Flow of Ideas


Glenn Rikowski
University of Birmingham, School of Education

First Paper prepared for the ESRC Seminar Series on ‘Apprenticeship in Work and Education’, Nene Research Centre, Nene College of Higher Education, Northampton, 31st May, 1996


This paper is based on a study of the recruitment process for craft and technician engineering apprentices. The research was carried out in a Midlands town - ‘Midtown’ - in the early 1980s (see Appendix 1 for details). It was essentially a study of the channels of recruitment (Windolf, 1988; Wood, 1988), the means for ensuring potential recruits apply for positions being offered; the methods of recruitment, the procedures used for assessing, judging between and selecting applicants; and, the criteria of recruitment, the underlying standards and principles involved in judging and differentiating between applicants in recruitment (Rikowski, 1990a). These three elements together comprise the recruitment process (Rikowski, 1990a,b; Windolf, 1988). The whole of the discussion in this paper rests on the third of these elements; recruitment criteria. Specifically, it explores data from the Midtown study which hinges upon the issue of what engineering employers were ‘looking for’ in applicants to apprenticeship; which skills, attitudes and qualities they searched for and assessed in young applicants for their apprenticeships.

It is important to understand the methodological ‘logic’ behind the original research as this paper is largely concerned with questions of method. This ‘logic’ started from a concern with the ‘needs of industry’ in relation to the recruitment of youth labour and the many observations from researchers and commentators during the late 1970s and early 1980s (Edgley; 1978; Frith, 1978a,b, 1979; Education Group I, 1981 - as examples) that employers were ‘confused’ or contradictory regarding what they said they were looking for in young people coming from school to work in their enterprises. In the youth recruitment process, that great clearing house for youth labour, employers, in assessing young applicants, were simultaneously expressing and delineating their ‘needs’ in relation to young workers. Whilst recruiting young people, employers were practically forced to think – through the processes of selecting, assessing and judging – to some extent, about what they were looking for in young people as future workers within their enterprises. Hence, the recruitment process was viewed as the strategic site for researching employers ‘needs’ regarding youth labour and as the basis for an understanding of the nature of those ‘needs’ and contradictions and tensions within the array of expressed ‘needs’. Secondly, by focusing on criteria of recruitment the researcher could arrive at a comprehensive catalogue of revealed (not all recruitment criteria emerged from a direct question - race and gender being key ‘hidden’ criteria) employers’ needs regarding youth labour. It is with such a ‘catalogue’ - in Appendix 2 - that this paper begins.


Appendix 2 shows data derived from the Midtown Engineering Employers Study (MEES) and Cuming’s (1983) study on recruitment in Leicestershire. The latter was also carried out in the early 1980s, but examined the recruitment process for adult as well as young workers, and for different sectors of capital, not just the engineering industry, and also for various skill levels, not just for craft and technician levels as in the MEES. In his study, Cuming asked employers the following general question: ‘What do you look for in an applicant at interview?’ The employers referred to 91 attributes and Cuming was faced with the problem of categorising the attributes sought by employers, as shown on the right-hand side of Appendix 2. His approach was instructive. He justifiably noted that: ‘The analysis and classification of such responses is lengthy and tends to be subjective’ (p.42). However, argued Cuming:

‘For analytical purposes it is obviously necessary to reduce the list... to more manageable proportions’ (p.71).

He classified the attributes sought by employers into eight categories – personality traits, work attitudes, social attitudes, learned skills, general abilities, qualifications, physical abilities and circumstantial elements – shown in Appendix 2 [1]. The MEES employers were asked a similar question to Cuming’s: what they especially ‘looked for’ in an applicant for engineering apprenticeships. Altogether, 85 attributes were mentioned by the 107 employers. These are displayed in the left-hand side of Appendix 2 in the categories derived from Cuming, but with some additional sub-categories.

The lists in Appendix 2 can be viewed as different enumerations of the ‘needs’ of employers. But what kind of ‘needs’ are they? What is the nature of the ‘needs’ as expressed through the data in Appendix 2? Employers have all kinds of ‘needs’: to keep wages to a minimum, low interest rates, a favourable exchange rate, are just some of them. However, when they talk about their ‘needs’ or demands in relation to education and school leavers as potential workers they invariably refer to their labour-power ‘needs’. The ‘needs of industry’ in relation to young workers and employers’ demands on schools for better recruits are an expression of labour-power needs. This point has been argued for at length in relation to the recruitment process in a series of papers (Rikowski, 1990a-b, 1996a, with Ainley and Ranson, 1996) and in relation to the ‘competence movement’ (Rikowski, 1996a) and the transition from school to work (Rikowski, 1995), and, finally, in relation to what James Avis (1993) has called the ‘New Consensus’ in post-compulsory education and training (Rikowski, 1996a). However, it is worth emphasising once more.

