to alienation. In his history of The Management of Labour, Christopher Wright traced these shifts and conflicts, and the tardiness of many firms to employ personnel managers, let alone trained ones.
To redress the amateurism of management, the Commonwealth sponsored the Administrative Staff College to train managers in 1955. Seven years later, the Chairman of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Warren D. McDonald, recognised:
All industries included a spread of competencies among their managers, from the well-prepared and forward-looking to the lucky, the second-rate, and those executives whom Donald Horne accused of glorying in “a look-no-brains attitude”.
Time-and-motion studies and incentive payments remained part of the managerial curriculum, yet they were open to disruption by employers as well as workers. At the head office of the project building firm, A. V. Jennings, tea-breaks in the canteen were a time for “a laugh and a chat”. When a supervisor tried to limit those exchanges by ringing a bell, the son of the founder had it disconnected. The smaller scale of many enterprises into the 1960s meant that the owners participated in the daily rounds of labour, or, at least, could be seen doing the books in the front office.
Contentment and informality were far from universal. European immigrant labourers suffered at work because of language barriers and other social isolations. In the late 1940s, clay products firms welcomed “Balts” because they were contracted under their immigration arrangements to work wherever they were directed for two years. Because much of the work was with pick and shovel, many soon had medical grounds to quit. Their rates of turnover were part of a wider problem of workforce mobility, averaging 7% in March 1949. Personnel officers did little more than chase potential employees. That task disappeared once “the availability of large numbers of migrant workers relieved management of the need to develop more advanced personnel techniques”. The immigrants also found that their qualifications were not accepted and so had to start again as labourers when they had been skilled tradesmen in their home countries. Hence, many saw work as the place to make the money that would give them the material compensations for a lack of status in Australian society.
Workers of any
background could also miss out on social returns at work if they were
exhausted from industries with little mechanisation, or from working
overtime, or at a second job. Sleeping through the lunch break was
common. The time required to get from home to work was rarely as vast as
the two hours each way for “Balts” housed at Fisherman’s Bend.
However, all travel time increased throughout the 1950s and 1960s,
partly because of industrial and residential zoning. A labourer who
could walk to his job in five minutes in 1949, would take a 30-minute
bus trip when he moved to a new house in the suburbs and then as long in
a private car to an outer suburban site after the first factory had been
closed as a noxious industry.
Quantitative evidence for the levels of alienation in workplaces is fragmentary. A 1950 survey of 500 wage earners found more support for “socialism”, defined as government ownership to benefit all people equally, than for “nationalisation”, defined as government ownership. Questioned about their preferred type of employer, 37% opted for the government. Of those then working in firms with fewer than fifty staff, 40% favoured jobs with small firms, whereas 35% of those in larger enterprises wanted to remain in bigger workforces. Nonetheless, more than 60% of those in such operations were critical of their employers’ monopoly pricing and profits. Although 90% workers said their own bosses were fair, a third said that the worst feature of employers was their greed or excessive demands. Another third named the employers’ “inhumanity”, as evidenced in “no team spirit”, unfriendliness and lack of trust. Sample opinion polls among Ford Motor Co. employees in 1951 and 1952 reported high levels of contentment in current jobs, with only four in ten wanting more responsibility.
Two surveys of women in the clothing trade in 1965 and 1966 revealed a low 4% who did not care for their job, a third who liked it on the whole, and up to a third who loved it. This high level of enthusiasm came despite discriminatory wage rates. That left-wing women writers such as Dorothy Hewitt and Mena Calthorpe could incorporate sexual harassment into their fiction without making it a point of contention indicates how widespread the practice was.
These contrary survey results suggest some apprehension on the part of the workers that organisations with social linkages were preferable to impersonal systems. The questions in all these investigations were framed within the prevailing management and ownership structures. The answers cannot be extrapolated to any altered social order but they do indicate that one hangover for any post-capitalist society will be the impact of hundreds of years of having learned one’s place.
The authorities were uncertain about the nature of automation. The professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of New South Wales, R. E. Vowells, identified four stages: mechanisation; automatic control; computerised control for complete automation; and ultimately thinking machines. In a 1957 Fabian Society pamphlet, Automation, friend or foe?, Ken Kemshead, a working technician and a Marxist, grasped both the continuities and changes involved in automation which he saw as machines running machines; flows between automated machines; and computers.
For many socialists, automation promised to realise Marx’s prophesy that the social revolution would erupt through a conflict between new means of production and the old social relations. Automation would also underwrite the superabundance of material goods essential for the communist ethic of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. How automation would affect the prospects for a universalising of creative activity was mentioned less often.
As had been true from the eighteenth century, mechanisation brought relief from labouriousness but added to tedium:
The promise that the age of plastics would be “as interesting and attractive as it is modern” had, by 1952, had been reduced to the routine of “too many young people finding themselves with dead-end jobs” that required no more than “the placing of powder in a machine and the pulling of a lever”.
Capitalism’s avoidance of another depression in the late 1940s, and the subsequent sprouting of the affluent society, offered an opportunity for trade unionists to interest themselves in the non-monetary rewards of work. Economism proved more appealing. Kemshead argued that automation required a transitional program to socialism, including a 30-hour week, but made no mention of creative work. The escape from work came through a 40-hour after 1947. In 1957, the ACTU, endorsed a 35-hour week. By 1953, one major employer, Sir John Storey, Chairman of the Overseas Telecommunications Corporation, alleged that most wage-earners put in no more than 33 hours a week “after allowing for public holidays, tea breaks, late starting and early finishing”.
The new South Wales Labor government provided for long-service from 1951-52, followed by Queensland and Victoria, and for Commonwealth Public Servants in 1957. NSW established three weeks annual leave after 1958. In periods of near over-full employment, these measures brought more opportunities for overtime than they did for either paid creative work or rewarding leisure.
Australian Public Opinion Poll had reported 60% in favour of the 40-hour week when it was announced by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in 1947. After six months experience, 70 % said the reform should have been delayed; a year later, the percentage saying the reduction had come too soon was down to 60%. A majority favoured a 42-hour week. Among semi-skilled workers, 75% opposed any increase on 40 hours. As late as November 1951, 54% favoured a return to the 44-hour, although the semi-skilled and ALP voters were 75-80% opposed. This resistance to shorter hours among even some employees stemmed from their belief that real wages were being eroded through inflation caused by the loss of production. Hence, the lack of enthusiasm for a reduced working week was in effect a demand for greater spending power.
for those who doubt that the market can serve labour came from the
vice-chairman of the G7 Group of industrialised nations, Alan S.
Blinder. Delivering the 1999 Adam Smith Award Address, he reported that,
since the 1980s, corporations had stepped up their treatment of labour
‘as “just another commodity” to be bought and sold on “a spot
market”. The reality, he said, was catching up with the market model.
