College Quarterly
Spring 1998 - Volume 5 Number 3

Proletarianization, Professional Autonomy and Professional Discourse: Restructuring Educational Work in Ontario Colleges

by Ralph Barrett & Diane Meaghan

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-labourers. - (Marx & Engels, 1948, p. 11)

It is still claimed that Marx and Engels "were obviously wrong" in their account of class struggle and oppression in the Communist Manifesto because the "... more capitalism developed, the more its class distinctions were attenuated, new middle classes emerged as did professional workers and wide sectors of the traditional working class underwent embourgeoisement" (Avineri, 1998 p.101). Apparently, new technologies such as computers have demanded and produced a highly educated and skilled work force immune from class struggle and economic exploitation. Class polarization has been muted in advanced capitalist societies and only exists between "capitalist" and "proletarian" nations (Avineri, 1998, p.103). This process of capitalist development in response to the threat of socialism, unionized labour and social and economic legislation, has produced a welfare state which has integrated and blunted the threat of working class opposition and resulted in a "reformed capitalism" (Avineri, 1998, p.104). Contrary to Marx and Engles, the ongoing attempts by the bourgeoisie to integrate the working class into the capitalist labour market have been successful in containing class struggles and class oppression.

On the other hand, have historical circumstances altered the basic propositions of the Communist Manifesto? Are the new classes of educated labour immune from "new conditions of oppression and new forms of struggle"? Class struggle and class exploitation evolve under specific historical circumstances and occupations which have preserved their halos of status and reverence, and have not been systematically regarded as unnecessary costs of production can become, in a short period of time, simply "paid wage-labourers". Any occupation "looked up to with reverent awe" is not necessarily insulated from the rapid changes in working conditions that can result in a process of proletarianization. University and college professors in North America appear to be literally on the cutting edge of the policies of educational managers, which will proletarianize their working conditions.

Tenure, for example, as both a guarantee of academic freedom and job security is being subjected to the logic of the academic marketplace as government financial support for universities and colleges declines. Older, tenured faculty may be allowed to live out their illusions of professional autonomy by retreating into academic research, but new conditions of struggle and economic exploitation await recent graduates of even the most prestigious graduate schools as educational managers, who, in light of continuing fiscal constraints, seek cost-effective methods, and search for professors who will do more for less. Competence, skill and professional commitment do not guarantee working conditions, which maintain quality education, job security or adequate salaries. Colleges and universities have become cost effective by replacing retiring, tenured professors with part-time, limited contract instructors. At two-year colleges in the United States, for example, 65 per cent of the faculty are made up of part-time staff. Increasingly, "... collective bargaining seems like the best way to defend college teachers ..." against the logic of cost-effectiveness being implemented by educational administrators (Wiener, 1998, 64). Increased teaching loads and detailed, hierarchical control of work activity, tend to reduce professional, academic work to a routine job. The establishment and preservation of a highly skilled, professionally self-disciplined and autonomous faculty is undermined by the daily activities of cost-conscious academic managers. Under these circumstances even a retired, formally tenured liberal professor at the University of California is compelled to conclude that: "A relatively powerless proletariat exists in American academic life, centered in employment that is part-time and poorly paid" (Clark, 1997, p.35).

The process of proletarianization, as Marx and Engles (1948, p. 11) pointed out 150 years ago, can tarnish the halo of "every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe", therefore, the economic exploitation of the capitalist market place is not necessarily limited to the traditional working classes. The embourgeoisement of the assembly line worker or the academic credentials of the professor do not provide a permanent insulation against the emergence of new working conditions, new forms of political and economic exploitation and new forms of struggle and confrontation based on the conflicting interests of workers and their managers in the workplace.

