Crack Down On Robbery – Abolish The Wages System
Much talk about crime and disorder fills the press. New Labour’s neo-Tories compete with one another to invent harsher ways of being “tough on criminals”. They speak as if they are opposed to robbery. But the fact is that they fully support a system which is based upon legalised robbery. Governments, be they Labour or Tory, are the robbers’ best friends and protectors.
There are two classes in present-day society: those who possess but have no need to produce wealth, and those who produce all the goods and services but do not possess the means of production. Between these two classes there can never be peace or stability. The one is enriched at the expense of the other.
According to the most recent United Nations Human Development Report (July 1996) “half the world’s wealth is owned by just 385 people”. The report gives figures to show how just 385 billionaires possess more assets than the collectives GDPs of countries containing 45 per cent of the world’s population. This staggering concentration of economic power is not the result of these billionaires working hard. (Most of the very rich inherit their wealth.) But it is the result of hard work–ours.
The capitalists of the world (by which we mean the millionaire and billionaire monopolisers of the means of wealth production and distribution, not the owners of corner shops or small businesses) are the beneficiaries of a system of organised robbery known as the Wages System.
How does this system work? Most people own little except their mental and physical energies. The one thing we have to sell is our ability to work – our labour power. We sell this for a price known as a wage or salary.
To whom do we sell our labour power? To those who possess the power to exploit it. In short, to the owners of the means of production (factories, offices, farms, mines etc.) who pay us money for producing wealth which they own.
The unique characteristic of labour power, which makes it a particularly valuable commodity for the capitalists to purchase, is that it can produce value greater than itself. In other words, even if workers are paid approximately the value of their labour power, the product of their labour is always greater than that value.
Let us take an example of how this robbery works. A boss employs a worker for £200 a week. For the worker to be profitable they must reproduce the price of his own labour power (£200) and transfer the costs of using capital, i.e.. machinery, electricity, raw materials. But still, having repaid the capitalist’s investment, the worker must produce a surplus: wealth over and above the value of his or her own purchase. This surplus value is the source of profit.
Now, let us imagine that a worker earning £200 a week realises that by Wednesday afternoon they have reproduced their wage: paid back the capitalist’s investment in them. And she has covered the investment in capital. So, they go into the boss’s office (is a boss is to be found in the workplace!) and say,”‘I’ve given you a fair exchange. I’ve received a wage and now I’ve repaid it. So I’m going home to take a rest.” The capitalist (or a managerial errand boy) would soon have to put this worker straight. For workers sell their labour power for a weekly wage or monthly salary and the deal is that they are only offered payment as long as the capitalist can reasonably expect to be able to rob them of the fruits of their labour.
The serious problem of mass unemployment of millions of able-bodied people in this and other countries is a direct result of the need for capitalists to be free to exploit workers for surplus value. A man might have great skill as a bricklayer or computer programmer, but if the wage or salary which they would receive as an employee is unlikely to be repaid by surplus value, then the skill is unused and the human doomed to idleness and hopelessness. No profit, no employment.
So, employment is in reality a system of legalised robbery. Deluded wage slaves have been taught to be grateful to employers for giving them a wage or salary. In fact, this payment is only a fraction of what they produce. It is they, the wealth producers, who are giving an income to the capitalists. It is an unearned income. And it is a thief’s income. For, like all robbers, the capitalists do not steal from the workers on an equal basis. Just as the mugger with a knife takes the purse from an old lady and pleads in court that she “chose” to part with it, so the capitalists maintain that working for them is a “voluntary contract”. And in a sense it is. The alternative to being an exploited wage slave is to starve or depend on the ever-diminished pittance of state charity. Some choice; some voluntary contract.
There is only one sense in which workers choose to be robbed, and that is the acceptance of the working class of the wages system. For most people, this is not an enthusiastic embrace of a wonderful system, but a resigned acquiescence to what seems like an
inevitable way of running society. In short, the majority has been conditioned to believe that there is no alternative to being robbed. Just as slaves once believed that there was no alternative to being owned as chattel.
It is time to fight against robbery. The battle need not be wasted on those poor wretches who rob in order to feed their kids. Nor need we waste time on those workers whose robbery of other workers is anti-social and foolish, but only a reflection of their poverty and lack of hope. The war against robbery must begin and end with the system which allows the rich to prosper in privilege and affluence by robbing the vast majority of us. Declare war on the robbers. Abolish the wages system!