Great Transformation (1944), economic anthropologist Karl Polanyi
observed that the free-market economist Ludwig von Mises
had recognised the injustice behind the free market position under which
the unemployed must agree to take any job offered to them: “It is not
for the commodity to decide where it should be offered for sale, to what
purpose it should be used, at what price it should be allowed to change
hands, and in what manner it should be consumed or destroyed”. Polanyi
thereby spelt out the consequences of an deregulated market in labour
that its local advocates, such as Flinders University Professor Judith
Sloan, are reluctant to acknowledge, whether out of shame, or for fear
of the reaction from workers should her assumptions be made explicit. A
recent call from philosophers at the same university for volunteer
slaves at least had the merit of truth in labeling.
Minister Tony Abbott, for example, attacks those among the unemployed
who are reluctant to abandon their homes in order to sell themselves
hundreds of miles from their families and friends. Minister Abbott thus
assumes that labour is a commodity with no ties to place or kin, and
with no investments in housing. This attitude comes from a spokesperson
for a government which simultaneously deploys rhetoric about ‘the
family as the best social welfare system ever devised’ to claw back
linkages between production and consumption are intrinsic to the
replenishment of labour power. Hence, even if labour power could be
exempted from the rule of market forces, the impress of price mechanisms
on all other commodities would impinge on labour power through
exchanging wages for the means of reproduction on a daily and
Bertell Ollman reasons that a system where labour is a thing can never be socialist. His critics counter that, without price mechanisms, socialism is doomed to inefficiency. If both claims are correct, then any kind of socialism is out of the question. The disappearance of that possibility would affect the relative confidence of the corporations and the working classes even more than did the collapse of the centrally planned economies after 1989. That upheaval tilted the class struggle in the West further in favour of bosses because they felt more confident while the workers had less reason to hope that there could be an alternative, a situation summed up as TINA: There Is No Alternative, or more academically as Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History. As Joan Robinson argued, the relative strength of the contending classes determines the level of wages.
Socialists seeking an economic program after the implosion of the command
economies are puzzling over the extent to which the market and society
are capable of serving each other. Those who think a balance is
achievable lean on Polanyi to show that most markets have operated
without taking charge of the economy, still less of society. The other
camp contends that Polanyi had demonstrated that the crux of the great
transformation was its reduction of the worker to another commodity.
Capital, they argue, cannot surrender control over working conditions
without sapping its capacity to expand. Those socialists further
consider that the acceptance of labour power as a commodity is to
abandon their reason for being.
Delegates to the ALP National Conference in Hobart in July 2000 ignored this conundrum. They followed their vote for free trade rather than fair trade by adopting programs to treat health and education services as if they were not commodities. The ALP leadership has yet to detail how they can subordinate the market to society on a few social issues while allowing market forces to dominate everywhere else. Even to fence the market out of secondary areas of economic life is a daunting task. Polanyi appreciated that to “take labour out of the market means a transformation as radical as was the establishment of a competitive labour market”. Where is the organisation with the will and resources to tackle that reversal?
the Anglo-Saxon Left, Erich Fromm’s Man
for himself (1948) and The
Sane Society (1955) prepared the way for the1959 translation of
Marx’s Economic and
Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844-45, followed by Istvan Mezaros Marx’s
Theory of Alienation (1970). The 1971 translation of Georg Lukacs’
History and Class Consciousness
revealed how his 1922 account of reification had paralleled the concerns
of the EPM, which was not
published for another decade. 
In another of the peculiarities of the English, an historian, not a philosopher, reclaimed the concept of creativity through social labour as a means for overcoming capitalism. E. P. Thompson’s 1955 biography of William Morris celebrated the revolutionary socialist who had called for work to be art, and art to be recognised as work, so that both should be liberating. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class in 1963 reinvigorated socialist politics by demonstrating that class was a collective experience, not just a thing. That Marxists had written one-sidedly about class as a thing revealed how easy it is to absorb the common sense of exploitation as reality, in this case, by treating reification as a given, rather than a condition to be remade.
Thompson’s achievement highlighted a different tension. One part of him wanted to embrace all of humanity while the other side sought to raise class consciousness by humanising how the proletariat understood its own circumstances. A Marxist humanism in revulsion against the Gulag risked falling into line with Schiller’s entreaties for all men to be brothers, which resound through Beethoven’s choral symphony. Furthermore, the necessity for the proletariat to become a class-for-itself, that is, conscious of its position and possibilities if it is to prove politically effective does not eliminate the conditions under which all classes are always things-in-themselves.
This conflict between two expressions of humanism could not be resolved by equating the working class with the longer-term interests of our species. When that role had been borne by the capitalists, the phase in human liberation did not prevent their killing millions of their fellows. Socialists had either to abandon taking sides in the class struggle, or accept that the suppression of the bourgeois state remained part of a class-based humanism. With the exception of grouplets such as the Red Army Faction, First World socialists have been able to avoid that choice in practice because the occasions for class violence have been absent. When not cheering on Third World rebellions, we have been more likely to take up the cause of an undifferentiated species by opposing war, nuclear energy or genetic modification.
Yet, the choice cannot be avoided for always and everywhere as was shown in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the citadels of US imperialism. To speak of those assaults as “crimes against humanity” is to accept that our species possesses undifferentiated interests. Rather, the task is to specify what such values might be, and then to decide which social groups express them. That the desired values are not accepted by the perpetrators of the killings is axiomatic, anymore than principles of humanity are embodied in the US security state and its collateral corporations.
The popularity of any notion is proportional to the ideas against which it is a reaction. Hence, twenty years of Stalinism spurred on the enthusiasm for notions of alienation among Marxists. Similarly, the acceptance of structuralist methodologies by the generation of 1968 reacted against the individualism that had flowed from the previous flight from determinism. Althusserian rigour privileged the mature Marx over the young Marx – the Marxist against the Hegelian. The Manuscripts were out: reading Capital was back. Detritus from all these approaches strew what remains of the socialist project, yet remain as the measure of its worth. Bricolage offers a chance to discover odd connections as well as the danger of eclecticism, and is less to be feared than becoming entombed beneath whatever notions one imbibed as an undergraduate.
In contrast to the philosophical treatments of alienation, a call to refocus on the labour process itself came in 1974 from Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital, subtitled The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. “Fordism” entered the lexicon of the Left.
More potent as a source for fresh approaches to social equality was the women’s movement which surged along with stepped-up rates of female participation in the paid workforce. At the same time, campaigns against militarism and racism criticised the biological essentialism that regarded males as natural aggressors, or skin colour as an IQ marker. The distinction between sex and gender gained acceptance. These debates reformulated the concept of a “species being” from which individuals, classes or groups could be alienated.
regard to alienation, feminists re-opened the debate over “productive
labour”. The adjective “productive” implies that the
“unproductive” kind in the home was morally less valuable than that
of men in the market. Such ranking is irrelevant to Marx’s definition
of “productive labour’ since its supply of surplus value can take
place only in the market. At issue is not the worthiness of the labour
itself but its place in the social relationships of capitalism. The
ironing that a wife does for her husband is “unproductive”: if she
takes a job ironing in the laundry to which she sends his shirts then
her labour is “productive” – that is, productive of surplus value.
