I recently participated in a group called No One Is Illegal here in Toronto. The group decided to provide a zoom reading meeting every week to discuss the book A People’s Guide to Capitalism, by Hadas Thier, with many participants not belonging to the group but interested in understanding more about capitalism. We read the book in parts, with each participant taking turns to read out loud a section, with questions to be asked and discussed after each section or difficult part. The group did not finish the book–the number of participants dwindled; it is unlikely that there was much emotional attachment to understanding–despite the participants’ apparent interest in understanding the nature of capitalism.
I sent along some comments to the group (but not to the other partcipants) in order to provide the group with my understanding of the nature of capitalism–which does not always coincide with Thier’s view.
The following is what I wrote before the next session:
But in pre-capitalist formations, exchanges between communities or individuals were “simple” in the sense that the point of these exchanges was to trade commensurate items. Communities could trade any surpluses they had accumulated in order to obtain different goods of equal value. A tribe could, for instance, trade their surplus of kola nuts for another tribe’s iron rods for tool making.2 This type of direct barter could take place among individuals as well.
This idea of “equal value” fails to see how value is generally applicable only in a society dominated by a class of employers. From John Weeks, Capital, Exploitation and Economic Crisis (2010) , pages 14-17:
Private labor and social labor
Engels and others before and after him took the determination of the quantitative aspect of exchange as the central problem of value theory.2 Over 100 years later this approach continues, frequently in the form of the belief that “proving Marx right” requires proving that “labor time determines prices”. The important analytical problem is much broader: how to analyze a society characterized by the general production and circulation of the products of labor as commodities.
The central characteristic of the capitalist mode of production, from which all others follow, is that the private labor of individuals is not directly social. It must be rendered social by the exchange of products as commodities. Labor is directly social when the status of the worker, the product he/she produces and its subsequent distribution are determined prior to production and distribution. In all societies individuals labor, but within capitalist relations of production this labor is carried out in production units that are socially isolated.3 Producers discover through the exchange of their products whether their individual production decisions conform to the requirement that society as a whole be reproduced in a sustained manner. This reproduction occurs via the interaction of commodity producers, in which individual labor must be integrated into a social whole. The labor theory of value is the analysis of how individual labor becomes socialized and explains this process through an analysis of how concrete, specific labor is rendered abstract.
In capitalist society, the relations of production dictate specific laws of exchange. The direct producer, for example the worker on the shop floor, has been separated from the means of production and can only be reunited with them via exchange. This exchange which reunites workers and the means by which they can produce commodities occurs when the capitalist advances money to hire workers (labor power) and other ingredients of production (the means of production).
In all societies concrete labor is expended in a labor process to create products that feed, clothe and house the population. This concrete expenditure of labor power provides the material basis for the circulation of commodities. However, different commodity producers may expend different quantities of labor time in the production of the same product. Exchange itself does not imply a standard or normal expenditure of concrete labor time in production; on the contrary, the exchange can create a superficial equality that conceals differences in concrete labor.
Exchange itself renders commodities commensurate. Specifically, exchange renders the same commodity commensurate among its producers. The analytical task is to explain whether and how there should be a tendency for those producers of the same commodity to operate with similar efficiency. It should be obvious that by some mechanism the social interaction of commodity producers establishes a norm in efficiency to which all gravitate. One could immediately invoke the word “competition”, and assert “competition creates the tendency/ pressure for the equalization of efficiency among producers”. However, this assertion says no more than unequal things become equal by a process named “competition”. Competition itself requires explanation, and has no explanatory value without specification of the social relations within which it operates. Specification of these social relations implies specification of the class relations underlying competition.
Consider first the case of individual producers that own their means of production. For simplicity, assume that the inputs used in production are produced within a self-contained labor process without exchange. A credible example might be a subsistence farmer selling a portion of his product. In this case, only the final product of the labor process is a commodity. The means of production, both equipment and current inputs, are produced by each producer and do not directly face the discipline of competition. There is no social mechanism for bringing about a normal expenditure of labor time for the means of production. In such a case, the limited function of competition is to impose a uniform selling price in a market place. Price is a “merely formal moment for the exchange of use values”.
This hypothetical example is not commodity production. Exchange does not appear until the end of the process, when all aspects of the labor process have been determined independently of exchange. Because the means of production are not exchanged, the producer faces no direct necessity to expend any specific amount of labor time on them. The only objective necessity is that his or her total labor expenditure (and that of the family) on use values produced, exchanged and not exchanged, be sufficient to allow for the sustained survival of the household. Should some producers be able to deliver their commodities with less expenditure of effort than others, these producers will enjoy a higher standard of living. This higher standard of living of some exerts no pressure on the less efficient to raise efficiency. As envious as the less efficient producers may be, the differences in concrete labor time expended may be beyond the ability of producers to change, due to differences in soil fertility, size of family and other factors.
Comparing concrete labor times in this hypothetical case has little meaning even were the laboring activities identical. Because inputs are not exchanged, there is no objective distinction in the process of the reproduction of the household between labor performed for exchange and labor performed directly for household consumption. In the context of household production relations, where exchange is marginal, any division between labor that is economic (for exchange) and labor that is not, is arbitrary. The household unit in this hypothetical case is involved in production for use, a part of which is exchanged. However wily and avaricious the individual producers may be, they are constrained by their social relations of production in their ability to rationalize their production, because they have no monetary costs. Without monetary costs, there is no vehicle to provide the information to adjust production along economic lines. Certainly all producers, in all circumstances, seek to economize on time, to expend less effort rather than more. This applies to the entire process of household reproduction, not specifically to production for exchange.
A distinction can be drawn between the law of the economy of concrete labor time, applicable in all societies with or without exchange, and the law of the minimization of commercialized labor time. The exchange of products does not in and of itself impose a social standard in production, even if the family production unit specializes and produces a product that is exchanged in its entirety. As long as inputs are use values and not commodities, no mechanism exists to impose a standard through a market.
