August 23, 2013

Working Life 1

Belinda Probert

Labor and Capital

… Australian trade unions face increasing attacks from both militant employers [seeking] to exclude unionists from their [enterprises] and the ['neoliberal'] or 'dry' faction [of the] Liberal Party which hopes to see trade union influence … greatly reduced.
(p 50)

These groups [fundamentally oppose] the ideals of Justice Higgins [— ideals] which underpin the arbitration system.
For them there can be no minimum wage based on civilized standards — only [a] wage that [maximizes profit in a] competitive global economy.
(p 51)


Meaningful Work

The Birth of the Factory

The Logic of Trade Unionism

The Advantages of Professionalism


Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Monash University.

  • Working Life, McPhee Gribble, 1990.

    The Meanings of Work

    [The lives of] Australian Aborigines in the late 1830s … were not dominated by scarcity …
    [They] could obtain sufficient food for the day in two [to] three hours …

    The cultural clash between hunter-gathering and industrial assumptions about work is revealed in the records that exist of early attempts by white settlers to employ Aborigines. …
    [The colonists complained that they]
    • would not work regularly …
    • had no sense of punctuality, and …
    • showed no interest in giving up their nomadic life. …
    [Many colonists commented that the] Aborigines had very limited wants, so it was difficult to [motivate them with] material rewards.
    This attitude was, by and large, interpreted as a failing.
    Samuel Marsden (1825):
    [T] time may come when they feel more wants than they do at present — they seem to have all they with for Idleness and Independence.
    They have no wants to stimulate their exertions and, until they have, I fear they will remain the same.
    (Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia, 1982, p 142-3)
    We take it for granted that people will work harder or longer if they are paid more money, but this is in no sense a natural human attribute.
    We live in a [culture] in which endlessly increasing consumption [is] encouraged and admired.
    (p 6)

    Traditional Aborigines find this incomprehensible, hence their disinterest in regular employment.

    [White] employers attempted to solve this 'problem' [by trying to cultivate] wants among their black employees. …
    However, even where a desire for … new commodities [alcohol, tobacco, coloured cloth, tinned meat or fish etc] was aroused, this could not [easily] erase a whole culture of interwoven beliefs and practices …
    … Aboriginal economic life was based on the principles of co-operation and sharing. …
    Jack McLaren [Historian]:
    This was not because Aborigines were particularly altruistic … but because sharing was a sensible strategy to adopt for successful small group living. …
    (Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia, 1982, p 142-3)
    As a result, economic incentives failed to have the expected effect on … Aboriginal workers.
    Increased wages for greater efficiency were immediately shared with relatives …

    Just as Aborigines could not be transformed into disciplined colonial employees with the promise of wage, so the early generations of employees in England's mills, mines and factories … proved too fond of idleness and fun for their employers' liking.
    It was widely believe that it was essential to [minimize wages] to ensure maximum effort [because, as soon as workers had earned] enough to meet their customary needs they were likely to stop work — regardless of whether they had completed their 12 hour [shifts or 70 to 80 hour working weeks. …]
    (p 7)

    [Industrialists and colonialists sought to] encourage the development of the desired disciplinary characteristics through education …
    [An] English gentleman … in 1770 advocated that poor children be sent to workhouses at the age of four … to spend most of each day doing manufacturing work.
    [So] that the rising generation will be so habituated to constant employment that it would at length prove agreeable and entertaining to them …
    (EP Thompson, Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism, Past and Present, vol 38, 56-97, 1967)
    Early English schools were obsessed with [instilling] habits of punctuality and regularity in their pupils …
    (p 8)

    The churches warned how idleness must [inevitably] lead to sin and Satan …
    [And] the new industrialists insisted that [time should] not be wasted on unproductive pleasures. …

    [The transformation of societies] of peasants, hunter-gatherers [and] self-employed small producers [into industrial workers was] by no means popular at the time. …
    The working class was … created out of [huge numbers] of peasants and agricultural labourers who were evicted from the countryside with the 'rationalization' of agriculture that began in the seventeenth century. …
    It was an option … rarely chosen freely.
    More often the transition [began] once traditional means of subsistence [had been] destroyed and co-operative working relations undermined.
    The process continues [to this day in] the great forests of Sarawak or Brazil which are being commercially exploited to provide timber for [world markets] with the destruction of their forest communities.
    (p 9)