Discussion of this question rarely achieved even this degree of clarity
because women were right to suspect that the theorising was sullied with
the chauvinism of those advancing it. Nonetheless, the feminist
challenge re-invigorated the discussion of creative labour and thus of
how the alienation of every kind of work may be overcome.
a Cossack village, a mile from Tanais, the English journalist, Neal
Ascherson, encounted a priest who asked:
though we may be about Ascherson’s transcription of this homily, its
sentiments evoke a world we have lost. No matter how remote from our
time and place, the priest posed the question central to this paper:
what are the virtues in making?
Tse-tung offered one answer when he responded to his own question about
where correct ideas came from by asking:
they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come
from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of
social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and
Of course, social practices are also where incorrect ideas come from. None of Mao’s triad of social practices lets us know the correct from the incorrect. Yet, his epistemology is from where we must start. Through making and doing, we learn about the nature of materials (science), of social relations, and of collective change.
ourselves, our social being and our natural habitat has made us human. Frederick
Engels summed up this aspect of human
nature as our grestest creation in the title
of his 1876 article The
part played by labour in the transition from ape to man.
That outlook was furthered by the founder of Pre-History, the
Sydney-born and educated V. Gordon Childe, in his Man
Makes Himself (1936):
had illustrated how understanding came from activity.
treated humankind and nature as one. Theologians saw humanity as a
special creation. Scientists now picture our species as part of nature,
yet possessed of power over nature. As a Materialist, Marx began from
the proposition that human beings share a “natural being” with other
species, primarily in physiological needs. In addition, he recognised
that we have a “species being” which distinguishes us from other
animals, principally by our self-consciousness capacity to remake our
species through the creation of social actions:
good or ill, our species is still remaking itself through work, through
tool- and machine-making, through scientific experiments, and through
the drift from magic and religion onto science a curtain fell between
the ages of the world. The Classicist Bernard Knox explained that
included Tiresias and Cassandra, one blinded and de-sexed, the other
discredited and slain. Although a Chiliastic strand in Christianity
looked forward to the Second Coming, the notion that we moved forward
into the future did not triumph until after 1000AD, an achievement which
was in part hubris, and in part the consequence of work on ourselves
through our working on the rest of nature.
Vico in The New Science (1744)
averred that “the world of civil society has certainly been made by
men, and that its principles are therefore to be found within the
modifications of our own human mind”. By contrast, we cannot
understand “the world of nature”, said Vico, ”since God made it,
He alone knows”.
That limit on our knowledge has been shrunk by various kinds of work on
nature. Stephen Dawking recalled how the French determinist, the Marquis
de Laplace, had confined God “to the areas that nineteenth-century
science did not understand”. These days, Hawking continued, modern
cosmologists are leaving god with nothing to do except to say why the
Work liberated our
species in as much as human beings no longer saw ourselves as sport for
the gods. Scientists and
technologists freed us from the blind necessity of the natural world. In
1513, Machiavelli could advise his prince on how Fortune might be
opposed, providing one of the first expositions of the modernising
The control of nature was a protracted achievement. When the New England
witch-hunter, Cotton Mather, supported inoculation against smallpox in
1727, fellow Christians set fire to his house for displaying “a
distrust in God’s overriding care”.
the 1860s, developments in geology and biology had revealed our place in
nature while we were engorging our capacity to reshape its course. On
one side, we became freer from spooks just as we were accepting our
place in a great chain of becoming. It is no paradox that our
understanding of how we are part of nature became possible because of
our greater influence over it. Work set us free from the fetishism under
which we had conceived nature after our own image and concerns, for
instance, by portraying thunder as a god.
Marx believed that our understanding of the world depended upon our
engagement with it, he derided education that was confined to
contemplation as an equivalent to theology. In the last of the ten
measures that he proposed in the Communist
Manifesto for the proletariat to become the dominant class, he
called for the “Combination of education with industrial
Marx did not mean that children should be sent down the mines. Indeed,
he scorned the masters whose comfort rested on the ignorance of pit boys
and factory lasses who did not know that they lived in England, that its
capital was London, and that its monarch was a woman named Victoria:
late by night perhaps, self-denying Mr Glass-Capital, primed with
port-wine, reels out of his club homeward droning out idiotically,
“Britons never, never shall be slaves!”
opposition to this Podsnappery, Marx hoped to build on the efforts of
Robert Owen so that “the education of the future … will combine
productive labour with instruction and gymnastics … as the only method
of producing fully developed human beings”.
light of the importance that historical Materialists give to work, what
are we to make of Marx’s picture of communism as a society where
people will fish in the morning, hunt in the afternoon and critically
criticise after dinner? Was this Arcadia no more than a swipe at his
opponents, the Holy Family of Young Hegelians, addicted as they were to
Critical Criticism? The target was broader. Marx had no reason to oppose
specialist knowledge. His objection was when the particularisation of
skills in a division of labour fractured human beings into cretinism.
Marx’s idyll not
only rises above the division of labour but comes close to praising
idleness: huntin’, criticisin’ and fishin’. There is no
contradiction. The benefits from work as human activity in no way
exclude the attractiveness of doing nothing from time to time. Social
parasites are another matter. Any social order that allows them to live
without working deserves to be swept aside. Play, on the other hand, is
another form of social practice, of work in the sense of which we are
speaking. Marx condemned how ‘compulsory work for the capitalist
usurped the place …[of] … the children’s play”.
The 1950s hobby of painting-by-numbers seems as remote from free play as
it does from deepening one’s apprehension of nature. Yet, one
practitioner reported how that commercialised practice had helped her to
see: “A tree used to be just a tree to me. Now I often see as many as
ten different colors in a single tree”.
of liberating work from its capitalist chains, progressives are now
inclined to devalue it. In Australia
at work, ACIRRT accepted that “Reduction in standard hours of work
is an indication of how advanced a civilisation is”.
This claim is historically debatable. Hunter gatherers spent less time
providing for their physical needs than have many agricultural
societies. For contemporary Australia, the claim is also dubious.
Shorter hours with an increase in the speed of the line raise stress
levels more than they advance civilisation.
The German labour movement is regretting the 35-hour week, while French bosses are delighted by it because work processes have been intensified with few additional positions created, which was the rationale for its introduction. Employers in Australia are less frightened at any fall in productivity by shorter hours than at a loss of managerial prerogatives to treat labour as another commodity.
In Selling the Work Ethic, Sharon Beder denigrated human labour as a
civilising experience. She is ill at ease with work because it must
alter nature, which she wants to protect against human destructiveness.
In part, her prejudice is the result of her conflating “work”,
“the work ethic” and “hard work”. This confusion follows from
her failure to distinguish human activity from paid employment, or what
has been called desirable work as against imposed labour. After giving
statistics on depressive illness, she declared: “Work is clearly not
healthy for individuals”. The element of truth in that view needs to
be restated as “Certain kinds of work are not healthy”. Beder
considers work to be “one of the least challenged aspects of
industrial culture, one that has also been incorporated into other
cultures and political ideologies such as socialism”. Again, the
justice of that proposition needs to be balanced against the socialist
tradition of valuing human inventiveness and of criticising alienation,
thereby promoting a fund of challenges about humanising work. She gets
herself into the position of deprecating all human activity, including
gardening and handicrafts. Nowhere does she indicate what people are to
do if we do not work in the broadest sense of being engaged with our
social and physical worlds.
about the future are of a piece with her picture of the past. “Ancient
Roman and Greek workers apparently had abundant holidays”. Having thus
abolished slavery with a keystroke, she achieves the same for serfdom:
“Nor did medieval workers work any more than was necessary for their
subsistence. If a worker could support his family by working three days
a week, it was unlikely he would work any more days”.