Consider the next logical case, in which the means of production are monetized. Once a portion of the means of production must be bought, cycle of production and exchange changes. It becomes an extended cycle of exchangeproduction- exchange. Because money has been advanced prior to production for the ingredients of production, those means of production must be replaced in money form before they can be replaced in material form. Production to exchange did not require this condition in the first hypothetical case, that the price of the production must cover at least the money advanced for inputs. As the producer buys more of the ingredients for production, that the sale price should cover money costs becomes an objective necessity. Costs do not reflect the subjective assessment of the producer of his or her expended effort, but an external necessity imposed by the interaction of many sellers. The use value emerging from the labor process becomes a commodity in its essence as well as its form. Above in the first case, exchange had a quantitative indeterminacy, because the part of the concrete labor of each producer appeared only as her or his own labor. In the second case, the means of production are presented to the producer as something separate from her or him, the product of social labor, the labor of others
… commodities do not exchange at value before rents take money form, a relatively late historical development in his view; then they do so only as a rough approximation. As long as money costs are few and represent a small part of the means of production, the producer is under no compulsion to enter into monetary exchange. If exchange is quantitatively unfavorable, the producer can withdraw to subsistence production except for essential items that must be obtained through exchange. Further, as the means of production increasingly take the form of commodities, the product of the labor process must be exchanged. A commodity per se is a product that not only is exchangeable but must be exchanged (Marx 1970b: 105). The producer must consider the product’s exchangeability prior to production; i.e., must treat the product as a commodity from the outset.8
“The division of a product into a useful thing and a value becomes practically important only when exchange has acquired such an extension that useful articles are produced for the purpose of being exchanged and their character as values has therefore to be taken into account, beforehand, during production. (Marx 1970b: 78)”
As against this, the circulation of money as capital is an end in itself, for the valorization of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The movement of capital is therefore limitless.
This statement is more important than it seems. Whether Thier links this up with the inadequacy of any movement to address ecological problems remains to be seen. What I wrote on my blog is relevant here. It comes from my critical comments on the 2019 British Labour Party Manifesto (and is applicable as well to the Canadian Leap Manifesto):
Can we continue to treat the Earth as unlimited and resolve the problem of climate change? The capitalist economy necessarily is a process that is infinite. Consider the money circuit of capital (see The Money Circuit of Capital). [The money circuit of capital is found on page 76 of Thier’s book, by the way.] If we look at the beginning and the end of the process, there is a quantitative difference between the two. This quantitative difference is profit, and that is the goal of the whole process. Thus, if you invest $1,000,000 at the beginning of the year and receive $1,100,000 at the end of the year, you receive $100,000 profit. This difference has arisen from a process of exploiting workers (that is where the $100,000 comes from–the workers produce more value than what they themselves cost to produce). However, once the capitalist process has ended through the sale of commodities and the capitalist has $1,100,000, this money is no longer capital. Capital is a process, and once it is finished, it no longer is: its birth is simultaneously its death, so to speak. The capitalist who now has $1,100,000, to remain a capitalist, must invest the money again–but because of competition with other capitalists, he will have to invest more than $1,000,000. There is thus an in-built infinite process of continuous expansion (interrupted by economic crises due to the impossibility of obtaining an adequate profit rate). Such an infinite process in the context of a finite Earth hardly bodes well for efforts to eliminate the causes of climate change.
The so-called “Green solution” that sidesteps the contradiction between an infinite economic process and a finite Earth will not likely be able to address the problem of climate change. The Labour Manifesto does just that–it sidesteps the power of employers as a class and the associated economic, social and political structures needed to maintain that power.
If workers are unwilling to oppose the class of employers at present, why would climate change motivate them to engage in such opposition? But then again, the purpose of the Manifesto is not to really challenge the power of employers as a class.
As soon as she punches the clock, the conditions of her labor and the products of her labor are no longer hers, but the boss’s.
This is not formulated well. Undoubtedly, the products of her labour are no longer hers when she produces them. However, the conditions of labour are the capitalist’s even without any connection to labour. On the other hand, the use of labour power only arises when labour power is bought—and for a limited time (a wage worker is not a slave). It is only during this limited time that the employer can use her. Although it is also true that the use of the conditions of labour as conditions of labour can only arise during the labour process, the employer can sell them to someone else—but not the purchased labour power.
In other words, the boss can get away with paying you for just half (or some other fraction) of the day for the “daily sustenance of labor-power” while reaping the full day of your labor. On top of it, he can proclaim it a fair day’s wage, and the secret to this claim is in the determination of exchange-value of labor-power.
What are the political implications of this call for a fair wage? On my blog, I point out how many unions refer to “fair contracts”–and never explain what they mean or how they justify such a claim. For example:
Dated May 15, 2019: at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-energy-workers-sign-historic-pattern-deal:
May 15, 2019
MONTREAL— Unifor has achieved a new tentative agreement that establishes the pattern for 8,500 members of the National Energy Program.
The energy and chemical sector continues to be an important economic driver in Canada. By working together, our members have used their collective power to make much-deserved significant gains,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Energy and chemical jobs continue to be good jobs in communities right across the country.”
The tentative agreement covers Unifor members working in the sector across Canada. Suncor was selected by Unifor as the chosen employer to set the pattern that will be rolled out to the remaining employers after ratification.
During this round of bargaining Unifor and Suncor bargained both local and national issues concurrently during one week, ensuring that no one union local was left behind.
Make no mistake: energy companies provide good jobs across this country and are critical to Canada’s economy,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor’s Quebec Director. “Unifor members are instrumental in the success of energy and chemical companies and have earned a fair contract.” [my emphasis].
Unifor is the largest private-sector union in Canada. I also show similar ideology by CUPE (largest Canadian union) and NUPGE (National Union of Public and General Employees) as well as Warren “Smokey” Thomas, former president of OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union).
What is No One Is Illegal’s position on this? Should it criticize such ideology? What of the coupling of the campaign of “$15 and Fairness?” In the U.S., as far as I know, there was a movement for $15—but they did not link this to “fairness.” In Canada, by contrast, they did.
In addition, what does NOII think about the following conversation I had with a leftist here in Toronto some time ago, Tim Heffernan, member of Socialist Alternative:
Fred raises some interesting points. However, I think he’s confusing social-democratic/reformist demands with transitional demands. There’s a difference which I can elaborate on if needed but the practical contrast between them can be seen in Seattle itself where I would argue that Rosenblum encapsulated an honest and militant social democratic approach while Kshama Sawant & Socialist Alternative (also militant and honest) pushed the movement to its limits by raising the demand for 15/taxing the rich to the need for a socialist transformation of society. But I will concede that there are some in the US left who label SA as reformist too.
