Friday, August 7, 2009


Many a time, among students of industrial relations, we claim that conflict is endemic in every human grouping and especially in the world of work but we have always failed to give the basic empirical and theoretical analysis underpinning such claim. Karl Marx’s theory of ‘Class Segregation’ therefore will help a great deal in this analysis.
Although, Marx’s theory is basically on the society at large, it is one of the most relevant analytical tools in the explanation of work place and industrial conflict. This is because the workplaces and organizations are microcosms and reflexions of the larger society. While explaining the conflict in workplaces, Karl Marx used ‘historical sketch’ and ‘economic structure’ of the society. He differentiated between the supra-structure and super-structure of the society. Using historical sketch, Marx opined that people had lived a ‘natural life’ in the primitive society. He refers to the primitive days as ‘days of classlessness’ where people get involved in works that suit them. Although, there had been few segregation during the feudal system, Marx believed that the industrial revolution of the late 18th century worsen the situation. To Marx the basic feature of industrialization is the ‘structure’ of the factory system which is strengthened by bureaucracy and thus, brought about class division in the society and work organizations.
Karl Marx used both ‘class segregation’ and ‘class division’ interchangeably but did not explain what he really meant by ‘class’. He however explained it in terms of control and ownership of means of factors of production within the factory setting. The ownership of factors of production thus becomes the yardstick with which Marx explained the division of classes in a society or within workplaces. According to him, those who owned and control the means of factors of production are the first class whom he referred to as ‘Bourgeoisies’, capitalists, affluent, employers, etc. The other class according to him are referred to as Proletariats, the have nots, the oppressed, the employed etc. and they are the one who do not own the means of factors of production but who have their effort and skills to sell to the capitalist and enable him activate all of his means of factors of productions. The capitalist cannot single handedly do the work by himself and cannot control all the factors at his disposal to do the job by themselves except with the ‘labour’ of the proletariats that must be used in activating and putting to use all the factors of production. The proletariat who happens to be the second class in Marxian perspective can only offer his labour to the capitalist provided that he gets the reward needed to take care of himself and his estates (family) and also to survive in life.
Marx differentiated between true class and pseudo-class. He views the two forms in which classes can be manifested as CLASS IN ITSELF and CLASS FOR ITSELF. The latter is what he regarded as true class which can only come when one class becomes aware of his conflicting relations with the other class. Without this AWARENESS Marx fell that a class only constitutes the former who suffers the negative impact of segregation but who does not see it as suffering. Marx referred to this as ‘false consciousness. But when a class realizes that he is being exploited and suffers unjustly, then his false consciousness is transformed to ‘class consciousnesses and thus, a class for itself.
The emergence of conflict in workplace according to Marx can be understood by explaining certain concepts which includes:
(1) Money
(2) Capital
(3) The general law of capitalist accumulation
He began the explanation of conflict from the side of the Bourgeoisie who will always want to accumulate wealth through proper management of his money, capital and property. To the capitalist, capital is not money but money that must produce more money. The trueness of capital is determined by a process which is depicted as M1, C and M2. The M1 is the initial amount that the capitalist invested upon by purchasing commodity (C) which he sells at higher price to get a profitable return (M2) of the M1.
Secondly, for M1 (capital) to continue yielding profit (M2), it must abide by what Marx called ‘the general law of capitalist accumulation’ which states that ‘for M1 to continue yielding M2, all COST must be reduced back towards ZERO, lets not forget that ‘Cost’ in the production process that capitalist must reduced back to zero also includes the cost of labour. It therefore means that for capitalist to continue to maximize his profit he must endeavour to reduce wages and salaries of workers. This is no doubt a condition that workers with ‘Class Consciousness’ will always resent.
At this juncture, there is no need explaining why the two classes in workplace will always be at loggerhead considering the poor state of the proletariate who has nothing to ascertain his survival but his labour that he offers to the Bourgeoisie for payment which the Bourgeois must also purchase at the lowest cost.
The submission above explains the typical nature of industrial or workplace conflict. However it is important to finish up with what Marx feels about how conflict will end in industrial organization. Marx did not blame the capitalist per say but he blames ‘the logic of the capitalist system’ i.e. the bureaucratic structure. He believes that it is this structure that perpetuates the distance between the capitalist and the proletariat. He claims that the proletariats having converted their false consciousness to class consciousness and becomes a class for itself then they will form a REVOLUTIONARY PARTY that will help them start the class struggle against the structure of the capitalist system and replace it with socialist system where classlessness will be reinstalled. The revolutionary party that Marx talks about explains the roles played by TRADE UNIONS in workplaces and ‘classlessness’ in Marx explanation can be conceptualized as industrial democracy that we advocate for in industries today.
By Oludeyi Olukunle Saheed.
Industrial And labour Relations,
Tai solarin University of Education,
Ijagun, Ijebu Ode,

No comments: