Today’s Obsession: Belittling Labor

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Image from the Elgin County Archives on Flickr

Guernica magazine has a fascinating (also, very long! Save to your Instapaper account and read later) article attempting to explain the current employment situation, starting with an intriguing mini-history of the role of the skilled craftsperson through the twentieth century. It’s written through kind of a Marxist lens, so it takes the stance that the artisan is being squeezed out of the picture by virtue of managerial/technocratic takeovers, and continued belittling of craftsmens’ skills. I buy a lot of that.

According to this history, Ford’s original spate of automobiles was assembled by highly skilled and generalized mechanics, but Ford wanted to make the scenario more factory-like, rendering his labor more interchangeable. That sleight of hand—distribution of skills—would allow him easier hiring practices and less compensation (since his employees would have less skill). This worked for a little while—but his employees were wlking off the job. They were bored, and tired of being minimized. According to the article, for every 100 people Ford wanted to retain, he had to hire over 900 because the work was so mind-numbingly boring.

Considering we’re now at the point in capitalism’s history where people with college degrees are literally taking jobs to push buttons on a french fry computer day in and day out because factory-based thinking is rendering any training and skill they have unimportant, it’s pretty pertinent.