Saturday, May 18, 2019

Letters: What is productivity? (1969)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is productivity?


What is the socialist definition of this hoodoo that Barbara Castle is using, namely, The Productivity Act? My opinion is that there is no such thing unless applied where material things are produced and distributed. It can never apply to bus drivers and conductors, train drivers and firemen, postmen and sorters, messengers, paper-keepers, those in government offices, police- men, or the army, navy, and air force. But it would apply to miners, bricklayers, coalcarters, and those who work in places where wealth is produced.
M. R. Thorpe 
Brixton, London SW9

All Barbara Castle means by 'productivity’ is efficiency at work. So, as far as she is concerned, this can be imposed on all workers whether or not they are engaged in the actual production of wealth. Sales clerks can be made to fill in more forms, reply to more letters, answer more phone calls in the same period of time. If they do, then their ‘productivity’ will have gone up.

‘Productivity’, in this sense, is just a fancy word for ‘speed-up’. It’s the old trick of “if you work harder, we'll pay you more”. The Labour government are interested in promoting this because they are committed to running capitalism in the only way it can be—in the interests of the capitalist class. If workers can be got to work harder, then the capitalists have a chance of regaining some of the overseas markets they have lost in recent years (the prime cause of their economic difficulties).

Wealth is produced by the application of human energy to materials found in nature. All work involves both ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ activity (in fact of course the two can’t be separated) so that it is wrong to regard just what is called ‘manual’ work as productive. The work of design and planning is just as productive as the work of carrying out the plans. So the mining engineer and the architect, whose work is generally regarded as white-collar, are just as much productive workers as the miner and the bricklayer. So are many technical, administrative, and clerical workers. Others are not of course, especially those concerned with buying and selling and with discipline, including the police and armed forces.

Mr. Thorpe is wrong in implying that transport workers are not productive. The labour spent in bringing an article of wealth to market does add value to the product. It is just as much a part of the production process as the manufacturing stage.

Capitalist exploitation is a class matter. The whole of the working class is exploited by the whole of the capitalist class because production already has a social, co-operative character. It is wrong to say that the workers at Fords are exploited just by Ford’s shareholders, just as it is wrong to say that they alone produce the cars. The labour of the millions of workers involved in the production of a car (including the growing and mining and transporting of the original raw materials from start to finish is what produces a car, not just the labour of those in at the finish. Ford’s shareholders merely get a return in accordance with the economic law of average profit—a profit based on the amount of capital they have invested and not (necessarily) equal to the surplus value extracted in their factories. What in effect happens is that all the surplus value extracted under capitalism in a given period is, as it were, pooled and then divided out in accordance with the amount of capital each capitalist has invested. The capitalist system is thus a kind of joint-stock company for the capitalist class.

Those workers engaged in non-productive work are not just a burden on their employers. Far from it. They may not produce extra wealth for him but they do save him money. For their work—say, in balancing his books or selling his goods—is essential to his business. From the employer’s point of view money spent on it is a necessary expense of production. Non-productive workers are exploited in this way: if for example ten hours’ work is needed to calculate workers’ wages, the clerk doing this job will put in this work but will be paid the equivalent of less than ten hours’ labour. He thus saves his employer money and that is why he is employed.

The employer doesn’t see it this way. He knows from experience that his profit tends to be based on how much he has invested, not on how many workers of what kind he employs. As far as he is concerned the wages he pays to all his workers are a necessary expense which he’d like to cut down. He would like them all to work harder. Which brings us back to Barbara Castle and productivity. She too wants us all to work harder.
Editorial Committee

What, NO P.M.!


I consider myself a socialist, even if my concept of Socialism differs from yours, and I would like you to answer some questions for me.

1. What alternatives does the Socialist Party offer for a stable economic system from the present one to a system under socialist rule?

2. If the Socialist Party grew strong enough and was generally elected as government (tomorrow);
   a. Who would be prime minister? (Tell me about him).
   b. What ministries would there be, and who would be in charge of them?
   c. What standards of living could the working class be assured of?
   d. Could there be any millionaires?
S. G. Pollard 
Sheffield 9

Mr Pollard’s "Socialism” certainly differs from ours if under it there will still be a prime minister, a working class and millionaires! However, lets proceed point by point.

1. In place of the present economic system based on the class ownership of the means of life and their consequent use to provide profits for the owners, we are suggesting that the means of life he vested in the community as a whole and be under its democratic management so that wealth can be produced solely to satisfy human wants. Freed from the barrier of profit, we shall be able to produce in abundance all the things we need. Gone will be the absurd paradoxes of poverty amidst plenty, of food being burned while children starve, of building workers being unemployed while people live in hovels. Naturally. Socialism can only exist on a world scale.

2. If the Socialist Party grew strong enough and a majority of voters backed us then we would not form a government, with a prime minister and cabinet, to administer a system where workers and millionaires would still exist. We do not seek political power in order to run capitalism, but to abolish it. So that, if there were a Socialist majority, steps would immediately be taken to end private property in the means of production and to put in its place common ownership and democratic control.

a. For this we don't need a prime minister, a post generally filled by the leader' of the party that wins the election. The Socialist Party is made up of conscious socialists organised on a democratic basis and so has no leader or leaders.

b. We have seen that a socialist majority would use its power to change the basis of society from class to common ownership. This of course will amount to a social revolution. But this doesn’t mean we’ll be starling from scratch. Socialists have always maintained that capitalism paves the way for Socialism by, for instance, developing the large-scale co-operative production that makes class ownership an anachronism. This large-scale co-operative productive system, including its administrative apparatus, will be the basis of socialist society. The basic function of the state is to be the public power of coercion and for this purpose it is organised as the police, the armed forces, and the prison service. A public power of coercion is necessary only in class society with its built-in class conflict. In Socialism the state will no longer he needed and will be dismantled. However, today the government has itself assumed other, purely technical and administrative, tasks and this aspect of its work is in fact part of the productive system. We have in mind the old Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transport, or the Ministry of Power. No doubt the administrative apparatus that is these and other ministries can be adapted for use as part of the socialist administration of industry. We can’t go into details (that’s something for the socialist majority, including maybe Mr. Pollard, to work out at the time) but we can say that the adaptions will be far-reaching— everything to do with finance will go, and the internal structure will have to be reorganised on a democratic basis. What we say about these technical ministries applies equally to the large administrative establishments not part of the government machine such as those at the service of firms like GEC and ICI. Obviously, there'll be a certain continuity in institutions between capitalism and Socialism and at the start we'll have to make do with what we’ve inherited. There’ll be more urgent problems than a streamlined administration to be tackled; for instance, growing more food and ending the housing scandal.

c. The 'working class’ won’t be assured of any standard of living because there won’t be any working class. With the end of capitalism will go all classes. Those who used to be workers (or capitalists) will still be around but they will now be free and equal members, of society faced with the problem of organising themselves to provide the food, clothing, shelter, and other things they need to live. The profit barrier gone, how much they consume will depend on how much they are prepared to produce and that’ll be something for society to decide democratically, But the basic rule will be “from each according to his ability, to each according to hi„ needs’’. Every member of socialist society will have free access to the fruits of their co-operative labour.

d. No, there won’t be any millionaires because there won’t be any money. This will have become superfluous with the introduction of production solely and directly for use. Common ownership and democratic control will mean that everybody will be socially equal.
Editorial Committee

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