Increasing exploitation from Taylorism to Toyota and Lean

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Increasing exploitation from Taylorism to Toyota and Lean
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Increasing exploitation from Taylorism to Toyota and Lean. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

I remember once wathcing the

I remember once wathcing the postman on his route followed by some management clown counting his steps. I wondered, "Who is counting the counter's steps?"

I think this article is good evidence of what happens to science under captialism. Its one more reason why we cannot adopt an uncritical attitude towards science, lest the instrumental reason that undergirds it come back and bite us in the arse.

This article is a bit

This article is a bit shattering with it's exposure of the lengths the bourgeoisie's boss class will go to screw workers. The people employed to investigate workers's habits, keep discovering that they're lazy. Of course they're lazy! To be anything else - to be enthusiastic about making money for the bosses - would be stupid and self-destructive! Laziness in workers is a sign of resilience and self-respect; as is possession of a properly functioning and essential rebellious streak. The latter should be a carefully nurtured part of any workers' strategies of thought, and a major contributor to developing class consciousness.

But this really shook me. "Today with the Lean practices introduced into major departments of the British civil service (including HMRC, DWP, MOJ, and MOD), workers have ‘efficiency savings’ as an integral part of their job. There are regular meetings (often daily) on work priorities; these are held standing up, for reasons of efficiency. Workers time the work processes, identify forms of waste, and propose changes in work practices. This ‘bottom-up’ approach goes along with an increasing emphasis on management being described as ‘leaders’. Efficiency savings are made from workers’ suggestions, the ‘leaders’ try to enforce impossible targets, and decide whose post is next to be eliminated."

What?! Meetings held standing up? And recalcitrants will be told to stand in a corner with their backs to the rest of the class. This all sounds so old-fashioned. Does it really happen? I know "cheering up" meetings are held first thing in the morning in China, S.Korea, Thailand and so on, to make sure everybody's toeing the line and still on the bosses' side (lol), but in the British Civil beggars belief. Aren't these workers supposed to be smart, clever, intelligent, well-qualified and so on? The creme de la creme. Yet they put up with all this crap! Tell me it isn't true. Still, at least it's left to the "leaders" to decide who's job goes next. When the workers are required to do this themselves - standing up of course, or even on their heads- then decomposition will have truly hit the fan, and workers who put up with this treatment should have a re-think!

bourgeois business theories in decadence

Not sure about the standing up for meetings bit,  this sounds like a mad manager, but it is interesting to review the development of management theory.  

I think the starting point here is to note that capitalism started studying business and management practice at the start of decadence just when it was needing new ways of managing the economy and making more profit.  Business organisation theory has come a long way since and could be said to contain good ideas for improving organisations and quality systems but its all put into practice in ways designed to exploit workers better which helps capitalism but just puts greater pressure on workers.     Taylor's ideas were fairly primitive because he was pretty much the first theoretician of industrial practice.  His time managment was particularly useful for managing the large factories and production lines that were emerging at the turn of the 19th century (ie fordism).  He also believed paying wages was sufficient motivation for workers!

Since then there was a period where the humanists were studying business practice and decided that treating workers better would improve their performance!  Then came quality systems and marketing around the second world war - all trying to get to grips with production and marketing in a world of intense competition and increasly complex production systems operating in a more intense global market.

In more recent years we have seen the idea of total quality management (TQM) take over.  As the article mentions it includes lean production but also Just in Time, flexible manufature  and establishes customer focus as a whole company policy and tries to involve all workers in product and service improvements.  As a philosophy it tries or rather presents itself as a way to involve workers in decision making and improving conditions but it is also very demanding of commitment and time.  Its the Japanese systems of company commitment but of course in the UK managers prefer to retain their status and simply demand greater effort and performance from others.  It is however far more appropriate to a period of intense competition and increased use of IT in business systems.  In particular in manufacturing itself where it complements the use decentralisation in manufacturing and the emergence of small high tech firms and greater focus in production,  again with the objective of extracting maximum profits.   

There was an article in WR a while ago about racism and how that has changed in the last half century.  I would link this topic to business theory and employment legislation on equality and Health and Safety for example as changes made by capitalism which can easily be made to sound like positive steps forward - liberal improvements in society - but which actually perform this same role for capitalism of more efficient exploitation.  In decadence, when competition is more intense and profits are being constrained, the bourgeiosie cannot afford not to minimise the disruption of  its manufacturing organisations.  