Proletarianization, Professional Autonomy and Professional Discourse in the Higher Educational Workplace

In one sense, proletarianization is ubiquitous in modern societies since a "decline in self-employment indicates class proletarianization" (Sobel, 1989, p. 8); for many professional workers "the shift from self-employment to employee status ... parallels the proletarianization of craft workers in the last century" (Derber, 1983, pp.309-310). There is a long history of resistance by workers to being reduced to the status of wage labourers. Wage labour, an objective, observable occupational position, is often associated with "deprofessionalization" and a loss of professional autonomy for dependent employees. The objective characteristics of proletarianization may be associated with subjective feelings of status degradation, but simply being or becoming an employee does not necessarily reduce work tasks to deskilled, simple, repetitive activities as seen in the experience of most employed professionals (Derber, 1982, p. 199).

Deskilling of work, and as a result, the detailed, direct control of workers by managers provides a broader conception of the process of proletarianization (Braverman, 1974). The assembly line workers in automobile production or the fast food industry represent the extreme consequences of these processes of proletarianization (Reiter, 1991). On the other hand, skill and control are still in the possession of most professional workers and reskilling of the deskilled worker may be an inevitable characteristic of post.industrial society. The concept of skill is often vague and politically constructed, particularly as occupations regarded as professions have changed over time. While the potential threat of being reduced to a mass production worker is highly unlikely for skilled professionals, can proletarianization occur in the absence of "the subdivision and deskillling of formerly skilled work through fragmentation and separation of the mental and manual components of work" (Coburn, 1963, p.438)? Skill or brainwork may be difficult to reduce to simple, routinized tasks, but is skill an inherent obstacle to other more complex processes of proletarianization?

For Derber (1982, p. 199) there is a “... lack of any substantial empirical evidence of widespread Taylorization in any major professional group". This is largely due to the difficulty of reducing the complexities of professional work to deskilled, simple, repetitive tasks. On the other hand, “professionals are ... required to subordinate their personal and professional values to organizational loyalty and discipline" (Derber, 1982, p. 177). In this context, workers experience a loss of control over decisions related to the goals, policies and objectives of their work while retaining autonomy and discretion in decisions pertaining to how the technical tasks and procedures of the job will be carried out. Derber argues that "ideological rather than technical proletarianization is the principle form of control experienced by salaried professionals, although technical proletarianization may be introduced with surprising speed in the coming decades." (Derber, 1982, p.172).

Ideological proletarianization may not directly threaten the specialized knowledge which is the basis of the professional’s concern regarding autonomy and discretion in carrying out assigned duties. Even if the application of professionalism takes place in situations where specialized knowledge is limited to specific tasks and is no longer a basis for the exercise of authority and power in deciding organizational goals and objectives, the "proletarianization of the professional'' does not directly degrade and deskill the worker by the imposition of daily, extensive and minute supervision. Professional autonomy, although flourishing in a restricted organizational context, may even encourage "a deepening of technical knowledge and expertise, in contrast to the specialization of industrial tasks ... that imply deskilling and advanced technical proletarianization" (Derber, 1982, p.173). Under these conditions, professional autonomy may be accommodated without any direct threat to management control and the complaints of experts can be solved within the narrowing realm of specialized knowledge. The illusion, if not the fact, of professional autonomy can be maintained; professionals can be absorbed into the technical details of their work without being concerned with the political and social consequences of their behaviour - a process of "ideological desensitization", or they can be ideologically co-opted and identify with the goals and policies of their organizational superiors (Derber, 1982, p.180). In any case, professional accommodation is encouraged in the interest of integrating, motivating and pacifying this sector of the work force. While Derber argues that ideological proletarianization may be the foundation of a new system of labour control, he also realizes that in specific cases: "Rapid technical proletarianization would almost certainly undermine any existing ideological accommodations and produce explosive dissent" (Derber, 1982, p.189).