Studies of the recruitment process point towards the need for analysts and researchers to abandon notions of ‘skill’ and even ‘competence’ in order to understand the form of the internal relations (Ollman, 1993) between schooling and work, education/training and capital accumulation. Recruitment is the articulation between education, training and work for young workers where employers’ ‘needs’ enter through the operationalisation of recruitment criteria. Recruitment studies on young people (such as the Manpower Services Commission, 1978; Ashton and Maguire, 1980; Hunt and Small, 1981; Cuming, 1983; Wellington, 1989; and Rikowski, 1990a, 1991, 1992) have consistently indicated that employers look for work attitudes (rather than ‘skills’ or categories of skill, or competence) over any other category of attributes in young workers in the recruitment process. Secondly, after work attitudes, employers tend to look for personality traits and then ‘skills’ – indirectly as represented in ‘qualifications’ and directly as specific learned skills. These studies indicate that to view employers’ ‘needs’ in terms of simple and narrow categories such as ‘skill’ is perverse and erroneous, even at the level of appearance. Thus, a broader concept, such as labour-power, would seem to be more useful in grasping the complexity and fullness of employers’ demands and ‘needs’ regarding youth labour. Examination of Appendix 2 vindicates this perspective. The ‘needs’ of the MEES employers included a variety of general (non-engineering specific) and specific (engineering, trade, job, apprenticeship specific) work attitudes, personality traits and social attitudes as well a attributes of young applicants that could be designated as ‘skills’. If the ‘needs of industry’ in relation to the recruitment of youth people are essentially labour-power, what, then, is the nature of labour-power itself? What kind of phenomenon is it? For answers to these questions we need to turn to the writings of Marx.


Benade (1984) has described labour-power as the ability a worker has to work (p.43). This is an even more general definition than that adopted by Marx himself. It fails to refer to the essential features of labour-power, its constituents. For Marx, labour-power is:

‘... the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description’ (1867, p.164).

This is what the capitalist buys when s/he lays out her/his variable capital in the form of wages. However, labour-power only becomes a social reality (rather than a mere capacity to labour) by its exercise in the labour process, when it is transformed into actual labour and becomes ‘... living, value creating labour-power ...’ (Marx, 1865, p.29); for ‘... it sets itself in action only by working’ (Marx, 1867, p.167). What is clear from the analysis in the previous section is that in terms of the mental capabilities referred to by Marx in the general definition of labour-power we must either include attitudes and personality traits, or, extend Marx’s original definition to include them. The social production of labour-power (Rikowski, 1996a), in which schooling and training are implicated, is about instilling certain work attitudes and shaping personalities at least as much as about attempting to develop certain skills, knowledges and competences within young people. Bowles and Gintis (1976) made this point years ago, though not in relation to a >i>redefinition and extension of Marx’s seminal definition of labour-power. Following the final point above, the concept of ‘labour-power’ would seem to be a transhistorical and in need of historical specification and redefinition in relation to changes in the mode of production and phases of accumulation within modes of production. Moore (1988), for example, has argued that Marx’s concept of labour-power is a transhistorical one as ‘... obviously it is abstract and universal.’ (p.68). According to Moore, Marx then goes on to provide it with ‘... a concrete form specific to the capitalist mode of production.’ (Ibid.). On the other hand, Nicolaus (1977) has argued that Marx developed the concept of labour-power in order to grasp the specific form of exploitation in capitalism, whilst Sayer (1979) has argued that Marx was not interested in abstract and universal definitions in Capital but theorising phenomena specific to the capitalist mode of production. Thus, the point at issue seems to be whether Marx’s conception of labour-power is transhistorical, abstract and universal or refers to a social phenomenon specific to the capitalist mode of production. Rather than exploring this point in all its ramifications, it would seem more reasonable to make a series of observations which have particular pertinence for this paper.

Firstly, Moore’s (1988) contention that Marx’s general definition of labour-power was a transhistorical one would seem to be correct. There is nothing within the general definition referred to above which indicates otherwise. Arthur (1992) has argued that if a concept such as labour-power is not a trans-historical one then this would create difficulties for those socialists who might wish to use the concept in relation to socialism where the labour-power of the producers would be maximised ‘... by using the initiative and enthusiasm that capitalism cannot’ (p.1). Thus, from Arthur’s perspective, the more Marxists encircle concepts such as ‘labour-power’ and ‘use-value’ as referents to a specifically capitalist social formation then the more they are presented with difficulties in theorising the transition from capitalism to socialism, as such concepts can no longer function as theoretical bridges in any explanation of the transition. The real clincher arises in Marx’s own writings in a note on the differences between slave labour and the formally ‘free’ labour which oils the wheels of capitalism. He refers explicitly to the labour-power of the slave which, in antiquity, is largely ‘... determined by local custom’ (Marx, 1866, p.1014). For Marx, labour-power is a transhistorical concept but its meaning changes for the social theorist as s/he moves in thought in the consideration of different social formations. This becomes clear when Marx talks about the key differences between the labour-power of slaves in production based on slave labour and that of labourers in capitalist production.

