Berlin, 2009

Berlin, 2009
We want more voices, thoughts and languages!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Still putting out


There’s a strange way in which today’s capitalism is repeating in reverse the early capitalism in which although workers are, in reality, wholly dependent on capitalism, they are formally – legally and ideologically – treated as independent contractors. This spurious reconfiguration of the worker as entrepreneur unites informal workers in the third world and precarious workers in the first

This is something that struck me very strongly when reading The Making of the English Working Classes. Industrialisation began with outsourcing. Or rather, with putting-out, which Weber describes like this:

The peasants came with their cloth, often (in the case of linen) principally or entirely made from raw material which the peasant himself had produced, to the town in which the putter-out lived, and after a careful, often official, appraisal of the quality, received the customary price for it. The putter-out’s customers, for markets any appreciable distance away, were middlemen, who also came to him, generally not yet following samples, but seeking traditional qualities, and bought from his warehouse, or, long before delivery, placed orders which were probably in turn passed on to the peasants.

This is the system which was gradually absorbed into factory-based textile production -- and with it the destruction of previous social life, and the structuring of life around the working day.

Now, as with so much else, we've taken a loop around from centralised production, and are replaying the pre-industrial system at an octave's difference. That means opportunities to recreate social life, to escape the homogenous regimentation of the factory -- but also a return to the forms of exploitation most present just on the cusp of the industrial revolution.

Hence there's plenty of reason for politicised microserfs to turn back to history, explore how the peasants of the 18th century were -- and weren't -- able to assert themselves against the putters-out.

[crossposted to]


  1. I've been thinking about that a lot too lately. Naomi Klein's No Logo:,%20Naomi%20-%20No%20Logo.pdf
    presents great exploration of this problem. More soon...M

  2. ah, thanks for the link. Isn't it nice to have quick reference to these books? Here's (part of) what Naomi Klein has to say on the topic:

    In fact, zone workers in many parts of Asia, the Caribbean and Central America have more in common with
    office-temp workers in North America and Europe than they do with factory workers in those Northern
    countries. What is happening in the EPZs is a radical alteration in the very nature of factory work. That was
    the conclusion of a 1996 study conducted by the International Labour Organization, which stated that the dramatic relocation of production in the garment and shoe industries "has been accompanied by a parallel
    shift of production from the formal to the informal sector in many countries, with generally negative
    consequences on wage levels and conditions of work." Employment in these sectors, the study went on, has
    shifted from "full-time in-plant jobs to part-time and temporary jobs and, especially in clothing and footwear, increasing resort to homework and small shops."