Also, we need to look at the concrete not the abstract. The “15 movement” in North America has seen different manifestations and the slogans/demands put forward have varied in time and place. So in Seattle in 2013-14, it was “15 Now”, in other parts of the US it became “15 and a union” and in Ontario it was ” 15 & Fairness”. Fred objects to the term “fairness” presumably because of its association with the old trade union demand of “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”. Engels dealt with this demand back in 1881 where he recognized the usefulness of it in the early stages of developing class consciousness of the British working class, in the first half of the 19th Century, but saw it as an impediment at the time he was writing.
To today and “15 and Fairness”. I think the addition of “fairness” to the straight “15” demand was an excellent move. Fairness wasn’t understood as an airy fairy, feel good notion but came to be seen as shorthand for a series of extra and linked demands that could mobilise low paid and exploited workers:
– paid sick days
– equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time)
– the right to a union
– the fight against racism and discrimination
and more. If the above be bullshit, so be it. I like to think that Engels, were he alive today, would have his criticisms of the limitations of 15 & Fairness but would be overwhelmingly positive about what it has achieved so far.
To which I responded:
Tim’s justification for “fairness” is that it is–somehow–a transitional demand. Let him elaborate on how it is in any way a “transitional” demand. I believe that that is simply bullshit.
He further argues the following:
“Fairness wasn’t understood as an airy fairy, feel good notion but came to be seen as shorthand for a series of extra and linked demands that could mobilise low paid and exploited workers:
– paid sick days
– equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time)
– the right to a union
– the fight against racism and discrimination
How does Tim draw such conclusions? It is a tautology (repetition of what is assumed to be true) to say that it is fair if “paid sick days, equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time), etc. is considered “fair.”
Why should these goals be tied to “fairness”? I had paid sick days at the brewery, I belonged to a union (there was, however, evident racism among some of the brewery workers and there was also a probationary six-month period before obtaining a full union-wage). Was that then a “fair” situation? I guess so–according to Tim’s logic. Why not then shut my mouth and not complain since I lived a “fair” life at the brewery? But, of course, I did not shut my mouth.
But does Tim believe that merely gaining “paid sick days, equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time), the right to a union, the fight against racism and discrimination and more” is fair? If he did, he would then presumably cease being a member of Socialist Alternative since he would have achieved his goals. However, he likely does not believe that it is fair. What he proposes, then, is to lie (bullshit) to workers by not revealing what he really believes as a “transitional” demand. He does not really believe that it is fair, but he believes that such rhetoric is a useful tool in developing a movement. Frankly, I believe that such a view is both dishonest and opportunistic. Workers deserve better–it is they who continue to be exploited despite “paid sick days,” etc. Receiving paid sick days is better than not receiving paid sick days, but all the demands obtained cannot constitute “fairness.” And yet workers who buy into the rhetoric (bullshit) of fairness may believe this fairy tale (it is, after all, a fairy tale presented by social democrats often enough, among others). Rather than enlightening the workers about their situation, such rhetoric serves to obscure it and to confuse workers–support for the Donald Trump’s of the world in the making.
Such low standards. Rather than calling into question the power of employers to direct their lives by control over the products of their own labour, it implicitly assumes the legitimacy of such power. Ask many of those who refer to the fight for $15 and Fairness–are they opposed in any way to the power of employers as a class? Not just verbally, but practically? Or do they believe that we need employers? That we need to have our work directed by them? That working for an employer is an inevitable part of daily life? That there is no alternative? That working for an employer is not really all that bad?
When working at the brewery, I took a course at the University of Calgary. The professor was interested in doing solidarity work for the Polish organization Solidarity at the time. I told him that I felt like I was being raped at the brewery. He looked at me with disgust–how could I equate being raped (sexually assaulted) with working for an employer? I find that radicals these days really do not seem to consider working for an employer to be all that bad. If they did, they probably would use the same logic as their opposition to sexual assault. Sexual assault in itself is bad, but there are, of course, different degrees of sexual assault. Those who sexually assault a person may do so more violently or less violently; in that sense, those who sexually assault a person less violently are “better” than those who are more violent. However, sexual assault is in itself bad, so any talk of “fairness” in sexually assaulting someone is absurd. Similarly, any talk of fairness in exploiting someone is absurd. But not for the “radical” left these days, it would seem.
Yet even if we limit ourselves more narrowly to the paid labor that goes into producing your subsistence, if all things were fair and just, you would give over to your boss only the amount of time that it takes to reproduce the value of your labor-power. Say it takes four hours to produce $120 worth of goods, the equivalent of your daily wage, you could go home after four hours. But if your boss allowed that, his inputs and outputs would be equal. It truly would just be M-C-M.
This view that if the worker received an equivalent for her wage she would receive what was just typically anticipates the theory of surplus value and skips over the theory of surplus value. Merely because the worker receives an equivalent hardly makes the situation “fair and just.” Fairness and justness here is assumed to be entirely a quantitative question rather than also a qualitative question.
I tried to point out, in our last session, that Marx pointed out how the exchange process becomes independent of the participants in exchange. I wrote:
The whole process is what Marx calls simple circulation, and this process escapes the control of the participants in the exchange process.” Surprisingly, there was little discussion about the issue—as if control over our own working lives via the control over our own products were relatively unimportant.
As i wrote on my blog:
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.”
Furthermore, even during the time when workers reproduce their wage, they are subject to the dictatorship of employers and their representatives. From my blog:
Elizabeth Anderson, in her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It) questions the assumption of the social-democratic or reformist left by pointing out how the power of employers resembles the power of communist dictators (pages 37-39):
Communist Dictatorships in Our Midst
Imagine a government that assigns almost everyone a superior whom they must obey. Although superiors give most inferiors a routine to follow, there is no rule of law. Orders may be arbitrary and can change at any time, without prior notice or opportunity to appeal. Superiors are unaccountable to those they order around. They are neither elected nor removable by their inferiors. Inferiors have no right to complain in court about how they are being treated, except in a few narrowly defined cases. They also have no right to be consulted about the orders they are given.
There are multiple ranks in the society ruled by this government. The content of the orders people receive varies, depending on their rank. Higher- ranked individuals may be granted considerable freedom in deciding how to carry out their orders, and may issue some orders to some inferiors. The most highly ranked individual takes no orders but issues many. The lowest-ranked may have their bodily movements and speech minutely regulated for most of the day.
This government does not recognize a personal or private sphere of autonomy free from sanction. It may prescribe a dress code and forbid certain hairstyles. Everyone lives under surveillance, to ensure that they are complying with orders. Superiors may snoop into inferiors’ e- mail and record their phone conversations.
Suspicionless searches of their bodies and personal effects may be routine. They can be ordered to submit to medical testing. The government may dictate the language spoken and forbid communication in any other language. It may forbid certain topics of discussion. People can be sanctioned for their consensual sexual activity or for their choice of spouse or life partner. They can be sanctioned for their political activity and required to engage in political activity they do not agree with.
The economic system of the society run by this government is communist. The government owns all the nonlabor means of production in the society it governs. It organizes production by means of central planning. The form of the government is a dictatorship. In some cases, the dictator is appointed by an oligarchy. In other cases, the dictator is self- appointed.
Although the control that this government exercises over its members is pervasive, its sanctioning powers are limited. It cannot execute or imprison anyone for violating orders. It can demote people to lower ranks. The most common sanction is exile. Individuals are also free to emigrate, although if they do, there is usually no going back. Exile or emigration can have severe collateral consequences. The vast majority have no realistic option but to try to immigrate to another communist dictatorship, although there are many to choose from. A few manage to escape into anarchic hinterlands, or set up their own dictatorships.
This government mostly secures compliance with carrots. Because it controls all the income in the society, it pays more to people who follow orders particularly well and promotes them to higher rank. Because it controls communication, it also has a propaganda apparatus that often persuades many to support the regime. This need not amount to brainwashing. In many cases, people willingly support the regime and comply with its orders because they identify with and profit from it. Others support the regime because, although they are subordinate to some superior, they get to exercise dominion over inferiors. It should not be surprising that support for the regime for these reasons tends to increase, the more highly ranked a person is.
Would people subject to such a government be free? I expect that most people in the United States would think not. Yet most work under just such a government: it is the modern workplace, as it exists for most establishments in the United States. The dictator is the chief executive officer (CEO), superiors are managers, subordinates are workers. The oligarchy that appoints the CEO exists for publicly owned corporations: it is the board of directors. The punishment of exile is being fired. The economic system of the modern workplace is communist, because the government— that is, the establishment— owns all the assets,1 and the top of the establishment hierarchy designs the production plan, which subordinates execute. There are no internal markets in the modern workplace. Indeed, the boundary of the firm is defined as the point at which markets end and authoritarian centralized planning and direction begin.
Most workers in the United States are governed by communist dictatorships in their work lives.
Or again, consider the (lack) of right to perform basic biological functions (at least in the United States) whether during the part of the working day when workers reproduce their wage or when they produce surplus value. From Void where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time, by Ingrid Nygaard and Marc Linder (1998), pages 2-3:
The right to rest and void at work is not high on the list of social or political causes supported by professional or executive employees, who enjoy personal workplace liberties that millions of factory workers can only daydream about. White-collar employees who have the freedom to make personal telephone calls, leave the premises to run errands, or chat with colleagues almost at will can also excuse themselves whenever nature calls. Indeed, we ourselves had not focused on the restraints on other workers until patients and clients poignantly complained of them. While we were dismayed to discover that workers lacked an acknowledged legal right to void at work, the patients and clients were amazed by outsiders’ naive belief that their employers would permit them to perform this basic bodily function when necessary. Their plight crystallized for us in one afternoon when two women with very different kinds of jobs related how they dealt with their bladder’s call at work: a factory worker, not allowed a break for six-hour stretches, voided into pads worn inside her uniform (which, incidentally, cost her almost one-tenth of her weekly wages); and a kindergarten teacher in a school without aides had to take all twenty children with her to the bathroom and line them up outside the stall door while she voided.
That such examples are not extraordinary is borne out by many recent reports. In a startling account of harried workers in chicken processing plants— an industry in which it is not unheard-of for firms to enforce rules prohibiting employees from going to the bathroom more than once a week “on company time” 3 — the Wall Street Journal recorded the scene shortly before the end of the workday as a worker in vain sought permission to leave the line:
- A foreman with a stopwatch around his neck rushes up. “Come on now,” he bellows. “Pump it up!” Down the chain, a worker named Jose yells and waves wildly, like a drowning man. Bathroom trips are discouraged and require approval. But the foreman can’t hear because of the din, and Jose is left grimacing and crossing his legs. Finally, half an hour later, a weary cheer ripples along the line. “The last birds coming!” someone shouts. Jose sprints toward the bathroom — and right into the path of a cleanup crew hosing offal the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food [into floor drains. Jose slips and then flops onto a sodden bank of fat and skin. “Gotta go,” he says, struggling up from the mire. “Gotta go.”4”
Finally, if we take a look at the money circuit of capital (as I wrote on my blog):
The following will form the basis for many of the posts, or at least the initial ones since a basic understanding of how workers are treated as things or means for employers’ ends is essential for a critical understanding of our lives and experiences in this world.
Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, argued that, in order to act ethically, it is necessary to treat people never as means only but as ends in themselves: “For, all rational beings stand under the law that each of them is to treat himself and all others never merely as means but always at the same time as ends in themselves” (Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. New York: Cambridge University Press, page 41). Human beings need to be treated as ends and not as means. To treat human beings as ends in themselves, it is necessary to have those who engage in realizing the ends also engaged in participating in the formulation of the ends. John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education of the twentieth century, flushes out what this means socially:
In a search for the conditions under which the inchoate public now extant may function democratically we may proceed from a statement of the nature of the democratic idea in its generic social sense. From the standpoint of the individual, it consists in having a responsible share according to capacity in forming and directing the activities of the groups to which one belongs and in participating according to need in the values which the groups sustain. From the standpoint of the groups, it demands liberation of the potentialities of members of a group in harmony with the interests and goods which are common. (The Public and its Problems. Denver: Swallow, 1927/1954, page 147).
