The Capitalist Wins Again

August 17, 2009

In Michael Burawoy’s classic text Manufacturing Consent, the UC Berkeley sociologist studies the inner-workings of the capitalist labor process.  In his ethnographic research, he discovered that small changes in the organizational structure of a factory could have a profound effect on the culture of the factory workers.  Specifically, he found that factory managers were able to pit workers against each other by instituting a new piecemeal process in which workers were rewarded for individual production.  Instead of uniting against their managers, workers were organizationally structured in opposition to each other.  The ensuing competition diverted conflict away from the managers, thus suppressed labor demands and left the workers relatively powerless.

I think you see where I’m going with this.  Sterling-Cooper’s CFO was able to institute this exact (and, from the capitalist’s point of view, quite ingenious) structural condition on the new dual-heads of accounts.  By splitting up responsibilities between Campbell and Cosgrove, the CFO manufactured competition between the men, pitting them against each other, rather than against Sterling-Cooper’s management.  As a result, both men will be subject to suppressed wages, since their bargaining power is diminished.  And due to animosity (you can just feel it coming from Pete), they probably won’t unite to leverage better salaries.

Because of their structural equivalence (same position, same relationship to subordinates and superiors), they are more concerned with taking each other down than overthrowing management.  You can just imagine what Pete would do if Cosgrove suggested that they should both threaten to quit for a raise: Pete would take the opportunity to throw Cosgrove under the bus.  As much as we harp on Pete’s, uh, less than stellar character traits, it’s important to cite this organizational arrangement as an important component of their resulting competitiveness.  Indeed, this organizational restructuring exploits Pete’s opportunism, to his detriment.  Poor Pete; he’s merely a pawn in the capitalist enterprise.

-Jeremy

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