However, salaried professionals are wage labourers and therefore, in potential conflict with their employers, even in the public sector (Meiksins, 1986). In this context, the view that the particular skill possessed by the professional is exercised without close managerial supervision and usually without any supervision at all, ignores the reality of the labour processes which exist in the work environment of many salaried professionals. In fact, many professionals attempt to be professional where self-selection, self-discipline, control over the quality and quantity of work and the evaluation of tasks have been largely removed from their direct control. Meiksins (1986,1987) reminds us that current theories of the new professional middle classes which focus on differences in skill, in supervisory functions, in material rewards, in organizational privileges and in formal educational credentials do not alter the fact that professional workers are employees and therefore, are potentially in conflict with their employers over wages, working conditions and professional autonomy in the workplace. They represent a cost of production to their employers; their labour power is a commodity to be bought and sold in relation to cost efficiency or profit making and their skilled services are not immune from managerial cost-cutting strategies in which they can be declared "surplus to requirements" and "dehired". The costs of professional work and professional autonomy are being subjected to continuous management control in capitalist societies, especially in the public sector, where many of them are members of professions themselves.

The proletarianization of professional workers is rooted in the exploitive relations between employers and employees at the point of production. Controlling the costs of professional production and professional wage labourers may involve, but cannot simply be reduced to the process of deskilling. Debates, disputes and conflicts over professional practice produce constant struggles over the defense of professional autonomy. This does not usually result in the extensive technological proletarianization of professional workers, but the potential threat should not be ignored. The deskilling of academic work for example, by “sweeping modularization ... may deskill lecturers" who are required to teach more students and more subjects (Wilson, 1991, p.257).

If proletarianization is basically a shift to a dependent employee status in which the labour processes of professionals are potentially under the authority and control of managers who may also be professionals, professionalism in these circumstances may become a form of ideological adaptation or consolation which attempts to accommodate professional concerns, skills and status privileges (Derber, 1982, pp.15-16). This does not involve only an active acceptance of management goals and directives by professional workers, but may also reinforce the professionals' confidence in their ability to maintain professional autonomy in the workplace. In this context, professional discourse softens and absorbs the facts of proletarianization into the subjective consciousness of the professional employee. As Meiksins (1986, p. 114) reminds us: "There is a real sense in which status consciousness is a reaction to the experience of class exploitation".

Professionalism which encourages a commitment to technical skill exercised objectively in the service of the community justifies the privileges, the respect and the autonomy of action associated with professional practice. Thus, professionalism as status consciousness may mask the potential conflict of interests between professional employers and their professional employees. Employers may encourage professionalism as status consciousness to prevent solidarity among employees and to prevent collective resistance in order to reduced professional autonomy in the workplace. As a result, a formidable obstacle to solidarity and class-consciousness is reproduced in the experience and subjectivity of employed professionals. Academic professionalism among professors for example, does not directly confront the effects of labour relations which undermine the autonomy of professional practice in the workplace, which is more and more influenced by funding deficits and job shortages.

Professionalism is not externally injected into the consciousness of professional employees from above; it is most effective when "the very exercise of power relies upon the constitution of subjects who are tied by their sense of identity to the reproduction of power relations" (Knights & Willmot, 1989, p. 537). Professional identity and professional competence are a socially constructed result of elaborate processes of socialization in colleges, universities and the workplace. While these experiences encourage professionalism, they rarely provide the professional employee with a detailed knowledge of labour relations in the workplace, but instead involve technologies of power which encourage individual choice and professional autonomy within a confined area of professional practice. .Subjective commitment to professional identity and professional autonomy are or, at least appear to be, part of a process of individual choice rather than a consequence of ideological proletarianization. Proletarianization in this sense confirms professionalism, affirms professional self-.identity and facilitates the acceptance of a dependent employee status. Resisting proletarianization involves both deconstructing professionalism and professional self-.identity before it is possible to recognize and resist "the power-induced technologies by which professionals are captured in their everyday grasping at the straws that confirm their sense of independence and importance" (Knights & Willmott, 1989, p. 554).

