Sociology of Industry Labor & Business
Summary: Individuals who hold anti-capitalist beliefs but are compelled to work within the capitalist system for economic survival, face challenges. Two approaches to address this conflict involve (1) education and training to find satisfaction within the system, and (2) emphasizing craftsmanship and a return to traditional production methods. Community and social connections are important in shaping an individual's sense of purpose at work and the capitalist system promotes individual gain at the expense of the common good. The capitalist system lacks true cooperation, as most individuals are merely tools in the production process and lack a sense of belonging. The workplace is a site of class conflict, with a power imbalance favoring employers over workers. Modern industrial workplaces have depersonalized both employers and employees, leading to the growth of labor unions and collective bargaining as workers seek solidarity and improved conditions. Business owners are detached from daily operations, contributing to a lack of personal connection between employers and workers. Worker-employer relationships are influenced by factors such as political beliefs, industry, and job security. Broader economic and social factors play a significant role in shaping these dynamics.
A business is not a neutral entity but is shaped by the larger economic system in which it operates. The structure of a business is influenced by the relationships between individuals within it, including the hierarchy of positions. Understanding these dynamics is important for studying the sociology of industrial work and businesses.
A conflict can arise for individuals who are opposed to capitalism within a capitalist society. These individuals may be forced to work within the system and support those who represent it in order to survive economically. This can be particularly challenging for industrial workers, whose work is directly influenced by the economic system. Many industrial workers, regardless of their political affiliations, are anti-capitalist. The 1920s society did not have a well-functioning economic system that serves the needs of all members and that ethical considerations and demands for social justice should not be ignored in favor of maintaining the status quo. Instead, a more equitable economic system should be pursued.
Two approaches could be chosen to restoring a sense of professional ethics in the face of the "dissolving factors" of capitalist society:
1. A combination of education and practical training that aims to teach individuals about the demands of the economy and help them find satisfaction and potential for advancement within the system. This approach is motivated either by religious or Enlightenment ideals, and may also involve efforts to make work more appealing by increasing the worker's technical skills and understanding of the production process.
2. Instead of the increasing rationalization of production, the value of craftsmanship and the importance of the worker's relationship to the object being produced is emphasized. There is a return to more traditional methods of production. This approach is influenced by romantic and anti-technological ideals. However, even within this perspective, the economy is seen as a collective system of creation and the individual business is viewed as a specific arena of economic activity.
Anti-capitalists living in capitalist societies face difficulties; particularly industrial workers whose livelihoods are directly affected by the capitalist system. The conflict between an individual's personal beliefs and their economic necessities can be tragic for the anti-capitalist psyche, and the majority of industrial workers, even those who are not politically organized, are anti-capitalist. The idea of a duty to sociality, in which individuals are encouraged to contribute to the maintenance and provision of goods for society regardless of their beliefs about the societal system, can be upheld in two ways, as mentioned above: through a focus on economic education and practical training that aims to increase job satisfaction, or through a romanticization of pre-industrial production methods and a rejection of technological progress. This "duty" however cannot be fully realized until the societal system itself is changed, and efforts to educate and influence the individual will ultimately be limited by their own fundamental opposition to the existing system.
Community and social connections are important in shaping an individual's sense of purpose and fulfillment in their work, or their "berufsethos." Attempts to improve working conditions and increase job satisfaction through technical or practical means, such as better working conditions or job training, are ultimately limited in their effectiveness. Instead, the key to fostering a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment in work lies in ensuring that individuals feel connected to and valued within their community and society. The capitalist system promotes individual gain over the common good and perpetuates social inequality, which undermines the sense of community and purpose that is essential for a healthy "berufsethos."
The liberal belief in a natural harmony of interests between individuals acting in their own self-interest (see Adam Smith) is a flawed justification for the capitalist system. Instead, economic activity is based on social cooperation, but under capitalism, the means of production are controlled by a small group of people who dictate what goods are produced, how they are produced, and how they are distributed and used. This means that there is not true cooperation in the capitalist system, as the majority of people are merely tools in the production process, lacking agency and a sense of belonging in society. The economic system cannot be considered separately from the larger social system in which it operates, as the organization of society determines the types of goods that are produced and the needs they are intended to meet. The dehumanization and meaninglessness often associated with industrial work under capitalism is not solely due to the mechanical nature of the work, but rather the lack of a sense of community and belonging among the workers.
