Labor Day Demonstration against child labor – 1909
So if “class warfare” actually breaks out (we’re not talking about beheading rich folks …. yet!) with what “class” do you identify?
Are you “middle class, upper middle-class, lower class?” These are categories we love to use and always see in the lapdog corporate media. Now and then some super rich person will talk of our “classless” society but no one believes that tripe anymore.
So which class? These categories are based on how much you make and how much you consume. They assume you work. You have a job. for if you are “lower” or “middle” class you cannot stay home and live on accumulated wealth or on income generated by others working for you. Yet rarely are such folks characterized as “workers”.
The broad categories of class are better defined by your relationship to the process of the production of wealth.
You are either a worker, selling your labor because you have no other adequate source of income or you are an owner, a capitalist whose income is generated by others – i.e workers in your factory/corporation or your investments, or your accumulated wealth.
Mitt Romney, for example, didn’t “work” a day the year before he ran for President, yet he had an income of $20 million. That $20 million was generated by his previously stashed wealth. How much does it take in the stash to generate $20 million in income in a year? Having spent my entire career in banking and finance I can assure you – it takes a great pile of money. As if you didn’t know.
So Mitt was not a “worker”. Let’s call him a “capitalist”.
Marx (remember him?) used to call the workers the proletariat – prols for short. Of course no one reads Marx anymore or pays any attention to him. Nothing he had to say is of any value. Marx is red, evil, godless, communist, bad. Kind of like Stalin. Or socialists. Or union organizers.
Now Marx theorized that the prols have no way to make a living but to sell their labor and to work with their hands, bodies, or minds. Since these workers have insufficient property to generate enough income to live on, in order to survive and obtain an income for themselves and their families, they must find employment and work for an employer, company or corporation. They must work for someone else.
Does this describe you? Do you have to work for your bread?
Now working for a capitalist-employer is an exploitative social relationship.
If the capitalist-employer is to make profits and accumulate more capital, wages must be kept as low as possible with each worker producing more than he is paid. The value created by each prol’s labor is taken by the capitalist and sold – thus producing surplus value or profit for the capitalist but potential poverty for workers. The corporation does not divide up the surplus profit with the workers. Profit sharing days are over. The corporation paid you a wage. That’s all you’re gonna get.
This occurs each day of the labor process, with low wages preventing workers from gaining ownership of sufficient property with which to support themselves and recreating the conditions for further exploitation.
In simple terms, workers produce more in value than they are paid. The excess value produced is sold generating profit which is kept by the owner. All profit is kept by the corporation. All of it. And corporate profits are at a record high.
It is therefore in the interest of owners/corporations to keep wages and benefits as low as possible with as few workers as possible consistent with generating maximum profit.
Labor organizing attempts to keep more of the value generated by the workers in the hands of the workers through higher wages and benefits. It is the reason for the never ending attacks on unionization by capitalists and corporations.
Is it somehow “bad” for workers to organize and bargain collectively but “good” for the corporation to face the individual in a complete mismatch of power?
Good for whom? Not the worker. Read Grapes.
Also not good for the worker is the fact that unions today are about as radical as well…….Democrats. Union leadership is in bed with the “system”; keep the “base” in line and being a “collaborative” union leader is a nice cushy job.
The antagonistic and contradictory nature of this system is evident as capitalists constantly attempt to reduce wages and make workers work more intensively (“increase productivity”), while workers have exactly the opposite set of interests. Work and the labor process in the capitalist mode of production are organized so that workers remain propertyless members of the proletariat. The surplus products and value created by workers turns into capital, which is accumulated by owners. Ok; maybe the worker can buy a house. Maybe.
Many Marxists attempt to show that the middle class is declining (ya think?), and polarization of society into two classes is a strong tendency within capitalism. Marx’s view was that the successful members of the “middle class” would become members of the ownership classes, while the unsuccessful would be forced into the proletariat. In the last few years, many have argued that in North America, and perhaps on a world scale, there is an increasing gap between rich and poor and there is a declining middle. Anyone disagree with that given what is going on in our society?
So now back to the original question: What class are you?
If you’re unemployed you know you are a worker. A prol. You are looking for a job, trying to sell your labor. It’s all you have.
You are also serving the corporation since the corporate interest is in maintaining a relatively high unemployment rate.
Why? It makes those with jobs work harder for less. Corporations will not “make jobs” unless unfilled DEMAND is there for their products. Lowering their tax rates allows only for the further additional accumulation of profits. There is no “trickle down”.
“Grapes” spoke of California fruit farmers sending leaflets to impoverished Okies promising jobs and good wages. “Come to California!”. When the poor got there they found vast pools of excess labor which had made the journey for the very same reason and read the very same leaflet. Yes there were a fixed number of jobs – available for those who would accept the lowest wages. Before the Lawrence textile strike in the early 20th century, immigrant unskilled workers earned $9.00 for a 56 hour week.
If you are working for minimum wage you know you are a prol. Without the minimum wage laws corporations would pay you Joad wages because of the pool of unemployed and unskilled. Abolishing the minimum wage would not “make jobs”; only lower the wages for the unskilled. There is no job creation without unfilled DEMAND for the product.
So you’re white collar, work say in a major bank making eighty grand a year. Think yourself as “middle class”. Live in the ‘burbs, Have a few bucks saved, some investments, a 401k. You don’t identify with “workers”.
Ask yourself: Can you be fired without cause at any time by the powers that be? Are you working more hours than ever for the same annual salary? Are you afraid to take a sick day or vacation time because you fear you will not be perceived as “committed” to the company? Are you driving staff to produce more because your future depends on it? Do you pay more for medical insurance and benefits each year? Did the company cancel your pension plan? (Most did that long ago). Does your Chairman make millions no matter if the company is doing well or not while your “bonus” is tied to a subjective evaluation of your “performance”? Do you feel you are forever striving to do “more for less?”
Can you live without another job?
If not, seems to me you are a worker. A prol.
And as far as moving jobs overseas for those lower wages, well corporations have been doing that for decades. The answer is to tax American corporations who do so on a punative and global profitability basis – unless of course the CEO and the company want to move their corporate headquarters from New York to China, where they can give up the benefits of being incorporated in Delaware and earn all those profits available in Beijing.
Funny but I don’t see that happening. Neither the tax plan nor moving to Beijing.
People who need to work for a living need to start thinking differently. Billionaires don’t give a rat’s ass about your welfare. You don’t need to wonder what they want. The only answer is “More!!” .
The solidarity of labor (yes YOU!) is the first step to changing the system to make it more fair to the vast majority of the nation as a whole – for what good is capitalism if it eventually impoverishes those who work in it?
What good is a system which provides no health care to millions of its people? Which provides “wages” a family can’t live on? Which “graduates” millions of kids who can’t write two coherent paragraphs and are already in debt? Which does not provide a secure old age? And on top of it all gives little thought to the destruction of the ecology of the planet..
All in the name of “unrestricted free market capitalism”?
Of what good is a system which requires one to work all his life and have nothing to show for it at the end except the years? And what good is a system that wants to make it worse by eliminating the social safety net? Think “Unemployment insurance will make you shiftless!”.
It is of no good to millions upon millions and we should be ashamed to defend it. “When too much accumulates in the hands of too few, it is taken away” – Steinbeck.
The “New Left” has been a failure since the sixties – it has one fatal flaw. It forgot the workers. Bring back the Old Left.
photo / Library of Congress /http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/ppmsca/06500/06591r.jpg