1990s >> 1991 >> no-1048-december-1991

What Do We Mean By Class?

 Class is a redundant issue. Everyone’s a worker now.

Class is still very much the basis of present-day society. In this society people are divided into those who own the workplaces in the form of capital, the employers or capitalist class, and those who do the work but do not own what they produce, the working class.

As a system of society which predominates throughout the world, capitalism is based on the extraction of surplus value through the wages system. Even if there has been some separation of ownership and control in capitalist enterprises, this does not affect the inherent class antagonism between those who own and those who produce. Ultimately, those who benefit are still those who don’t need to work because they enjoy an unearned income derived from the exploitation of those who do.

Exploitation is a thing of the past. If you don’t like your job you can always leave it.

Exploitation exists because of the very fact that people work for employers. Employers buy our capacity to work with a wage or a salary and then extract more work out of us than it cost them to pay us. This unpaid surplus work is the source of their profit. So there’s a conflict of interests at work: they want to get as much out of us for as little expenditure as possible, and we need the money in order to live. It’s the only way this competitive organisation of society can work, since their success depends on our exploitation. It’s nothing to do with morality or low wages. It’s all about the employers owning the workplace and us earning our livelihood by being a wage slave. And it really is a form of slavery, because although we can leave our particular job we can’t leave that class of people who are compelled to get a job.

As long as I get “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” I don’t mind if my employer makes a fair profit.

There can never be anything fair about the wages system for workers, since this is the mechanism of our exploitation. It pre-supposes that workers do not own or control the workplace. Wages and salaries are the price of the value-creating ability we sell to employers. We produce goods and services worth more than we receive in pay, whether the pay is high or low. This socially-produced surplus value is the source of the employers’ profit. Employers operate in a competitive world economy and will, irrespective of the size of their profits, pay their workers only what they must. Without the resistance of workers, wages and salaries would be lower than they are. So we have a class struggle at work.

I work in an office. I don’t produce anything physical, so how can I be exploited?

The life-blood of this economic system is the making of profits through the exploitation of the whole working class. This is a social process which involves the whole workforce in a complex division of labour in which some physically alter materials while others are involved in planning, design and organising. All of these roles are part of this economic system and all those who perform them are exploited as they all contribute in one way or another to the production of profits for the employing class as a whole. As a class we run society from top to bottom. We do not run it in our own interest, however. We run it for the profit of the employing class, a minority of people with most of the power and wealth and the freedom this gives them.

I am not working class: I earn a good salary, own a house and big car; I’ve been to university and take a Mediterranean holiday every year.

You may think of yourself as being a “professional” or “middle class” but this doesn’t affect your basic economic position. Because the property you own does not bring you in a regular income large enough for you to live on, like the rest of us you are compelled to sell your working abilities. Your pay may be called a salary but you still belong to that class of people forced to hire themselves to an employer. From this perspective, things like status, level of earnings, education, type of job or occupation are besides the point. They do not affect your exploited class position in society, even if you arc in some respects better off than most other workers. Salaried doctors, managers, teachers, scientists, and so on are comprised within the working class.

There will always be classes; there will always be rich and poor – it’s only human nature.

It is class society which operates against human nature. Capitalist exploitation creates rich and poor people, with their opposing interests. But there is no reason why our rational desire for mutual aid should not allow us to establish a classless society. To end class exploitation requires class-conscious political action by the working class to establish common ownership and democratic control of the places of work. This will do away with the wage slavery of working for an employer and open the way for work based solely on human needs and abilities.

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If you agree with these views or have any questions, please write to us or come along to one of our meetings.

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