The excessive squeezing of employees by Internet companies has become a new problem. Restrictions on going to the toilet, unlimited overtime work, and even sudden death and suicide have caused worries about the internal ecology of the current “tech enterprises”. At the beginning of January this year, CCTV issued a comment saying that struggle cannot evolve into “exchanging life for money.”
“Take life for money” is the result of excessive squeezing of the labor force of employees, so people have raised a question: These are high-tech companies, or technology-intensive companies, why they are so labor-intensive in terms of social performance. enterprise?
The scale of labor use is very large, and the labor intensity of individual employees is also very large. Internet giants even have a sense of Foxconn’s vision in the social perception.
Technology has not only failed to liberate people, it seems to have created new and deeper labor quagmire. Why is this happening?
I’m familiar with a courier, surnamed Cheng, frequented in our community. A couplet written by himself is attached to the rear of his three-wheeled courier van: “You don’t work hard when you grow up.”
Obviously, he is still a “modern traditional concept”: he is engaged in manual labor because he has no academic qualifications. This is also the concept that we most easily accept and agree with.
However, in 2020, a set of statistics shows that more than 280,000 people with a bachelor degree or above are delivering food.
Delivering food and express delivery are actually the same job. Undergraduate courier, I haven’t found a recent national figure, but news of undergraduates becoming couriers is not new. A set of partial data shows that from 2015 to 2017, the number of undergraduate couriers in Jiangsu Province increased from more than 5,000 to more than 7,000. A few years ago, there were still such a number in a province. Today, the scale of undergraduate couriers in the country can be imagined.
In contrast, the more decent online ride-hailing drivers, especially those who purchase their own vehicles, generally have a higher proportion of highly educated drivers.
What is this indicating?
People’s first reaction should be: high income. Indeed, in an era when applied technology has just expanded into these fields and caused a capital melee, platforms tend to provide relatively generous subsidies. There are many takeaways, couriers, and online ride-hailing drivers with a monthly income of more than 10,000. Hard work, but worth it.
The logic cannot end here.
It’s better to be a restaurant owner than to be a delivery worker. To work in a small and medium-sized enterprise is worse than to open an online car. Behind these facts is the concentration of market opportunities, increasingly concentrated in the hands of large companies that hold applied technology and large amounts of capital.
The capital scale of platform companies is expanding rapidly, and the rich financing methods have made the explosive growth of capital scale commonplace. This will squeeze out the living space of small and medium-sized market players in similar industries, and the concentration of market opportunities in large companies will mean shrinking opportunities for these industries.
The opposite of the increase in capital is the shrinking of the bottom labor population. It is generally believed that the “Lewis Turning Point” appeared in China 10 years ago, and there was a shortage of labor supply. The labor here mainly refers to the bottom labor.
The large-scale industrial application of the Internet is later than the “Lewis Turning Point”. The huge investment scale must have a corresponding labor force to match it. What should I do?
The market will continue to recreate the bottom layer. So we can see that more and more property owners are reduced to proletarians, more and more bosses are reduced to workers, more and more mental workers are reduced to manual workers, and more and more highly educated Young people engage in jobs that do not require academic qualifications.
In a nutshell: More and more middle-class people, or those who have the hope of becoming middle-class people, are reduced to the bottom.
This is the “reproduction of the bottom layer”.
the so-called “bottom of reproduction,” not a return to the 1990s and the new century industrial jungle of the state, not with the suppression of dignity in exchange for cost-efficiency. Because the bottom of today is different from the bottom of the past.
In the past, the bottom layer had no food and clothing, and the whole family had only one pair of pants. Today’s bottom level is that the income is good, the insurance is complete, and the overtime pay is a lot.
What they have in common is that they work endlessly, and there is not much left in the end, which is not enough to achieve class climbing. Today’s bottom layer is what the scholar Aiden mentioned in “Das Kapital” said: “An easy and generous state of subordination.”
Life may collapse at any time. Only a few are truly collapsed, but the sense of crisis of collapse always beats them. I dare not relax for a moment. This will force them to strive to sell their labor, and if they have already been sold, they will strive to continue selling.
Survival is not a problem, but social mechanisms will not allow them to accumulate. Because once they accumulate, they will get rid of the “subordinate state”, which leads to capital accumulation and expansion of reproduction and lack of matching labor ratio, which in turn leads to reduced efficiency, unsaturation of production, and even stagnation of capital operation and end of life.
In a modern society, there can be no absolute poverty, but there can be no bottom layer. “Easy and lenient status of subordination” refers to the lower level that is not necessarily poor.