Democracy as a way of life and not as formal government is what is required: the right to participate in forming and directing (realizing) the goals of the organizations to which individuals belong and for such organizations to use the potentialities of its members because of such participation in mutual goal-setting and directing activities. The use of potentialities, to be justified, requires that the individuals whose potentialities are being used have the right to participate in goal formulation, in their execution and in reaping the consequences (values) of their activities.
This view of agency is not what workers experience in a capitalist context. Consider the following description of the economic process of a typical employer in the private sector (which I used to organize a geography course I taught to grade ten French-immersion geography students). It is the money circuit of capital, and it is described by Karl Marx in chapter one of volume two of Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. The private sector will first be considered and then the public sector.
If we ignore the exchange process, we have the following: M1 … P … M2. Here, it is clearly seen that the production process is a means for obtaining more money. Since workers are part of the production process, they too are means for obtaining more money—even if they are organized collectively and act militantly. Being used as a means so that others can obtain more money is not an expression of a just and moral society, where human beings are free agents who control their own social structures and relations. Rather, it expresses a society that treats human beings as things to be used for the benefit of others who obtain more money. It expresses a kind of society where the results of the workers’ own work (expressed as money, as machines and so forth) dominates them rather than vice versa.
The Public Sector
Some may argue that the money capital process is accurate for the private sector but not for the public sector. However, the public sector should not be idealized either. The public sector has the advantage of not requiring consumers of services paying out money directly for such services. A teacher, for example, is not paid by the parents to teacher her/his child. In the public sector, the purpose or end of the work process is not directly more money. However, given the predominance of that goal in the total work process of society as a whole, such a goal is bound to have a major impact on the power of employers in the public sector (through, for example, the level of revenue in the form of taxes flowing to the government).
Apart from this indirect influence, public sector workers are still employees, and they are hired on a market for workers, just like workers in the private sector. The first part of the money circuit of capital still applies to them: M-C1.
The production process, though, is not capitalist. It is, however, a process that the workers not only do not control (nannies work as domestics for the personal consumption of the employer and are subject to the control of the employer, but for purposes of personal consumption) but is an impersonal process similar to the process characteristic of capitalist production (the owners of capital do not personally consume all that is produced). Public sector workers are collectively subject to the power of employers, and they do not formulate the goals of the organization to which they belong.
The Whole Process of Purchase, Production and Use or Consumption
The result or the consequence of the production or work process in the public sector does not result in a commodity (a product or service for sale) but is consumed. If U represents the use value produced (the service that is consumed), then we have: M-C …P…U. The consequence of their work is consumed without the intervention of exchange. On the other hand, since the beginning and the end process lack the same form, if that process is to continue, money must come from a process external to that process (from the capitalist economy or the private sector).
Public-Sector Workers as an Impersonal Means for Realizing the External Goals of Government Bureaucrats and Government Employers
Here P is not a capitalist production process but, nevertheless, it is an impersonal process the purpose of which the workers have no say. If we abstract from the initial exchange, we have: M…P…U. Production, or P, still functions as a means for ends external to the persons who constitute P. In other words, the people who work in the public sector still function as means for external goals; they cannot, democratically, participate in the formulation of those goals but have those goals imposed on them as employees.”
Workers, despite reproducing their wage, hardly experience just treatment. Being treated as a means to an end over which workers have little say, even if the worker receives an equivalent and does not produce a surplus, is hardly “fair and just.”
As Marx wrote, in Capital, volume 1, page 450:
If capitalist direction is thus twofold in content, owing to the twofold nature of the process of production which has to be directed- on the one hand a social labour process for the creation of a product, and on the other hand capital’s process of valorization- in form it is purely despotic.
Thus, if after you finish making $120 worth of coffee, instead of throwing down your apron and going home, you finish out your eight-hour shift, one hour will be necessary labor, and seven hours are surplus labor!
Yes, but even during the time that may be necessary time, you are still subject to “company time” and accusations of stealing company time. From Void where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time, by Ingrid Nygaard and Marc Linder (1998), page 3:
Other firms still take this disciplinary regime with the same deadly seriousness with which early protagonists of the industrial revolution broke down workers’ impulses to work according to their preindustrial rhythms, forcing them to internalize the new structures of the economy of time. Consider, for example, so-called house rules attached to collective bargaining agreements that penalize with suspension workers who engage in “theft or attempted theft (property or time),” such as exceeding a break by one minute, thus “disenfranchising their Employer.
If a 400 percent rate of exploitation seems far fetched to you, consider this real-life example quoted in a 2018 Oxfam report. Oxfam interviewed Lan, a Vietnamese garment worker who explained:
When I got pregnant, they let me work in the warehouse. There were many boxes full of shoes, and my job was to put the stamp on. Those shoes would fit my son perfectly, they are very nice.
I’d like my son to have shoes like these, but he can’t. I think he’d want them, and I feel sorry for him. The shoes are very pretty. You know that one pair of shoes that we make is valued morethan our whole month’s salary.
This is debatable. The value of the shoes is determined by c+v+s. Only if the value of the commodity were equal to v+s could you more appropriately infer that (and even then it would be better to actually try to measure it, if the statistics are available, rather than merely assert it). Using such an example in this context is more sensationalist than accurate.
You cannot infer from the level of wages and the value of the commodities the rate of exploitation; you need more information than that.
Consider a hypothetical example that probably contradicts the “moral sensibilities” of many leftists. Assume that one worker works 16 hours a day, receives a wage of $1 an hour and produces $30 of value during those 16 hours; the rate of exploitation is s/v, and since v=16 and s=14, the rate of exploitation in this case is 14/16=88% Another worker works 8 hours a day, receives a wage of $20 an hour and produces a value of $320; the rate of exploitation is 160/160=100%. The worker in the second case is actually more exploited than the first worker.
I have in fact tried to calculate the rates of exploitation of various workers in different Canadian capitalist companies by using the annual reports of those companies. The calculations are undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite anyone to try to improve on them.
