July Conference: What is the relationship between capitalism and innovation?

The Workers Party is holding a Day Conference on 1st July to discuss how to rebuild British industry. The Conference is for Members Only and invited guests. In the run up to Conference we are publishing a number of pieces submitted for the purposes of stimulating discussion around the theme of reviving British industry, the challenges of AI and automation and the role of vocational education.

This piece has been submitted by Jurgen Wolf. We encourage members, readers and friends to comment below.

Jurgen

What is the relationship between capitalism and innovation?

Capitalism ONLY uses innovation if it benefits its short-term interests and if any innovation maximises the productivity of the labour force. This is the main drive since most capitalists are competing against each other in what they call “the market”.

Otherwise, capitalism is generally known for actively holding back on new inventions and technologies if these mainly serve to produce a better product for the society but do not bring greater profits. Example: In the 1970s a lightbulb technology was developed, which would have brought us lightbulbs with unlimited lifespan. This technology, as many others, never saw the light of the day. The rotten Pharma industry is a prize winner in this regard.

It needs mentioning that the fiercest innovations in technology have always been driven by militarism. In no other field has capitalism developed inventions refining the art of mass murder. Being a shared upper class interest there have never been any constraints in building better ships, better fighter jets, rockets, missiles, machine guns, tanks, poisonous gases, munitions – as practical means to colonise, to oppress, to invade and to steal resources.


During my apprenticeship as an industrial litho printer we used to work huge-sized sheet presses which had an hourly output of 3.000 sheets p/h. After a while the company owners invested in newer, faster technology and installed some presses with an hourly output of 10.000 sheets p/h at great expense.

This brought about in increase of productivity of 333,3%. For the press teams it meant more loading and offloading, more plate changes, more make-readies, more responsibilities, and more stress. It goes without saying that no pay increase came with it.

Everyone complained until our shop steward came up with the following:

“Until we get properly compensated for the additional burden, we just run our fancy presses not at 10.000 sheets p/h but at 3.000 only, as it was before.”

Despite the efforts by a few scabs we saw this through and printed in slow motion until a substantial pay rise was offered.

(Of course, not every worker can apply such techniques as we could because the smartly dressed managers had no clue how to run a press at speed.)

It should, therefore, be part of our union activities to highlight the screaming outrage of keeping the workers on “just-survival pay” while productivity has risen manifold over the past decades.

Subsequently, both the German and the French workers, along with many others invoked the 35hour working week across the board with great success, replacing the former 42hour week. This went hand-in-hand with legally binding agreements on overtime pay and on weekend work.

I suggest we look deeper into the issue of productivity growth so that we can argue with indisputable facts.



One thought on “July Conference: What is the relationship between capitalism and innovation?

  1. Couldn’t agree more with Jurgen. Spot on, and was exactly what happened, and is happening within BT, whom I worked for for 30 years until being driven out by whatever excuses management had, of course! LW

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