Have you wondered the contemporary societies must be better than traditional one? Social change is inevitable due to various factors, like technological progress and urban development. However, it may not necessarily lead to an improvement in all aspects. The modern factory system is a valid illustration. The contemporary practice of it may induce some negative impacts on the workers and cause exploitation. In this essay, I will explain why I believe the practices of the modern factory system represent the source of contradiction and exploitation but not productivity and efficiency by sharing the circumstances at Foxconn. Then, after the analysis of the practices, I will compare and contrast functionalism and Marxism in understanding labor relations in contemporary societies. In the end, there is a conclusion and I will express my personal views on the modern factory system.
2. Working conditions in Foxconn
Foxconn is one example of a modern factory. It is a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer and is responsible to supply electronics parts for worldwide companies. Foxconn is the largest electronics contract manufacturer and a lot of Foxconn factories are located in China. Since most of the factories are distributed in China and the suicide among Foxconn workers are controversial, this section will focus on the working conditions in the factory and explore how they manage the workers.
Foxconn is like a military camp and sweatshop. All they want is the workers to be disciplined and restrained. To maximize the profit of the company, the factory will sacrifice the essential human needs of its workers. They are obsessed with production targets, business growth, and interests (Chan, 2013). For them, they are aiming at efficiency and higher labor productivity. Because of this, they will separate the workers and prevent them from establishing connections with others. All they desire is for each labor to concentrate on their duties and tries to be more efficient and precise. Therefore, if anyone makes a mistake, the leader will warn the others by humiliating him publicly. It is like the potential of the laborers is unlimited and everyone wants to force them to complete the tasks quicker. To maximize the gain, the wages of the workers are only slightly above the minimum wage and they never share the profit gain. Instead of distributing the profits to labor, the firm prefers to reinvestment and earn more. Moreover, talking is prohibited among workers. Even the workers felt solitary and isolated in a stressful working environment and attempt suicide, the company will blame the workers to sustain the reputation of the company. Many practices at Foxconn are violating labor rights. The example at Foxconn is the authentic practices in the modern factory.
3. The explanation of why it is a source of contradiction and exploitation
In my opinion, the practices of the modern factory system represent the source of contradiction and exploitation. Contradiction and exploitation express the class struggle, the gain of one class is the other’s loss (Wood, 2002). The contradiction section, it implies class antagonisms. The people involved in the contemporary factory operation are divided into two groups, one is the owners and one is the workers. Owners are capitalists and workers are in the working class. They will develop their class consciousness and have an opponent relationship (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Different classes are having conflict regarding the distribution of benefits and the ruling power. This also explains the suicide and protest from Foxconn’s workers afterward. The working class will employ these methods to voice their opinion and disapproval to the owners and the working environment.
For exploitation, there is an exploitative relationship between the capitalist and the working class. To maximize the gain, the capitalist would demand discipline and long spun working hours from workers. It is like the example of Foxconn, they command the workers to work for twelve hours a day and a day off per two weeks (Chan, 2013). The labor power and the unreasonably low salary are used to maximize the capitalists’ gain. Exploitation means the success and profit produced by the mistreatment of workers and produced solitary in the workplace (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). The alienation in the workplace is used to raise the productivity of the workers. The workers at Foxconn cannot establish supplementary relationships in the factory, it causes solitary and all they can do is focus on their duty. This working condition is inhumane and causes the workers to feel stressful and under pressure.
Productivity and efficiency can be reasonable when defining the division of labor in the factory. It is a strategy used to enhance labor productivity and work opportunities (Adler, 2010). However, productivity and efficiency cannot describe everything that occurred in the authentic practices of the modern factory system. Take Foxconn as an example, there are ungrateful working conditions and treatment. It administers workers as commodities and the tools to gain extra money (Wood, 2002). They never confer caring but exploitation. If the company only craves to boost productivity and efficiency, there are several alternatives. The owners can be caring but not punishing all the time. They can help the workers feel welcomed and strengthening a sense of belonging. These methods can motivate workers to work diligently. Nevertheless, the owners manage to practice in an inhumane approach. It is full of mocking and endless isolation. They apply the most harmful way to increase profit and never appreciate the workers. For the owners, the workers are constantly machines but not humans. Therefore, I consider the practices of the modern factory system is more similar to the source of contradiction and exploitation but not productivity and efficiency.
