Anti-Capitalist Chronicles: Production and Realization

this is David Harvey and you're listening to the anti-capitalist chronicles a podcast that looks at capitalism through a Marxist lens this podcast is made possible by democracy at work my last podcast I talked about the question of anti-capitalist struggle as it exists at the point of production as it exists at the point of realization in the market and as it exists at the point of social reproduction which is the social reproduction of labour power but also the social reproduction of ways of life and the like what I would like to do in this session is to talk a little bit more about the question of production and realization and try to find a little bit of a way to to put much of this together the classic way of thinking about this in Marxist is to think of the think of the factory the factory is the site of collective labor which is set up and organized and dominated by capital and within which value is produced and reproduced and surplus value is appropriated so this is if you like has been the centerpiece of a lot of thinking but what happens when factories disappear we've been through in the advanced capitalist countries like the United States and Europe we've been through a period of deindustrialization in which the factory has become less and less significant so this then poses the kind of interesting question for us right now where is the working class and who constitutes the working class I might like to do something which is a little bit heterodox which is to say maybe we should take out the term class for the moment and just say working people and the reason I do that is because working-class usually has a connotation of a certain kind of labor situation whereas working people it seems to me broadens the question and allows us if you like to reconstitute at the end of the day a different idea of who the working class is and what the working class might I do what they might do what their powers might be in one of the things has this happened a through D industrialization has been the abolition of a lot of blue-collar jobs and the abolition of blue-collar jobs in you take the United States and Britain with the two cases I know best and in both instances a lot of the abolition of the jobs had to do with a technological change the estimates are at about 60% of the job losses were due to technological change over the last 30 or 40 years the remainder has mainly been due to offshoring that is taking the low-wage jobs and you know going to China or Mexico or wherever but with the technological change what we see is the reduction of labor forces from very large conglomerates when for instance when I went to Baltimore in 1969 there was lobber a large steel works employing over 30,000 people by the time you get to 1990 is producing the same amount of steel but only 5,000 people are employed by the time you get into the 2000s it's basically either closed down or it gets opened up again as with a thousand people so the the Steel Workers Union was a very very powerful institution in the city when I first knew it in 1969 but now of course it's mainly dealing with retired people and repent shion's and things that and really has very little presence in Baltimore City politics anymore so with that kind of thing you kind of say well the working class has disappeared but when you think about it you say well maybe it hasn't disappeared it's just not making the same things anymore and it's not caught up in the same activities for example why would we say that making automobiles or making steel is working-class occupation whereas working say making hamburgers is not in fact if you look at the sort of employment data of course it been a massive increase in McDonald's and you know Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King and although I see they must have been increase in employment in those areas and those areas are productive of Labor it's just they're producing food and prepared food rather than producing steel and automobiles and if you look at it you would say well actually this then is if you like one of the ways in which the new working class is being thought of and in recent times what we've seen is the fast-food workers have started to organize and we've started to see kind of what was what Marx would call a class in itself forming around the spread of those kinds those kinds of employment categories and it's now beginning to become a class for itself so it starts to go after all McDonald's and say they have to have a minimum wage of 15 or living wage more than that so there's a lot of agitation going on in in something like fast food production but you're not only dealing with fast food production you're dealing with all the small restaurant owners and all the rest of it and so I think of New York City as not as a city which is parasitical in the sense that it actually lives off the value production which is created in large industrial areas elsewhere but there were actually a great deal of value is created because when you take some of these employment such as restaurant workers and and and the like you see an enormous increase of in the numbers and a an increase in in in value output and and the like and of course this is also a very labor intensive area of and and it will eventually of course fall before artificial intelligence and the like but it it's still at this point in time a very very significant center of employment which means that whereas forty years ago the the big people who employed big source of employment were a big automobile industries and steel industry so it was General Motors and Ford and the right now the biggest employers are Kentucky Fried Chicken and the fat franchisor and the McDonald's franchise so this is if you like okay one of the new working classes but of course it's hard to organize a lot of the way labor is temporary people work there for a while and leave it's a very you know difficult area but we see now some possibilities of organization particularly using social media and the likes of so there's some possibilities there but another thing occurred to me the other day which I thought was actually really very interesting I was just sort of watching out of the window as a the airplane as I was leaving Dallas Airport and I look out and I see this workforce and I suddenly think about what are those people who are working at the airport now in Marxist category transportation is also value producing and so everybody who's involved in the transport industry and moving people from one part of the world to the to the other is in fact part of a productive working class and given Marxist categories but then you look at the kind of labour that's involved there all those people who are helping push the plane out there are all those people who you know helping with the doing getting the baggage and baggage claim there are all those people inside of the airport and you look at it and you look at the structure of the workforce there it is not well paid and and yet it has a very very singular power and when you look and so to say what's what's the constitution of that workforce what struck me and I thought about this at every Airport I've been to ever since is to take a good hard look at who it is is doing most of the work that makes airports actually function and there gives a large number of people of color African Americans in particular who are involved a lot of Hispanics and some white recent immigrants from you know Eastern Europe and Russia and and alike and women and it suddenly occurred to me that actually here you have a really interesting way in which to start to think about the composition of a contemporary working class which is that it is dominated by wage women waged african-american and people of color and waged immigrants particularly Hispanics and then you kind of say how well are these is this population paid and if we include in that that part which is you know the the security population then you kind of go well they're very badly paid and they're they're they're very important but but not at all well organized so you suddenly think to yourself and I had this fantasy let's suppose all of the workers at the airport suddenly decided to withdraw their labor on a day actually ok the airport would close down let's suppose six airports in the United States Los Angeles Chicago Atlanta New York that let's suppose let's suppose they all decided to withdraw their labor on one day pretty soon the whole country would would be dysfunctional and I think it was very telling that when Trump took this business of the the the the government shut down and decided that it was a good idea to shut down the government they shut it down and then honestly on a particular day there was an interesting moment I think we said on Wednesday when it turned out the three airports in the United States couldn't function and so they had to cancel a lot of flights out of LaGuardia and I like couple more airports because the air traffic controllers couldn't keep going anymore I mean they've been out without pay for a month and and and they just couldn't sustain themselves so the air traffic controllers suddenly found themselves you know interestingly since beating the air traffic traffic controllers was one of the big anti-union moves that Reagan make back in 1982 or whenever that suddenly it must have appeared to Trump and the administration and everyone else that within three or four