The Labour Process And Class Consciousness

Cohen, Sheila Elizabeth (1986). The Labour Process And Class Consciousness. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis proceeds via a critique of the labour process debate and its central conception of "control" to the attempt to develop an alternative theory of the labour process based on an analysis of exploitation. This involves the use of a classical Marxist model of capitalist economics in which the primary objective of valorisation is emphasised as structuring the organisation of the contemporary labour process. Two aspects of this objective are invoked; that relating to the extraction of surplus value, in which both the intensification and abstraction of labour are noted as continuing tendencies in the development of the labour process, and that relating to the relationship between paid and unpaid labour time, in which the commodity status of labour is seen as central in integrating the issue of subsistence into the heart of the labour process itself.

In locating these interlinked strands in the structuring of the labour process the thesis takes on two further tasks: firstly to demonstrate the centrality of contradictions within the capitalist labour process; and secondly to unite objective and subjective in the consideration of that labour process. This latter task shapes the third theme within the thesis , the analysis of worker response or "class consciousness".

Our argument in this respect has focussed on the need to recognise worker response and resistance as centrally "economistic", but at the same time has indicated the political implications of such response. Empirical material from the two case studies undertaken within the thesis is presented in order to sustain this argument, along with a briefer survey of some published studies. Overall, the analysis holds that while worker response must be recognised as economistic rather than "control"-oriented, such response is rooted in the contradictions of the capitalist labour process,and can thus be understood as endemically undermining its structures

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