Heigh ho for Merrie England! It is true that the class struggle raged
around making reluctant serfs supply their lords with produce. It is not
true that the time or effort that serfs allocated to work was decided by
To overlook the coercive element in labour relations is common among
apologists for exploitation. That it should surface in an author
striving to redress the inequities of capitalism is reason enough to
restate the precepts of the Materialist theory of alienation.
teleology of work
the 1980s, the British industrial designer Mike Cooley took the title Architect or Bee from Capital
where Marx wrote
much is almost acceptable, but Marx’s next sentence went too far:
suggest that the final product of the worker’s imagination is ever the
same as that conceived at the start is to fall for a theological
epistemology, denying historical materialism in which human beings must
learn by doing. An ability to adapt as we go along distinguishes the
architect from the bee. The latter must wait for natural selection.
Utzon conceived a shape for the Sydney Opera House but, even before his
forced resignation, that building was never an exact transcription of
sketches into concrete and ceramics. At every stage, he and his team of
engineers and tradesmen had to amend the design and the construction
processes. Only through those adjustments could they achieve the eighth
Marx’s parable of the architect and the bee was a hangover of god-structured thinking. Human beings require experimentation. The theology behind Marx’s architect-and-bee example becomes obvious when we recall Plato’s concept of Ideal Forms, in which all human endeavours are a poor copies of a pre-existing perfection, a view which Plato set down in this exchange between Socrates and Glaucon concerning a carpenter:
kind of Idealism is what historical Materialists still have to combat,
often as not inside our own thinking.
Consumption as fulfillment
man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be
sufficient to maintain him … there is however a certain rate below
which it seems impossible to reduce, for any considerable time, the
ordinary wages even of the lowest species of labour.
Malthus chorused that truth about life under capitalism:
later would capital need workers both as consuming machines as much as
That realignment of the labourers’ usefulness to capital’s cycles of production and consumption brought a switch in economic orthodoxy. In place of an approach focused on production in the labour theory of value there emerged one devoted to consumption, where marginal utility was taken as the determinant of price. Mainstream economists now laud this change as the attainment of science, a claim which maroons their hero, Adam Smith. Radicals have accused the profession of falling into prestidigitation once the honesty of Smith or Ricardo proved hazardous in the face of a proletariat which could read and organise. Leaving aside the issue of why the new doctrine appeared, its acceptance as positive science required expanding sales, as luxuries, such as sugar and tea, became necessities. The endorsement of the naturalness of neo-Classical economics needed there to be lots more people making more choices at the margin of their wants, instead of being lucky if they could scrounge enough to eat.
more when the expansion of capital depends on mass consumption, the more
will the fulcrum between work and marketing shift towards the latter.
This change will next be explored in two domains: the integration of
sales with work, and the selling of purchasing.
the contrary, capital is also full of life, avid for its own expansion,
vital at inducing new needs in consumers, as Marx spelt out in the late
For this expansion of capital to occur, the separation of workers from the means of production had to sever them from their supplying themselves with the use values they need for the reproduction of their labour power. Much that had been made inside the domestic sphere had to become commodities, that is, produced in the market economy:
This embryo has grown into the mass marketing through an induction of needs, underwritten by consumer credit.
developing this line of analysis in 1977, the Canadian media scholar,
Dallas W. Smythe, asked his fellow Marxists to recognise that there is
no such thing as “free time”. In the era of monopolising capitals,
the consumption of branded commodities is another part of working life.
Smythe’s colleague, William Livant, put the situation thus:
The commercial media use the news and entertainment to package their audience’s purchasing power for sale to merchandisers. The time we give to those so-called leisure activities is appropriated by the communications business. Corporations sponsor sporting fixtures and fine art exhibitions as vehicles for selling so that physical and mental exercise delivers us to the snare. Moreover, time away from work always involves replenishing the mental and muscular vigour needed to please capital.
Capitalism brings immiserisation as much as impoverishment. In material terms, the poverty level is raised or lowered to match the needs of capital. The socially necessary costs of reproducing labour power expand with the expansion of the needs that capital induces. As Canadian Marxist, Michael Lebowitz explains, “each new need becomes a new requirement to work”.
a working class linked to “socialism without doctrine”, or etatism,
the Australian labour movement nonetheless has sustained a strand of
shop-floor control. The syndicalist element in the Industrial Workers of
the World influenced the Communist Party during its first decade, later
to be denounced by the leadership as shearing-shed anarchism.
Inheritances from the One Big Union movement became intertwined with the
shop steward tradition of craft unions, notably the Amalgamated
Engineers, now the Metals Division within the Australian Manufacturing
Workers Union. Among Communists, this impulse towards factory councils
had to compete against the Leninist notion of a vanguard party capturing
the state on behalf of all working peoples.
The longest-standing group pushing for worker control was around the Balmain ironworker, alderman and Trotskyist Nick Origlass. His faction saw self-management as a counter to the bureaucratising of socialist revolution. He extended this outlook into urban conservation battles. A Melbourne comrade, Alan Roberts, developed the notion of the Self-Managed Environment, challenging the Leninist “cadre” in Origlass’s practice.
From the late 1960s, most of the Left factions advanced some variant of worker control or self-management in place of the democratic centralism of the vanguard party. Antonio Gramsci’s participation in the Turin factory occupations around 1920 boosted the popularity of his theoretical writings on hegemony and praxis. The Yugoslav road to socialism stressed self-managed enterprises. In China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution saw workers seizing control of factories. These experiments became beacons to Western revolutionaries but also brought reminders of the conflict between the general welfare under a national plan and the particular interests of the more profitable enterprises.
worker-intellectual and lifelong, if dissident, Australian communist,
Jack Blake, summed up the
change of mood after the 1968 May Days in Paris and the Prague Spring.
In his Revolution from Within
(1971), Blake presented the classic Marxist position that the overthrow
of capitalism was already coming, not from a Leninist insurrection, but
from the conflict between the means and the relations of production –
a revolution from within. The twist was his perception that “the
intellectual culture is being built into the structure of the workforce
itself by the developmental needs of modern industrial society”.