Hi Link. Your in depth post

Hi Link. Your in depth post above about business organization theory, and the bourgeoisie's efforts to improve it's exploitative capabilities, provides a very succinct history of their developments in this field. It's obviously an important subject for them. And it's clearly a subject you know a lot about. Did you already know about it before writing the post, or did you look it all up specially? It's just that your detailed focus on and analysis of what the bourgeoisie is up to - as opposed to perhaps focussing more on how the exploited who suffer at tbe hands of these organizational theories need to resist their demeaning effects - puzzles and bothers me. Of course, a study of business organization theory provides material for an article or a substantial post, in a way that just saying that the working class should "resist" or explaining how it suffers increasingly from new methods of management, doesn't. And I can certainly be justly accused again of not taking comrades' in-depth attempts at understanding the bourgeoisie, their economy and how it works, and their new business techniques and so on, as seriously as I should. No, that's wrong! I do take it seriously, it's just that I can't always see the relevance of some of the work done by comrades to the class struggle itself, which connection appears often to be taken for granted by the comrades involved. In response to this rather muddled and poorly thought out criticism of mine - I need help here!- a comment to the effect that such and such a piece of research will/may have implications for what happens in the period of transition is not automatically persuasive. Just as Link's throw-away remark above, about racism and business theory, might well have been the more significant part of his post, because it could have related to struggle and consciousness had he gone into it, rather than just giving us a reminder of some ICC article. Though this is useful too.

I am not against comrades knowing a lot of stuff, reading a lot, analyzing a lot etc. I'm glad comrades do all that, because I can't/don't/have no wish too/ am too lazy/ etc. to do it myself. It's to tap into all this wealth of knowledge that provides one reason for my frequent visits to this site. But it's when the "knowledge" changes into wisdom about the class struggle, or transmutes into a glorious proletarian class consciouness, that the site blooms best for me.

I say this in all humility and with the deepest respect for all ICC comrades, so please keep that in mind.

theory and class struggle are not necessarily in contradiction


Hello Fred.  I will certainly try to respond seriously to your point.  You have explained yourself here and it deserves a proper answer even if get a bit flippant at times.  I would like to point out also Lonelondoners responses to JK and yourself in the thread on Luxemburg as he also tackled this issue seriously and sensibly.  

First of all, I am not a member of the ICC although I have to admit to having been so many many years ago.  For my sins I lost touch and spent the interim in isolation politically, bringing up kids, decorating gardening, getting menopausal and working too.  In getting back in touch, I am having to reread lots and catch up on political debate that took place in the interim.  I find I am questioning things a lot more than I did before and trying to learn how to discuss electronically.  Ive only just started logging on the this forum although im struggling to shut myself up already!!

What I really want to say is that certain key points of theory are essential.  For me in the wilderness,  concepts of modes of production and classes, or decadence and class struggle were so important  – they make a really strong framework for understanding current events  For me it demonstrates that theory helps  put class struggle in context.  How else is it possible to retain a class understanding of events whether from the actions of the luddites to the Russian revolution or to the power station workers on strike a couple of years ago.  Without a theoretical framework it is all to easy to be persuaded down the wrong path whether by management, by leftists, or by your self.   Personally I don’t think anybody should be creating rules about what can or cant be discussed however I am quite happy that all discussions should approach and respect priorities that emerge.  Indeed there is a certain history of discussions that can actually be helpful to understand issues and I think this is one of things I raised in my questions about Luxembourg’s economics

To be honest you have got me re the tone of the contribution on management theory.  It is somewhat academically written you are right, I just waffled away without thinking too much.  Ive given myself away there, - I was a teacher and whats worse I taught business studies!!! Now my self- justification for that is that I taught unemployed people at an FE college initially  and I put my focus on employment skills as far as I was able and this felt incredibly constructive to me (not as a political activity but personally as work I could cope with in capitalist society).   As teaching changed I ended up doing more academic type courses which I was not so happy with.  Now Quality Management is the driest subject in the world, its horrible, but what I did find interesting there is the history of quality management - as you can see from the contribution - because it explains one aspect of capitalism’s development in decadence.  In many ways I would argue that there is actually an lack of understanding of this element of  ruling class strategy.  I don’t care if you don’t like the subject as its not so important that I feel the need to persuade you, but I do think I am right.  If someone wants to argue with that and persuade me otherwise that’s fine too, I would be interested in their viewpoint which is ultimately why i entered that contribution.   And as the original article pointed out, Lenin was happy that the bolsheviks made use of comrades knowledge of bourgeois techniques and sciences to rebuild their economy.  Today we would approach building a communist society differently to the Bolsheviks but we would not write off science and constructive skills/techniques just because capitalism used them badly.