Secondly, Marx’s definition of labour-power in Capital is a general and universal one but it is important to understand the considerations which make it universal and general. The generality of the definition would seem to principally derive from the fact that in the first volume of Capital, where the seminal quotation come from, Marx’s analysis of capital and his simultaneous critique of political economy is operating at the level of capital-in-general, delineating the general characteristics of capital and labour ansicht (as such). Hence, it comes as no surprise that the definition does not refer to labour-power in relation to a particular branch of industry or fraction of capital. When the concept of labour-power is concretised in relation to particular capitals or sectors of capital (such as the engineering industry later on), then more can be said about the precise nature of the mental and physical capabilities involved. Marx underscores this point when he argues that:

‘... labour-power assumes a distinctive form in every particular sphere of production, as a capacity for spinning, cobbling, metal-working, etc., so that every sphere of production requires a capacity for labour that is developed in a specific direction, a distinctive capacity for labour ...’ (1866, p.1013 - Marx’s emphasis).

The universality of Marx’s general definition of labour-power derives from the fact that it purports to outline the universal characteristics of labour-power across all branches of production and individual capitals as opposed to the definite and distinctive attributes of labour-power pertinent to labouring within specific sectors of industry or particular firms.

Finally, Sayer’s (1979) point, that Marx is primarily concerned with pinning down concepts and social categories which differentiate capitalism from other modes of production (and that labour-power is one of these), nevertheless has some force, though with modification. West (1984) has argued that social categories linked to social relations are ‘... not appropriate across epochs and cultures as positivists might claim.’ (p.269). As social relations change between modes of production then the social theorist requires fresh categories which grasp the differences between social relations as between various social formations. However, as can be seen in relation to Marx’s discussions on the differences between slave and ‘free’ labour, it does not follow that a concept such as labour-power only has currency as an explanatory concept for a specific social formation such as capitalism. Rather, the social form that labour-power assumes within different social formations becomes the issue for theory and empirical investigation.

What is clear is that labour-power, for Marx, is a commodity ‘... neither more nor less than sugar ...’ (Marx, 1847, p.152); though Marx over-exaggerated in Wage Labour and Capital in order to make the general point. Like all commodities labour-power has use-value and exchange-value; to this extent it is like sugar. However, it is a peculiar commodity differing from sugar in key respects. Firstly, it does not strictly conform to Marx’s characterisation of the commodity as:

‘... in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or other’ (1867, p.43).

From the perspective of the labourer, her/his labour-power resides within her/him as a capacity and as a range of powers. For the capitalist it is an object outside her/himself. Unlike sugar, aspects of it (mental capacities) are unobservable.

Secondly, labour-power is:

‘... a commodity, whose use value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and consequently, a creation of value’ (Marx, 1867, p.164).

Labour-power is not only the source of value but has the capacity to create more value ‘... than it has itself.’ (Marx, 1867, p.188); surplus value, and ‘This is the special service that the capitalist expects from labour-power’ (Ibid.).

Finally, labour-power differs from sugar in that it is the subjective factor of the labour process. Unlike sugar, it is a commodity incorporating consciousness, intrinsically and inherently. The consumption of labour-power in the labour process involves ‘... labour-power expressing itself purposively: the subjective condition of labour’ (Marx, 1866, p.980).

From this general exploration of labour-power the following section starts to specify the social form of labour-power in capitalist society. This specification ultimately rests upon an analysis of aspects of labour-power and the attributes of labour-power. The descent from the most general, abstract characterisation of labour-power noted above towards more concrete categories - firstly, aspects of labour-power and then labour-power attributes (the itemised constituents of concrete labour-powers) - ultimately allows for the interpretation of empirical phenomena (such as expressed and revealed recruitment criteria) within contemporary education, training and labour regimes.

What is clear, on the basis of the analysis being presented here, is that, from a Marxist perspective, we are dealing with the commodity on which the whole capitalist system rests. This explains why debates about the ‘needs of industry’ have such resonance for representatives of capital. The following section moves the analysis on through an exploration of four contradictory aspects of labour-power: the subjective (individual), the collective and the exchange-value (quantitative) and use-value (qualitative) aspects.

Aspect Analysis

In the first volume of Theories of Surplus Value, Marx (1863) points to the ‘two great categories of commodities’. For Marx:

‘The whole world of “commodities” can be divided into two great parts. First, labour-power; second, commodities as distinct from labour-power’ (1863, p.167).

