1900s >> 1908 >> no-42-february-1908

The Workers’ Share

The Morning Advertiser, commenting upon the unemployed problem, said : —

“It is an old fallacy that shortening the hours of labour of those who have work will enable those who have no work to find it. If, indeed, it were the case that the shortening of his hours increased the efficiency, and therefore the productiveness, of the worker, such an effect might be produced. But there are probably very few cases in which this would be so; and of those the Socialists were certainly not thinking. They mean by shortening the man’s hours to reduce the product of his day’s work. The result would be diminished wealth, and consequently diminished opportunities for employment.”

Socialists do, indeed, realise that in the reduction of unemployment the reduction of hours is only of use in so far as it necessitates the employment of more wage workers. The wily Advertiser scents the danger of a knowledge of this antagonism of interests, and hastens to assure its readers that the reduction of hours could only alleviate unemployment if it increased the efficiency and output of labour, and so, as it certainly would, enabled more work to be done by fewer men ! True, the Advertiser did not say which unemployed. One can quite understand an improvement in the lot of the wealthy unemployed following upon a decrease in in their wages bill and an increase in their wealth.

The interests of that class demand greater efficiency and productivity on the part of the workers, together with a reduction in that portion of the total wealth spent in wages. And the organ of Bung so puts the matter as to convey the idea (which is greedily swallowed by the Labourites who do not realise, or do not want to realise, the fact of the class antagonism) that capital and labour are brothers sharing proportionately out of the bowl into which the total produce of labour is poured. The labourer, however, is a hireling and not a partner. Out of the total wealth his labour produces he gets but his keep while lucky enough to be employed. The more he produces and the quicker the demand of the market is met, the less of his fellows are employed, the sooner is he thrown out of work, and the smaller in proportion is the aggregate share the workers obtain out of the total wealth produced.

It is not, then, as the Advertiser would have it, a question of the increase or decrease in the total wealth, but rather a question of the increase in the number of workers that the master class needs to employ and pay in the production of that wealth. It is a question, in other words, of the share of the total product which the workers obtain, not of its total amount.

The Socialist realises that out of the total product of labour the more the workers get the less remains for the idlers. The worker’s interests under capitalism are rather in the direction of promoting the waste of wealth than in promoting its increase. Not overflowing warehouses, stores and shops and glutted markets, but the destruction of accumulated stocks of commodities and of all kinds of property that must be replaced is the worker’s desire under capitalism, so that he and his fellows may have plenty of work, and of wages sufficient to live upon. It is, therefore, idle for the Advertiser to pretend that the workers’ share cannot increase unless the total produce is increased. Such, however, is the normal capitalist view of things. But, to paraphrase Marx, it is forgotten that the bowl from which the workmen eat is filled with the whole produce of labour, and what prevents them fetching more out is neither the narrowness of the bowl nor the scantiness of its contents, but only the smallness of their spoons.

While capitalism endures the share of the “national” wealth that is obtained by the workers is determined not by the amount of the total wealth but by the condition of the labour market and tho strength of the workers in their struggle against the possessing class. Not in the increase of the “national” wealth, but in the increase of their share in it, is the wage-slave class primarily concerned. It is, indeed, the very impotence of the workers in their attempts to increase their share of the total produce of their labour, so long as capitalism is, that must compel them to realise at last, the only way ; and that is through the overthrow of capitalist rule and in social production for themselves.


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