Academic journal article World Review of Political Economy

Research on the Effects of Labor Relations under the Modularity Division of Labor1

Academic journal article World Review of Political Economy

Research on the Effects of Labor Relations under the Modularity Division of Labor1

Article excerpt

Abstract: Modular production organization, as a new kind of capitalist production mode, has an important influence on labor relations. With the application of Marxian economics' "technologysystem" framework and the analysis of features of modular technology, this article argues that new changes come out in labor relations along with the division of network hierarchy resulting from modularity, mainly reflected in that enterprises and countries without the ability to lead industry upgrading only serve as the bottom of the suppliers to participate in the modular production network organization. The bottom of the suppliers, relying on their cheap labor resources to earn meager incomes, is being controlled by big capital. The division of labor within the industry and the stratification of suppliers as a result of modularity strengthen the leadership and control status of big capital. Besides, modularity provides a convenience for the capital to control production materials and labor resources of a global scope. Finally, this article puts forward some measures to get rid of capital's control in the modular era.

Key words: modularity; capital control; supplier layered; labor differentiation

The mode of production and organization in most developed countries in the post-World War II era experienced a transformation from the Ford production model to the Toyota model. Though of great differences, in essence, the Ford and Toyota models use economies of scope and economies of scale. So the organizational structure of enterprises tends to use "big and complete" vertical integration; enterprises apply a hierarchical management mechanism to complete the production process from raw materials to finished products. Since the 1980s, with the development of IT, especially the establishment of the Wintelism mode, the modular production network has appeared and been popular. A modular production mode not only brings out new changes in the production technology, but also has a great effect on labor relations. Theoretical studies of modularity are mainly aimed at the technical characteristics such as product R&D and production, modular organization and network organization, and there is little research on labor relations under the new technique. This article focusses on this aspect.

The "Technology-System" Analysis Framework of Research on Modularity Production

According to Marxist historical materialism methodology, the relationship between labor and capital is the core of capitalist relations of production. The development of the level of productivity, as the material foundation of labor relations, directly affects the level of division of labor and technology, which in turn further influences labor relations from at least three perspectives: one is from the perspective of capital that the division of labor and technology will decide the organizational form taken when capital employs labor. For example, at a lower productivity level, the enterprise tends to be small-scale and take a simple form. In an individual proprietorship or partnership, the labor relations are relatively simple. In contrast, when the productivity level is high and the enterprise organization is large-scale and structurally complex, labor relations are more complex. The second perspective is from employed labor. In different technological conditions, the effect of capital on labor relationships varies with its different requirements for labor skills. In laborintensive enterprises, the strong versatility of labor results in relatively unstable labor relations, while in the technology-intensive enterprises, labor relations are relatively stable due to the substantially "special" labor skills. The third is that the development of the division and technology will influence either the enterprise's internal structure or inter-enterprise division of labor, and thus may affect the relationship of labor-capital or that of capital-capital. For example, the relationship of labor-capital in the workshops and handicraftindustry only focusses on capital owners and labor in the same enterprise; however, the relationship of labor-capital in the modular network system of division of labor involves not only the capital owners and workers in one enterprise, but also the big capital and small capital, technical workers and general workers. …

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