Getting Casual Work

As the London casual labour market shows, it is an important part of the intricate system of incentives and controls which keep the overall economic system going. Howard Wachtel cites four   reasons for this: “First, extreme wage and income inequality is necessary to induce workers to perform alienating work for external rather than internal rewards….Second, the existence of a poverty underclass…serves as a warning to the non-poor that their fate could be much worse, thereby mitigating labour militancy by dividing labour along status lines. Third, to the extent that the poor form a “reserve army of the unemployed,” wages are depressed, some unions are weakened, and labour’s ability to obtain a greater share of incane generated in production is diminished.


Furthermore, guaranteeing workers a socially adequate supply of   essential commodities is patently dysfunctional to, if not destructive of, the operation of the market in labour. Like the proverbial birds 1571 of a feather, capitalism, poverty and inequality flock together! I will now outline sane implications which this stratification of the working class holds for urban residential developnent. In order to do so in a coherent and consistent fashion, it is useful to develop a new concept: that the city is a force of reproduction of -1581 Labour. This is the dialectical opposite of the concept of the city as a force of production, proposed in the previous section. What it refers the important truism that the city is not only a place where goods are produced by people, it is equally a place where people reproduce thenselves (i.e., live) so that they are able to continue producing. Under capitalism, these two functions of the city are spatially separated–there is an extensive and systematic split between work and living. And the existence of this split is fundamentally a product of the capitalist institutional structure.


In order forthe market in labour to exist and operate efficiently, work and living must be separate. Workers must be forced to sell their labour for a wage, the object of which is to procure a certain standard of living for themselves, partially via the [591 market in-urban living. However, the spatial split between work and living tends to hide their interrelatedness and interdependence. This uncovers another aspect of the relationship between urban form and the capitalist mode of production. The contradictory interactions between the city as a force of production and the city as a force of reproduction give capitalist cities their fundamental formal character: the split between work and living, physically linked by transportation  . and cammunication systems, and socially linked in the day-to-day experiences of people–who inhabit both worlds. Once again, this contradiction is but another way of formulating the dominant-subordinate class antagonisn of capitalist society. Clearly, a symbiotic relationship between work and living– between the social relations of production and the social relations of   living. — must exist if the city is to function relatively snoothly as a ‘device’ for reproducing labour.


This leads one to expect that the market in urban living must exhibit certain similarities to the market in labour, that the market in urban living must also be stratified along income and status dimensions (which it obviously is) and, more importantly, that this stratification is equally functional in subverting the developnent of a collective working class consciousness. On the other hand, this does not mean that antagonians do not exist between these two spheres of social relations, antagonisms which either serve a functional purpose of further diffusing class consciousness, or the dysfunctional (fran a dcmaninant class point of view, of course) purpose of class unification, thereby forming the basis of the evolutionary dialectic of the social relations of living. In fact, the historical study supports all of the above observations.


This can be summarized in the form of three related propositions which support the latter part of our earlier definition of the city, and which must be incorporated into a radical theory of urban living and city form. The first proposition is that the market in urban living and the social relations of living usually reflect the market in labour   and the social relations of production–the primary structuring spheres of capitalist society. The autonomous operation of the market in urban living, given the income differentials among participants, can be expected to produce residential hierarchies which mirror work hierarchies. However, the fact that residential neighbourhoods, which comprise the hierarchical rungs, are more than just houses leads one to expect that this outcome is neither purely a market response, nor is it automatic or inevitable.


This leads to the second proposition: that residential hierarchies, by incorporating a comprehensive range of supportive systems and organizations (schools, shops, pubs, entertainment, welfare systems, transportation, the complex social network of friends and acquaintances, [611 etc.) serve the purpose of supporting work hierarchies. In other words, that the strata of residential neighbourhoods, which comprise the overall market in urban living, are each part of the material and ideological infrastructure which correspond to, and support strata within the labour market.


The East End during the 19th-century was a perfect example of this. The housing problemns of the ‘labour aristocracy’ during the 1980’s indicate a third proposition: that the resolution of the contradiction between the city as a force of production and the city as a force of reproduction can and sometimes does structure the market in urban living so that incongruent outcomes are produced-.that the social relations of living contradict the social relations of production–and that such contradictions are potentially productive of collective working class consciousness. In these instances, the maintenance of ruling -272 class control necessitates changes in the structure of the market in urban living such that new forms of social relations of living are generated which are once again congruent with the social relations of production.


Furthermore, because the social relations of production are themselves dynamic and changing, this contradiction might arise without significant changes in the structure of the market in urban living. In all of these processes, the concepts of the ‘market in urban living’ and the ‘social relations of living’ are crucial. In the following section I will explain my understanding of the meaning and relevance of these concepts, which proved to be invaluable in understanding and explaining 19th century London’s development from a radical perspective.


A subsequent section will deal with the relationship between labour market stratification, poverty and the housing problem under capitalism. The Social Relations of Living The common feature of the concepts developed in the previous four sections of this chapter is that they are each related in some way to the determination of those pressures which provide the impetus for urban development or decay, the gestalt of these pressures determining the directions, objects, limits and/or rate of such development or decay. However, these pressures are only part of the process of urban development–they comprise complex bundles of decisions, usually contradictory and/or conflicting, which people make and endeavour to satisfy in the urban environment. Just as a tennis player’s decision to hit the ball to the far left-hand corner of the opponent’s court is not sufficient to actually move the ball there, so these pressures, while absolutely necessary, are not sufficient to actually shape the city.


For the tennis player to realize his/her intentions, he/she must hold the racket in a certain way, stand in a certain position, swing the racket at a certain speed, the’ racket must be strung in a certain manner, the ball must respond in a certain way, etc. Similarly with the process of urban development: certain formative mechanisms must exist which serve to translate the totality of pressures into the social and spatial reality which is the city. Consequently, the concepts developed to understand only these pressures do not constitute a sufficient basis upon which to build a radical theory of urban development.


To make the theory complete, another set of concepts must be developed which elucidate the formative mechanisms which determine the actual shape of the city and its parts. This is the subject of this section. What is the object of these pressures or intentions? Stated very simply, it is to secure a certain quality and quantity of space which is appropriate to the needs of all the individuals who, and corporate bodies which, must for a variety of reasons be located in the city. As I have argued, the totality of functions which are carried out in the city can be broadly divided into two categories–those which relate to the city as a force of production (not only industrial production but all those activities necessary to keep the city viable as a locus of capital accumulation–communication, transportation, public and private goods and services, offices, markets, etc.) and those which relate to the city as a force of reproduction (all those activities necessary to reproduce life in the city–housing, communication, transportation, education, health care, essential and non-essential commodity distribution, entertainment, other public and private goods and services, etc.


Of course, many urban functions are both productive and reproductive. But the point is not the preciseness of the division; rather it is to stress that conflicting and contradictory pressures for urban space are generated both within each sphere and in the interactions between them, and that these must somehow be mediated for the city to become a reality. Under capitalism, the socially-accepted institution which performs this mediating function is the market in Zand. According to this institution, the price of each parcel of land is broadly regulated by supply and demand, and the use of each parcel is largely individually determined by the highest bidder.



March 29, 2018


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