Braverman, Harry. Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth

 

Braverman, Harry. Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth
Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.

This book is one with a recent overview of Taylorism in the American labor market. The two
pertinent chapters are "Scientific Management," (pp. 85-123) and "The Primary Effects of
Scientific Management," (pp. 124-138). My impression on reading Taylor and his followers,
Frank and Lilian Gilbreth, is that Scientific Management is a disaster for American Industry. It is
an attempt at rationalizing the workplace and had been a premature effort. This book suggests
that Taylorism is now a part of the Weltanschauung of Capitalistic industry. Indeed, the way
management now looks at labor here in the U.S. assumes his views. Taylorism got a bad name
back in the '20s; the name, therefore, went away but the ideas did not.

For centuries, bosses let employees get a job done as best they could. In this sense, the boss used
his employees to help him. Taylor saw a natural antipathy between workingmen and employer.
The boss, in Taylor's view, should find the best (engineering-wise) method of completing a task
(time and motion studies), and then see to it that the workman did his work as he was told. The
employee was not, in this scheme, a human being at all but part of the industrial machine. This
view, Braverman argues, has permeated American Industry. (Incidentally, this thinking
influenced Elton Mayo as well.)

The central position taken here is that Taylorism contributes enormously to the alienation of the
worker. By removing all craft considerations, Taylor substituted mechanical skill. Employees
were only machines and were to be treated as such. This had enormous psychological and social
consequences on the ways in which individuals think and, indeed, in the ways in which Labor has
come to think.

What Taylorism did in the United States was to insure worker dissatisfaction. Braverman does
not deal with the question of why Taylorism caught on as it did with American Industry.
Certainly it was not because production increased (it did not). My own argument is that
Taylorism served the ideological needs of management: it made their responsibilities so simple.