Beyond the Degradation of Labor: Braverman and the Structure of the U.S. Working Class

By Jonna, R. Jamil; Foster, John Bellamy | Monthly Review, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Beyond the Degradation of Labor: Braverman and the Structure of the U.S. Working Class


Jonna, R. Jamil, Foster, John Bellamy, Monthly Review


Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital, first published forty years ago in 1974, was unquestionably the work that, in the words of historian Bryan Palmer, "literally christened the emerging field of labor process studies."1 In the four decades since its appearance Braverman's book has continued to play a central role in debates on workers' struggles within industry, remaining indispensable to all attempts at in-depth critique in this area. On Labor Day 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, the Wall Street Journal declared Laborand Monopoly Capital to be number one among the "Five Best Books on Working."2

This continuing relevance of Braverman's analysis has to do with the fact that his overall vision of the transformations taking place in modem work relations was much wider than has usually been recognized.3 Viewed from a wide camera angle, his work sought to capture the complex relation between the labor process on the one hand, and the changing structure and composition of the working class and its reserve armies on the other. This broad view allowed him to perceive how the changes in the labor process were integrally connected to the emergence of whole new spheres of production, the decomposition and recomposition of the working class in various sectors, and the development of new structural contradictions.

This larger context of Braverman's work was evident in the opening paragraph of Laborand Monopoly Capital:

This book first took shape in my mind as little more than a study of occupational shifts in the United States. I was interested in the structure of the working class, and the manner in which it has changed. That portion of the population employed in manufacturing and associated industries-the so-called industrial working class-had apparently been shrinking for some time, if not in absolute numbers at any rate in relative terms. Since the details of this process, especially its historical turning points and the shape of the new employment that was taking the place of the old, were not clear to me, I undertook to find out more about them. And since, as I soon discovered, these things had not yet been clarified in any comprehensive fashion, I decided that there was a need for a more substantial historical description and analysis of the process of occupational change than had yet been presented in print.4

Braverman followed up this statement with a discussion of how this led him to the analysis of the labor process, which was then to become the predominant subject of Labor and Monopoly Capital and for which he is principally famous. But there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that he saw this as merely a necessary step in a much more comprehensive analysis of the structure and process of the U.S. working class, serving to delineate it in an objective way and allowing one to understand the material changes and radical new possibilities that were emerging. This was indicated by the structure of his book itself. Parts I and II of the book addressed, respectively, "Labor and Management" and "Science and Mechanization" and were concerned with the theory of the labor process and of scientific management. Parts III, IV, and V, entitled "Monopoly Capital," "The Growing Working-Class Occupations," and "The Working Class," were focused on the changes in the structure and composition of the working class in late-twentieth-century monopoly capitalism. Part IV was devoted specifically to the rise of clerical work and service occupations and retail trade. The key chapter in Part V was entitled "The Structure of the Working Class and Its Reserve Armies." For Braverman much of the importance of the labor process argument was that it provided the basis for a clearer conception of the formation of new working-class relations and occupations, charting the future of the class.

The interpretation that Braverman was concerned overall with developing a systematic conception of the U.S. working class-in which the evolving labor process and changing structure of the working class and its reserve armies were seen as together constituting interconnected parts of a complex, dialectical whole-finds further support in the pre-publication of parts of Labor and Monopoly Capital in the special July-August 1974 issue of Monthly Review. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Beyond the Degradation of Labor: Braverman and the Structure of the U.S. Working Class
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.