If true, this concept meant that socialist consciousness would not be
starting from scratch and so could avoid the crimes of the Stalin era.
of an academic background in social theory, science and education, two
of the founding editors of the Melbourne-based Marxist journal Arena,
Geoff Sharp and Doug White, developed their “Arena thesis” about
“the intellectually trained”. Their proposition drew on the student
revolt, with its disparaging of the industrial working class as
conservative, although the O’Shea strike of May 1969 king-hit that
Arena editors proposed that
the structure of the work undertaken by the emerging professionals would
bring them into conflict with the commandism of capitalism. This stratum
was “not simply a higher level of skilled worker”, but represented a
new way of working, namely, the application of an analytical approach to
and White gave the example of school teachers who were then rejecting
assessment by an inspectorates and demanding promotional criteria
established by their own professional institute. Academics later put
into practice the freedom to manage their own affairs that had been
seized by their students.
hopeful that student power would be the seedbed for a new generation of
revolutionaries, Sharp and White nonetheless recognised that the needs
of the intellectually trained could be met through adjustments to
capital’s social and cultural regimes, leaving its political and
economic power stronger. In the West, that is what happened as the
personal computer took over from the mainframe, although the
monopolising passed from IBM to Microsoft. By contrast, the crumbling of
the centrally planned economies can be dated from the suppression of the
Prague Spring and, with it, the Czech Academy’s manifesto to ally
socialism with cybernetics.
A political fear of uncensored information blocked the shift from the
primitive accumulation of capital to the supply of consumer goods.
Gorbachev acknowledged that restructuring could not succeed without
openness, but came too late to succeed at either.
the 1970s, government agencies deflected the calls for industrial
democracy away from the overthrow of capitalism towards the reconciling
of workers with their lot. Responding to the 1960s upsurge among the
intellectually trained, the technocratic laborites around South
Australian premier Don Dunstan put forward plans for worker
participation in 1973.
Somewhat more subversive, the Federal Minister for Labour, Clyde
Cameron, commissioned Canberra academic Fred Emery to report on Living
a question of high policy, worker participation found another outlet in
the largely forgotten 1975-6 Report
of the Committee to Advise on Policies for the Manufacturing Industry.
Those volumes included a commissioned survey of the role of workers in
industry, undertaken in response to a recognition “that a lack of
common purpose between management and workers was impairing the
performance of industry and frustrating the achievement of a satisfying
A three-person team investigated worker participation in Romania and
decade later, the 1987 Australia
reconstructed devoted a chapter to “Industrial Democracy,
Production Consciousness, Work and Management Organisation”, drawing
on Swedish and Norwegian experience. That document formed the framework
for ACTU policy alongside the Accord, which had crimped the room for
shop-floor activism. The proposed consultative process found some
expression in industry plans, more often to manage redundancies than to
decide investment strategies. The ACTU blueprint also spoke of the need
to install a “production culture”. Did this phrase mean more of the
same through higher productivity? If it did imply “better”, did that
improvement in quality refer to the lives of the makers, or only to the
sales worthiness of their products? The optimistic view is that one is
not possible without the other.
Although John Mathews carried
forward the principles of Australia
reconstructed, his most recent book – back in 1994 – said little
on alienation directly but had much advice on practical workplace
reconciliation. Irrespective of the applicability of his proposals to
any given job, the design of steps to end immiserisation remains
essential, no matter how disputable those proposed by Mathews.
There is no way to leap from managerial prerogatives into
the 1980s, managerialism has re-deployed the 1960s language of radical
social activists about empowerment as a disguise for disabling workers.
In his recent doctoral thesis, John Buchanan collated results from case
studies of “Best Practice” to conclude that they “record
management-driven change processes aimed at decreasing the labour
content of output, usually undertaken in a consultative fashion”. By
contrast, the parallel push to cut staffing levels was never “subject
to consultation, let alone joint determination”.
employee representation has been beaten back into special areas, and in
many of those is hanging on for dear life. For instance, one prong of
the attack on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is the ridiculing
of “ABC culture” which refers to the staff view that the nature of
their work requires them to resist “Management rules. OK”. Donald
McDonald reacted to criticism of the managing-director’s delaying a Four
Corners program in July 2001 by deploring “the union commenting on
a non-industrial matter”.
Staff assert that the integrity of their reporting requires a watching
brief throughout the management structures to prevent subreption through
the back-door of budgets, staffing levels and promotion procedures.
Comparable values are prized by academics, Fairfax journalists and
medicos who argue that the nature of their work requires them to control
the product of their labour. The case for self-managing work processes
should not be confined to the already privileged. All workers must be
able to feel responsible for what they do, and enriched by the doing,
certainly not demeaned by their labour.
least, the ABC retains an elected staff representative on its board.
Academics have surrendered many of the gains they made towards
self-management during the student upsurges of the 1960s and 1970s.
Other cultural institutions do not accept that even their professional
staff deserve an elected representative. In 2001, the State Library of
Victoria again refused to provide for a staff member on its Board.
a recent issue of Arena, Glenn
Patmore lit a “New light on an old hill” by calling for a commitment
to industrial democracy. In his summary of political party platforms, he
reported that the Greens want employee ownership and flexibility, while
the Democrats endorse “the maximisation of employee representation”.
ALP is committed to “the right of workers to meaningful participation
in decision-making in the workplace about industrial matters”. Patmore
adds that this promise is “couched in generalities, contains no
standards against which to measure progress. No standards mean no
commitment”. Moreover, the ALP’s statement limits participation to
industrial matters. The struggle to protect the entitlements of sacked
employees has exposed that because wages and conditions are inseparable
from investment decisions there can be no limit to “industrial”.
himself wants to extend workplace democracy beyond “having a say about
industrial matters” and on to “commercial ends, market investment
and future development of the company”. He mentions personal
development, but not as a benefit to be achieved through the work
itself. Although he looks towards “more democratic, more productive
and more secure workplaces”, he does not explore how we can have all
three at once. Democratisation has to answer the class question: for
whom are workplaces to be “more productive” and “more secure”? A
workplace which secures higher productivity for its owners will not
necessarily secure jobs for its workers, or offer them more fulfillment
from their work.
fear that consultation will slide into collaboration, to a buying off of
delegates at the point of production, and to a corporatist mentality for
the society. Those outcomes are inevitable if the workers’
representatives are not infused with a political programme about
transforming the meaning that work has for society. That ideological
requirement is another reason why worker participation cannot be
confined to industrial matters.
light of complaints about the encroachments of employment on the rest of
life, we have to consider how much of the workers’ time and mental
energy will be available for a participatory democracy in the workspace.
If the in-put is during working hours, how much will this impinge on
productivity? If the consultations happen after hours, they will reduce
the time available for socialising or family.
challenges more than managerial prerogatives. It also threatens the
class bias of the state. Bourgeois democracy is an expression of
plutocracy whenever the social inequalities
built into capitalism are overlooked . For example, the call for “one
person, one vote, and one vote, one value” ignores that a non-citizen,
Rupert Murdoch, has more political influence in Australia because of his
media proprietorship than he would have if he became a propertiless
claim that democracy or liberty depends on property rights conflates
three kinds of property:
own personal property, but none of the productive kind, is to be subject
to those who have both. To be in that situation is also to face state
officials who regulate labour for capital’s expansion.
becoming Australia’s first chief justice, Sir Samuel Griffith wrote in
1889 that if “a measure of freedom of contract exists” between the
employer and the employed “it has been obtained by combination on the
part of labourers”.