In Capital, Marx concentrates almost exclusively on the second, general class, of commodities. On the whole, ‘that other great class of commodities’, labour-power, only enters into the discussion when Marx discusses the value of labour-power, which is a key determinant of the value of the general class of commodities. Lebowitz (1992) has recently pointed to the one-sidedness of Marx’s analysis in Capital. He has argued that the whole of Marx’s major work is approached from the perspective of capital. Hence, it incorporates a relative neglect of the wage labour aspect of the capital-labour relation and the various transformations of wage labour in different phases of capital accumulation. Most importantly, Capital fails to provide a systematic analysis of needs from a wage labour perspective (including education and training needs), argues Lebowitz. He puts this down largely to Marx’s failure to write his projected volume on Wage Labour, but also Marx’s strategic decision to prioritise the examination of capitalism from ‘the standpoint of capital’ (Marx, 1863, p.163) before exploring capitalist social relations and social forms from the perspective of wage labour. Lebowitz’s analysis fails to see the whole picture. In Capital, Marx did not even provide a comprehensive analysis of the ‘two great commodities’ from the ‘standpoint of capital’. In concentrating his efforts upon the general class of commodities, Marx left labour-power undertheorised. Fortunately, Marx left some methodological clues as to how labour-power, from the ‘standpoint of capital’ might be addressed [2]. In recent years, Cressey and MacInnes (1980) and Hohn (1988) have provided further analytical tools for approaching labour-power. Finally, Marx himself, but also Nietzsche, Wittegenstein and Heidegger through the work of Stephen Mulhall (1993), have provided pointers for beginning an exploration of labour-power through aspect analysis. But what is aspect analysis?

Aspect analysis can be viewed as an exploration of the process of ‘seeing’, both in terms of audio-visual fields but also, and more importantly, in terms of interpretative ‘perspectives’. The latter is concerned with viewing phenomena from particular points of view. It is simultaneously a process of abstraction as well as perception. Three forms of aspect-seeing, derived from readings of Mulhall, Marx, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, will now be summarised. Ultimately, only the second one is crucial to subsequent analysis, but presentation of the other two fixes the analytical task with more precision.

Firstly, aspect-seeing can be viewed in static, non-relational way where the observer concentrates on a particular spatial or socio-spatial field. This can be described as an aspects as distinction view. For example, an observer could describe part of an object in detail to the exclusion of other parts. Then another part could be described, and another, and so on - until all the parts had been mapped by description. Analysis would proceed on the basis of firstly, an internal description of each part, and, secondly, looking for relations between the parts. However, it should be stressed here that the relational moment of the analysis derives from a philosophy of external relations, where entities previously designated as discrete, determinate and separate forms are brought into an external relation within theory and through research programmes. Despite critiques of functionalism and sneers at positivism, much academic sociology still operates on the basis of this approach to aspect-seeing. The sub-disciplines and ‘fields’ of study within sociology - the sociology of work, of family, of education, of training and this and that - incorporate such an attitude to aspect-seeing. Moore (1988) for example, designates ‘education’ as a ‘field’ of research and study. In viewing it as ‘separate’ and distinct from ‘production’ he attempts to theorise the internal dynamics of the educational ‘field’. ‘Production’ has its own dynamics, argues Moore, and it is such considerations which undermine attempts (made by those such as Bowles and Gintis, 1976) to locate the dynamics and determinants of one ‘field’ (education) in those of another (production). In focusing on different aspects of the social totality in this account we are operating with distinctions; the social world is split up on the basis of allocating social phenomena (through either/or considerations) to social ‘fields’ and sub-fields within which sub-disciplinary specialisms thrive and move. Aspect-seeing as ‘mapping’ within social theory creates its own problems. For example, theorists agonise over how ‘education’ and ‘production’, forcibly abstracted as separate ‘entities’, can ‘relate’. At this point, theories of ‘relative autonomy’, or splitting reality down into ever more ‘factors’ to yield a ‘complex’ analysis, or ‘thick descriptions’, enter - as attempts to paper over the cracks previously created.