In my last post on the rate of exploitation of WestJet workers, I provided a comparison of different rates of exploitation of various companies as well as some theoretical questions about the tendency of rates of exploitation to equalize over the long term. It is provided below:
The rate of exploitation of WestJet workers is quite low relative to other workers. Below I organize the rates of exploitation that I have calculated so far, from lowest to highest:
- WestJet workers: 23%
- Telus workers: 58%
- Air Canada workers: 70%
- Magna International workers: 79% (2019); 43% (2020)
- Bank of Montreal (BMO): 92%
- Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE): 100%
- Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC): 120%
- Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank): 123%
- Royal Bank of Canada (RBC): 124%
- ScotiaBank (Bank of Nova Scotia): 147%
- Suncor Energy workers: 148%
- Rogers Communication: 209%
The divergences in the rate of exploitation are substantial: the absolute percentage difference between the rate of exploitation of WestJet workers and the rate of exploitation of Rogers Communications workers is 186%.
As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.
We have the following:
The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=232,658.7/997,313.3=23%.
That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at WestJet works around an additional 14 minutes for free for WestJet.
In a 5.2 hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 4 hours 14 minutes (254 minutes) and works 58 minutes for free for WestJet.
Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario and Employers as Dictators, Part One). The same applies to the following.
In an 8-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6.5 hours and works for 1.5 hours free for WestJet.
In an 8.5-hour day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6 hours 55 minutes and works for free for 1 hour 35 minutes for WestJet.
In a 10-hour day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 8 minutes and works for free for 1 hour 42 minutes for WestJet.
Given this rate of exploitation and oppression, what are we to make of the following management rights clause in the collective agreement between WestJet and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4070 (or, in French, Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique (SCFP))?
ARTICLE 3 – MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
3-1.01 Except to the extent expressly limited or modified by a specific provision of this Agreement, the Company reserves and retains, solely and exclusively, all of the inherent rights, powers and authority to manage the business and direct its workforce and all the matters relating thereto. These rights, powers and authority include, but are not limited to hiring, assigning, promoting, demoting, classifying, transferring, lay-off, recall, suspending, discharging or otherwise disciplining Cabin Personnel; establishing and enforcing rules of conduct; maintaining order and efficiency; requiring Cabin Personnel to observe reasonable rules and regulations which may be promulgated by the Company, introducing new equipment; determining the location(s) of the workforce, operations, and facilities; planning, scheduling, directing and controlling operations.
3-1.02 The Union shall be advised of any changes to policies governing Cabin Personnel at least five (5) Days before such policies become effective unless the Parties mutually agree to a shorter advance notification period. This five (5) Day requirement will not apply when the Company is required by law to make immediate changes or in the event of emergency circumstances that reasonably require immediate change.
Is this management rights clause an example of the nature of “fair contracts” according to the major Canadian unions (such as CUPE, Unifor and NUPGE)? See Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) and Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Four: The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)(The Second Largest Union in Canada).
Should not unions, even in the public sector, be teaching the limitations of collective agreements and collective bargaining? In the private sector, should they not also be teaching the workers that no collective agreement and no collective-bargaining process can abolish the exploitation of the workers–without driving the company out of business?
Or are unions silent on such limitations? Moreover, do they try to sell the idea to their members that the collective agreement is fair?
What do you think? Given what you think, what should you be doing? Are you doing it? Why or why not?
Factors That Determine the Rate of Exploitation in Relation to Divergences in the Rates of Exploitation
The rate of surplus value has three main factors which determine its level:
1. The real wage (basket of commodities consumed by workers at non-changing prices). In the short term, the real wage is undoubtedly influenced by the class struggle–the level of organization of workers, the aims of such organization, the extent of the elimination of competition among workers and so forth. Even in the long run, it may be influenced through the incorporation of more and qualitatively more diverse commodities (historical and moral influence)–but this should not be exaggerated since real wages ultimately are limited by the rate of accumulation.
2. The absolute level of the production of surplus value, determined by such factors as
a. the length of the working day. For example, if workers work 7 hours a day, with a rate of exploitation of 100%, then the worker produces her/his wage in 3.5 hours and produces a surplus value of 3.5 hours. If the working day increases to 7.5 hours, then the rate of exploitation increases, from 100% to 114% (s=4; v=3.5; s/v=4/3.5=1.14=114%).
b. the intensity of work (which itself can be a function of other factors, such as the level of managerial organization, the principles of managerial supervision and technological conditions that force workers to work at an intensified level). The same number of hours may contain, relative to before, more labour. With a constant real wage, more surplus value is produced and hence a higher rate of exploitation.
3. Relative surplus value, determined by changes in technology (which alter the value of the commodities consumed by workers, reducing the value of the commodities consumed by workers, thereby increasing the remaining value as surplus value. For example, at the brewery where I worked, when I first started to work there, we could produce a maximum of 550 bottles of beer per minute, and when I quit, we could produce a maximum of 1,400 bottles per minute. The value of the bottles of beer undoubtedly decreased (although the price did not reflect this proportionately–taxes form a substantial portion of price). With lower values–and prices–for commodities consumed by workers, the workers perform less time producing the equivalent value of their wage and hence more time producing a surplus value, which therefore raises the rate of exploitation, s/v. Thus, with the technological change in beer production, the value of beer decreased. With the same level of worker beer consumption as before (the same real wage), the value of the commodity the workers sell (labour power–the capacity to perform labour for a certain period of time) decreases, leading to more value remaining for the employer–hence more surplus value and a higher rate of exploitation.
To explain the divergences in the rate of exploitation at this micro level according to the above three factors or variables would require much more empirical work (and probably theoretical work to make required connections). I lack the capacity for this. If others can in any way improve on the calculation of the rate of exploitation, feel free to do so.
In any case, other factors undoubtedly influence the perceived or empirical rate of exploitation (as calculated by me). Thus, one major factor that would need to be included is the difference between the surplus value initially produced (or received by commercial and banking institutions) and the final distribution of surplus value. The production of surplus value and its distribution are unlikely to be the same since the proportion of investment in constant capital (c) and variable capital (v) will vary according to the kind of industry and level of technological development. I explain this in a comment to the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada.
