- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Fine in principle but...

Posted by: bill on October 27, 1999 at 01:00:07:

In Reply to: Quality work posted by Stuart Gort on October 26, 1999 at 11:04:26:

<: Your generalized assumptions about business do not reflect ant reality known to me, Bill.>

This will serve for Gee's post as well.

The work arrangement with your employees is a specific case. Maybe your employees go to bed blessing their good fortune to have YOU as their employer. Can we thus use your particular example (not that it might be a touch self-serving) to generalize about the nature of piece work?

I think not.

Much of the crops we eat come from piece work. Most of the clothes we wear come from piece work. Many electronic components in our computers come from piece work. Why? Because it provides an easy way to get around some labor laws wuch as minimum wage, overtime, and child labor.

For example:

"Some 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working in developing countries, nearly double previous estimates. Of this total, some 120 million children are working full­time, and 130 million work part­time, according to the recent ILO report, Child Labor: Targeting the intolerable...

In 1993, the Philippines exported over $1 billion worth of garments to the United States.7 Studies report that children work on a piece-work basis at home, or in makeshift work places under a subcontracting system.8 Children sew, make button holes, trim, fold, wash, and pack garments.9 In smaller factories and home sites, children also embroider and smock clothes, including baby dresses.

A 1990 study by Professor Corazon J. Veneracion of the University of Philippines documented young children working in the garment industry through the subcontracting system in Taal, Pandi, and the Malibong Matanda areas. Export products to the United States include embroidered blouses, skirts, dresses, table cloths, place mats, and potholders. While most workers were young adult women, 11 to 14 year old children removed excess thread, folded, trimmed, patched, and embroidered the garments."


Think that doesn't happen here? Think again.

"IN SHARP contrast to Silicon Valley's gleaming labs and sleek cubicles lies a hidden, low-tech underbelly: A loose network of Asian immigrants who are paid by the piece to assemble electronic parts in their homes for some of high tech's major companies, in apparent violation of labor, tax and safety laws.

"Whole families, particularly in the Vietnamese emigre community, can be found working far into the night. At kitchen tables and garage workbenches, they solder tiny wires, strip cables and load hundreds of different colored transistors onto printed circuit boards, painstakingly assembling the nervous systems of high-tech products, for as little as a penny per component.

"...the arrangements for piecework are myriad, sometimes involving
just the assembly house and its own staff employees. Other times,
a middleman takes the job and parcels it out to a crew of workers.

"The valley's several hundred assembly houses, the largest
concentration in the United States, occupy a critical niche in
Silicon Valley's high-tech industry.

"The rationale for the contract manufacturing industry is to keep up
speed and hold down costs. Customers of contract manufacturers
can save from 15 percent to 50 percent by outsourcing manufacturing, says Keith Dunne, managing director of BancBoston Robertson Stephens. Contract manufacturers average after-tax profits of just 3 percent to 5 percent, he says. "The assembly companies are no-frills operations, run with an unforgiving eye on the bottom line."

Assembly houses prefer paying by the piece for such handwork because it costs less than paying overtime and because it tends to inspire workers to do the jobs more quickly, say people in the industry."


It is not so much about the specific nature of piecework (after all, I do piecework all by myself myself when I make an object and then sell it). It is more on how this production method is employed under the rules of modern day capitalism.

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