The bottom layer must exist, and it must follow the capital trend and expand on demand. John Bailas said: “Work can make people rich, so the more laborers, the more rich people…the work of the poor is the source of wealth for the rich.” The
bottom layer must be able to be created at any time. Mendeville said: “The poor are gone, who is called to work… For the poor, he should be saved from hunger, but he should not be allowed to get anything worth hoarding… The largest part of the poor is never lazy, but It is often necessary to spend all of his income…Aside from lack, there is no reason for those who make a living through labor every day to stimulate their diligence.” At
the bottom of today, many people have good incomes, and most of them are not in absolute poverty. . Of course, they cannot take advantage, because according to the general law, with the development of society and economy, in the “value composition of capital”, “the constant capital part increases progressively compared with the variable capital part”, that is, wages account for The ratio of the total capital will continue to decline.
However, the absolute amount of wages (variable capital) may continue to increase because the total investment is expanding in multiples-today’s large companies have tens to hundreds of billions in revenue after only two or three years of existence. Therefore, the income of laborers is indeed continuously increasing, and many people are quite satisfied.
As far as the business operation mechanism is concerned, how to offset this satisfaction and prevent them from no longer working hard? How to consume their savings and keep them at the bottom?
Observing today’s society, the mystery lies in two points.
First, the ubiquitous consumer loans, by continuing to give cultural and spiritual meaning to consumer behavior, and at the same time provide channels for loan purchases, plunge many people into the abyss of debt.
The second is the explosion of thunder with the sound of firecrackers. Every explosion of thunder is the disappearance of the savings of tens of thousands of people.
We can’t say that these two mysteries are a kind of ingenious conspiracy, but from the perspective of the entire social economy, they objectively play a role of continuing to create the bottom layer.
The current society has a paralyzing effect, that is, you are at the bottom, reduced to the bottom, but you can’t feel it.
“Collective dimensionality reduction”
What we are discussing is a question that has been thinking for thousands of years. It should be carefully examined from the perspective of social history, but due to space limitations, we can only briefly describe it.
The traditional agricultural society is not an ideal society. However, if there is no political turmoil, war outbreak, natural disasters, and epidemics, generally speaking, there will be no obvious adjustments in the overall social structure.
In an industrial society, changes are frequent, and adjustments are also frequent.
Every change will rearrange people’s positions. One of the important characteristics is that many people will be re-bottomized-in theological language, “human beings are destined to sweat on their foreheads and eat bread.”
The most important thing in the prehistory of capitalism is the history of primitive accumulation.
The British “enclosure movement” is the most typical. In order to cater to an emerging production relationship, primitive accumulation has done two things. One is to gather resources such as land and production tools; The land renters, the retainers and serfs of the feudal aristocracy, and the apprentices in the Gilt organization were “liberated” and became “free laborers” who could freely sell their labor. Then the two work together. Party A controls Party B and uses the production tools owned by Party A to engage in work for Party A purely for profit.
The key word is “deprivation.” After the deprivation, there is nothing, no choice, and “freedom to sell labor.”
This is the “primitive accumulation” often mentioned in political economy. The original meaning is that the relationship between capital and workers has not yet occurred. This is a process of preparing preconditions for its occurrence. “It is not the result of the capitalist method of production, but rather its starting point.” “So the so-called primitive accumulation is nothing more than the historical process of separation of producers and means of production.”
When the relationship between capital and workers is determined, capital accumulation changes. It has to be very calm. It can use many effective levers such as wages and prices to adjust the relationship between investment and the number of laborers that match it.
The Egyptian economist Amin Samir has long put forward the concept of “new primitive accumulation”. He argued that primitive accumulation not only belongs to the history of capitalism, but has existed for a long time, and it continues to exist in the contemporary era.
There is now a faint feeling that the society is on the eve of a new production relationship, which may herald a kind of “primitive re-accumulation.”
The so-called new production relations are not revolutionary but improved changes. The driving force for improvement comes from technological change, that is, productivity change. Technology is the far-reaching Internet application technology.
Infinite distance is a characteristic of the Internet. In production application scenarios, it refers to the ability to expand beyond geographic restrictions, and the marginal cost of such expansion approaches zero indefinitely as the scale of the enterprise increases.
This means that if national boundaries and policy barriers are not taken into consideration, then in theory the scale of the enterprise can be infinite. So we see that today’s companies, especially platform companies, can become a behemoth overnight. What they will become in the future, I don’t know.
The condition for becoming a behemoth is, first of all, sufficient investment. Under today’s conditions, there is no need to enclose land. Funds, stock markets, and Internet finance are all financing channels, and money is everywhere, so this is not a problem. The question is, where do the workers who are commensurate with the scale of the explosion come from?
The demographic dividend period has passed, and the age of social aging is approaching. There are fewer and fewer young people who actively flocked into the industrial system in order to seek a better life in the 1980s and 1990s.
There are two ways to obtain a labor force that is compatible with the scale of the giant beast.
