Limited Value: Hospitality work and production in the UK

Matthew Cole


This paper will explore the precise way that value theory might conceptually link the fragmented experience of contemporary ‘service’ workers with the recent history of so-called ‘deindustrialization.’ More specifically, it will use the recent growth of the UK hospitality industry as a case study through which to discuss the production and circulation of value. As household incomes increased in advanced economies, certain types of domestic and reproductive labour processes were externalized in the drive to expand the circuit of industrial capital. There is an ongoing debate whether these labour processes were formally and really subsumed as productive components of the circuit of industrial capital, or if they persist as unproductive. There is also a rich history of Marxist feminist debate on the relation of domestic and reproductive labour to productive capital. However, these debates are not often put in conversation with contemporary empirical research on the labour process and employment relations. This paper claims that the question of value-productivity in the labour process is impossible to answer without empirical examples.

The UK hospitality industry is the fourth largest by employment and is arguably more economically and socially significant than manufacturing or extractive industries, especially in the UK. It is also one of the most poorly paid and least unionized sectors, with wage theft and abuse as the rule rather than the exception. There is little critical research attempting to grapple with the historical and conceptual issues that the growth of this sector poses for traditional Marxian approaches. However, standard industrial classifications and national accounts do more to obscure than secure answers. Thus, drawing on my fieldwork in London Hotels, the paper will address debates about the production and reproduction of value through concrete examples from the hospitality industry at both the micro and macro levels.

Value - Services - Work - Political Economy