Aspect-seeing can be approached in another way in which social reality is not splintered and fractured within theory. Here, there are no ‘distinctions’; ‘education’ is not a determinate ‘field’ set apart from ‘production’. Rather, the analyst takes a ‘standpoint’ (in a similar way to standpoint feminism) on the social totality and its constituent processes, as opposed to a focus on institutions and ‘systems’. This ‘aspects as perspectives’ approach to aspect-seeing can in turn be viewed as including three moments. Firstly, social phenomena themselves have different ‘aspects’; these aspects are not different ‘parts’ which can be delineated within theory as ontological absolutes, but different ways of viewing the same process in action. Secondly, in terms of ontology, social ‘entities’ or phenomena are to be viewed relationally through incorporating a philosophy of internal relations (Ollman, 1993). No social ‘phenomena’ are discrete, separate or ‘pure entities’. Processes identified within ‘education’ have an internal relation to the capitalist labour process. What appears to be separate is not, which brings us to the third point. Underlying this approach to aspect-seeing is the notion of social totality. Social reality, as immediately given to everyday experience, is split up into institutions and systems. However, a ‘unity-in-separation’ is taken as a further ontological underpinning which allows the analyst to explore social processes through bringing what is forced apart in actually existing capitalism into a unity. This only makes sense if there is an underlying postulate that the ‘social’ comprises such a unity. Some postmodernists take the opposite tack; they revel in the apparent fragmentation of social life.

A third approach to aspect-seeing can be described as viewing aspects as subversive transformations. On this view, the analyst views something as something else – no matter what (its subversive and interpretative element). Thus, education can be viewed as production (Rikowski, 1995) or as a form of production. Indeed, a number of Marxist theorists of education have taken a similar route [3].

Of the three approaches to aspect-seeing described above, it is the second one, aspects as perspectives, which will inform the rest of the paper. What needs to be kept clear is that the various aspects of labour-power outlined below are not ‘distinctions’ but different ways of viewing the same phenomenon. They abstract different elements from a unity.

Aspects of Labour-Power

Returning to Marx’s seminal definition of labour-power, it appears that it is a unity of forces, powers and qualities within human beings which are exercised and manifested through acts of labour which result in some useful objects or use-values. At other times, especially, in the Grundrisse, Marx talks labour-power as a commodity which is sold to employer in exchange for wages. At yet other (and much rarer) times he talks about labour-power being socially ‘produced’ or ‘reproduced – and this is where education and training enter the analysis.

This three-fold analysis of labour-power can be viewed as ‘seeing’ this ‘unique commodity’ (Marx, 1863, p.45) from three perspectives. Firstly, as potentiality, as the capacity to labour, from the perspective of the labour market (or, more accurately, the market in labour-power), labour-power is bought by the capitalist as a set of forces, qualities and powers residing in the body of the labourer to be released within the labour process for the production of value and surplus value in general commodity form. Secondly, as actuality labour-power attains social reality to the extent that these powers, forces and qualities of the labourer are marshalled under her/his will and expended in acts of labour which produce general commodities for the capitalist. It is at this point that the labourer’s labour-power, her/his personal qualities and powers, becomes capital. Thirdly, and building on the previous point, labour-power is also a process of constant personal, intersubjective and social becoming (Sztompka, 1991; Crossley, 1996; Rikowski, Ainley and Ranson 1996). This doesn’t necessarily mean that labour-power is continually developing and changing in a unilateral direction. As Marx says, it is a ‘unique commodity’ which is partially controlled by the will of the labourer, a will which is never totally subsumed under capital. If the labourer’s will was completely subsumed under capital then s/he would cease to be human, cease to be something even less than an android with a ‘mind of its own’. From the standpoint of capital, labour-powers have various degrees of ‘quality’, which can be either enhanced or can suffer relative deterioration or degeneration. Processes involved in the social production of labour-power (schooling, training, work-based learning, informal learning in the workplace) are (again, from the perspective of capital) concerned with shaping, forming and developing personal and collective powers for labouring within the labour process (which will vary according to the sector of capital, and by individual capitals).

The interpretation here builds largely upon the second element of the three-dimensional analysis of labour-power sketched out above; labour-power as actuality. It is concerned with viewing labour-power in relation to four aspects of labour: the subjective, collective, exchange- and use-value aspects of labour, which have their counterparts within labour-power itself. These ‘aspects’, it should be remembered, are not conventional distinctions but different perspectives cast upon underlying relations and social forms.

The Subjective Aspect of Labour-power
The subjective aspect of labour-power is labour-power in its individual and will-determined moment. Labour-power is the subjective element in the labour process; is it the ‘living fire’ (Marx, 1858) which powers the creative act of production. As Cressey and MacInnes put it, workers are the ‘subjective force of production’ (p.13). These authors rightly noted that Marx makes the human will a ‘... defining characteristic of all human use-value creating labour’ (Ibid.) in his architect and bees passage, where Marx argued that what differentiated the worst of architects from the best of bees was that the architect conceives the product prior to production (Marx, 1867, p.174). Human labour is guided purposively through keeping the initial conception in view. In the labour process, the labourer partially (and the degree is important for capital and its representatives) subordinates her/his will to producing the product ‘in consonance’ (Ibid.) with the original conception. In what Marx called Modern Industry, conception and production are invariably separated and socialised, the former migrating to separate design facilities - the separation of manual and intellectual labour (as described by Ainley, 1993).