Today’s individual workplace agreements fail the Griffith test for
civilised behaviour. Both Coalition and ALP industrial relations
policies are dissolving the collective bargaining essential for any fair
go between capital and labour. State intervention is again breaking the
back of unionism.
the bailout of National Textiles, Federal Treasurer Peter Costello
explained to John Laws’s radio audience on 11 February 2000 why the
claims of that company’s bankers took precedence over those of its
workers. In lending, Costello continued, the banks had secured a
mortgage over the firm’s assets and so were, in effect, its owners.
Employees held no such legal title over what they had produced. Despite
the workers having advanced their labour power, they still owned nothing
in the production process except that necessity to go on working for
wages. Without recognising the import of the distinction he was drawing,
Costello had touched on the bias built into bourgeois property law.
hope that socialism could be the heir to liberalism ignored those
relations. It is truer to say that political democracy can be assured
only by industrial democracy than to believe that the flow can be in the
other direction. Liberalism is linked to socialism only when the latter
exposes how much bourgeois democracy fails to deliver. Moreover, the
political freedoms associated with bourgeois democracy were secured by
workers in their struggle to organise for social and workplace reforms.
Militant liberals, as Polanyi recorded, recognised democracy as a threat
to the property relations under capitalism.
task of making democracy safe for capital regained its urgency against
the participatory democracy in the later 1960s. That surge provoked the
1975 Report of the Trilateral Commission’s Task
Force on the Governability of Democracies – a title which assumes
that democracy should not be self-governing. The Trilateral Commission
was the godchild of David Rockefeller of the Chase Manhattan Bank,
bringing together leaders of thought and action from the three pillars
of capitalism – the USA, Europe and Japan. The Report’s US authors
were pessimistic because the electorate was refusing to remain
apathetic, and because the fiscal crisis of the state limited the
opportunities for buying their quiescence with welfare measures. Between
1958 and 1973, the percentage of US interviewees for opinion polls who
believed that their government was “pretty much run by a few big
interests looking out for themselves” had trebled from 17.6 to 53.3.
One Trilateral recommendation called for a lowering of job expectations
from too much education. In tandem with that cut-back, work needed to be
reorganised to reduce alienation, but the German experiments with
co-determination were not acceptable in the Commission’s managed
reformed Thatcherite, John Gray, sees the free market and democracy as
antagonistic. For market forces to rule, their instrumentalities, such
as the WTO and IMF (or the postponed Multilateral Agreement on
Investment), must be protected from legislative review.
After the Asian implosion, the IMF retreated from its anti-statist
prescriptions to underwrite the installation of “effective states”,
that is, governments powerful enough ot keep order during the chaos
caused by the expansion of capital.
Polanyi feared that the logic of capital was inimical to a social democracy. That incompatibility, he wrote, explained why “the reform of capitalist economy by socialist parties is difficult even when they are determined not to interfere with the property system”. The inability of the Hawke-Keating administrations to deal with this obstacle meant that the Kelty Accords found it easier to restrain labour than to marshal capital. For Keynes, deficit budgets had been but a tactic to counter the failure of capitalists to invest. The ALP’s retreat from Keynesianism in the 1980s was not in cuts to public spending, but in failing to coordinate the flows of capital.
democracy will remain hollow until it also flourishes inside the labour
movement. The resistance among union officials to strike ballots would
be more convincing if they also welcomed fair and open elections. Of
course, the job security of union despots will remain unchallenged if
they offer to exchange democratic union elections for compulsory votes
there are those employees who are bored by their tasks, though not
necessarily as equally bored by being at work, because a job offers a
hub for social contact;
secondly, tumult in the workplace is leading to greater stress;
thirdly, there are those whom Tony Abbott accuses of being alienated from work - the dole-bludgers, the work-shy – or those Aborigines whom Noel Pearson alleges are content to take sit-down money;
the vast majority of workers remain alienated
in the sense dealt with in section A (iv) on Marx above. Here, we will
take that condition as a given from which to explore four issues
current in the Australian labour market:
work and social life
Family and social life overlap but they are not the same, especially when more people are childless or living alone. Greater demands at work are reducing its capacity to provide pleasure at the workplace or after hours. The changed patterns of employment documented by ACIRRT in Australia at work confirm why paid work is less satisfying in terms of out-of-hours fulfilment:
the face of these negative experiences, a majority of employees polled
in 2001 continue to place satisfying work and getting along with
co-workers as the most important factors in “making work a positive
experience”. When the desire for recognition of effort and control of
the work process are added, the fraction reached two-thirds.
factor disrupting social life is the extra time taken traveling to and
from work. Most travel is in private vehicles which gives almost no
chance to socialise, or it is in government transport which is
uncongenial for social contact. In addition, the trip is fraught with
traffic jams, road rage or a run-down in tax-funded infrastructures.
The impact of the spread of service jobs on fulfillment at work is more acute in Australia which has no culture of service, unlike Japan and parts of Europe. Instead, both customers and staff endure the “what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-in-my-cafe” style of waiting on tables. Yet service can be dignified, as European waiters demonstrate. In Australia, the conflict between the dignity of such labour and our democratic temper brings about a disinclination to call anyone “sir” or “madam” – “mate” or “dear” are more likely.
A 1997 investigation of the vacancies in Western Sydney reported that a fifth were for five low-skilled and service designations. Those levels indicate the unsatisfying nature of those slots more than any surplus of opportunities or lack of operatives. Long hours and low pay make it hard for those who take such work to improve their prospects by training in their own time.
Is dignity possible
for all? Or is dignity a feature that discriminates, and thus is
incompatible with equality and fraternity? This paradox leads to a
criticism of socialism since no social order can dignify the most menial
jobs. Professionals thinking about fulfillment in the workplace too
readily suppose a universe of other professionals, or at least, of
skilled craftspeople. As a minimum, we should uphold the 1908 refusal of
Higgins J to “make an award on the basis of conditions which are
unnecessarily unwholesome or degrading – in other words, to treat
ship-owners as entitled to purchase the right of treating men as slaves
or as pigs”. (2 C.A.R. 60) In spite of this precept, the persistence
of “dirt money” indicates that the exchange of lucre for physical
degradation has continued. Enterprise agreements are reproducing
the assumption that workers should be prepared to trade any aspect of
their self-worth for more cash in hand.
solution to the least creative jobs has been to abolish the activity, as
in case of shit-carters who were replaced by sewerage systems. The
labouriousness of garbage collecting has been eased by trucks that
pick-up the bins, but the contracting out of such work has increased the
pace at which the garbos must move through the streets. Nothing is
gained by relabeling their positions as
“sanitary engineers”. Their standing could be advanced by
giving them an active role in environmental protection.
adjustments will be marginal until the value given to all work takes
over from force-fed consumption as the centerpiece of our culture.
repositioning of work in general will be essential in securing the
dignity of labour. Nonetheless, an ethic of service distinguishes
socialism from the cash nexus with which the expansion of capital
infects every human relationship. Improving the workload and pay of
nurses and teachers should be in addition to the respect that they earn
for seeking those jobs, and for their being prepared to go the extra
mile to assist patients and students.