days most of the airports in the United States was closed down and if you close down the airports to the United States basically you've closed down capital and you've closed down capital flow and that means that actually the airport workers have a tremendous immense political power if the airport or workers were organized you not only would actually then be dealing with relations between African Americans Hispanics and women at the core of a labor movement but you would be actually looking at an organization of labor which had the potentiality to do serious serious damage to a capitalist economy unless its demands were met then the question arises arises what would the demands of such a coalition be obviously to increase wages increase wages to the point where people have a decent life in a decent living environment and and that would be one of the point but also politically I think an airport workers kind of configuration would make a really really big difference in terms of actually holding that country to ransom I mean when you think about it just think of the few times when we've become close to something of this kind happening after 9/11 people stopped flying and for about three days everything was you know quiet and then all of a sudden I remember Giuliani and even Bush coming on the airwaves and saying please get out and start shopping again please get out and start flying again because I think they realized that if the country didn't actually get back into motion again on continuity again then there will be serious serious losses in terms of capital and so while the immediate response to 9/11 was to shut down and everybody to kind of not go to work and all this kind of stuff immediately afterwards what we find is this push real hard push to get us back yeah into into work then there was the Icelandic volcano I don't really remember this when the Icelandic volcano erupted and put so much ash in the air the transatlantic flights couldn't go through for about a week or ten days it was almost impossible to get from just from New York to London except by going down to I don't know Rio de Janeiro and then flying over to Madrid and then flying yeah you have to do something like that to get there so instead of a volcano I imagine a volcanic eruption of the airport workers but for that to happen the airport workers have to realize a that they have a lot of common interests and that they have common demands that they would wish to try to articulate and to win and not only those common demands but that they would have a commonality amongst themselves to prosecute those demands and they also have a commonality of power a tremendous power to close the system down and and and therefore they would be it would seem to me the contemporary world labor force which would be able to do what in the past was done by the miners and done by the the auto workers and and and and the like so the Constitution of the of the workforce has changed it will be good if there could be an organization of bringing together all restaurant workers not only the fast food workers but the fast food workers is a good place to start so that when we start to think about the contemporary working-class is no longer the auto workers who are in the lead it's no longer the miners who are in the lead I mean in Britain for example I don't I'm not sure there are many miners left maybe one or two coal pits still still exist but but what was the heart of traditional working-class politics in Britain which was a miners Union was essentially destroyed by a whole series of moves by Margaret Thatcher who hated the mine workers anyway but in the end of course the mining mining in Britain is as essentially essentially closed down so in the face in the face of this we have to be prepared to think about completely new configurations of the workforce and which is going to wage struggle at the point of production but notice this struggle at the point of production is not disconnected from the sorts of lifestyle which we're now living and what goes on at the point of realization in the airport workers case we're talking about the fact that more and more people are actually using Airlines the airline industry is expanding and and and growing and has been growing at a very very fast rate it not so much in the United States of course but in China for example they're making airports all over the place and and and the flying public in in in China is getting larger and larger and larger so that you're seeing a vast increase in a static air travel so this too is predicated on the development of a certain way of life in which we can imagine all of the time that we can move very freely as long as we have the money to fly across the Atlantic or fly here fly there fly everywhere and and this is a again a way of life this way of life of course has all sorts of consequences and one of them I have to have to say that we should be really concerned about is global warming and greenhouse gas emissions I mean one flight across the continent of the United States is equivalent to gas emissions of I don't know how many thousand cars over the whole year but but this is a major source of greenhouse gases now do we want to continue have a lifestyle where where air traffic is is central so you see the point here is that the growth of air traffic is creating a working class in terms of the facilitating that but the growth of air traffic is itself caught up in questions of realization and questions of realization that are connected very strongly to questions of lifestyle and the production of new wants needs and desires the want need and desire to travel the one need and desire to be one part of the world rather than another these these are all sorts of connected connected questions but I hear here too I think that what we what we see is the need to think through the relationships between what's going on in the world of realization the production of new wants needs and desires and lifestyles and what's going on at the point of production and how we organize at the point of production is therefore connected very much with if you like what we will want to do about certain things which are happening at the point of realization and then of course comes the issue of social reproduction I think it's very fascinating that households when I was a kid essentially all meals were cooked at home except where I came from on Fridays where we all went to the fish-and-chip shop and got fish and chips from the fish and chip shop and everything else was all food preparation was at home now you've got a situation in which food preparation is essentially being commoditized and marketized and most of the food preparation does not occur at home it occurs outside families have a choice takeout from the local restaurant but now of course you've got all of these organizations GrubHub and all the rest of it which are actually allowing you to to buy in food prepared food elsewhere and this by the way is happening very very quickly I was very surprised to see the last time I was in China a massive numbers of bicycles with people delivering food Chinese takeout and in China Chinese takeout is now becoming a if you like the standard prison process whereby food preparation is being actually marketized and turns into a commodity this may or may not be a good thing I think again we can debate the rights and wrongs of that but what is I think most significant is that the lifestyle which we're talking about in terms of the production and the development of these very large take take out two organizations and of course the procedure the proceeding era where it was the fast food industries Burger Kings and McDonald's and all the rest of it and and the restaurants so when you start to put this together into a picture you would kind of say we have to see really be thinking about the qualities of a lifestyle the the the how the how and why of certain forms of provision which occur within these this lifestyle and what's going on in terms of social reproduction I mean it used to be the situation where of course women did most of the food preparation in the home and but now if food preparation is not occurring in the home then this has actually dealt a blow to that gender discrimination where women were essentially stuck in the kitchen doing all of the kitchen labor but now kitchen labor is be much reduced by the fact that people dine out or sort of bring bringing in or buy in there daily food so in all these respects when we ask the question what is to be done we have to kind of actually ask ourselves what is to be done very specifically about the right of these new lifestyles the emergence of a certain powerful form of labour organization around say fast-food and around airports and the like and how the power of those of that new labor force can be mobilized in a certain kind of way for political ends to try to come up with the transformation of the social order such as it moves away as it were from being all about capital accumulation and capital structures to something which is much more social and much more cooperative and and and much less involved in the rapid expansion of capital accumulation which is one of the other issues that I will get to in the podcast to come thank you for joining me today you've been listening to David Harvey's anti-capitalist chronicles a democracy at work production a special thank you to the wonderful patreon community for supporting this project