Subjectivity is internal to the labour process (Manwaring and Wood, 1985) and worker’s subjectivity cannot be abolished without abolishing labour-power itself (Cressey and MacInnes, 1980). The will of the labourer is central to an understanding of this aspect of labour-power. Arthur (1980) has argued that labour-power is ‘... dynamic, self-differentiated and alive’ (p.101). Attaining efficiency through technical change in capitalist production rests upon the partial subordination of the will of the worker to the capitalist labour process. The attributes, or ‘powers’ as Arthur calls them, that constitute the substratum of the labourer’s labour-power:

‘... can only be externalised if they are objectified in production, and this latter requires, not the exclusion of ...[the labourer’s]... will but the use of ...[his/her] ... powers, however grudgingly’ (1980, p.12).

In so far as the will of the labour is subordinated to the purposes, desires and ends of capital and its human representatives then it is incorporated within labour-power itself as it expresses itself in production through acts of labour. To the extent that this subordination occurs, the labourer becomes capital. This subordination is never complete; the will of the labourer is capricious and defines her/his identity and humanity. The extent to which such subordination becomes a personal mode of being for the labourer requires continual reproduction through socialisation at work, in education and other social sites throughout the ‘social factory’ (Negri, 1984). Labour-power is the worker’s own property over which s/he exercises partial and contested control; it is a commodity controlled by ‘... an independent and hostile will’ (Friedmann, 1977, p.78).

The Collective Aspect of Labour-power As well as being the subjective force, under the sway of an individual and potentially hostile (towards capital) will, labour-power can also be viewed through its collective aspect, as ‘... an accumulation of labour powers’ (Marx, 1858, p.585). This is where the quality of the co-operation between labour-powers within the labour process is brought to the fore. Such co-operation forms a significant collective force within the labour process, a force which capital and its representatives seek to control and channel into value production through general commodity formation. The collective aspect of labour-power can be viewed as an agglomeration and amalgamation of the individual labour-powers of workers set in motion for capital. As Marx noted, this:

‘... collective power of labour, its character as a social force, is therefore the collective power of capital’ (1858, p.585).

Labour is not just an isolated act involving individual workers. In Modern Industry it invariably involves co-operation through a complex social division of labour (Ainley, 1993).

The Exchange- and Use-value Aspects of Labour-power These aspects of labour-power will be analysed with reference to an important paper by Cressey and MacInnes (1980). These theorists note a distinction in Marx’s work between the use-value aspect of labour and the exchange-value aspect of labour. The use-value aspect pertains to the labour process, the production of things, and the latter to the valorisation process (the value-creating process, the production of value and surplus-value). The immediate process of production can be viewed as the unity of the labour process and the valorisation process (Marx, 1866, 1867; Elson, 1979; Rattansi, 1982). According to Cressey and MacInnes, the exchange-value aspect of labour is related to what Marx called the real subordination of labour. This is where labour is subsumed under capital through the extraction of relative surplus-value based on the introduction of machinery in the phase of Modern Industry. The real subsumption of labour is concerned with attempts to ‘... appropriate all subjective elements to keep valorisation as the sole object of the production process’ (Cressey and MacInnes, 1980, p.7). However, according to Cressey and MacInnes, the theory of the real subordination of labour is a one-sided theory as it only considers:

‘... the exchange-value aspect of the ... [capital-labour].. relation. ... Here indeed capital seeks to reduce the worker as far as possible to the status of commodities ... [and to]... abolish all dependence on the worker’s own skill and initiative, lest these frustrate the requirements of valorisation’ (Ibid.).

However, this process is never absolutely settled in favour of capital as the use-value aspect of the capital-labour relation stands in contradiction to the exchange-value aspect, as in the former:

To develop the forces of production capital must seek to develop labour as a subjective force to unleash labour’s powers of social productivity rather than abolish these powers’ (Cressey and MacInnes, 1980s, p.15).

These two contradictory relations of labour to capital ultimately yield contradictory labour control and labour process strategies, argue Cressey and MacInnes. Although the dual analysis of labour provided by Cressey and MacInnes cuts across some of the distinctions made here in relation to labour power, nevertheless, their work points towards exchange- and use-value aspects of labour-power. The former, dominated by valorisation considerations, hinges on the quantitative dimension of labour-power - the capacity of labourers to work at speed, with reference to volume; and passively, repetitively and routinely in relation to the labouring act. The latter, rests upon the qualitative dimension of labour-power; the capacity of workers to be active and creative, to use initiative, to be flexible and adaptable, to work for capital with due care, attention and consideration – in fact to care about quality – to take an active interest and pride in work. This last point has particular resonance for apprenticeship, with its associated notions of ‘craft’ and craft pride, continual development of the worker’s own labour-power and enhancing the quality of one’s own labour-power through self-investment in training.

