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Woe to the Reserve Army of Labor!

The July 1 issue of The New York Times, Economy Section, reports that while American factory owners have been slowly adding jobs to the US economy since the start of the year, the situation gives little relief to the two million workers who have been laid off since the end of 2007. The reason: factory owners are now looking for workers with higher aptitude and technical skills, and only a tiny fraction of laid off workers qualify for these new positions. It’s no longer a question, the Times item adds, of laying off workers and replacing them with cheap labor from abroad. It’s now finding better-qualified workers who will be paid more dollars per hour.

The capitalist game plan has apparently changed. Capitalists no longer take advantage of a reserve army of laid off workers that can be hired at lower rates. These workers have become inutile. The technological sophistication of manufacturing now demands high-skilled technicians to operate, maintain, and improve on new machines to stay competitive at the profit game. The hiring rate for these skilled technicians are higher, of course, and that means greater capital outlay for labor, but the larger sum of salaries will probably pittance compared to the profits to be earned from their labor.

But woe to the reserve army of labor! Already disadvantaged by being the first to be laid off when the recession began, they are now doubly disadvantaged by a new manufacturing order that renders their labor unwanted. One long-term effect will be greater poverty for the unemployed, and eventually, a larger divide between the poor and the rich.

Marx may not have foreseen this double whammy. But he was right on the nose about inequalities growing wider under capitalism. Why I read somewhere that in England, the class gaps in life expectancies have increased in recent years. Looks like Marx is still getting empirical support in the age of high technology.

Archived: Department of Sociology and Anthropology blog. 

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