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Marx's theory of alienation is based on his analysis of alienated labour. He sees that the employee is reduced in rank to a miserable commodity eg: the suffering of the employee enlarges with the wealth and size of the company's production. Alienation is the estrangement of workers from both themselves and others through the means of manufacturing and the association among human and labour. Marx depicts the economy where the workers become poorer with the more capital he manufactures and the more his production rises in authority and size. This is common as workers are being denied of the right to conceive of themselves as the director of their actions and to determine the character of their actions. This, in the capitalist mode of production, defines their relationship to other actors, as in who uses or retain the significance of what is manufactured by their actions. Alienation in capitalist societies occurs because the worker can only express this fundamentally social aspect of individuality through a production system that is not collectively, but privately owned (Howard Richards, 2004). This is caused through a split between the subjective essence of fulfilment and the objection of production. Marx identifies four different types of alienation in labour that will be further discussed. The purpose of this study is to show that alienation is still relevant in the contemporary workplace.
Marx identifies four types of alienation in labour under capitalism. These include the alienation of the worker from the work he produces, alienation of the worker from the work he is doing, alienation of worker from himself, and last but not the least, alienation of worker from other workers. Alienation is a concept that is rooted in the notion that workers become commodities in the operation of capital. They are controlled and dominated through the requirements of profitability. (Mason & Wright, 2003).
The first part of alienation is where the workers are alienated from the work he produces. The alienation of the product from the employee means that the work becomes a purpose or an external thing which is outside or alien to them. The effort they put in to produce the object becomes hostile to them. The manufactured goods design and the way in which it is produced are determined not by the workers but rather by the Capitalist class. The worker has no authority over the goods, plan or production procedure of the work he produces. They become isolated from the product of their hard work since what is manufactured is confiscated from them and was not considered by the employees themselves to meet their own ends or needs. In any society people can use their ability to manufacture products which they can use or sell. With capitalism, this becomes an isolated activity because the employees cannot use the products he manufactures for his own usage or to involve in further resourceful activity. The employee's wants and needs do not give him the authority to lay hand on what he has produced as all he produces are a property of another. The worker produces food products for the markets when he himself is malnourished, produces building where he cannot live in, make vehicles which he cannot drive or produce clothing materials that he cannot afford to buy or wear and so on. Karl Marx quoted that "Alienation of the worker from what he produces is intensified because the products of labour actually begin to dominate the labourer". (Karl Marx, Sociology and Industrialization, 2003)
The second aspect of alienation is the isolation of the worker from the work he is doing or from the process of labour. Since the product does not belong to the worker they cannot find achievement in their work and therefore they deny themselves. The worker has no say over the conditions in which he is working and how organised is his work environment and how it affects him mentally and physically in turn making him sad and miserable instead of happy. The absence of control of the work process changes the worker's ability to work creatively and turn it around. The worker experiences work as an inactivity, power as ineffectiveness, proliferation as emasculation for just an activity he does which he has no control over and is directed against him. The process of labour is not only beyond the control of the worker, it is in control of owners and their managers who are trying to make their work harder, quicker and for longer period of time. "In a society based on purchase and sale of labour power, the capitalist have an interest of breaking down the labour process into smaller parts thus resulting in repetitive process of burying down the individual talents and skills of the worker" ( Harry Bravermen,2003).
The third aspect of alienation is where the worker is being alienated from other workers. This alienation arises in part because of the antagonism which inevitably arises from the class structure of the society. The worker is alienated from those who exploit their labour and control the things he produces. The worker has no control over the product he produced or the significant process in which he meant to produce it. They do not own the means of production so they have no means to relate to each other. They are just a tool of production that the owners of the capital or company buy and which the managers of the company employ to create and maximize profits. But in some places the workers organize themselves in labour unions and they don't work in solidarity if such situation strikes. But even during these labour union strikes the workers has to indulge themselves with strike bearers, other fellow workers who are indifferent or workers who are actually spies for the managers of the company, hostile military or policeman or gangs. The situation creates a sense of competitiveness among the workers who always have to look at each other as competitors for scarce jobs. This competitive situation among workers sometimes emerges with particular hostility where it leads to conflicts between workers and their seniors who seek for the job opportunity in a particular industry. These conflicts can be seen mainly in US or UK where "white male workers show's hostility towards black men or woman" because in a situation of job scarcity they are perceived as a threat. Workers instead of feeling solitary and organizing on the basis of their common interest are instead played off against each other. This is where general alienation of workers from each other has found a strong foothold.
The fourth and final aspect of alienation is a worker being alienated from their human nature that it themselves. Free and thoughtful production would be the most authentic form of production.The workers are human beings not only because they live with nature but they look at themselves as free and universal beings. However, the alienated labour takes away their human life as it transforms the free activity into a mean of life. It changes the human life into a means of physical existence. Marx states, "Alienated labour turns the species life of man, and also nature as his mental species-property, into an alien being and into a means for his individual existence. (George McCarthy, 1992).
We can clearly see that alienation is still relevant in contemporary workplace for example in a globally known fast food restaurant we can see that about two third of the crew members are below the age of 20 and teenagers open the fast food outlets in the morning and close them at night and keep them going at all hours in between. Even the managers and assistant managers are sometimes in their teens. This is because teenagers are and have been the perfect candidates for these kind of jobs, not only because they are less expensive to hire than adults, but because if their youthful inexperience makes them easier to control. No other industry anywhere has a workforce so dominated by adolescents. The labour structure of the fast food industry demands a steady supply of young and unskilled workers. Most of all 90% of the nation's fast food workers are paid an hourly wage and they are provided with no benefits and are scheduled to work only instead. The workers in these restaurants are working at their will but if the restaurant is busy they are kept longer than usual. The managers in these outlets try to make sure that these workers are employed less than forty hours a week to avoid any overtime payments. These restaurants have about 50 workers working for them and they work an average 30 hour per week. So by hiring a large number of workers for each of these restaurants and employing them less than 30 hours a week, by sending them home early if the outlet is not busy that day, keeps their labour costs to a bare minimum. This can be avoided if the restaurants applied innovative technology and proper organisation, a small number of workers can produce an enormous amount of goods at a cheap labour cost therefore leading to less exploitation of the workers and the helping the organisation in to working harmoniously. Sociologist Robin Leidner quoted that "When management determines exactly how every task should be done can impose its own rules about pace, output, quality and technique, it makes workers increasingly interchangeable". (Robin L, 1993).
In conclusion, we can see that alienation is still relevant in workplaces but can be avoided by using planned and organised methods. The company has to take the workers feelings in consideration and cut them some slack. Only then the owners and workers can work together and run the organisation in harmony.