4. The similarities between functionalism and Marxism regarding labor relations in contemporary societies
Functionalism and Marxism both have numerous similarities and differences in interpreting labor relations in contemporary societies. In this section, I will compare their similarities. Functionalism and Marxism admit that there are more innumerable applications of the division of labor in contemporary societies. Modern societies desire higher working productivity and efficiency so various companies will attempt to practice division of labor. They recognize the division of labor can induce higher productivity but it will cause the dilemma of solidarity to the workers (Adler, 2010). To present diverse parts of the production process, workers will lack a sense of belonging. The isolation of labor induces them to commit suicide as they perceive that they are detached from the world (Ritzer, 1996). Since the whole production process is divided into different parts, they will feel lonely and irrelevant. The solidarity will hold back the societies.
Both of them also acknowledge the labor will sense unfairness or depression when they encountered the varied treatments by the employer. There will exist economic exploitation and class conflict. Since there exist class relationships, it is unavoidably to have unequal distribution of benefits (Bilton, Bonnelt, Jones, Lawson, Skinner, et al., 2002). When the laborers cannot obtain equally distributed benefits, some of them will be dissatisfied and furious. Due to this problem, Functionalism and Marxism have a consensus on possessing regulation. Workers require regulation to maintain order. Without order and regulation, chaos will rise (Adler, 2010). They necessitate decent punishment to demonstrate how to behave properly. With proper regulation, the workers will have fewer opportunities to feel unfair and displeasure. Therefore, to sustain healthy labor relations, they consider it is fundamental to possess proper regulation and punishment.
5. The differences between functionalism and Marxism regarding labor relations in contemporary societies
Functionalisms present labor relations in an optimistic direction. On the contrary, Marxism presents it in a permissive direction. Functionalists believe the specialization of labor can motivate people to cooperate more because of their need for the services of others (Ritzer, 1996). As contemporary societies hold more practices on specialization and all process depends on numerous laborers, functionalists think that it enhances the dependence of everyone. If they want to achieve what they want, they need to operate with each other. Thus, society has become a greater existence due to collaboration. The labor relation is mutually benefiting one another and working on what they are more talented. They need the wages from the employer and the employer also demands their talent and experience. Both of them need the help of one another to survive so the labor relation is more similar to a harmonious situation. Functionalists optimistically believe the labor relationship so it is distinctive from Marxism. Functionalisms focus on the good side of the labor relationship but not on the corrupt side.
Marxism, they concentrate more on the exploitative relationship in labor and employer. They believe that the workers have to trade their abilities and creativity as a marketable commodity and make use by the capitalists (Bilton, Bonnelt, Jones, Lawson, Skinner, et al., 2002). Even they serve and devote a lot, they will be continuously exploited. However, they need to exchange their time to survive. During the production process, they are performed like a machine but not human and all of them are dissociated (Ritzer, 1996). They can simply work in a tiny role in the working process so they cannot recognize much about the outcome. Hence, they cannot develop their talent and abilities and they will remain to be a part of the working class. As labor’s productivity is equivalent to income, they can only work endlessly and obey to the capitalist system (Bichler, Nitzan, & Muzio, 2012). The employer will not be the one who got insulted or condemned as they have power and wealth. This is how Marxism interpreted labor relations in contemporary societies.
From the example of Foxconn, we can understand the practices of modern factory systems. Functionalism tends to believe the practices of it is the source of productivity and efficiency. On the contrary, Marxism tends to believe it is the source of contradiction and exploitation. They are holding diverse perspectives but they agree on the frequently used division of labor in contemporary societies. In my opinion, Marxism's interpretation of the class struggle and the working condition is more precise. The tragedy of the workers at Foxconn makes me recognize that some employers can objectify the labor and take away their essential need for relaxation and communication. It is inhumane and the capitalists should concern their workers if they want the workers to contribute and devote themselves to the company.