Ideological proletarianization is not just the passive acceptance of managerial goals by the professional employee; it can involve the promotion and critical examination of professional practice; it may divert attention away from the extrinsic aspects of working conditions in the professional workplace such as increased workloads, and promote the separation and isolation of professionalism, working conditions and hierarchical authority. The non-.professional aspects of professionalism-labour relations between employer and employees - are seen as marginal to professional practice. Even in colleges and universities in Canada, for example, it is assumed that professional practice, collective bargaining and institutional governance can, and should be kept separate from one another. Professors in Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology and universities are encouraged to see their professional concerns as only indirectly relevant to such issues as workload, income and job security (Dennison, 1994, p.35). Ideological proletarianization acts to disguise the threat of technological proletarianization, layoffs and the increased administrative control of professional workers. Professionalism in this sense, especially in a era of funding deficits, may be difficult to maintain as college and university administrators come under government pressures to do more with less. Under these circumstances the inherent conflict of interests between employers and professional employees is more likely to undermine ideological proletarianization as a method of managerial control even though, managers will continue to attempt to promote a form of passive professionalism which encourages individuals to be concerned with the technical specifics of professional work.

On the other hand, when demands for cost cutting, productivity and efficiency result in speed-ups and cutbacks on the professional service assembly line, professional employees will probably move in the direction of union organizing, collective bargaining and strike action to protect their jobs, working conditions and their professionalism. When there are attempts to degrade and deskill their work, even professionals will be forced to adopt tactics and organizational methods which promote collective defense in opposition to ideological and technological proletarianization.

Labour Relations in Ontario's Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology 1970-1996

Unlike their counterparts in most universities, over the past two and a half decades college professors in Ontario have been in confrontation with administrators over narrow issues such as wages and workloads. Hard bargaining resulted in "ideological warfare" which "denied the professionalism of teachers and their ability to use their qualifications to define standards that have to be met." In the words of Bill Kuehnbaum, a college professor from northern Ontario who served on many bargaining teams, "... from day one, we've had an adversarial relationship beyond all reason" (Roberts, 1994, p. 264).

In the early 1980's, faculty anger and frustration was focused on senior college administrators whom they believed had an “excessive preoccupation with efficiency, almost to the exclusion of any other social or educational values" (Skolnik, 1985, p. 9). In fact, in response to government imposed financial restraint, college administrators in the years preceding the strike of 1984 introduced changes in working conditions which directly confronted the professionalism of faculty. Whether consciously planned or not, management seemed to be engaged in a specific campaign to deprofessionalize, perhaps to proletarianize teachers, teaching, and course content. Regardless of its involvement in union activities, the vast majority of faculty felt that these changes produced a "serious decline in the quality of education" (Skolnik, 1985, p.84) and constituted an attack by management on their professional responsibilities and judgement in academic matters (Skolnik, 1985, p.124). As the Skolnik report which examined working conditions, especially teaching assignments as a consequences of the 1984 strike pointed out, there was "notable evidence of a tendency on the part of administrators to view faculty instructional assignments as merely means of production" (Skolnik, 1935, p. 64).

In all colleges for example, faculty's assigned weekly teaching hours were brought as close to the weekly maximum (20 hours) as possible. Student enrolment increases were not offset by equivalent increases in teaching staff so that the same number of faculty were required to "service" more students. This "impacted" education through basic changes in the "instructional delivery system": class sizes were increased, and course hours were reduced (for example, from four to three hours of teaching per course per week - approximately 14 to 15 hours less instruction per semester). The number of courses were increased (four to five or five to six) and faculty were encouraged "to use new technologies and didactic strategies" that would allow for "increased class sizes, shorter course hours and greater course preparation and evaluation demands” (Skolnik, 1985, p. 65). Thus, in the early 1980's, the same number of faculty faced more students for more hours with less hours per class, but with more classes than had previously been the case.