Slothjabber for example is an archeologist.  Its his job just as others work as teachers, bank officials, accountants, assembly workers, painters etc.  His expertise is in Roman History.  Again its not class struggle but his explanations on the limits of Roman growth and its decadence are fascinating.   Purely academic, no again because it helps clarify what capitalism’s decadence is about too.   That’s important.  Some issues are therefore of personal interest some are important to understanding current events. As long as priorities are recognised whats the problem with discussing them.

Hello Fred Part 2


Both the ICC and CWO are both moving to less use of publications and meetings in favour of internet discussion.  I would very much hope that you see a flourishing of debate on all sorts of subjects on their sites therefore as this will be the only way for those of us isolated from the big cities to engage in ongoing discussion.  My interests obviously are not yours and vice versa but there is nothing so urgent going on a present that such discussions cannot be pursued constructively.   Frankly, if you are not interested in specific topics, thats fine, discuss what affects you and what you are interesting in.  No problems from me there.  In the middle of a big strike wave, then clearly the content of these blogs would change, trust comrades to recognise priorities.

There are other threads on the ICC’s discussions which many comrades think are  important today - eg  Ecology and matriarchal tribal society.  I note that you have not contributed to either, neither have I.   Do we need to?  No.  Does that mean the discussion is irrelevant?  No.  Does that mean the discussion is irrelevant to class struggle?  Not at all.  Ecology is not about strikes but it is about capitalist policies in decadence.   However, it is relevant to workers in Nigeria or Alaska and may well become so to workers living in seaports or reclaimed land!  I would not argue with a comrade though who says that we are all in danger of annihilation if we do not stop capitalism from destroying the world and us in it.  I’m just not sure what is right here and I will try to listen.  You could persuade me onto your side about matrilineal tribes however! 

What are your personal interests or expertise?  Do you have an interest in photography, gardening?  No but I do and maybe one day  I can be influential in the left communist institute of photography when it emerges midway through the period of transition when the questions are raised about communist art or non racist or non sexist or non alienated art!!!   Not interesting in workplace management ?  Fine I can understand that.  However somebody else will have to be though, because that is clearly an issue in breaking from capitalism to build communism.  What recommendations would the ICC make on this issue??  When will it finally get round to discussing it and taking a position??  Probably midway through the period of transition!!  Fine again but it will need doing.

When you say these issues are not about class struggle, i think what you mean is strikes as far as I can see.  Now I am quite happy if you focus in that respect and inform other comrades - I really need to know more about the situation in Greece or the strikes in india and Bangladesh and the Philippines.  But I don’t think its right to suggest all other discussions are automatically irrelevant to us.   The article on increased exploitation in the workplace was about how workers are managed in companies and the strategies that management uses to manipulate and exploit workers. This is clearly a very relevant element in the class struggle.   An understanding of what management is doing to exploit workers must be an important ingredient to waging disputes and discussing them as political events.   If you disagree and think strikes should only be discussed from the workers point of view, then you need to explain why that is good practice, not just question the discussion.

What are you interested in personally?  Clearly literature and music - although how anybody can get so upset about Shelley and so enthusiastic about Debussy and Messiaen (?) defeats me entirely.   Are you  however suggesting this topic is a contribution to current class struggle and more relevant than economic theory or ecology or fascism?  I very much doubt it but its your personal interest and it will have relevance one day.  Now if you want to discuss Zappa’s contribution to radical art – excellent I could get to grips with that.

Finally then - at last.  I would summarise by saying that the glorious working class consciousness you seek in articles cannot just exist in articles on strike histories.  If the proletariat is capable of taking over and building a new society it is because it is an exploited class with no economic interests to defend.  From this perspective it is the only class that has the capacity to understand the real world as a whole and consciously manage all aspects of it – hopefully.  Not everyone individually but as a class and eventually as society as a whole.  There is no limit therefore on that glorious consciousness so don't limit yourself or others. 

