Friday, December 25, 2009

Wobbly Times number 36

One aspect of the issue of stagnant real wages (see: Wobbly Times number 22) is the continuing commodification of wage-labour itself. The commodity sells best which sells most cheaply in the marketplace. As the skills necessary to reproduce Capital have become simpler, less time consuming to produce and reproduce, the value and fluctuating price of labour power has gone down for a majority of the class, while for a minority of it, the price remains the same or goes higher with the addition of greater skills to the worker. (However, it should be mentioned here that even if all the working class had Ph.d.s, the unemployment rate would remain about the same, even as the banter at the workplace might change to concerns over whether Foucault or Stephen Jay Gould had more to say about culture.)

Thus, on average, real wages have stagnated. Capital is not only exported to class ruled States which enforce lowered wage demands through coercion and terror,the movement of industry to pools of more cheaply priced labour power also makes the use of skilled labour amongst the majority of the working class in already industrialised nations superfluous. Thus, overall, real wages for workers as a class can stagnate in advanced, industrial, bourgeois democracies as the employed members of the working class are increasingly obliged to flip burgers or open crates at Wall Mart, shipped from dictatorships like China in order to make a living, as opposed to making steel, tires and cars.

Capital is wealth expressed as exchange-value; it is itself a commodity. Labour power is bought and sold as a commodity on the market, just as pork and beans are. The big diff is that labour power has the ability to expand wealth through creation of more commodities. The capitalist hires labour for wages (the price of labour power on the market) and keeps the commodities (goods and services) which the workers have created (aka wealth). These commodities can include constant capital e.g. machinery of production, circulating capital e.g. raw materials from nature like coal which go into the production process and money, which is used as a means to exchange commodities, to 'circulate' them. Money is circulating capital. Thus, money is also a commodity, a mutually agreed upon abstraction playing the universal equivalent.

After the working class creates the wealth, the capitalist has that wealth sold by wage-slaves in order to realise profit. Capitalists hire sales-wage-slaves to market the wealth they've appropriated from already employed wage-labour. Profit can't be realised unless the wealth workers create can be sold. This uncertainty about sale is what pro-capitalist spokespeople call, 'risk'.

Like all commodities, labour power has exchange-value embedded within it. Exchange-value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time bound up within it e.g. education.

BTW, if someone says that this labour theory of value has been proven false, you can always ask them how much wealth would be produced, if the workers of the world went on a week long general strike. The answer is zero. Wealth has to be produced to come into existence and it doesn't come into existence without employing wage-labour, unless you're using your money to buy/commodify nature for nature is the other source of all wealth.

The socially necessary labour time embodied in a worker's abilities, which is expressed as the exchange-value of labour, forms the concrete substance of skill. However, the exchange-value of any commodity, including labour power, is expressed in money aka price. Prices of commodities fluctuate with supply and demand on the market and the market is human beings with money perceiving what they can use, for whatever they deem is necessary i.e. what they can buy with the wealth, expressed as money in their pockets.

Most bourgeois thinkers only look at the demand side of the commodities to explain their conception of 'value' i.e. from the point of view of the consumer, not the producer. The 'effective' demand side is very important, as Marx explained a long time before Jevons, demand is an expression of the use-value of a commodity. If a commodity has no use-value, all the socially necessary labour time in the world will not make it into a saleable commodity and therefore, no profit could be realised from it.

In a classless society, production could be carried on for use and need and there would be no necessity for the expression of wealth to be measured by money. Wealth would be wealth, not an accumulation of commodities for sale with a view to profit.
In a classless society, work would be carried on by and for the association of free producers. There would be no need for wages, which are but the price of labour power, the price of yet another commodity. In a classless society, there would be no need for wealth to be fettered by exchange-value.


  1. good stuff here. i've been an iww member for a month. i found you at jennifer's; found her at professor zero's. i'll be back.

  2. When buying a house or apartment people think as much about it's resale value as it's value as a home to them presently. This means we are trading our present for an uncertain future. If people refused to trade their present for the future, would money / class society disappear? In the few places I have traveled in the world, I have noticed that places where people do not think too much about the future, capitalism is much less a part of peoples lives. For example, in Costa Rica on the east coast, people will get a job to buy something, and as soon as they have the money to buy the object of their desire, they stop working, ask for the money and leave. Obviously this is an extreme and anecdotal piece of evidence I present, however the principle is expressed perfectly, I think. What do you think?

  3. I think it's good to live in the here and now. I also think it's good to plan for tomorrow for as wage-slaves we are dependent on selling our skills well into the future, if we don't get at least some control over the wealth we're producing today.

    What I don't like is the tendency amongst workers to want to plan for tomorrow by aspiring to become part of the landlord class. This aspiration sucks up a lot of free-time and intelligence amongst speculating workers in Australia and the government gives them tax incentives to pursue this course of co:optive action in terms of attempting the solve the problem of proletarian insecurity. On the other hand, workers are not given any incentive to organise into unions to gain control of the surplus value they produce as a class. I think there's something we all can learn from this to wit: our rulers will always try to deflect the class struggle into safe modes which tend to conserve the capitalist system and the rule of the capitalist class. While it is true that a proletarian has no security, it is also true that petty landlordship and the continuation of the rule of Capital will NOT provide an answer. On the other hand, One Big Union of the working class would provide the power and the means towards expanding free-time and solving the problem of insecurity.