1990s >> 1994 >> no-1082-october-1994

A Question of Class

Exploitation is now 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 there are jobs. Employers buy our capacity to work, for a wage or a salary, and then extract more work out of us than it costs them to pay as. 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 do to with the employers owning the workplace and us earning our livelihood by being wage slaves. And it really is a form of slavery, because although you may leave your particular job you cannot usually leave that class of people who are compelled to get a job or do one of the various roles involved in wage-slavery.

I am unemployed/a student/a public-sector worker/pensioner. I produce no profits for an employer, therefore I am not exploited.

The lifeblood of this economic system is the making of profits through the exploitation of the whole working class. This is a social process which necessarily involves the vast majority of people in a complex division of labour, Throughout our lives as workers we may take on a number of roles in this division of labour. All of these roles are part of this economic system: all of them are as equally exploited as those who produce profits directly for an employer. Together this class of people runs society from top to bottom. They do not run it in their own interest, however. They run it for the profit of the employing class, a minority of people but 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 big house and expensive car. I have been to university, take a foreign holiday every year and work in an office.

For workers, there can never be anything fair about the wages system, since this is the mechanism for our exploitation. It presupposes that workers do not own or control the workplace. Wages and salaries are the price of the value-creating ability workers sell to employers. Workers can then produce goods and services worth more than they 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, regardless of the size of their profits, pay their workers only what they must. And, without the resistance of workers, wages and salaries would be lower than they are. So we have a class struggle at work.

Class is a redundant issue. Now workers control the workplace, not the employers.

In this society people are divided into those who possess the workplace in the form of capital, the employers or capitalist class, and those who produce but do not possess, the employees or working class. It is the working class who keep the workplaces going, but lack the effective control which would enable them to produce solely for need. Of course there are other social groups such as the self-employed, but these are incidental to capitalism. As a system of society which predominates throughout the world, capitalism is based on the extraction of surplus value through wage-labour. Even if there has been some separation of ownership and control of capitalist enterprises, the capitalists still benefit in terms of power and privileged income. It does not affect the inherent class antagonism of wage-labour and capital.

There will always be classes: there will always be rich and poor. It’s only human.

Capitalism has not always existed, nor has there always been classes. It is class society which operates against human nature. Capitalist exploitation creates rich and poor people, together with their opposing interests. However, 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 revolutionary and democratic control of all the places of work. This will do away with the wages system and wage- slavery, and open the way for work based solely on human need and abilities.

Lew Higgins

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