Workplace Management: A Business History Book Review
This paper explores two novels of importance written by Richard Edwards and Harry Braverman. Both novels main goals is provide an historical account of American Business systems and how they have developed over the last century. This paper will examine each book's strengths and weaknesses. This paper will discuss how each work relates to the business world. In this respect, it is important to see the similarities and differences between the two men, their different philosophies toward business management and how history has influenced the current state of the business world.
Edwards mainly discussed the management of the workplace and how different management techniques have lead to the transformation of the American corporation. This work mainly focuses on how management functions on the many levels of the company, big or small. He does discuss and explore the issue of workers and different factors that management needs to understand in order for the company to run smoothly. He does not however discuss how workers are a change factor within the workplace. This is clearly stated as he writes, "the general expansion of the firm can be seen in other ways. The Census Bureau provided useful statistics in the increase of average size" (Edwards 28). He believes the change in size has nothing to do with recruitment but with change in economies of scale. After the Industrial Revolution, the United States saw a massive wave of population growth. It makes sense to think that would be in the only reason for change. Edwards continues along the theme of management control and power as he writes, "In such expanded firms, the capitalist and his top managers could personally oversee only a small part of the business activities, yet they forced to direct the hole operation" (28). It seems because his conclusions are heavily geared toward the management side, his prose are dull and too matter of fact. Where Braverman has passion and is challenged, Edwards is riddled with continually arguing the same facts throughout the book. While it is important to express the facts of history as accurately as possible, it is also important to captivate the audience and inspire leadership and change within the current business world. Edwards fails to have vision and compassion. This in turn results in a flat narrative and builds the work on statistics rather than focusing on the human experience. In many ways, it is expected a history novel, nonfiction will be based on the facts and Edwards succeeds in presenting his facts. In this respect, he stands behind his research and by remaining impartial, his tone establishes accuracy and creates integrity for the book. Still when both books are presented side by side, Edwards lacks passion. He is not a man on a mission like Braverman. Every word Edwards writes is based on historical fact which is considered a strength. In some ways while Braverman remains focused on his purpose, his tone also creates an uncomfortable feeling for the reader. Both men discuss Marx and Marxist doctrine but Braverman's passion leads to the reader feeling a certain unease. It is almost as if, Braverman is writing propaganda.
Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the 20th Century is a very significant and profound book. The title does not look very inviting, I know. It is very difficult for people who have a technology background such as needed in today's business world to get a real understanding of what it means when socialists argue that science and technology are fully integrated into hierarchical and authoritarian societies, whether capitalist or state-capitalist. It is even harder to grasp that so-called progress in advanced technological societies has been achieved through the intensification of alienation, with science and technology at the heart of that process. If they turn to Marx a lot of business people are disappointed, since the emphasis on the forms of the commodity relationship, the sale of labor power and the creation of surplus value appear to lead toward economics and away from the labor process and the experience of work in a modern society. Capitalist economics is overtly about the creation and circulation of capital, not people. Braverman is his writing is pro-human rights for better working environments. In contrast, Edwards focuses more on the management aspect and the complete picture of the hierarchy rather than focusing on individuals. Braverman's Marxist political and economic views aim to demystify capital and reveal it as the realities of social relations, but many readers of Marx and Marxist writings get bogged down in the exigencies of commodities, money, theories of absolute and relative surplus value, the vicissitudes of capital, and they long for more about the working day and the experiential realities of the division of labor. Braverman helps to explain why we find some of these issues uninteresting and inaccessible and brings those which do interest us into close relations with one another. He has provided a very readable analysis of how the social relations of exploitative technological societies produce the science and technology.
From this point-of-view, the first volume is a massive essay on how the commodity form, in an adequate social and technological setting, matures into the form of capital, and how the social form of capital, driven to incessant accumulation as the condition of its own existence, completely transforms technology (Braverman 20). Braverman is not saying merely that technology produces social relations but rather that the "mode of production" we see around us, the manner in which the labor processes are organized and carried out is the "product" of the social relations we know as capitalist (21). Thus, "Within the capitalist firm it is the social forms that dominate technology, rather than the other way around" (Braverman 21).
While Braverman talks about deskilling jobs in high-technology industries, he does not talk about lower skills workers like one would find in turn of the century factories and mills. Edwards spends a lot time building to a climax that focuses mainly on the American movement toward unionizing lower paid jobs. He does give the American worker credit for being the backbone of economic growth but also does not explain how this transforms the workplace but discusses change factors such as race and gender. Braverman does not discuss such factors as in Marxist works, everyone is created and treated equally. Edwards gives more credit to society changing the workplace than that of the worker. In fact he remains uncertain about the future of the workplace and places its future in the hands of society with "whether such a program could chart a success transition is a further imponderable. But these questions are not trivial, the future now appears to lie with the working class society" (202).
Braverman on the other hand, concentrates on the experience of work and not its management. He wants to demystify the mediations or in other words how capitalist ideology becomes a material force in the machines and procedures of work. He wants to bring to the forefront of what it is like to work in these places. This is powerfully implicit in his prose, but the argument is about the job itself. Similarly, although he does not write about workers' struggles, his analysis clarifies their bases and justifications.
Braverman explains clearly the distinction between labor and labor power and considers "the manner in which the labor process is dominated and shaped by the accumulation of capital" (53). Also he writes, "Having been forced to sell their labor power to another, the workers also surrender their interest in the labor process, which has now been alienated" (57). He is so infatuated with this concept of labor, it sometimes detracts from the overall theme of his work. It also has an unsettling influence on the reader. This can be seen as either a strength or weakness. Such an ability to evoke emotional response may cause readers to wake up and take action to change current business practices. It is Braverman's ability to connect on this level with the reader that makes his message clear. It is just if the reader is not used to leftist ideas, it may have another effect on them of not taking action.
Still no mater how it is communicated to the reader, both writers give a sense of business structures not functioning currently. While Edwards focuses on the management side and possible failure found in too much growth, Braverman believes it is the worker who plays the greatest role but does not get the credit. What does this say about the current state of the American business world. Because there has been such a recent boom in self-employment and entrepreneurial grow of small businesses, it leads the reader to believe that there is a shift when compared with the turn of the Century. More and more workers no longer are employed by a large factory but there are more white collar jobs than before. Could this have any relation to workers…