The approach of senior administrators who advocated new teaching technologies which were designed to be flexible in accommodating larger classes, covertly supported faculty perceptions of the relationship between workload increases and the decline in the quality of education. In fact, some of these techniques concentrated on simplistic, timesaving, computer-scored, multiple-choice questions instead of more complex subjective techniques such as essay questions. By reducing the number of assignments and employing objective evaluation techniques, faculty attempted to cope with the new workload demands. However, for most faculty, these changes represented "a perceived retreat from their professional views of appropriate pedagogy" (Skolnik, 1985, p. 45). Non-traditional teaching modes were promoted by management to handle larger classes on the assumption that "individualized" learning and performance-based instruction modules could be adapted to increase learning efficiency, but most of the techniques developed did not in fact increase efficiency because they were relevant to the diverse needs of students who could not adapt to traditional approaches (Skolnik, 1985, p. 77).

What these changes in the measurable parameters of workload and educational technique resembled was a “speed up" of the educational assembly line; an increase in efficiency and productivity utilizing the same or reduced number of inputs (funding and faculty); in other words, a clear example of technological proletarianization. Reductions in course hours, increases in the number of courses taught, increases in class sizes and the encouragement of timesaving evaluation techniques and non-traditional modes of instruction left faculty little room for professional autonomy or discretion in the performance of teaching duties. Clearly, college faculty in the early 1980's were being faced with a systematic attempt to impose upon them a factory-like assembly line educational process, the effects of which directly intruded into the everyday performance of their duties in their classrooms and laboratories. Their dissatisfaction over workload facilitated their willingness to take strike action in the fall of 1984 as their union offered what appeared to be the only channel for their concerns.

Management demands for fiscal restraint, efficiency and productivity resulted in changes which encouraged the imperatives of technological proletarianization. In this context, technical deskilling did not necessarily result from the introduction of new technology but involved external changes in workload requirements, such as increases in class size and the number of classes taught which had the effect of undermining professionalism in daily classroom instruction. In the words of one faculty member in business, "they can put a thousand students in my class. Just don't call it education." As another teacher put it: "You can't teach small group dynamics in a class of 38” (Skolnik, 1985, p. 82). Under these circumstances, technological proletarization and the exhaustion of the strategy of ideological proletarianization which attempted to promote apolitical professionalism, left collective bargaining and strike action as the only credible defense of professional practice in the minds of most professors.

In the fall of 1984, after a three and a half-week strike over increases in class size and teaching assignments, college professors were legislated back to work. Within a year, faculty received a wage settlement which included compensation for the time lost while being on strike, "a ringing endorsement of their cause" in the government-sponsored Skolnik report and a workload formula which focused on the issue of quality education (Roberts, 1994, p. 270). The workload formula, unlike any previous contract in the history of collective bargaining in Ontario’s colleges, included time credit for such factors as course preparation, evaluation, and teaching and contact hours, as well as limitations on class size and the number of assigned classes. For the vast majority of faculty in the colleges this resulted in a workload reduction of approximately three or four hours a week, or one course equivalent. In addition by the fall of 1986, nearly 1,000 new faculty were hired across the province (Barrett & Meaghan, 1990, p.110).

Even though the workload formula had reversed some of the pressures on the professional autonomy of the colleges' professors, in the fall of 1989 another strike occurred and after a month on the picket lines, teachers were legislated back to work. This strike was not as clearly focused on the issues of professional autonomy and quality education as the strike of 1984. As the newsletter of one college put it: "One of the fundamental purposes of the strike was to turn back the attack on the existing sick leave plans ... There was some loss, but the essential objective was achieved" (The Local, 1990, p. 2). Modest salary increases and some improvements in job security language were gained and the workload formula remained intact. The ideological and technological proletarianization associated with the 1984 strike did not clearly surface in 1989. In spite of numerous complaints to the workload monitoring committees in most colleges and many grievances over other working conditions, the early 1990's seemed in some colleges to be the beginning of a new era of organizational renewal and participative management.

