1980s >> 1984 >> no-963-november-1984

Editorial: Wage-slave blues

Nine-o’clock on a Monday morning, and the next five days yawn ahead like an endless chasm. Whether it is the toil of manual work, the drudgery of pen-pushing, or the desolate pointlessness of signing for the dole, the great majority do not find their lives thrilling or even satisfying. Why is this? Does the running of society have to mean a boring and second-rate existence for the vast majority and exclusive comfort and luxury for a small minority?

Why is it that for most of us the working week is something to get through, something we wait with baited breath to see finished and behind us . . . only to start the same process again, with just a day or two to recover in? It is because our productive lives are being subjugated to needs which are alien to ours. We do not live for our work, cherishing every creative moment of our co-operative efforts to produce and distribute wealth. Instead, we are forced by the most crude form of bribery to work for a living, to sell our abilities on the labour market for a price, called a wage or a salary. The entire world today is organised on the basis of property, and its accumulation by a small minority of shareholders or state bosses.

What does it mean to be in the working class? It means that you possess no property substantial enough to yield an unearned income to enable you to avoid seeking employment. Those who are not in the working class are able to live secure and comfortable lives on the backs of others by owning companies, shares, government bonds, land, finance-houses and so on. Their income, in the form of dividends, interest on loans and rent, represents the unpaid labour of the workers they employ, directly or indirectly. The owning minority are in no doubt about which class they belong to. The wages we are paid cover only part of the value of wealth we create. The surplus is grasped out of our control by the legitimised robber-class, under the protection of the state, and accumulated by that robber-class. This is how the richest one per cent in Britain today have come to possess more accumulated wealth than the poorest eighty per cent of the population put together.

Having said that we are paid for only part of the wealth we collectively produce and distribute, it might be suggested that the answer is to insist on being paid the full value of what we produce. This, however, would be a nonsensical proposition, for one simple reason. The capitalist system of society which prevails throughout the world at the moment is not based on “fair deals” of that sort. A wage is not offered as the price of the goods a worker might produce; it is the price of hiring that worker’s energies for a week, regardless of how much might then be produced. And it is the role of the employing class within capitalist society to try always to maximise the difference between the price at which they hire us and the amount of wealth which we produce for them. Faced with their determination to cling on to their precious profit margins in this way, there are two things which workers can do about these social parasites we are subsidising so heavily. First, we can use the power of trade union association as a bargaining weapon to prevent the bosses from depressing our standard of living as much as they would otherwise do. Second, and more importantly. we can use our organising ability (which cannot be taken from us), and the time we have managed to keep free from wage labour, to build up a movement which stands for running society on a different basis.

What must that different basis be? Complicated utopian schemes to try to make wages equal or to try to raise wages high enough to put every boss out of business are simply attempts to run capitalism along modified lines — and crackpot attempts at that — which capitalism will not be able to accommodate itself to. and which socialism is above. Socialism, when it is established, must be a democratic and worldwide society in which the wages and profits system has itself been abolished.

In place of selling our working capacity to the highest bidder in the labour market, we could freely co-operate to produce the things that society needs. The basis of production must be human needs and the direct, free use of the world’s resources by all the people of the world. The institution of wage and salary employment served a relevant function for a particular historical epoch, but is a transitory phase in human history. Now that technological advance would allow us to produce an abundance of the necessities of life for all, the rationing system of class division between owners and non-owners serves no useful purpose, but merely holds back human advance. Every scientific innovation, however useful it might appear to us, is having to be measured in the distorting scale of profitability. But before we can change all this and start to produce wealth purely for human use according to our self-determined needs, we must democratically dispossess the minority in whose interests production is currently organised.

Finally, then, what about that sinking feeling which is a weekly ritual for us within the present system? As soon as the productive resources of the world are owned in common by the whole human race and democratically controlled and administered there can at last be a true harmony of interests. If the work you do is for the benefit of the community as a whole and if you, a member of that community, have an unlimited opportunity to share in the benefits which you and others are helping to provide, then the most uplifting and exciting emotion known to us will be released in abundance: the reality of global unity and human solidarity. It is then that human history will begin.