Owners (or shareholders) and management, as well as the technical and non-technical staff within the organization have different perspectives. There is a tension between the profit-driven perspective of the owners and the goal of meeting societal needs through production.
The Workplace as a Site of Class Conflict
The workplace, particularly in capitalist settings, is a crucial arena where class distinctions and conflicts become most pronounced. It’s where the fundamental class divide in society, between the bourgeoisie (business owners) and the proletariat (workers), is most vividly experienced and contested. Within the workplace, the power dynamic heavily favors the employer (capitalist) over the worker. The capitalist possesses the authority derived from ownership and control over the means of production, while the worker is often reduced to a mere labor force, contributing to the capitalist's profit-making.
Dehumanization of the Workplace
The modern industrial workplace has depersonalized both employers and employees. They are no longer seen as individuals but rather as representatives of their respective classes or systems. This depersonalization has led to the development of labor unions and employers' associations to represent the collective interests of each side. The growth of class consciousness among workers has intensified the class struggle within the workplace. Workers increasingly perceive their fates as interconnected, leading to solidarity and organized efforts to improve their conditions, as seen in the rise of labor unions and collective bargaining. Despite the depersonalization and class conflict, the integration of the working class into a collective entity has been facilitated by the depersonalization of labor relations. Labor unions and collective agreements serve as mechanisms for bringing workers together as a unified force.
The Absenteeism of Capitalists
Capitalist absenteeism means that business owners distance themselves from direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of their companies. This detachment further exacerbates the depersonalization of the workplace and shifts decision-making power to managers and bureaucrats. Absenteeism among entrepreneurs has an impact on the social dynamics within industrial enterprises. Anatole France, in his history of Saint Joan, describes people living by the banks of a river, sharing common suffering, burdens, and concerns. That what unites people is not just their geographical location but also their shared experiences and struggles. Absentee landlords already influenced rural communities, and during the industrial age, workers felt the absenteeism of their industrial employers, as depicted in Émile Zola's "Germinal". This absenteeism creates a sense of detachment between the workers and their employers, leading to a lack of personal connection.
The spatial dynamics of industrial enterprises change: in modern cities, the separation between wealthy residential areas, industrial zones, and worker neighborhoods creates distinct private lives for industrialists. This spatial separation is exemplified in Claude Farrère's utopian novel "The Condemned Ones". There is little or no direct social contact between the absentee entrepreneur and the workforce, even within the same organization. This separation has to do with the organizational structure of modern industrial enterprises. The workers do not resist the concept of a productive enterprise but rather the entrepreneurship as a class-based power structure. Workplaces are hierarchical in nature and, despite the spatial and organizational distances, there is an interconnected chain of command within the modern industrial setting. This chain of command involves layers of subordination from top to bottom, and each level represents a concrete social relationship, even though the overall structure may not be easily visible. Resistance from workers is not solely against the technical and organizational aspects of production but often stems from the monopolistic power associated with entrepreneurship. Workers perceive that the orders they receive from their immediate supervisors are influenced by the broader social power dynamics.
The workplace is a living space for employees. Workers vary, based on various factors like political beliefs, industry, type of employment, generation, industrial location, and business structure. These differences can significantly impact an individual worker's connection to their workplace. The worker's attachment to the workplace as an organized whole is important. This may not always exist due to factors like frequent job changes or a lack of emotional connection. The modern industrial workplace is not a true home for workers, and job security is often uncertain, leading to a feeling of impermanence. The worker's freedom to choose their workplace is limited due to labor market dynamics. Attempts by employers to promote workplace community or welfare measures may not be effective in fostering a sense of belonging among class-conscious workers, as broader economic and social factors play a significant role in shaping these dynamics.
Geiger, T.J. (1929), Zur Soziologie der Industriearbeit und des Betriebs, in: Zeitschrift für Gewerkschaftspolitik und Wirtschaftskunde, Issue 11, pp. 673-689 & 766-781, Berlin: Theodor Leipart.