beings have reshaped human nature by extending our capacities and skills
through the invention and application of tools and machines. Our
“species being” now includes these techniques. Capital’s
expropriation of the means of production is an assault on that expanded
“second nature”. John McMurtry has explained that the property
relations of capitalism divided labourers from themselves, perpetrating
a psychic and physical dismemberment which is prior to any tedium at the
point of production, or fetishism regarding the extraction of surplus
Bertell Ollman argued that, because the institution of private
productive property arises through the expropriation of values, this
accumulation becomes the departure point for ever more expropriation and
hence for spirals of alienation in every sense.
once asserted control over their work processes by supplying their own
tools, Chefs still bring their own set of knives. Nowadays, the tools
that the specialist carries are more likely to be mental, as with
computing skills. Yet their innovations are copyrighted to their
employers. Although the applications can be flashed around the planet,
they are no longer portable by their makers. A patent exists over even
the instructions “Click” and “Double Click”. The promise of
democratisation via the net confronts its monopolising under Microsoft.
For many workers in Information Technology, their job means a sweatshop
assembly line or a Call Centre, which, in terms of creative work, is
hardly an advance on the pick-and-shovel.
Arena thesis about the
tensions arising from the management of the intellectually trained is
worth reconsidering in relation to the IT workforce. One difference is
that more computer operatives are involved in creating the skills that
they analyse than were the intellectually trained of the 1960s. Contempt
for non-computer literate bosses is also greater.
competence on screen is inscribing a visual literacy as creative as that
brought by the print revolution. The long hours of video play or net
surfing are suggestive of a desire for fulfillment that a job in the IT
sector does not deliver.
first glance, an expresso machine seems remote from a PC, the one
requiring rudimentary skills and offering little hope for meaningful
work, and the other sophisticated and profitable. Pride in work is not
inherent in the operation of either machine but depends on the culture
of production. The screen jockey can know little of the satisfactions
that a coffee-maker gains from a following of addicts.
for the dole
The rhetoric of mutual
obligation should be turned back against the government. Many of the
jobless have already paid for structural adjustments made on behalf of
the corporations. How about putting a price on what the unemployed have
lost so that others can gain?
The meat workers who lost their jobs with the
closure of abattoirs to allow for the live sheep trade have paid their
dues. Restructuring and
deregulation hit the poor in the bush, thereby further disadvantaging
Aborigines. The closure of railways to reduce the indirect costs from
government to the corporate sector, and the withdrawal of government and
corporate services, took away both career opportunities and menial
labour. The moral imperative is on the corporations to meet their
obligation towards the employees who have had their futures blighted by
the devaluation of regional housing stocks and by the disappearance of
prospects for their children.
unemployed males in rural South Africa are assassinating male witches
whom they accuse of creating zombies to take jobs from the living.
Before lamenting this violence as a relapse into barbarism, we should
consider the simultaneous spread of superstition into the elites of the
most technically advanced industries. One.Tel’s managing directors
employed a Feng shui master to
decide the purchase of office accommodation.
The leaders of Wall Street explain their speculative behaviour with
quantum and viral analogies.
the market came to dominate societies, economies relied on the sale of
Commodities for Money with which to buy more Commodities (C-M-C). The
emergence of capitalism involved the advancing of Money to purchase
Commodities for the expansion of Money (M-C-M+). In the 1990s, a larger
than usual segment of capitalism careered onto a fast lane where Money
was exchanged for Money to accumulate more Money (M-M+-M++). With the
deletion of commodities other than money itself, the system is left
without a reality check. As a response to this leap into the unknown,
gambling on derivatives appeared as rational for mutual fund managers as
playing the pokies was for the unemployed. The New Economy is based on
intangibles, such as brand identities, valued at tens of billions of
dollars, but which accountants are reluctant to enter into balance
The fetishism of capital is more than ever beyond the comprehension of
Since Marx began his
commentaries on alienation as a critique of fetishism, it is appropriate
that we have come full circle. After two centuries of capitalist
ratiocination, its spokespeople are again waltzing in treacle. An
explanation for their slide back into metaphysics is also to be found in
the young Marx:
escape from the confusions required by the market economy is through
work in its many splendours and miseries.
 Empirical and empiricist are far from synonymous. Empiricism is the view that the evidence collected through empirical research will speak for itself. The empiricist boasts of being free of ideology and theory, not recognising Empiricism among their number.
 Gary S. Becker, ‘A Theory of the Allocation of Time’, Economic Journal, 75 (3), September 1965, p. 498.
 Cheryl Chernot, The Sydney Papers, Sydney Institute, Sydney, 2001, pp. 30-31 and 35.
 Sharon Beder, Selling the work ethic, Scribe, Carlton North, 2000, pp. 104, 118, 205, 233 and 261-2.
 Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training, Australia at work: just managing?, Prentice Hall, Sydney, 1999, p. 167.
 Australia at work, p. 173.
 Personnel Practice Bulletin, XX (1), March 1964, pp. 35-37.
 Hardware Journal, August 1955, p. 40.
 Hardware Journal, September 1953, p. 38.
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 Kevin Blackburn, “Preaching ‘the Gospel of Efficiency’: The promotion of Ideas about Profit-Sharing and Payment by Results in Australia, 1915-1929”, Australian Historical Studies, 107, 1996, pp. 257-80.
 Doug Blackmur, “Employer Industrial Relations Policy in Queensland in Postwar Reconstruction”, Journal of Industrial Relations, 26 (2), 1984, pp. 166-87.
 Peter Cochrane, “Company Time: Management, Ideology and The Labour Process, 1940-1960”, Labour History, 48, May 1985, pp. 54-68.
 Christopher Wright, The management of labour: a history of Australian employers, OUP, Melbourne, 1995, chapters 2-4.
 Australian Marketing Projects, The Hoover Award for Marketing, National Committee of the Hoover Awards for Marketing, West Ryde, 1962, p. vi.
 Donald Horne, The Lucky Country, Penguin, Ringwood, 1964, p. 239.
 Don Garden, Builders to the Nation, MUP, Carlton, 1992, pp. 81, 130 & 132.
 Clay Products Journal, August 1948, Editorial, & p. 4; October 1948, p. 7; June 1949, p. 17; April 1950, p. 13; Manufacturing and Management, September 1951, pp. 86-89.
 Bulletin of Industrial Psychology and Personnel Practice, September 1949, pp. 21-4; between March 1949 and December 1949, every issue of this government publication carried at least one article on labour turnover.
 Wright, p. 49.
 Jean L. Martin, Refugee Settlers, ANU Press, Canberra, 1965, pp. 18 & 43.
 Clay Products Journal, April 1950, p. 13.
 A Survey of Industrial Relations Between Employers and Employees, George Patterson, Sydney, 1950, pp. 9-16.
 Manufacturing and Management, 15 May 1952, pp. 384-7, and October 1952, pp. 123-5.
