Although most labour rights activists readily identify the status of these migrant workers as legally unfree, there is, however, a deeper form of unfreedom and coercion in the labour market that deserves much more attention than it receives in discussions of unfreedom. This unfreedom and coercion is not reducible to a legal status but is instead rooted in the very nature of the relationship between employer and worker in capitalist society.
The task at hand is to place the political economy of repression within the contours of U.S. history. It involves sketching in broad terms how, over time, repression is the product of dynamic and fixed relations between capital and labor. The goal is to represent how capital is able to repress labor given essential prerequisites.
Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital, although the single most influential work in labor sociology in the post–Second World War period, is often viewed narrowly as a theory of the labor process and labor degradation. However, the central focus of Braverman’s analysis was the structure and dynamics of the working class as it evolved in the period of monopoly capitalism. While the labor process was key to unlocking class dynamics, including changing class composition and increasing precariousness within the working class, Braverman never failed to emphasize how the labor process was intimately intertwined with contradictions and tendencies buried deep within contemporary monopoly capitalism. Indeed, Marx’s theory of the reserve army of labor, which Braverman used as a basis for explaining the degradation of labor and the generalization of precariousness, formed a crucial link between Braverman’s analysis and that of monopoly capital theory. In this essay, we reengage with these neglected dimensions of Braverman’s analysis making it possible to address contemporary problems such as increasing worker precariousness and the internationalization of production, in a broader and more comprehensive context. In the course of the analysis, we develop fresh perspectives on the continuing significance of Braverman’s work.