    The Origins of the Factory

    [According to Adam Smith, the] specialized division of labour led to [increased productivity] for three reasons …
    • each worker [became highly practiced] at doing their particular task …
    • time [was] saved by … workers no longer [having to switch] between different [tasks and tools, and]
    • [the breaking-down of manufacturing] into its component elements [facilitated automation.]
    (p 18)

    [Centralization] enormously increased [the] potential for control within [factories.]
    [With] homeworkers, merchants] could not control the work process [or] enforce increased output [during periods] of high demand …
    [In the textile industry factor owners were able to] insist that employees work a standard fourteen hour day, six day week, which was far more than they chose to work in their cottages under the putting-out system.
    [It also allowed employers to] monitor the pace at which work was done.
    [So while] factory production was [no] more efficient than cottage production [it did enable] the entrepreneur to extract greater efforts from workers through close supervision and discipline.
    In other words, it was not the technical factors which led to the emergence of the factory system, but … the economic interests of entrepreneurs [through] the power that came [from] ownership of capital.
    (p 21)

    [In 1832 Charles Babbage] analysed how the division of labour [could increase output] even without any increase in the speed of work.
    [By] breaking up [the work of skilled craftsmen] into a series of fragmented repetitive tasks, the employer [could] replace highly paid skilled employees with cheap labour.
    In the case of pin manufacture, Babbage calculated that labour costs could be halved [by using] women and children … to do the simple tasks such as straightening the wire. …
    [And not only does deskilling reduce wage rates, it] weakens the bargaining position of employees, since unskilled labour is easily replaceable.
    [This deskilling and mechanization of factory production has become known as the 'Babbage principle'.]
    (p 22-23)

    [In 1914, when Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line] most of the increased productivity [resulted from the workers working] harder than they had before.
    [The] moving assembly line [allowed Ford to determine] the pace at which [his] employees worked. …

    {Ford was extracting hard labour from his workforce, but he … lost their good will.}
    [Annual] labour turnover [approached] 400 per cent.
    [Absenteeism skyrocketed] with one in ten workers failing to show up for work every day. …
    [Ford] responded by offering to double wage rates … to $5 a day, [provided] they allowed their private lives to investigated by the company.
    Only the most upright and blameless characters were to be paid [the higher rate …]
    The use of alcohol or tobacco was frowned upon, as was gambling, while the increased income [had] to be [saved and not wasted on frivolous pursuits.]
    In 1917 [there were] fifty-two investigators [visiting] the homes of every Ford worker who earned less then $200 a month to ensure that they were living in the [approved] manner …
    (p 29)

    [In 1929, with] the onset of the Great Depression … unemployment rates [rose] to twenty-five per cent [and the market for motor cars [collapsed.]
    Ford's employees were no longer 'free' to take their labour elsewhere [and he was able to] cut wages [and increase the speed of the assembly line] without losing his workforce.
    (p 30)

    The Logic of Trade Unionism

    Just as it makes perfect sense for workers to try to form unions, so it is rational for employers … to try to prevent them, or at least limit their power. …
    The first trade unions, which emerged in England in the eighteenth century, were attacked by both employers and the state.
    In 1819 [between 60 and 100,000 thousand trade union] supporters … gathered near Manchester …
    [They] were attacked with extraordinary ferocity by the city's manufacturers, merchants, publicans and shopkeepers.
    Eleven were killed while over 400 were injured by sabres and horses. …
    (p 36)

    [In 1856, Australian stonemasons] won the right to an eight hour work day, the first in the industrial world …

    Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Australian unions [had succeeded in limiting] women's and children's working hours … to a maximum of eight hours a day, with strict limits on night work.
    Children under thirteen were not allowed to work at all.
    (p 38)

    Prior to the disastrous depression of the 1890s, unions had explicitly avoided direct political … action.
    [Their] total defeat in the industrial struggles of the depression [taught them] that in, unfavourable economic circumstances, union organization was inadequate protection against the combined power of the employers [and the state.]
    [Two lessons were learned:]
    • [that] unions needed to be organized … on a federal basis, so that workers in particular workplaces … could be backed by up [by] a general strike if necessary [and]
    • [that] the union movement [in Australia, as in Britain and New Zealand, needed] a political wing …
      [This led] to the formation of the federal Australian Labor Party [ALP] in 1900.
    (p 40)

    What was unique about the … Australian (and New Zealand) labour movement was its commitment to … legal procedures for settling industrial disputes [—] the arbitration system. …
    [State] and federal arbitration courts were established with] the power to determine wage levels and other conditions of employment …
    [Wage] decisions were binding across whole [industries; benefiting the] workers in less profitable firms …
    [It] ensured the legal recognition of trade unions [by giving] them a central role in … industrial relations.
    [For businesses, it reduced] competition from unscrupulous low-wage employers …
    (p 41)

