Skill Dynamics, Global Capitalism, and Labour Process Theories of Work

Steve Jaros


Since the publication of Braverman's (1974) Labour and Monopoly Capital, the role that changes in aggregate worker skills play in the development of capitalist employment relations has been controversial amongst labour process theorists in particular and critical theorists of work more generally. Contra "orthodox" Labour Process Theory perspectives (cf. Thompson, 1990) this paper argues that skills do play an important role in understanding global capitalist development and that an account of that role is critical to the usefuless of critical theories of work. To make this argument, the intellectual history of this line of inquiry within labour process theory is outlined, starting with the initial post-Braverman interest in explicating his de-skilling thesis, to latter work that cast serious doubt on its validity, and the consequent loss of interest in skills as a major driver of capitalist development. Then the recent revival of interest in skills (cf. Adler, 2004; Littler & Innes, 2003) is analyzed in conjunction with Thompson and Newsome's (2004) agnostic perspective on the importance of skill change to argue that skill change remains a significant motive force, one critical to understanding global economic change. The implications drawn are that researchers should focus on (a) understanding interactions amongst multiple levels of skills dynamics and (b) studying the barriers to concertive action amongst workers. 

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