Wage Slavery 1/3

“Us” vs “Them”

Most of us want to work. What we hate is employment. We want to work for ourselves, our families and friends, our community, not for some thieving parasite.

The abolition of wage slavery is no less than the abolition of class society because there are only two main classes left in society today–capitalists and workers—the abolition of capitalist exploitation must mean the beginning of free labour. We are not presenting the socialist alternative of a world without wages as a utopian dream for the century after next.

In 1855, Frederick Douglas, a former slave, wrote:

“The difference between the white slave, and the black slave, is this: the latter belongs to ONE slave-holder, and the former belongs to ALL the slave-holders, collectively. The white slave has taken from his, by indirection, what the black slave had taken from him, directly, and without ceremony. Both are plundered, and by the same plunderers”.

He understood, why shouldn’t others?

The modern slave-owner has no interest in his slaves. He neither purchases nor owns them. He merely buys so much labour-power – physical energy – just as he buys electric power for his factory. The worker represents to him merely a machine capable of developing a given quantity of labour-power. When he does not need labour-power he simply refrains from buying any. Wage slavery is the most satisfactory form of slavery that has ever come into existence, from the point of view of the masters. It gives them all the slaves they require and relieves them of all responsibility in the matter of their housing, feeding and clothing.

Wage slavery has become the only option for the majority to sustain itself. The capitalist system was created through acts of theft and murder. This reality is continually defended by theories of the ideal capitalist model claiming as you do to be a return to “economic justice”, which actually only seeks to legitimise the capitalist’s source of wealth and power – the exploitation of labour for the extraction of profit. It is hypocrisy.

When the worker has found an employer he or she receives in return for labour a price known as wages which represent on average what is necessary for survival and sustenance to go on working. During the working day, the worker produces wealth equivalent to that for which he is paid wages, but this does not require all the time of the working day. In providing for one’s own keep a person has also produced a surplus and this surplus belongs to the employer. This may eventually be split into profit to the manufacturer, rent to the landlord, and interest on capital invested by a financier. As capitalism develops the time in which the worker produces his own keep decreases while the surplus accruing to the capitalist increases. During this development, the productivity of labour increases at an accelerating tempo: The worker continually produces more with less.

So when someone sells one’s labour-power a number of hours for a certain wage, the number of necessaries to produce wages is always smaller than the amount of labour that the employer receives from him, the difference between what the worker receives as wages and what his labour-power produces during his working time, constitutes the sole source of unearned income, i.e., capitalist profits. So profits exist because the worker sells themselves to the capitalist, who then owns their activity and, therefore, tries to control them like a machine.

Many apologists for capitalism argue that wage isn’t slavery when free and just conditions exist. If only that were the case. As a commodity, labour-power has an exchange value and a use-value, like all other commodities. Its exchange value is equal to the sum total of the exchange values of all those commodities necessary to produce and reproduce the labour-power of the worker and his or her family. The use-value of labour-power is its value-creating capacity which capitalist enterprises buy and put to work as labour. However, labour-power is unlike other commodities in that it creates value. During a given period it can produce more than is needed to maintain the worker during the same period. The surplus-value produced is the difference between the exchange value of labour-power and the use-value of the labour extracted by the capitalists. In capitalism, however, the wage worker is a “free” agent. No master holds him or her as a chattel, nor feudal lord as a serf. This modern worker is free and independent: he or she has choices. Workers can dispose of their services to this or that capitalist owner, or they can withhold them. But this freedom is ephemeral. A person must sell his or her working ability to someone or other employer or face poverty. In a capitalist society, workers have the option of finding a job or facing abject deprivation. Little wonder, then, that people “voluntarily” sell their labour and “consent” to authoritarian structures. They have little option to do otherwise. So, within the labour market workers can and do seek out the best working conditions possible, but that does not mean that the final contract agreed upon is “freely” accepted and not due to the force of circumstances, that both parties have equal bargaining power when drawing up the contract or that the freedom of both parties is ensured. His or her slavery is cloaked under the guise of wage labour.

Wage levels will vary with “the respective power of the combatants” as Marx puts it and in the long run this will determine the value of labour-power and the necessaries of life. From the point of view of wage labour, wage levels and the value of labour-power depend on the balance of class forces, on what workers can actually get from their employers. As wages are also regulated by the relation of supply and demand, a surplus of labour-power (the unemployed) is necessary to prevent wages from swallowing up all profit. Therefore the unemployed army is a vital necessity to capitalist production, and there can be no solution under capitalism.

It would be wrong to confuse exploitation with low wages. It does not matter if real wages do go up or not. The absolute level of those wages is irrelevant to the creation and appropriation of value and surplus-value. Labour is exploited because labour produces the whole of the value created in any process of production but gets only part of it back. On average workers sell their labour-power at a “fair” market price and still, exploitation occurs. As sellers of a commodity (labour-power) they do not receive its full worth i.e. what they actually produce. Nor do they have a say in how the surplus value produced by their labour gets used.

The workers go into the labour market as merchandise, and their wages, that is, their price, is determined like that of any other article of merchandise, by the cost of production (i.e. the social labour necessary), and this is the case of the worker is represented by the cost of subsistence. The price of labour-power fluctuates by the operation of supply and demand. There are generally more workers in the market than are actually required by the employers, and this fact serves to keep wages from rising for any length of time above the cost of subsistence. Moreover, machinery and scientific applications are ever tending to render labourers superfluous, with a consequent overstocking of the labour market, a decrease of wages, and an increase in the number of the unemployed. Under these conditions, relative poverty is necessarily the lot of the working-class.

We have the worker entirely dispossessed of the means of getting a living except by selling oneself as an article of merchandise to the owners of the means of living. This is wage slavery. Instead of the pressures that force people to sell their working skills to an employer, people in socialism will work as a voluntary expression of their relationship with others. Needs will replace the drive for profits and the dictates of the market in deciding what must be done. Instead of the authoritarian control imposed by boards of directors and their corporate managers, production units will be run democratically by the people working in them. Instead of the state and its government of people, in socialism, people will contribute to the decisions made democratically by the community. Wage slavery will be overthrown and labour-power cease to be a commodity. The workers, being the owners of the means of production, will also be the owners of the wealth produced, each individually enjoying what they have collectively produced.

The World Socialist Movement stands for a society in which all factories, farms, offices, docks, mines — indeed, the entire means of producing and distributing wealth — will be owned by the entire world community. The resources of the earth will belong to everyone. No laws will exist to preserve the right of one section of society to use things and another section to be denied the use of them. World socialism will be a social order based on free access for all people to all the goods of the earth. In such a society, money would be an outdated relic. Nobody will buy anything or sell anything or pay for anything. Those who cannot easily imagine such an arrangement should remember that people in pre-capitalist societies would have found our present social order equally difficult to comprehend. Those who have made the mental leap from the prison of the wages system to the freedom of world socialism are urged to join us now in our struggle to create the society of tomorrow. The objective is urgent, we have waited for too long.