Static Versus Dynamic Considerations of the Rate of Exploitation
The above comparative analysis definitely has limitations since it provides only a snapshot picture of rates of exploitation for different employers. When we consider the mobility of workers within and between industries, however, there may be a tendency towards an equalization of the rate of exploitation. This would require further empirical research, of course, as well as further theoretical considerations.
One author argues that there is a tendency towards equal rates of exploitation via worker mobility (he sometimes calls it labour mobility). He refers to Adam Smith’s theory of worker mobility. Adam Smith was a political philosopher and political economist who published the book The Wealth of Nations in 1776.
From Jonathan Cogliano (2021), “Marx’s Equalized Rate of Exploitation,” Working Paper Series, University of Massachusetts, page 20:
One implication of the view put forward in sections 4 and 5 is that Marx fully adopts [Adam] Smith’s theory of the turbulent equalization of the whole of the advantages and disadvantages and re-purposes it into a turbulently equalizing rate of exploitation is that workers then know the degree to which they are exploited and move between sectors accordingly. Marx discusses how workers understand that they are exploited in his discussion of the struggle over the length of the working day, but he does not state explicitly that workers know their rate of exploitation (Marx 1976, pp.342-344). However, the wholesale adoption of Smith’s balancing whole of the advantages and disadvantages of labor implies that workers do know the degree to which they are exploited and migrate across sectors in response to changes or differentials across sectors.
Workers making decisions of how to allocate their labor across industries in this way does not require that workers base the decision on magnitudes measured in labor values— i.e. basing the decision on surplus value and the value of labor power. Workers’ movement across sectors as informed by money prices still induces the EQRE. As Foley (2016, pp.378-380) discusses, surplus value captures overall surplus labor effort in the money form and if workers base their mobility decisions on the effort they expend and the wage they are paid then these movement decisions will tendentially induce the EQRE. This rests on some notion of a connection between labor effort and money value added
It would be necessary to consider both theoretically and empirically the dynamics of worker mobility in relation to the rate of exploitation to determine whether such a tendency in fact holds. Unfortunately, there is little research here in Toronto or indeed in Canada, as far as I can tell, concerning anything having to do with the rate of exploitation at the micro level and its interface with tendencies at the macro level.
But what about the labor necessary to prepare the food, wash the clothing, provide the childcare? This, essentially, is extra labor that is mostly produced outside of the sites of capitalist production.28 WhileMarx and Engels rightly located the reproduction of labor-power for the system within the nuclear family, they did not delve deeply into this topic. The concept of social reproduction has been theorized largely due to the important work of second-wave feminism (the women’s rights movement that, beginning in the 1960s, fought for equality beyond suffrage and legal rights) and Marxist feminists (who incorporated and elaborated on Marx’s ideas to explain the roots of women’s oppression). In fact, as most women know all too well, the bulk of day-to-day responsibilities for the reproduction of labor at home fall on wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters.
This unpaid labor does not directly create surplus value, yet it is critical to workers’ abilities to produce surplus, and therefore necessary to maintaining the profitability of the system.”
Do the activities at home produce value? If so, then they are not really social labour while they are being performed? If they do, then do they result in revolutions in the level of productivity due to a possible divergence between the amount of abstract labour at the micro level and the amount predominant at the macro level (thereby leading to surplus profits—which is what motivates capitalists to innovate)? Is there evidence that those who perform activities at home act in the same way as wage workers, on the one hand, and capitalists on the other?
Furthermore, the claim that “this unpaid labor does not directly create surplus value, yet it is critical to workers’ abilities to produce surplus, and therefore necessary to maintaining the profitability of the system” fails to distinguish activities that occur in the household that may be labour and activities that may be acts of consumption. My eating a hotdog at home “does not directly create surplus value, yet it is critical to workers’ abilities to produce surplus, and therefore necessary to maintaining the profitability of the system.” The act of consumption, in other words, can be treated as an “act of labour” based on Thier’s logic. This does not mean that labour does not occur at home; but it needs to be theorized and distinguished from consumption activities, and it also needs to be distinguished from abstract labour—unless abstract labour is performed at home (but, as I said, if so, then why are there no revolutions in technology emanating from home production?)
This does not mean that labour does not occur in households. It however, needs to be carefully theorized. Furthermore, there are many hidden assumptions in the following assertion (page 87):
But, Vogel argued, “he said little about the actual work involved in individual consumption. Here was a realm of economic activity essential to capitalist production yet missing from Marx’s exposition.”31 In fact, without this labor, individual consumption could not take place.
Being necessary is hardly the same as producing value let alone surplus value. State employees are necessary—and yet they do not produce surplus value (unless the output is sold). Commercial workers and bank workers are necessary—and yet they do not produce surplus value either (they transfer already produced surplus value). They may or may not perform surplus labour; surplus labour has been performed in the past without the result being surplus value. However, this needs to analyzed in detail rather than assumed. Any ideas how to do this?
The importance of identifying abstract labour as the sole source of value and surplus value is related to socialism; there is a contradictory tendency (but not some sort of automatic process) for capitalist relations to involve abstract labour as the ultimate measure of value whereas materially we depend less and less on such labour as machinery and more generally technology develop; in other words, capitalism has a tendency to undercut its own principle by eliminating the goose that lays the golden egg (but as long as capitalism exists, such a contradictory tendency leads to economic (and often, political) crises.
Cancer and viruses have similar tendencies. The rapid expansion of cancer cells (growth of cancer cells) may lead to the death of the living being as a whole—and simultaneously the lack of survival of the cancer cells. Viruses need a host to reproduce themselves. If, however, their reproduction kills their host (or hosts), then they negate their own conditions of reproduction (unless they either mutate or find another host).
Does labour performed at home have a similar tendency?
This is not to deny that women are, generally, burdened with labour at home when compared to men. However, we need to be clearer about the nature of such labour and whether it has different characteristics than the labour performed for private employers (and for state employers, for that matter).
In the section “Diverging Rates of Exploitation,” Thier outlines how gender and race discrimination lead to lower wages for substantial sections of the working class. However, again, low wages do not necessarily translate into increased exploitation. In the same industry, where wages for coloured or female workers are less than for white and male workers, we can generally safely assume that there is a higher rate of exploitation for such workers, but not necessarily across different industries; it would be necessary to determine the surplus value produced and compare it to the wage. After all, the rate of exploitation is a ratio (s/v) and not just v.