However, experiments in participative management in Ontario’s community colleges, similar to those at the Ford motor company, seem to be “... uneven, partial, and liable to sudden reversal" (Starkey, 1994, p.988). Professionalism, and specifically academic freedom, does not have the same legal status in Ontario colleges that exists in Canadian universities. In the British Columbia Institute of Technology for example, the Collective Agreement in Article 7.01 states: "members of the bargaining unit shall be governed by their own discretion in their presentation of course materials within the constraints of professional conduct as Faculty, Instructors and Technical Staff."

In contrast in June 1994, an Ontario arbitration board told college professors that "we are compelled to find that a professor does not have final authority with respect to the selection of teaching materials, the determination of areas of studies, the designation of methods of evaluation or the choice of mechanisms of delivery of a course of study. The final authority in regard to these matters rests with the management of the college." Unlike their university colleagues, college professors in Ontario do not seem to possess formal or legal rights to academic freedom or democratic governance in their colleges; they do not appear to be able, in the absence of administrative permission to select appropriate textbooks and design curriculum for their courses; their role in democratic governance is ultimately at the discretion of management which retains final, contractual authority in these areas. It is therefore, difficult to conceive of professional autonomy in these circumstances whatever the rational grounds that would see professionalism as essential for faculty morale, the maintenance of educational quality or even for increased efficiency. Thus, academic freedom (understood in this context for instance, as the professor's right to select textbooks) seems to require clear, precise clauses in a collective agreement in order to have legal status in Ontario. In other words, ideological and specifically, potential technological proletarianization was a part of the experience of Ontario college professors in the late 1990's, as additional provincial and federal government budget restraints were imposed on some segments of higher education.

It is difficult under these circumstances to see how ideological proletarianization can be maintained as a major form of managerial control in the colleges of Ontario over the long term. Budget restraints, trying to do more with less (e.g., layoffs) and any major attempt to restructure curriculum without the cooperation and the consultation of college professors will make professional autonomy and academic freedom a target for collective bargaining and possibly, strike action in the late 1990's. Post-industrial labour relations have not eliminated the threats of ideological and technological proletarianization for college professors in Ontario. Participative management and democratic governance will have to involve more than a superficial acknowledgement of the professional concerns of faculty if a descent into discord similar to the events of the past twenty-five years is not to occur again.

In fact, college professors in Ontario face what is now fashionably called a “paradigm shift" in which human-centred teaching will be systematically swapped for technologies which are supposed to promote productive, efficient learning. "Learning will no longer depend on a faculty member's teaching. Although the centuries-old model of teacher-student classroom will not disappear, it will no longer dominate (and) we must adapt" (Plater, 1995). Education in this new paradigm is largely reduced to constructing environments and technologies which gather, format and manipulate information and which simultaneously allow for the precise measurements of learning outcomes, mainly defined as the short-term retention of decontextualized "facts" and simple "skills." The new learning paradigm discounts the analysis and interpretation of the information provided by the required technology; instead, since the major concern is measurable productivity rather than effective teaching, “... learning environments and activities are learner-centered and learner-controlled. They may even be teacherless." Furthermore, it is claimed that this arrangement can be implemented "... without regard to any particular curriculum or educational experiences" (Barr & Tagg, 1995, p. 21).

Classrooms, curriculum and experienced professors fade into the educational background as highly motivated, self-centred learners eagerly engage in a scavenger hunt for information and possibly knowledge in the virtual classroom, a pit stop on the information highway. "Teacherless teaching" and teacher-proof information technology will free the learner to roam the Internet in search of skills, learning experiences and competencies. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of information that is available is made no easier to understand by increasing electronic accessibility, even if the now redundant “sage on the stage” is replaced by an interactive talking head on a CD-ROM. Still, in an age of virtual classrooms, the role of an able professor with a piece of chalk and a well-written textbook must "contract" in relation to preparing classes, teaching and providing student evaluation.

