Action Replay: What ‘Workers’ Revolution’?

According to Mark Littlewood, the Director General of the market-worshipping Institute of Economic Affairs, in an article in the Times (14 August) headlined ‘Highly-paid footballers are the purest example of a workers’ revolution in action’:

‘If you remain attracted to the dictum that the workers should receive the “full fruits of their labour”, changes in the power structures of English football should be your stand-out example of the world you believe in.’

His argument is that developments in the football business over the last fifty years represent ‘a substantial transfer of power away from the capitalist bosses and towards the employees upon whom their industry depends.’

He’s being ironic of course as he is not in the least attracted by the idea that workers should receive the ‘full fruits of their labour’ or that there should be a transfer of power from capitalists to employees. He is having a dig at socialists. But is there anything in what he says?

Socialists don’t stand for individual workers, or even groups of workers, getting the ‘full fruits of their labour’ even if this could be measured (which it can’t). If this happened there would be nothing left for those who, for one reason or another (too young, too old, severely disabled), were unable to work. Marx himself pointed this out in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. Since production is collective today, socialists say that what is produced collectively should be owned collectively. We want a world where the ‘fruits of labour’ belong in common to society as a whole.

Most professional footballers are simply wage workers selling their particular skill to an employer. As with other workers, their wage reflects the cost of them maintaining the particular type of labour-power they are selling. There has been no substantial change in their position over the past fifty years, certainly no shift of power from their employers to them.

A small minority of professional footballers are, figuratively as well as literally, in a different league. Their very high degree of footballing skill sets them apart.  As such skills are in limited supply, the price paid to use them is determined by the demand for them. Those possessing them are in the same position as others owning something that cannot be reproduced, such as land in a desired location or a picture by a famous painter. As in these cases, the price they get is what people are prepared to pay. This price is not a wage but a monopoly income, or rent. It has nothing to do with the amount of work these footballers do.

The football clubs – or, rather, football businesses – they play for are prepared to pay a high price because they recoup a large part of it by selling the right to televise their matches, and of course because they need to have the best players to stay in the league whose matches bring in a revenue from being televised.

The change that has taken place in football is not a workers’ revolution. The most that is true is that football, like other sports and entertainment, provides a way for some individuals from a poor background to escape from this and even to join the ranks of the capitalist class.

A workers’ revolution is quite different. It aims to emancipate the whole working class, by making the means of production, currently owned by the capitalist class, the common property of society as a whole. The fruits of society’s collective labour will then belong to society, to be shared out amongst all the members of society in accordance with their needs.

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