The first is what I said earlier, the reproduction of the bottom layer, so that some people who have accumulated wealth lose their accumulation, just like the craftsmen of Kilt become industrial workers.
The second is to directly carry out “collective dimensionality reduction”, turning technicians, small intellectuals, and salesmen into the status of white-collar workers and higher than industrial workers in terms of economic status. On the basis of the same status, their status becomes It is no different from the previous industrial workers and has become the bottom of the society.
At the same time, provide these people with decent salaries and security, so that they don’t realize that they are the bottom line in their daily life. Anyway, because of the efficiency improvement brought by technology and system, in the value composition of capital, the proportion of variable capital (called human cost today) has always been declining as a whole.
What if these people are still not enough in number to match the scale of capital and the acceleration of its re-accumulation? No matter how efficiency is improved, money always has to correspond to a certain number of people. Today there is too much money, and people are relatively short. Easy to handle, then use one person as two or even three.
This is what we have seen to work overtime, various ways to restrict free time (including going to the toilet), and big entrepreneurs have to continue to create discourse legitimacy for overtime.
It turned out that Foxconn’s living environment for workers has shifted to white-collar workers in Internet companies.
Preventing chronic sinking
“collective dimensionality reduction” is completely economical. Today’s white-collar workers have almost no difference in economic income compared with industrial workers, construction workers, decoration workers, and living service workers, and even white-collar workers are still lower than those called “workers”.
“Collective dimensionality reduction” is both logical and a fait accompli.
People who use consumer loans in debt, or lose their savings due to a thunderstorm, as well as those small and medium-sized business owners and individual bosses who are squeezed out by giants, eventually become brand new “free laborers.” And people find that there are not many roads they can walk, and in the final analysis, they can’t escape the envelope of a certain platform.
The reason for the narrowness of the road lies in the far-reaching nature of the Internet mentioned above. The giant beast is growing up, and it may not be accurate to grow up. It is “expansion” aptly. From Heilongjiang to Hainan, people used the same software to order takeaways and use the same software to call ride-hailing. This was unimaginable in the pre-Internet era.
We must embrace technology, otherwise we will be embraced by the predicament caused by backwardness. However, the purpose of technological development is not to let people, and their lives, be embraced by some kind of careful technical force.
The problem today is that some carefully calculated technical forces have been converted into a kind of quasi-public goods, hijacking our lives and also hijacking our future. There is a great tension between public goods and private ownership.
This is called a monopoly of opportunity.
Today, we may be an entrepreneur. There are countless entrepreneurs in this society, but when we go back to the source, we will find that our entrepreneurship is based on a certain platform. If this platform closes the door to ourselves, all our efforts will be wiped out.
Because these platforms are large enough. If they can do everything, even selling vegetables, then each of us will be labelled to which platform in the future. This is also a self-evident original intention of platform anti-monopoly.
There has been a deduction before, based on social determinism-technology will change the relations of production. If artificial intelligence is popularized, then the manufacturing industry will no longer need labor and therefore no longer employ, then laborers will be unemployed and purchasing power will be lost; and, because of the high threshold of artificial intelligence, it will also cause a monopoly of opportunities, which makes it difficult for people to enter. You can only work in the service industry, so the service industry will become a proxy consumption industry for the manufacturing industry; but this proxy consumption is still not enough to consume the day and night production capacity of the artificial intelligence manufacturing industry, so most people will be hopeless And because there is no purchasing power, surplus value cannot be produced; hopelessness will induce revolution, and production cannot be maintained without profit. If revolution is not desired, production must be maintained. Then the only way is public ownership of production and distribution.
The changing situation has made this reasoning flawed. The flaw is that reality tells us that the core of the matter is not the manufacturing industry at all, but the service industry, which is the most important scenario for the application of new technologies.
The premise of the reasoning is still valid, that is, the manufacturing industry will no longer need workers, at least not so many workers, people will inevitably flock to the service industry. This partly resolves the problem of production expansion caused by the shortage of labor, and at the same time makes people slow down in the class.
When our employment is increasingly dependent on the service industry, and innovation opportunities in the service industry are constantly being concentrated because of the high threshold of technology applications, what scenarios will appear?
That is the answer to the first question of the article: It is clearly a technology-intensive enterprise, but it seems to be labor-intensive.
What we look forward to is, what exactly is this re-accumulation nurturing?
In fact, I have long held a view that a latecomer China, which cannot and has no intention of overseas colonization and slave trade, must realize industrialization and move towards modernization, and even catch up with the early and mature West. We must redouble our efforts and strive for the whole people. If you don’t struggle supernormally, you will fall behind, and you will be beaten if you fall behind, and being beaten is a bloody lesson in history.
However, things cannot develop in an extreme direction, and struggle cannot evolve into “exchanging life for money.”