As Saul (1995, p.821) reminds us: "The use of the computer should be taught in school. It is an essential technical skill ... but this is not education. This has nothing to do with learning to think and to use thought in the real world. Like all technical skills it is an aid to education". In colleges of Ontario, the paradigm shifters committed to budget reduction seem to be utilizing new technologies as part of a "tool kit" to restructure teaching and learning in order to meet the fiscal goals of a government-imposed “common sense” revolution. At the same time, many professors and administrators appear to be accepting the new technobabble of virtual reality as an inherent component of professional discourse.

Professional discourse is being utilized as an essential component of a process of ideological proletarianization, justifying the systematic contraction of the role of college professors. To paraphrase Max Weber (1958, p.181), cyber-technocrats have a vested interest in creating silicon cages; to control information is to control power - to put course material on CD - ROMs is to dominate education. All are essential steps toward the "teacherless" college; they are essential ingredients in the proletarinization of professional educational workers. In this process, virtual technology is simply a tool in the service of an ideology which explicitly accepts government funding cutbacks and implicitly promotes a professional discourse which encourages a deconstruction of the professional autonomy of university and college professors. One need not be a vestal virgin of virtual reality or cyber-evangelist to recognize the profound threat to the "teacher-student classroom" that this form of professional discourse poses for professionalism in educational institutions. Professors are faced with a future wherein teaching has been replaced by machine-managed information, elsewhere known as propaganda. Socrates would weep, but his tears would go unrecorded for PLATO may have already become integrated into a computerized testing system, measuring student performance outcomes.. Those who promote educational technologies as a cheap, quick fix solution to budget cuts are short sighted; those who embrace virtual classrooms as pedagogically progressive are encouraging professional discourse as ideological proletarianization.


The professional halos of college and university professors and the "reverent awe" of students are not going to remain isolated from the cost-cutting policies and the information technologies currently promoted by educational managers. Information technology developed as commercial courseware is being openly encouraged and faculty are being bluntly told "to re-engineer teaching and learning processes to substitute capital for labour..." in order to establish " as a substitute for, rather than the servant of the instructor" (Trow, 1997, p. 304). The technical proletarianization of the educational work of professors, the downsizing of faculty and the increasing tuition costs for students overtly proclaim the invasion of the logic of the capitalist market into institutions of higher learning in North America, especially in the colleges. Class antagonisms, the raw material of potential trade unionism and proletarian class-consciousness are no longer foreign intruders in academia, but are inherent in everyday events in the social relations of educational production. The promise of comfortable, secure positions in the academic marketplace is no longer guaranteed; class distinctions are not being "attenuated" in the professional middle classes because those who own and control the information economy have a vested interest in the provision of cheap, passive, non-unionized professional workers (McNally, 1998, pp.104-6). Only the tenured, postmodernist evangelists of virtual technology can afford to deny the relevance of political economy and class struggle in the institutions of higher education in North America. To paraphrase The Manifesto: college and university professors in North America are being divided up into hostile camps - bourgeoisie, tenured, conservative administrators and proletarianized, contractual, part-time employees. The marginalized, academic proletariat, whatever their specialized skills or area of scholarship, are being "... rendered worthless by new methods of production. Thus, the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population" (Marx & Engels, 1948, p. 17).

One hundred and fifty years ago, The Manifesto pointed out that the "... lower strata of the middle class - the small tradespeople, shopkeepers and retired tradespeople generally, the handicraft artisans and peasants ... sink gradually into the proletariat (Marx & Engels, 1948, p.17). In the 1990s, there has been an acceleration of attacks on social welfare reforms by capital and this has led to a serious undermining of educational occupations in colleges and universities in North America as safe havens from the class conflict inherent, for example, in the mass production of automobiles. The academic employees of the mass production industries of higher learning might acquire insight into their own social relations of educational production from even a superficial reading of The Manifesto. Intense perusal of the current issue of The Harvard Business Review will only provide information about "... administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations; reforms therefore that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labour but at best, lessen the cost and simplify the administrative work of bourgeois government" (Marx & Engles, 1948, p.39).