    In 1907, [the President of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, HB Higgins, announced that instead] of leaving wages to be set according to market forces [the appropriate] standard of fairness was [one that would]
    [Meet] the normal needs of the average employee regarded as a human being living in a civilized community. …
    Having investigated the cost of food, housing and clothes he set the minimum wage at seven shillings a day [— enough to support] a wife and three children [ie] a family wage. …
    [Even though the so-called Harvester Judgement was later] overturned by the High Court … Higgin's notion of a living wage [eventually became the official] basis of wage-setting decisions.
    [In practice, however, the 'living wage' remained more mythical than real with wage levels largely following the ups and downs of industrial profitability.]
    (p 42)

    A relatively independent arbitration system sharply distinguished Australian industrial relations from those in most other advance industrial economies, where outcomes were visibly determined by the relative strength of workers and employers …
    One important effect of the arbitration system was to encourage high levels of union membership [and] the formation of new unions hoping to win an award.
    (p 43)

    [Nevertheless, the large] number of unions and the extent of union membership [should not] be taken to indicate [that there is] a particularly radical form of trade unionism in Australia.
    [The] arbitration system [invests greatest] authority and influence in [the] full-time union officials who negotiate [the] awards.
    This weakens the influence of [shop floor] union representatives … and the workers themselves [— making the union more] cautious, if not convervative.
    [It has also hindered] the amalgamation of unions into larger, more powerful organizations, and helped … preserve many small, weak unions.
    (p 45)

    [The] dominant view [in the union movement has always been] more 'labourist' than socialist, with labour leaders believing in a programme of reforms which would give workers a fairer share of the wealth produced by an essentially unchanged capitalist economy. …
    (p 41)

    [However, centralized] regulation of wages and working conditions through [the award system has not, in fact, increased] the share of national wealth going to workers.
    [While, it has] helped to standardize working conditions [— benefiting] unions generally and low paid workers [in particular — there has been no] significant redistribution [of wealth] in favour of wages. …
    Stuart McIntyre:
    In the long term … labour's share [has] increased no faster than the growth in output.
    (The Labour Experiment, 1989, p 47)
    (p 45)

    [Indeed, during the Great Depression] the Commonwealth Arbitration Court imposed a ten per cent cut in the basic wage across the board.

    Arbitration was designed not only to protect employees from exploitative employers, but to prevent industrial conflict …
    But here too there was little evidence of success, and the … legislation was amended in 1930 to remove the very severe penalties [for] strikes and lockouts.
    [Nevertheless,] the state continued to intervene in major … disputes [on the side of] employers …
    In 1949 the [Chifley] Labor government [used] troops to work the [coal] mines when miners were on strike. …

    [During] the 1950s and 1960s … living standards rose steadily {as the economy expanded}.
    [And while] arbitration … protected the wages and working conditions of some of the most vulnerable unskilled men [it simultaneously] institutionalized women's inferior position in the labour market.
    Higgin's family wage … was calculated [to meet] the assumed needs of a male breadwinner. …
    [Women were assumed either to] not have families to support [or to have husbands who supported] them …
    [Consequently, the] women's basic wage [was] set at fifty-four per cent of the male rate, and jobs became strongly sex-typed.
    [It also implied that, when a woman married, there was no social or economic need for her to remain in the workforce.]
    [Central wage fixing] acted to preserve the privileges of all male workers at the expense of all female workers.

    [Having invested] so much faith in the ability of the wage system to [secure the] living standards [of] the family man, Australian trade unions gave relatively little weight to broader political and social strategies for improving the welfare of the less well off.
    (p 46, emphasis added)

    In some other [capitalist countries] far greater emphasis was placed on government provision of housing and health care so that the least well off were assured of [basic necessities] independently of a wage.
    [By contrast,] Australian labour leaders … were strongly opposed to any form of dependence on the state [— emphasizing] the right to work [over] any right to public support.
    As a result, Australia's unemployment benefits are extremely meagre when compared with those of … Sweden or West Germany, and there remains a … stigma attached to [cash transfers, which] many Australians see … as a form of charity rather than as a [civic] right. …

    [In] the early 1970s, however, the Australian economy [experienced] high rates of unemployment [coupled with high inflation, resulting in] falls in real … wages [ie stagflation.]
    Under these [conditions] the strategy of relying on the regulation of wages [was] less effective.
    [By 1982 unemployment had reached ten per cent.]