  1. Silly… to many hours swirling ones brandy snifter, pontificating to the wind and a lack of perspective.

  2. the working class is the fast food workers, the truck drivers, the day laborers, the laundromat workers, the 711 workers, the wall mart workers, the nurses, the landscapers, etc…

  3. What ended the government shutdown of 2019 was not a grand bargain between Trump, the Dems and the Republicans, but the realization that major airports were going to have to close down halting air transportation throughout the US and beyond 😂😂

  4. In 1972 in Canada, my father earned approximately $6,500 and paid for a brand new detached bungalow home for the same amount. My mother was a stay at home mom, full time. In 2019, a similar house would cost five to ten times the annual salary of someone doing a similar job. Meanwhile, economic disparity is extreme and concentrating more and more. Capitalism is a failing path forward, we need a revolution in the way we acquire goods and services. There should be no such things as billionaires, they reflect a failure and not a goal.

  5. Dear sir.

    Love your words and information, but please try to be less boring. Get some caffeine into this guy. Please.

    Your job is to try to get younger folk on board… or… we all die out.

    Get upset please. Get angry. Get loud!

    Act as if our survival depends upon your performance… because it may.


    We haven't got time for complacent relaxed lectures. We need shocking, loud, awful shrieking!

    Like, am I wrong? I'm grey and even I have trouble giving this respect… and I'm sympathetic.

    We're all going to die from capitalism causing climactic destruction! Aaaaargh!

  6. The working class are screwed if they follow top down socialist planning… get off your couch and get a job… or better yet go innovate a new business and create jobs and hire amd train some people then go give all your efforts to the State. And if you fail you take all the personal loss

  7. So you dont believe in free market capitism or are you against crony capitalism? Who constitutes the job creators? What is the incentive is there for people to work for blue collar jobs of there is no room for advancement? What is the purpose of life a person isnt growing personally and not here to just produce for the socialist elites?

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