The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One

In another post, I presented the twenty largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada). One of those employers is Magna International Inc., a multinational corporation whose workers produce automobile supplies for inputs into car manufacturing.

This is a first attempt at calculating the rate of exploitation of one of the largest private employers in Toronto, Magna . It is undoubtedly imperfect in many ways, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level by has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

I am going to begin with a conclusion, and then explain what it means and how it is calculated so that the reader understands where I am headed in the calculations:

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 47 minutes for free for Magna International. In an 8-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 4.5 hours, and the remaining 3.5 hours works for free for Magna. In a 10-hour work day (both work days seem possible at Magna International—see https://www.indeed.com/cmp/Magna-International-Inc/faq/how-are-the-working-hours-at-magna-international-inc?quid=1at7gf6rrak7i9ff)–the worker produces her/his wage in about 5.6 hours and the remaining 4.4 hours works for free for Magna International.

But: What is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages and salaries).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies in Toronto if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more local level. I begin with one company and invite others to provide criticisms or suggestions for improvement.

I have used some of the ideas from Thomas Ittelson (2019), A Visual Guide to Financial Statements: Overview for Non-Financial Managers and Investors, and Antonios Patidis (2016), “A Micro-Approach for Testing Marx’s LTRPF:Evidence from Greece, 2000 and 2009,” Review of Political Economy. Patidis “utilises data taken directly from company reports and accounts” in order to determine whether the rate of profit falls in the major corporations in Greece. My purpose, however, is not, initially at least, in determining whether the rate of profit has fallen but rather what the rate of exploitation is in diverse companies in Toronto.

I also asked Michael Roberts how to calculate the rate of exploitation; he graciously sent me a couple of articles (one of which I read). After that, I sent him the above, and he commented that it looked good.

Again, the following undoubtedly contains many limitations, but I will leave that for further discussion, should the issue arise.

The income statement is broken into the following categories for 2019 (in millions of US dollars): (pages 5, 36):

Sales $39,431
Costs and Expenses $37,208

Cost of goods sold $34,022

Material $24,585

Direct labour $2,815

Overhead $6,622

Depreciation and amortization $1,345

Selling, general and administrative $1,697

Interest expense, net $82

Other expense, net $240

Equity income ($178) [If you add up all the numbers–34,022; 1,345; … 82, then you get 37,286; if you subtract 178 from that, you get 37,208–the same amount as “Costs and expenses.” That is why the 178 is in parentheses–it is necessary to subtract it from expenses since it is really income. 

Income from operations before taxes: $2,223 (profit or surplus value) 

A couple of adjustments are probably necessary. On page 37, there is a reference to pension benefits. I assume that this category belongs to “direct labour” since it forms part of the deferred wages of workers that is paid in the current year (but then again, it is unclear whether the category of direct labour includes this, but since it is subtracted from net income, this leads me to believe that it is not included in that category). This should be added to direct labour. Hence, direct labour would be: 2,815+47=2,862, “Costs and expenses” would be $37, 255 “Costs of goods sold”would be $34,069, and “Income from operations before taxes” should be adjusted downward accordingly.

A second adjustment should probably be the treatment of the payment of interest; despite being an expense from the point of view of the individual capitalist, it probably forms part of the surplus value. Hence, it should be added to “Income from operations before taxes.” Adjusting “Income from operations before taxes,” we have 2,223-47+82=2,258.

So, with the adjustments in place: s=2,258; v=2,862. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2,258/2,862=79%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 47 minutes for free for Magna International. In an 8-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 4.5 hours, and the remaining 3.5 hours works for free for Magna. In a 10-hour work day (both work days seem possible at Magna International—see https://www.indeed.com/cmp/Magna-International-Inc/faq/how-are-the-working-hours-at-magna-international-inc?quid=1at7gf6rrak7i9ff)–the worker produces her/his wage in about 5.6 hours and the remaining 4.4 hours works for free for Magna International.

This is not, however, the end of the story. Christopher Arthur, in his book The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital,  argues that there are two kinds of exploitation, one that occurs during the production of the wage by the workers (since they are subject to control by employers during that time), and the other kind of exploitation outlined above, where workers work for free for the employer. This issue, however, will be addressed in a follow-up post.

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