    Recognizing that pressure to increase wages [would ] simply lead to [further] unemployment … several major unions [traded] wage restraint … for changes in taxation and [an increased] provision of social services.
    [That is, compensating for loss of buying power with non-inflationary increases in the 'social wage'.]
    [This] strategy necessarily [involved] unions in close negotiations with both the government and employers [—] a significantly [less] adversarial system [to that of] free collective bargaining [which prevails in the US and the UK.]
    (p 47)

    In 1983 the ALP and the Australian Council of Trade Unions [(ACTU) — representing almost ninety-five per cent of unions —] reached an 'accord' regarding economic policy. …
    [As] a result of the Accord the level of strike activity declined.
    (p 48)

    Swedish unions are … linked together into three powerful centralized bargaining bodies, covering blue-collar, white-collar and professional employees, which negotiate wage settlements on behalf of all workers.
    [Far] from rendering the Swedish economy uncompetitive, as right-wing free marketeers would argue, [they] are part of a highly regulated economic system which has [delivered] one of the highest living standards in the world.
    (p 49)

    Not only have unemployment levels been consistently lower than in the free market economies of [the UK and US] but … expenditure on welfare provisions have been among the highest.
    [Furthermore,] Swedish workers [enjoy] a range of provisions [including] long periods of paid parental leave [and] retraining in the event of retrenchment.

    Swedish trade unions [through] their links with the Swedish Social Democratic Party … have developed a range of [macro economic] strategies [based on] patterns of investment and ownership … which have been labelled 'strategic' or 'political' unionism.
    [In Sweden] recent job growth has occurred overwhelmingly in the public sector, supported by very high rates of taxation.
    [By contrast,] the ACTU is pushing for tax cuts [to compensate] for the fall in real wages that it accepts as inevitable …
    [There is, therefore,] very little chance of any increase in publicly funded elements of the 'social wage'. …
    (p 50)

    The Advantages of Professionalism

    {The term 'profession' comes from the verb 'to profess', meaning to take vows of religion, or enter a religious order. …
    The term was later used for a vocation which relied on a 'professed' or 'declared' knowledge of some particular kind of learning or science.
    From the sixteenth century it was applied specifically to divinity, law, medicine and the military.}

    When asked to list the highest status occupations, nearly all Australians start with medicine, dentistry, law and engineering.
    While corporate executives earn the most money … they appear considerably further down the status ranking, quite close to journalists.
    It is a small group of professions which inspires particular public confidence and respect. …
    Doctors, for example, find that title can be used as a kind of credit card.
    (p 53)

    The most important element [of the professional ethos is the claim to possess] specialist knowledge gained from long periods of formal training.
    [Many modern professions] would define that expertise as scientific. …

    The extent to which different professional associations have succeeded in obtaining an exclusive authority to practise their skills varies considerably.
    (p 54)

    Doctors and lawyers are among the most successful, with a legally sanctioned monopoly over a range of medical and legal activities. …
    In … professions where people can practise … without formal qualifications … it is common for the professional association involved to take steps to discredit them.
    The Institute of Chartered Accountants … for example, [warns] prospective clients away from anyone who is not a member of the institute. …

    External regulation, it is argued [is] both unnecessary and ineffective, for only other members of the profession [—] who have also [been] trained in the accepted manner [—] are competent to judge the practices of individual members. …

    The high social status of professional people is not … simply a function of their highly valued specialist skills.
    It also reflects a widespread belief that [they] are not motivated by the same simple self-interest that motivates most ordinary workers and … employees.
    (p 55)

    The altruistic image of the professions, has however, been tarnished by what are clearly the self-interested activities of some members. …

    Professions, it could be argued, have a vested interest in preserving the standards of conduct of their members, and publicly disciplining those who betray them. …

    [On the other hand,] professions have a vested interest in minimizing such disciplinary proceedings in order to maintain public confidence.
    Entry into the entrepreneurial business classes requires wealth, but entry into the professions appears to require nothing more than intelligence and education.
    (p 57)

    [However, there] is considerable evidence that the formal measures of intelligence that universities … rely on do not in fact measure intelligence as such.
    What they measure is the extent to which student have learnt to think, like and value the ideals of middle-class professional people.
    Not surprisingly, an individual's chances are greatly enhanced if her or she comes from a middle-class family.
    [And for engineering, architecture, dentistry, economics and commerce,] it also helps to be a man. …

    In America [the children of] professional and semi-professional parents have a five and a half times greater chance of graduating from college than children of manual workers.
    The children of parents in the managerial occupations have only two and a half times the chance of working-class children.
    In Australia … one out of every two university students has a father in the professional or managerial occupation.
    However, if you want to enter a lower status profession such as engineering, accounting or teaching then you can afford to have parents in slightly lower status occupations.