The analysis stops at this point. Further development would show how, and in what ways, these four aspects come into contradiction and tension. The upshot of this analysis is that employers’ ‘needs’ regarding youth (or any form) of labour cannot be met due to these inherent contradictions within labour and labour-power. Thus, education and training cannot meet the ‘needs of industry’ in principle and as a matter of logic. No education and training system can ever, logically, ‘work’ for capital. For ‘work for capital’ to mean something in absolute terms, abolition of these contradictions, which are inherent in the capital-labour relation, would be a necessity. A dream, a fantasy! The ‘needs’ of industry regarding labour and labour-power, and the part that education and training can play in enhancing the quality of the latter, can only logically be conceived in relative (the quality of labour-powers within a national capital, sector of capital or individual capitals can be compared on some agreed standards) and infinite (there is no logical end-point to the development of human labour-power on an historical basis) terms. The following section expands the notion of the use-value aspect of labour-power prior to coming full circle and exploring Appendix 2 once more.

The Use-value Aspect of Labour-Power

The use-value aspect of labour-power refers then to the qualitative dimension of labour-power. Again, as on the previous analysis of labour-power as a unity, there are three considerations here. Firstly, at the level of the labour-power market, labour-power in its use-value aspect, from the standpoint of capital, can be viewed in relation to the relative quality of its attributes. In practical terms, the perceived quality of applicants’ and potential labourers’ labour-powers can be judged and assessed. It is the potentiality, the ‘capacity’ or ability of the labourer to work that is at stake here.

Secondly, at the level of the labour process, the use-value aspect of labour-power refers to the quality of the transformation of the labourer’s powers, forces and qualities into labour in an active mode. This is where the quality, extension, versatility and adaptability, the initiative and the judgmental qualities of the person as labourer come into play. This level relates to the previous one; labour-power when viewed through the market level of analysis relates to labour-power as practical labouring expression in the labour process through a practical assessment of potential labour-powers on behalf of representatives of capital. Marx recognised this point when he noted that:

‘With the keen eye of an expert, ...[the capitalist]... has selected the means of production and the kind of labour power best suited to his particular trade...’ (1867, p.179).

This assessment of the practical relation of labour-powers as potentiality and actuality depends on a number of considerations; the knowledge recruiters have of the labour process, their ability to translate this knowledge into criteria of recruitment, their methods of judging and assessing applicants for jobs against these criteria, the adequacy of the measures of assessment and many other factors. The MEES indicated a wide variety of degrees of knowledge of the labour process, recruitment criteria (even within similar trades within engineering) and methods of recruitment. What is clear from the MEES data which touches on these issues, is that schools are faced with the practical difficulties of meeting the specificities of the relation between the two levels - labour-power market (potentiality)/labour process (actuality) - when employers themselves, especially as individual capitals, face huge difficulties in making the connections.

Thirdly, at the level of the unfolding or becoming of labour-power through its further social production, the MEES employers in particular, as it was apprenticeships they were offering, had a range of visions of the ways in which young apprentice recruits might, ought and could further develop and enhance the quality of their own labour-powers. This concern with continual development, with the ability to acquire the will, know-how and capacity involved in ‘learning how to learn’ in relation to engineering, was an important theme running through some of the interviews.

Another paper, available on the day of the Seminar (Rikowski, 1996b), will explore some of the MEES data through developing this three-level analysis of the use-value aspect of labour-power. However, in order for this to proceed, one final observation needs to be made in relation to Appendix 2.

Full Circle ...

Appendix 2, as noted earlier, illustrates the revealed (some were reasonably well hidden, such as race and gender) recruitment criteria for the MEES employer collectivity. What can be noted from a simple observation of these recruitment criteria is that not all of them refer to the qualities, powers, knowledges, skills and abilities of potential applicants. For example, some of the circumstantial elements, such as ‘acceptable background’ or ‘parental interest’ are not directly attributes of the person at all.

At this point, three perspectives on these revealed recruitment criteria would seem worth pointing to. Firstly, all the factors 1-85 can be viewed as criteria of recruitment. They are all factors which the MEES employers took into account when and the standards they used (their organising principles for differentiating between applicants) which determined relative success and failure in the recruitment process. They include those which refer to individual applicants and those which refer to people or situations beyond the individual. Secondly, not all of the personal qualities sought in applicants appear to be directly related to labour-power attributes. For example: hobbies and interests. With some MEES employers, these need not relate to any conceivable skills or qualities incorporated in the job, the training or the apprenticeship. However, these attributes may well be (and often were) indirect indicators of attributes that could be unambiguously related to the job, the trade, training or the apprenticeship. Finally, labour-power attributes are the itemised constituents, qualities, skills and attitudes that, from an employer perspective, appear to be directly related to the performance of labour within the labour process. They are at the heart of the MEES data in Appendix 2. These three perspectives on the data in Appendix 2 are developed further in Rikowski (1996b) through concrete examples, illustrations and further analysis.


