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Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century

Scientific management is an attempt to apply scientific methods to the extremely complex problem of controlling labor in continually expanding capitalist enterprises. Its main goal is to improve productivity of the workers. The theory of the scientific management lacks the features of true science as its hypothesis reflects only the capitalist outlook on the issue with regard on production conditions. All the establishments of capitalist society are carried on labor processes; thus, the movement that encourages the scientific management as a factor of creation of a modern corporation is crucial indeed. Frederick Taylor has developed a theory of labor management; his first methods such as incentive-pay schemes and functional foremanship were rejected and replaced by more advanced methods, which represents the total misunderstanding of genuine management development dynamics. After the struggle, Taylor reached the conclusion that workers are not controlled enough when their work is administrated only by strict orders and discipline, as they strive to fully realize their potential. To prevent such a situation, the labor control must be entrusted to the management by explaining and ruling each step of the process, including the way it is performed. To attain the highest level of productivity, the working process must be dissociated from the workers’ skills. Rather, it must be independent from knowledge, craft, and traditions; and it must entirely depend on the management practices. To provide the right management process, Taylor created three principles of labor management by following which the workers’ awareness of their tasks increases, so they can pre-plan their actions. Therefore, the management itself becomes more conscious as it removes personal relationship from the labor process.

Taylorism presupposes three principles developing labor management. The aim of the first principle is to enable the management to explore and ensure the shortest way that workers improvise on their own. Such an innovative approach creates new methods that can be imposed only through the way of regular study. This first principle can be called the separation of the working process from the workers’ skills. The reason is that in order to perform the work at a high level the workers must stop working intuitively and start discovering the subjects of their work; thus, they will have the full realization of the situations that can probably happen during the working process. In addition, they can both prevent accidents and provide perform their duties diligently. If people know what they do and for what purpose, they will use their knowledge of the whole process rather than their intuition, which cannot guarantee the right variant of solving the problem. Even provided that the workers’ experience is really great, many processes of the company have a particular mechanism of performance, and it is vital for the workers to be aware of its basics. Having no proper understanding of their tasks, the workers can make mistakes without even realizing it. That is why it is necessary to provide the staff with some materials they should know. Awareness of the workers has only sheer benefits as the more the personnel know about their job, the more skillful they are and the better results they have. In its turn, good quality of production or service elevates the enterprise above the similar ones, promoting its perspective on the market. The first principle of Taylorism envisages collecting together all existing traditional knowledge that was derived from the workmen, categorizing them into simple understandable rules and formulas they can manage.

The second principle of Taylorism implies focusing all the possible intellectual work on managing labor rather than putting it to the working process. Nowadays, human labor is not an individual but a social phenomenon, and it is possible to differentiate between an execution and a conception. Modern labor is dehumanized and that leads to reduction of its level. Thus, self-organized and self-motivated labor becomes fatal for the working management. The workers are not able to control the working process on their own similarly to their inability to perform methodological efficiency. This principle might be called the division of conception from execution. The first implication of the second principle is that the “science of work” was never improved by the workers themselves – always by management. The main issue of this principle lies in the question why the working process must be studied by the scientists and not by the workers, and why scientific workmanship is less important than scientific management. To provide managerial control and to devalue the workers, conception and execution must be applied to different spheres of work and the cognitive work must be done by those who are involved in management. At the same time, the workers must understand what they do and the reason why they do it. Moreover, they should realize the principles of their work without trying to hold the management on their own.

The third principle of Taylorism implies that the workers must be as skillful in their trade as they possibly can, and the details of the best way of performing their job must lie on them. Nevertheless, there is a slight contradiction as according to the Taylor’s theory, the management must control each part of the working process, including preparation and giving instructions. Hence, the question is whether management or the workers must design the ways of performing the necessary tasks. The answer is obvious, since not the written instruction itself is important but the workers’ understanding of the pre-planning and the goals that are to be reached as well as their ability to vividly imagine these goals and realize their importance. The third principle might be associated with using this monopoly more frequently than knowledge in order to control each step of the working process and the way it is executed. To some extent, it resembles labor division, when everybody makes his or her own work, which results in better quality of the work, even though it can seem very primitive at first. As capitalism developed according to this principle, it became a part of routine, gained the scientific character, and pushed the workers aside precluding them from participating in the growth of the labor process. This made it harder for the workers to understand the processes they conduct, hereby distracting them from implementing of the third principle.

All three principles enable the working process to be fruitful, but to fulfill them; it is not enough just to follow them, as labor process presupposes working in a group of people – together with the other workers. These principles require the abrupt psychological wrench. Such psychological shift between the workers and the management is now reconsidered, because it is no longer a thing of the past. Nowadays, it is related to the development of trade and industry and to the managerial control as well. Despite the emotional connection between the bosses and the workers, the instruction must be accurately fulfilled. This should be carefully adhered to, even if some workers are their bosses’ best friends and know about the labor organization not less than managers. Too close relationships interfere with the labor process and are unacceptable. The results of the activities must be judged fairly, despite the subjective human element. Otherwise, the relations between the managers and the staff are broken and control is impossible; thus, the labor process is damaged and no longer has reasons to exist. Each participant of the labor process should perform his or her task well, regardless of the relationship he/she has with its other cells; otherwise, management is useless.

These three principles created a modern labor management, completed its theoretical basis, and systematized the labor process. Additionally, they turned the process governed by skills to the process governed by science, providing the quickest tempo of its development. These principles ensure that the workers drop to the general level and can handle a greater variety of tasks, instead of performing only one function, which makes the labor process more productive. To attain the highest level of productivity, the working process must be dissociated from the skills of the workers. It must be independent from knowledge, craft, and traditions. The labor process must entirely depend on the management practices, such as uniting the workers in workshops, dictating the length of the working day, and the supervision of workers to eliminate misunderstanding and work-related problems. This is because such distractions as smoking, chatting, leaving the workplace, and conflicts prevent the staff from the productive work. The essential result of separation of conception and execution lies in the fact that the working process is divided between separate bodies of workers and separate sites. On the one hand, the physical process of production is executed, on the other hand, the working process must be planned, designed, calculated, and record-kept. The management is to identify the particular task the workers have to do, to help them understand their goal, to visualize their activity before it has begun. The manager is to define the exact goals of the labor process, explain the personnel what they should do, announce when the project must be ready, motivate the staff to do their work in a proper way, and check the final results. Nowadays, the physical trade is coupled with the science management to make better working conditions, to support better workers’ qualification, and to provide better level of the work done.


Harry Braverman, The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, 1974, p.32—37