Avineri, S.(1998), "The Communist Manifesto at 150", Dissent, Winter:101-55.
Barr, R. and Tagg, J., (1995), "From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education", Change, November/December:13-25.
Barrett, R. V., (1995), "Professional Autonomy and the Case for Democratic Governance in Canada's Colleges", The College Quarterly, 2(3):24-5.
Barrett, R.V. & Meaghan, D.E., (1990)., "Unionism and Academic Collegiality: The Politics of Teaching in an Ontario College", in J. Muller (ed.), Education for Work/ Education as Work: Canada's Changing Colleges, Toronto: Garamond Press.
Clark, B. R., (1997), "Small Worlds, Different Worlds: The Uniqueness and Troubles of American Academic Professions", Daedalus, 126(4), Fall:21-42.
Coburn, D. (1988), "Canadian Medicine: Dominance or Proletarianization?", The Millbank Quarterly, 66(2), 92-116.
Dennison, J. (1994), "The Case for Democratic Governance in Canada's Colleges", Interchange, 25(1):25-37.
Derber, C., (1982), Professionals as Workers, Boston: G.K. Hall and Company.
-----------., (1983), "Managing Professionals", Theory and Society, 12(3):309-41.
Eakin, E., (1996), "Walking the Line", Lingua Franca, March/April:52-60.
Hanky, L., (1996), "Troubled Times for Public Higher Education", Dissent, Spring:67-9.
Kelly, A., (1996), "For Whom the Bell Tolls", Biz, Spring: 31-9.
Knights, D. & Willmott, H., (1989), "Power and Subjectivity at Work: From Degradation to Subjugation in Social Relations", Sociology, 23(4):535-58.
Marx, K. & Engles, F., (1948), The Communist Manifesto, New York: International Publishers.
McNally, D., (1998), "Marxism in the Age of Information", New Politics, 6(4):99-106.
Meiksins, P., (1986), "Beyond the Boundary Question", New Left Review, March:175-89.
---------., (1987), "New Classes and Old Theories: The Impasse of Contemporary Class Analysis", in R. Levine and J. Lemboke (eds), Recapturing Marxism: An Appraisal of Recent Trends in Marxism, New York: Praeger.
Plater, W., (1995), "Future Work: Faculty Time in 20-21st Century", Change, March/April (3):123-37.
Reiter, E., (1991), Making Fast Food, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Roberts, W. (1994), Don't Call Me Servant: Government Work and Unions in Ontario 1911-1984, Toronto: Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
Saul, J. R., (1995), "Language and Lying - The Return of Ideology", Queen's Quarterly, 102(4):813-38.
Skolnik, M., (1985), Survival or Excellence: A Study of Instructional Assignments in Ontario's Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology, Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Sobel, R., (1989), The White Collar Working Class, New York: Praeger.
Starkey, K. and McKinlay, J. (1994), "Managing Ford", Sociology, 28(4):975-990.
Trow, M., (1997), "The Development of Information Technology in American Higher Education", Daedalus, 126(4): 293-314.
Weber, M., (1958), The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, New York: Charles Scribners and Sons.
Wiener, J., (1998), "Tenure Trouble", Dissent, Winter:60-4.
Wilson, T. (1991), "The Proletarianization of Academic Labour", Industrial Relations Journal, 22(4):250-62.

Ralph V. Barrett and Diane E. Meaghan are both professors at Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario. This article is based on a paper presented to the International Conference on the 150th Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto Havana, Cuba, February 17-20, 1998. The conference was sponsored by the Marxist Educational Press in Cooperation with the Institute of Philosophy, Academy of Science and other Cuban academic institutions, University of Minnesota.


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
Copyright ©
1998 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology