The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation

As I argued in the last post on this topic  (see  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One), Christopher Arthur, in his The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital, claims that there are two forms of exploitation (pages 55-56):

It is obvious here that this exploitation time to which I refer comprises the whole of the working day, not just the so-called ‘surplus labour time’. It is not the case in reality that the workers first supply themselves and then check into the factory to work the extra. On the contrary, the accounting of necessary and surplus labour time is the outcome of the struggle at the point of production over exploitation; and the unremitting pressure of capital’s representatives on the workforce is present the whole day from the first minute. Since capital ‘takes charge’ of production, the ‘pumping out’ of surplus labour cannot be distinguished on the ground from the pumping out of labour generally because during the whole working day its use value is exploited. So there is a conceptual distinction hidden here, between exploitation in this sense, and the sense in which exploitation is identified with only the extension of the working day beyond its necessary part.

I would be inclined to reverse Marx’s emphasis when he said: ‘Capital is not only command over labour, as Adam Smith thought. It is essentially command over unpaid labour.’48 Instead I would write: ‘Capital is not only command over unpaid labour, as Karl Marx thought. It is essentially command over labour, i.e. of the entire working day.’ (Of course Marx knew perfectly well that it is only because capital acquires ‘command over labour’ that this ‘coercive relation . . . compels the working class to do more work than would be required by the narrow circle of its own needs’.)

… My view allows for a ‘traditional’ measure of exploitation if we distinguish
two kinds of exploitation. Exploitation in production is in effect not dissimilar
to alienation in that it involves the subjection of workers to alien purposes;
it goes on throughout the day. Exploitation in distribution arises from
the discrepancy between the new wealth created and the return to those
exploited in production.

Arthur has a point: too often those who refers to Marx’s theory of exploitation emphasize surplus production and surplus value while neglecting to note how workers experience the situation: they do not produce their wage first independently of the employer or her/his representatives (forewomen/men, supervisors and managers) and then produce a surplus. The time that they spend producing their wage or salary is subject to the power and will of the employer–and not just the surplus labour and surplus time that the workers provide for free. This fact is too often neglected.

Nonetheless, there is a good reason for distinguishing the time that workers require to produce  their own wage or salary an the surplus time that they devote free of charge to employers: this has to do with the accumulation of capital.

I referred to this situation in an earlier post when criticizing the views of the social democrat David Bush (see Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two).

Essentially, the question needs to be asked: Where does the investment funds come from that Magna International (or any other capitalist employer) uses to purchase c (constant capital, or the machines, raw material, desks, buildings, etc.) and v (the variable capital, or the labour power or capacity that workers sell to the employer)? From the surplus produced by workers in former years and, eventually, an “original investment” that does not come from the exploitation of workers by capitalist employers. (How this “original investment” arose is an historical question which Marx addressed in part 8 of Capital, volume 1: “The Secret of Primitive Accumulation.).

I quoted from Marx in the earlier post:

From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, pages 727-728:

Let us now return to our example. It is the old story: Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob and so on. The original capital of £10,000 brings in a surplus-value of £2,000, which is capitalized. The new capital of £2,000 brings in a surplus-value of £400, and this too is capitalized, transformed into a second additional capital, which in its turn produces a further surplus-value of £80. And the process continues in this way.

We leave out of account here the portion of the surplus-value consumed by the capitalist. We are also not interested, for the moment, in whether the additional capital is joined on to the original capital, or separated from it so that it can valorize itself independently. Nor are we concerned whether the same capitalist employs it who originally accumulated it, or whether he hands it over to others. All we must remember is this: by the side of the newly formed capital, the original capital continues to reproduce itself and to produce surplus-value, and this is true of all accumulated capital in relation to the additional capital engendered by it. The original capital was formed by the advance of £10,000. Where did its owner get it from? ‘From his own labour and that of his forefathers’, is the unanimous answer of the spokesmen of political economy.4 And, in fact, their assumption appears to be the only one consonant with the laws of commodity production. But it is quite otherwise with regard to the additional capital of £2,000. We know perfectly well how that originated. There is not one single atom of its value that does not owe its existence to unpaid labour. The means of production with which the additional labour-power is incorporated, as well as the necessaries with which the workers are sustained, are nothing but component parts of the surplus product, parts of the tribute annually exacted from the working class by the capitalist class. Even if the latter uses a portion of that tribute to purchase the additional labour-power at its full price, so that equivalent is exchanged for equivalent, the whole thing still remains the age-old activity of the conqueror, who buys commodities from the conquered with the money he has stolen from them.

If the additional capital employs the person who produced it, this producer must not only continue to valorize the value of the original capital, but must buy back the fruits of his previous labour with more labour than they cost. If we view this as a transaction between the capitalist class and the working class, it makes no difference that additional workers are employed by means of the unpaid labour of the previously employed workers. The capitalist may even convert the additional capital into a machine that throws the producers of that capital out of work, and replaces them with a few children. In every case, the working class creates by the surplus labour of one year the capital destined to employ additional labour in the following year.5 And this is what is called creating capital out of capital.

The accumulation of the first additional capital of £2,000 presupposes that a value of £10,000 exists, advanced by the capitalist, and belonging to him by virtue of his ‘original labour’. The second additional capital of £400 presupposes, on the contrary,
only the prior accumulation of the £2,000, of which the £400 is the capitalized surplus-value. The ownership of past unpaid labour is thenceforth the sole condition for the appropriation ofliving unpaid labour on a constantly increasing scale. The more the capitalist has accumulated, the more is he able to accumulate. The surplus-value that makes up additional capital no. 1 is the result of the purchase of labour-power with part of the original capital, a purchase which conformed to the laws of commodity exchange and which, from a legal standpoint, presupposes nothing
beyond the worker’s power to dispose freely of his own capacities, and the money-owner’s or commodity-owner’s power to dispose freely of the values that belong to him; equally, additional capital no. 2 is merely the result of additional capital no. 1, and is therefore a consequence of the relations described above; hence each individual transaction continues to conform to the laws of commodity exchange, with the capitalist always buying labour power and the worker always selling it at what we shall assume is its real value. It is quite evident from this that the laws of appropriation or of private property, laws based on the production and circulation of commodities, become changed into their direct opposite through their own internal and inexorable dialectic. The exchange of equivalents, the original operation with which we started, is now turned round in such a way that there is only an apparent exchange, since, firstly, the capital which is exchanged for
labour-power is itself merely a portion of the product of the labour of others which has been appropriated without an equivalent; and, secondly, this capital must not only be replaced by its producer, the worker, but replaced together with an added surplus. The relation of exchange between capitalist and worker becomes a mere semblance belonging only to the process of circulation, it becomes a mere form, which is alien to the content of the transaction itself, and merely mystifies it. The constant sale and purchase of labour power is the form; the content is the constant appropriation by the capitalist, without equivalent, of a portion of the labour of others which has already been objectified, and his repeated exchange of this labour for a greater quantity of the living labour of others.

The immediate exchange between workers and employers is an exchange of equivalents, so that workers receive the value of their cost of production. However, when considering the larger context of previous production, then the immediate exchange between employer and workers is a semblance or appearance. The employer uses a part of the surplus produced by the workers in a previous round as means of production (machines, raw material, buildings, etc.) and another part (socially as money and physically as means of consumption, such as food, clothing, shelter) to further employ them (in addition to the initial investment).

As “costs,” the workers’ previous products are used against them to further exploit them.

Of course, the workers’ previous products are not only used to further exploit them but to further control their lives even when they are producing the equivalent value of their own wage. In other words, when we consider the accumulation process, the power of capital–produced by workers–has increased and is used to intensify the weight of the control of their past labour over their present lives.

That is why we need to distinguish the concept of exploitation as the production of surplus value from the concept of oppression, which is what occurs during the control of workers during the time they reproduce their own wage–that is to say, during the time in which workers produce an equivalent in value for their own wage.

Although Arthur recognizes that, when considering accumulation of capital in time, the wage that is paid in the present year is influenced by the previous rounds of the accumulation of surplus value, he does not consider the importance of this situation for the changing level of power that private employers (capitalists) have over workers. It is not just a question of the workers lacking power of controlling their work during the time that they reproduce the value of their wage; it is also the degree to which employers have the past power produced by workers at their disposal in the present (via the production of previous rounds of surplus value and their investment).

To call both parts of the oppression experienced in capitalist society “exploitation” would confuse the issue of the increasing power of capitalists or private employers over worker by means of the increasing power of past investment over the present lives of workers.

In the case of Magna International, the rate of exploitation, as noted in the previous post on this topic, is 79%. That means that in an 8-hour work day, Magna workers produce their wage in 4.5 hours, and they work for free for 3.5 hours. However, in addition to working for free for 3.5 hours for Magna International, and being subject to the control of the supervisors and managers, they are also subject to such control during the 4.5 hours that they produce their own wage.

The social-democratic left have little to say about either the exploitation of such workers or about the control of workers not only during this time but also during the time when they produce their wage. If Magna workers belong to an independent union (one that can engage in collective bargaining independently of the particular employer), then for the social-democratic left, such workers have decent work and have “fair contracts,” “fair collective agreements,” “fair wages,” and other such expressions.

My position has always been that both the exploitation of workers and the time when workers produce the value of their own wage, since they are both subject to the power of employers, involve treating human beings as things to be used for inhuman purposes (see  The Money Circuit of Capital) need to criticized and abolished. Given the social-democratic rhetoric of fairness and decent work, is there really any wonder that I was insulted by them in Toronto?

What do you think of workers at Magna International being exploited? What do you think of the time during which they produce the value of their wage? What do you think about whether the power of employers to exploit such workers and to control their lives during that time and during the time they produce their wage? Is either justified? What of the increasing power of the accumulated capital–and therefore the collective power of employers–over the present life of workers?


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