Labor process theory

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Labour Process Theory is a late Marxist theory of the organization of work under capitalism. It critiques scientific management as authored by Frederick W Taylor in the early 1900s, and uses central concepts developed by Harry Braverman in the 1970s. Recent attempts have been made to use labor process theory to explain workers' bargaining power under contemporary global capitalism. Labor Process Theory has developed into a broader set of interventions and texts linked to critiquing new forms of management strategy of an exploitative nature.[1]

Harry Braverman was an industrial worker for most of his life in the United States during the height of Fordist labour management and production techniques in manufacturing. In Labour and Monopoly Capital he examines his own experiences through a Marxist perspective, drawing attention to the very small processes of work that were ignored by Marxists for much of the Twentieth century. His studies coincided with the Autonomist Marxist theory in Italy which paid similar attention to the factory floor.

Labour Process Theory looks at how people work, who controls their work, what "skills" they use in work, and how they are paid for work. Braverman posits a very broad thesis: that under capitalism, management steals workers skills, reduces the pleasurable nature of work and the power workers have through controlling skill, while cutting their wages by reducing their wages to those of unskilled workers and increasing the amount of exertion required from workers. Braverman primarily pays attention to the class-in-itself or the working class as the subject of management and capitalist brutality, acknowledging his inability to attend to working class self-emancipation in this context. Others, following in Braverman's footsteps have criticised his "deskilling" thesis as not universal; and, have attended to working class resistance to the imposition of Fordism.

A key element of labour process theory is an analysis of the local systems of management and control, and an examination of how these are used to reduce the power of sections of the working class who hold work skills that aren't reproducible by unskilled labour or machine power.


  1. ^ Braverman, Harry. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital. New York, Free Press