 Personnel Practice Bulletin, December 1965, p. 13, and December 1966, p. 42.
 Australian Factory, 2 February 1959, p. 26.
 Ken Kemshead, Automation, friend or foe?, Fabian Society, Brisbane, 1957, pp. 6-7.
 Marx-Engels, Selected Works, 3, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1970, p. 19.
 K. Marx, Capital, I, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1958, p. 423.
 Australian Plastics, July 1952, p. 9.
 Clay Products Journal of Australia, January 1954, p. 39.
 Australia at work, p. 159.
 Business Economics, January 2000, p. 20.
 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon, Boston, 1957, p. 176.
 Bertell Ollman (ed.), Market Socialism, The debate among socialists, Routledge, New York, 1998.
 Polanyi, p. 251.
 Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and humanism, Methuen, London, 1955; Marxism and Existentialism, New Left Books, London, 1972.
 see Leszek Kolakowski, Towards a Marxist humanism: essays on the Left today, Grove Press, New York, 1968; Adam Schaff, A Philosophy of man, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1963.
 Marcuse had responded to their publication in Germany in 1932 with “The Foundation of Historical Materialism”, Studies in Critical Philosophy, NLB, London, 1972. pp. 3-48.
 Neal Ascherson, Black Sea, The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism, Vintage, New York, 1996, p. 107.
 Mao Tse-tung, Four Essays on Philosophy, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1966, p. 134.
 V. Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself, Thinker’s Library, London, 1941, p. 93.
 Peter Dickens, Reconstructing nature: alienation, emancipation, and the division of labour, Routledge, London, 1996, p. 57.
 Marx-Engels Collected Works, 3, p. 277.
 Bernard Knox, Backing into the future, Norton, New York, 1994, pp. 11-12.
 Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch (eds), The New Science of Giambattista Vico, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1970 ed., pp. 52-53; Marx, Capital, I, p. 372, n, 3.
 Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Bantam, New York, 1989, p. 182.
 Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince and The Discourses, Modern Library, New York, 1940, p. 91.
 Elizabeth A Fenn, Pox Americana, Hill and Wang, New York, 2001, p. ????
 Struik, p. 112.
 Marx, Capital, I, pp. 259n, 264 n. and 483-84.
 Marx, Capital, I, p. 395.
 William L. Bird, Jr, Paint by Number, Smithsonian Intitution, Washington, D.C., 2001, p. 97.
 Australia at work, p. 175.
 Sharon Beder, Selling the work ethic, Scribe, Carlton North, 2000, pp. 207 & 262-63.
 Beder, p. 248.
 See Rodney Hilton, Class conflict and the crisis of feudalism, Verso, London, 1990, pp. 49-65.
 Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1980, pp. 19-25.
 Marx, Capital, I, p. 179.
 Plato, The Republic, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1987 revised edition, p. 424
 Marx-Engels Collected Works, 4, p. 242.
 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Vol 1, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1976, pp. 82-3.
 Thomas Malthus, Principles of Political Economy, William Pickering, London, 1836, p. 320.
 See Maurice Dobb, Political Economy and Capitalism, G. Routledge & Sons, London, 1937, pp. 26-28.
 Marx-Engels Collected Works, 4, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1975, p. 236.
 Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973, p. 325.
 Marx, Capital, I, p. 395n.
 Dallas W. Smythe, “Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism”, Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 1 (3), Fall 1997, pp. “Free time”, remarked Smythe, has the same status as “free world”, “free enterprise”, “free elections”, ‘free speech, ‘free flow” of news (p. 14), and one can now add, “free trade”.
 Michael A. Lebowitz, “Capital and the Production of Needs”, Science and Society, 41 (4), Winter 1977-78, p. 442; Marx-Engels Collected Works, 3, p. 272; Humphrey McQueen, The Essence of Capitalism, Sceptre, Sydney, 2001, chapter 14.
 Hall Greenland, Red Hot, Wellington Lane Press, Sydney, 1999.
 J. D. Blake, Revolution from within, Outlook, Sydney, 1971, p. 114.
 Arena, 15, 1969, pp. 30-33; Warren Osmond. “Towards Self-Awareness”, Richard Gordon (ed.), The Australian New Left, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 192-98.
 See R. Richta (ed.), Civilisation at the Crossroads, Australian Left Review, Sydney, 1969.
 For a blanket rejection of the Dunstan proposals and an almost equal distaste for the grass roots Worker Control Centre, see Arena, 32-33, 1973, pp. 9-20.
 F. E. Emery, Living at work, AGPS, Canberra, 1976.
 Report, III, pp. v.and 253-387.
 John Mathews, Catching the wave: workplace reform in Australia, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1994, pp. 264-5; see Bethuene Carmichael, Post-Fordism, political unionism and the work of John Mathews, M. Environmental Science, Monash University, 1992.
 John Buchanan, Beyond fragmented flexibility? The restructuring of labour management in the Australian mental industry since the mid 1980s, Ph. D. Thesis, University of Sydney, 2000, Chapter 9.
 Sydney Morning Herald, 21-22 July 2001, p. 2.
 Arena, 53, June-July 2001, pp. 45-48.
 Samuel Griffith, ‘The Distribution of Wealth”, Centennial Magazine, 1 (12), July 1889, pp. 833-42. Fifty years later, US Supreme Court Chief Justice Hughes, speaking for the majority, re-affirmed “that union was essential to give albourers opportunity to deal on an equality with their employer”, quoted Leo Huberman, We, the People, Left Book Club, London, 1940, p.354.
 Polanyi, p. ; C. B. Macpherson, The life and times of liberal democracy, OUP, New York, 1977.
Alan Wolff, “Capitalism Shows Its Face”, Holly Sklar (ed.), Trilaterialism,
South End Press, Boston, 1980, pp. 296-8 & 307. That
the US sections of the Report
were the handiwork of Samuel P. Huntington is no surprise. Notorious
now for his “Clash of Civilisations” thesis to justify the
academic-Congressional-military-industrial complex after the Cold
War, Huntington had won his spurs as the initiator of the forced
urbanisation of Vietnamese (“Strategic Hamlets”), to deprive the
guerillas of the ocean of peasants in which to swim. Huntington is
the face of bourgeois democracy.
 John Gray, False Dawn, Granta, London, 1998.
 Polanyi, p. 226.
 Beyond flexibility: skills and work in the future, ACIRRT & RCVET, Sydney, 2001, p. 39.
 Beyond Flexibility, p. 43.
 Hubert Dreyfus, On the Internet, Routledge, London, 2001, p. 101.
 John McMurtry, The Structure of Marx’s World-View, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1978, p. 64.
 Bertell Ollman, Alienation, Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1971, Chapter 24.
 Jean and John L. Comaroff, “Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming”, Public Culture,12 (2), Spring 2000, pp. 316-17.
 Bulletin, 12 June 2001, pp. 46-47.
 Fortune, 6 July 1998, p. 208; 25 May 1998, p. 46.
 Fortune, 26 April 1999, pp. 206-8.
 Marx-Engels Collected Works, 5, p. 5.