This paper has provided a Marxist analysis of labour-power and some aspects of the recruitment process. It has also provided a partial de-mystification of the so-called ‘needs of industry’ in relation to youth labour through viewing them as being essentially labour-power needs. This realisation gave way to a deeper analysis of labour-power itself. From an abstract analysis of labour-power, the paper proceeded to ever more concrete specification of categories: from aspects of labour-power and thence to labour-power attributes, attributes sought in recruitment and the criteria of recruitment. The Seminar presentation will attempt to ground this complex analysis, which appears to turn on minutiae, through data from the MEES. It will concentrate especially on viewing the data through the use-value aspect of labour-power.

General Notes
[1] Definitions and expansions of these categories are given in Rikowski (1990a).
[2] To go beyond the ‘standpoint of capital’ and examine society from the ‘standpoint of wage labour’ is not a challenge that this paper takes up. Lebowitz (1992) has provided a few indicators as to how such an analysis might proceed. Marx also gave a few hints and clues. As yet, however, much of the groundwork for this perspective on society - including education and training - remains to be done.
[3] My 1995 paper explored some of the many forms of production located within education as described (typically in little detail) by Marxist and radical theorists of education. However, I would maintain that it is one thing to locate forms of production within education and something quite different to view education as a form of production. Marx provides many examples of viewing a process as another process. In the Grundrisse, for example, there are many instances where he views production as consumption and vice versa. What he continually makes clear is that the purposes and forms of the abstractions used and the level of analysis and abstraction, the relations to the social totality and the starting point for reflection and theorisation should be kept in view. Labour-power, for example, could be viewed as a form of capital. Indeed, the concept of ‘human capital’ from conventional economics implicitly and tacitly recognises this point. One of the implications of the arguments presented in this paper, though not expanded upon, is that: to the extent that we become and are labour-power, then, we simultaneously are and become capital. Thus, schools, in so far as they are implicated in the social production of labour-power, are simultaneously involved in the business of transforming living human beings into capital. This requires full development within another paper.

Some of the ideas on aspect-seeing and aspect analysis were developed during a series of conversations with Chris Haywood, formerly a researcher within the University of Birmingham School of Education, now at the University of Sheffield, from December 1995 to January 1996. I take full responsibility for the particular presentation of these ideas within this paper.


The fieldwork on which this paper is based was carried out in Midtown during 1980-81, in conditions of deep recession. It centred on the recruitment process: the channels, criteria and methods of recruitment. Recruitment was explored in relation to craft and technician engineering apprentices in 107 firms in Midtown. Interviews were held with ‘the person(s) responsible for recruiting apprentices’ in each firm. The majority of interviews were tape-recorded; 16 out of the 107 firms declined to use the tape-recorder and notes were written down during and immediately after interview and further queries were followed up by telephone inquiries. Interviews lasted about two hours on average.

In addition, material on the history of work-experience schemes in Midtown was gathered during 1981-83 from the Midtown Local Studies Centre. Interviews with training staff of the local Engineering Employers’ Association (EEA) and a local engineering Group Training Scheme (GTS) were undertaken in late 1980/early 1981. Throughout 1982-85, I obtained material on the Midtown youth labour market from the careers service and Midtown local education authority. The ‘Apprenticeship Debate’ and other issues in relation to employer perspectives on youth labour were explored through an examination of the journal of the Institute of Personnel Management and the Industrial Society (deposited in the University of Warwick Modern Records Centre and at the library of the London School of Economics) from the First World War to 1980. Finally, historical data on the recruitment and training systems for engineering apprentices was gathered during 1981-1983 from the records of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Union archives held in the University of Warwick Modern Records Centre.


This Appendix shows how the various attributes employers looked for in applicants for engineering apprenticeships in the MEES and in jobs in Cuming (1983) study were classified.

Cumings’s (1983) study included two open-ended questions on what employers looked for in applicants. The first was on what an employer’s ideal employee would be, and the second was on what employers were ‘looking for’ in applicants at interview. The latter threw up references to 91 attributes. In the question on the ideal employee, 38 attributes were referred to which did not figure in the responses to the question on what was ‘looked for’ at interview. These are indicated by a *. Cuming’s final classification included all 129 attributes.

Unfortunately, the HTML code did not work out for showing all the attributes.

It you would like to see the full list and receive a Word version of this paper then please email Glenn Rikowski at: Rikowskigr@aol.com


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