    Critics of the ideology of professionalism [argue that] the professions … artificially restrict their numbers so as to preserve high levels of demand for their skills.
    [In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, for example] doctors became very concerned about [the dangers of] oversupply.
    (p 58)

    They responded by demanding that entry into medical schools be restricted [— ostensibly] to maintain standards and protect the community interest.
    Medical specialists … are in an even better position to restrict their numbers since they directly control both the required training and examination.
    [Similarly, solicitors] and barristers are … in a position to limit the numbers of law graduates who are finally admitted to [the practise of law.]
    In this they are simply doing what craft unions have always done, using the apprenticeship system to restrict the supply of skilled labour [in order to] increase its value. …
    [The professions can be viewed simply as] very successful trade unions [—] the only real difference [being that they] are more self-righteous.
    [And] the ideology of altruistic professionalism [a means of distracting attention away from] pecuniary motives.
    (p 59)

    Bans of advertising and price competition [can] be seen as devices to protect the interests of established members of the profession by preventing competition.
    Many legal fees are … set by bodies that consist exclusively of past and present members of the legal profession, with no accountability to the users of their services.
    {The autonomy of the medical profession in this area is, however, being progressively undermined …
    Doctors who have been trained at considerable public cost, who work in very expensive public hospitals, and whose fees are subsidized under the government Medicare system can expect the state to try to control their fees.
    (p 60)

    It would appear that professions are the preserve of middle-class occupations; it is hard to imagine any working-class occupation, however skilled, being granted professional status.
    (p 61)

    Given the enormous growth in scientific expertise about all aspects of the human body … it is perhaps understandable that doctors have not been able to claim professional superiority in them all.
    However, rather than allow serious competition to develop … medicine has carefully confined each one to a specific part of the body, or [limited] it to [practicing] only one therapeutic technique.
    Dentists, optometrists and pharmacists are independent professions … but they are in [all] in important ways subordinate to medicine …
    (p 63)

    Chiropractic, together with osteopathy, homoeopathy and naturopathy have traditionally been denied official recognition, refused state support for their training, and excluded from health insurance rebates.
    [Their] claims to legitimate recognition as profession have been successfully opposed by the medical profession.
    [And while doctors claim] that their opposition to these alternative practitioners [stems from a] concern about the scientific basis of their skills, it is reasonable to suggest that the doctors' desire to preserve their professional pre-eminence … plays a major role. …

    The take-over of a traditionally female-dominated event, childbirth, by male professions is usually justified in terms of [a claim to having] expertise that is derived from scientific training.
    (p 65)

    There can be little doubt, however, that their pre-eminence in this particular field owes much to the power of gender.
    [That is,] doctors were able to bring … midwives directly under their control because doctors were predominantly male and the latter female.
    Other strategies had to be used against chiropractors and optometrists because they tended to be male, but the authority and autonomy of midwives could be undermined [purely on the] grounds of sexual difference.
    Male doctors vigorously opposed the entry of women into medicine in the late nineteenth century on the grounds of their alleged 'biological incapacity' for scientific thought.
    In Melbourne, women were successfully prevented from [entering medicine] until 1887.

    Furthermore, there is little reason to believe that this scientific training [had any] beneficial effects on the the 'patient'.
    [Initially,] the transfer of childbirth from the home to the first 'lying-in' hospitals led to greatly increased mortality rates because doctors were unknowingly spreading infection among their patients.
    [As] late as 1932 the British Ministry of Health concluded that by far the most important reason for maternal death was mismanagement on the part of the doctor.
    In Australia the maternal and infant mortality rate failed to improve for similar reasons.
    (p 66)

    The extent to which different occupational groups can successfully maintain themselves as truly autonomous and self-regulating professions varies greatly …
    The most successful are those, like doctors, which offer a service for which there is a strongly felt need, and for which lengthy specialist training can plausibly be demanded. …

    The rise of the modern business corporation [has been] responsible for the creation of a large number of professions around different aspects of business management, like accounting and architecture …
    In the same way, the expansion of the role of the state … into the public provision of health care, education and welfare has been accompanied by the growth of the so-called 'welfare professions' — social work, child psychology and many others.
    (p 67)

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