You can’t understand either the worker’s or the boss’s class position without understanding that the whole of the system is one in which labor is set to work on means of production, in order to produce a profit for someone else. Class, in other words, is a relationship of exploitation. This understanding of class as a social relationship is completely absent in mainstream analysis. If class is discussed at all in the mainstream, it is considered in terms of wealth and social stratification. Income levels, education, lifestyles, and patterns of consumption are used to divide people into a society that is mostly middle class, with some rich and poor people around the fringes.
This is important politically. Most social democrats rely predominantly on income level to differentiate the poor from the non-poor. The following is drawn from my blog:
From Geoffrey Kay, The Economic Theory of the Working Class. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1979, pages 2-3:
The absolute poverty of the working class is visibly present in the conditions of work where everything the worker touches belongs to another. The means of production he uses, that is, the machines, buildings, materials, etc. all belong to the employer, who also owns the output. The only thing the worker owns is his capacity to work, and his economic welfare depends upon his being able to sell this at the best possible price. In the course of this [the twentieth) century, particularly during the period of the post-war boom, this price measured in terms of the commodities it can purchase, the real wage, has risen to unprecedented heights, at least in the advanced industrial countries of the west.
As a result of this and the maintenance of full or near full employment backed up by social welfare, the working class has enjoyed greater prosperity and security than at any time in history. In these circumstances it appears strange to talk of absolute poverty, and the old socialist claim that the working class has nothing to lose but its chains seems and archaic relic of the past when the working class did indeed live in dire poverty. Yet the fact remains that the working class today has no greater economic autonomy than its forbears a hundred years ago.
Consider the situation of a contemporary worker who loses his job. This has happened to several million workers in the industrialized world since the long boom faltered in 1973 not counting the other millions of young people who have never found jobs at all. Many of the workers who have recently suffered unemployment for the first time, earned wages that allowed them to enjoy all the trappings of ‘affluency’—decent housing, cars, television, refrigerators and so on. But the loss of the job puts the standard of living immediately in jeopardy, particularly if unemployment lasts for anything more than a few weeks. In the unlikely event of a working class family having a large private income, its initial response to unemployment is to cut back spending on marginal items, and attempt to maintain its lifestyle intact in the hope that new work will be found shortly. As the period of unemployment lengthens, it begins to eat into savings, but this does not hold out much hope.
Working class savings are notoriously low, and often take the form of insurance policies that can only be cashed in at a considerable loss. If the family decides to sell of its consumer durables, apart from reducing its standard of living immediately, it will invariably make further losses as second-hand prices are always far below prices for new articles. Moreover, many working class purchases are financial by hire purchase where the interest element makes the actual price higher than the market price, and the family that sells off relatively new times bought in this way often finds that, far from releasing cash, it lands itself in further debt. Working class affluence is entirely dependent upon wages: remove these—i.e., unemployment—and the absolute poverty of its social situation shows through very quickly. In the nineteenth century unemployment meant immediate destitution; the modern worker is clearly much better off than his forbears—for him and his family poverty is a few weeks, maybe even a few months away.
The social-reformist left, however, will probably not acknowledge the need for a redefinition of poverty that includes the economic coercion of the vast majority of workers. They prefer to deal in platitudes, such as calling the work characteristic of economic coercion “decent work,” or reforms in employment standards and increases in the minimum wages (all necessary, of course) “fair,” or claiming that they are fighting for “economic justice” (while not engaging in any activity that moves towards abolishing the economic coercion characteristic of the capitalist job market dominated by a class of employers).
We can see then that wealth is just one part of the picture, and one that is more symptomatic of class inequality than explanatory of its origin. In fact, power, control over working conditions, and financial decision-making are the bedrocks of exploitation.
Yes, but the lower echelons of state employees are subject to “power, control over working conditions, and financial decision-making.” Are they exploited or just oppressed? Hard to say. Not producing surplus value does not mean that a worker is not exploited. But a surplus of labour is necessary if there is to be exploitation. If there is no surplus labour, there can still be oppression. But I do not see much clarification or research that enlightens us about these issues.
Anyone who controls the means of production, has political power, dictates the terms of other’s working conditions, or owns capital that can be invested in production, is part of the CAPITALIST CLASS. And anyone who must sell their labor-power for a wage and has no access to the means of production themselves is part of the WORKING CLASS.
Although this can give a rough estimate of who belongs to the working class, should this not be qualified or refined? Managers in state bureaucracies are not part of the capitalist class, but they have similar power over workers. What of guards in prisons? There was a debate within the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU) over the issue of whether prison guards should be part of the union because of their oppressive function. The same issue applies to the police. At what point does the function of the workers take precedence over their status as wage workers? What of foremen?
Marx wasn’t saying that workers literally have nothing, although that is often and increasingly true. He meant that we are without any means to produce and reproduce our livelihoods, and therefore we are at the mercy of capitalist exploitation.
Yes, but surely we need to recognize the varying levels of house ownership among the working class and the possible impact that may have in dividing the workers since owners of houses may use them as equity and hope that their prices will continue to rise whereas others who do not own homes may hope that prices will drop.
Capitalism uses our ingenuity to further immiserate us. Socialism would use every advance to make more time for humans to rest, play, and thrive. This is why Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky was onto something when he lauded human laziness as a quality necessary for human progress:
“As a general rule, man strives to avoid labor. Love for work is not at all an inborn characteristic: it is created by economic pressure and social education. One may even say that man is a fairly lazy animal. It is on this quality, in reality, that is founded to a considerable extent all human progress; because if man did not strive to expend his energy economically, did not seek to receive the largest possible quantity of products in return for a small quantity of energy, there would have been no technical development or social culture.”
This is debatable. This links up to the nature of socialism—which was briefly discussed in the last session. I have argued on my blog that the concept of “leisure” that excludes any serious work is a fallacy—even under capitalism. Since, however, the issue of the nature of socialism deserves more extensive treatement, I will reserve that issue for a separate attachment, where I will simply string together several posts from my blog on the topic, including a critique of Sam Gindin’s views (Mr. Gindin was the research director for the Canadian Auto Workers union, now Unifor) on the nature of socialism.