First comrade Link thank you

First comrade Link thank you for responding in such an open, frank, honest and friendly way, and not talking down to me in a condescending and patronizing manner, as if you know a lot more about everything than I do, which wouldn't be difficult - and you probably do anyway - though I don't see that as the point. You raise many issues but I will only deal with one. You say that I am (only?) interested in class struggle, and that for me this means "strikes". From my point of view this is quite wrong, but it's curious that this is how you see me. You then take this false understanding and proceed gleefully to state that the glorious working class consciouness I am seeking can't just exists in articles on strike histories. You are quite correct. In fact you have put your finger on my complaint. I want the "glorious working class consciouness" to be present in all articles, including those on economics, archeology, business management, Frank Zappa, you name it etc.

I have been re-reading your second post again and find I like it a lot less than I at first thought. You are much too smart for my taste. I'm out of here!

trench ant
Meetings held standing up


In terms of the link between theory and practice it’s worth adding that holding meetings standing up is not a mad theory, or an isolated practice instituted by a handful of eccentric managers: it’s a practice in many major departments of the British civil service.

Typically called something like “Ten at Ten” (a daily ten minutes at 10.00am) they involve a quick review of the previous day, checking who’s in, who’s covering for anyone, what today’s priorities are, and how the solving of on-going problems is going. They’re held standing up to supposedly prevent waffle. Sometimes called the Daily Scrum they also have a place in the project management practices of departments in major corporations.

The key thing is that workers are being actively encouraged to hold meetings, not to discuss how to struggle, but how to make exploitation more efficient. In the civil service they’re taken seriously by management, but not by most staff. They’re seen as just another irksome part of the daily round.

Thanks for that clarification

Thanks for that clarification trench ant, I had not come across this practice myself.  I worked in education  so the thing that we were not short of was tables and chairs for meetings and management would have had a hard time preventing us using them.  I do remember however that as we moved into a new building, the rooms got smaller as did the desks provided for teachers on which to put materials and there were no chairs so that we were supposed to teach standing up and use just IT.  

What was particularly noteworthy about what  management required was the reduction of the ability by teachers to make decisions about teaching content.  The content was predetermined more and more by qualifications and less and less time allowed to respond to students' individual needs. And overall the refrain from management was that more work was required from staff (more students more classes more paperwork) despite which quality had to improve too.   Again not an accidental policy, management were clearly geared up to arguing that line despite the absurdity.

Total Quality Management



I would just like to develop some points raised earlier.  Deming was one of the theoreticians of TWM, an American who worked in Japan to support their redevelopment after WW2.  He list the following 14pts as key features of how to implement TQM in industry. They always seemed to me to be highly idealistic in terms of application to capitalism.  Japan did change a lot however from its despotic imperialistic approach prior to the war to a very modernistic approach to industrial management   post war eg the Toyota Production system.  In practice, education management appointed quality managers so that they had no ideas of quality management other than prevailing management policies and they managers were scared still when confronted by some of Demings ideas.  They are not at all what they were allowed to do.  Management in the UK uses TQM to exploit workers at ever greater levels and particularly to get workers to contribute to their own exploitation just as trench ant states.  

Deming's 14 Points

1. Create constancy of purpose to improve product and service.

2. Adopt new philosophy for new economic age by management learning responsibilities and taking leadership for change.

3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality; eliminate the need for mass inspection by building quality into the product.

4. End awarding business on price; instead minimise total cost and move towards single suppliers for items.

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service to improve quality and productivity and to decrease costs.

6. Institute training on the job.

7. Institute leadership; supervision should be to help do a better job; overhaul supervision of management and production workers.

8. Drive out fear so that all may work effectively for the organization.

9. Break down barriers between departments; research, design, sales and production must work together to foresee problems in production and use.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations and numerical targets for the workforce, such as 'zero defects' or new productivity levels. Such exhortations are diversionary as the bulk of the problems belong to the system and are beyond the power of the workforce.

11. Eliminate quotas or work standards, and management by objectives or numerical goals; substitute leadership.

12. Remove barriers that rob people of their right to pride of workmanship; hourly workers, management and engineering; eliminate annual or merit ratings and management by objective.

13. Institute a vigorous education and self-improvement programme.

14. Put everyone in the company to work to accomplish the transformation

What I do wonder is whether some of these ideas can be made use of by a working class regime in future.  Going back to the original article, the bottom up interpretation that can be made of these guidelines ie the contribution workers can make to management production and themselves, could help assuage Ossinki’s objections to Lenin’s approach.  Certainly TQM theories have more contribution to make to production management than Taylor’s rather primitive ideas of paying wages as a motivator and time and motion studies.