Anti-Slavery Day was created in 2010 to raise awareness of modern slavery and to inspire government, business and individuals to eliminate it. But when will they recognise wage labour as wage-slavery? The “Profit System” is another very good name for capitalism but from another angle, capitalism could also be called the “Wages System”. The key market in capitalism is the labour market, where workers are forced to earn their living by selling their labour power to an employer.
One the crucial discoveries in the field of political economy was that the working class gets paid less than the value of the goods it creates, the difference being a surplus value which accrues to the owning class in the form of ground rent, interest and profit. Capitalism turned human labour power into a commodity – something bought and sold. When capitalists buy a worker’s labour they buy the worker’s capacity to work for a full day. Wages are set, however, like every other commodity, by the value of labour-power needed to reproduce them, which in the case of labour is the value of food, clothing, etc. needed to keep the worker in a fit condition to work. But the value of ‘labour power’ is different from the value created by the worker’s labour and this difference, called surplus value, belongs to the capitalist. The working day under capitalism, therefore, divides into two parts; ‘necessary labour’ when the workers actually earn what they are paid in wages, and ‘surplus labour’ which is the time spent producing ‘surplus value’ for the capitalist employer. The aim of capitalist production is the production of surplus value. The new value added by labour in the process of production to the previously existing value of the raw and other materials is divided into wages and surplus value, which goes to the capitalist employer and is the source of profit. Profits are made in the sphere of production but only “realised” in the market. What is so vital about profit that makes this necessary? It is the source of the capitalist’s capital. The more capital they can accumulate out of the profits accruing to them the more effectively can they compete–by investing in more productive technologies to undercut their competitors–and thus claim a larger share of the market for themselves. If they did not do this then their competitors would, and could knock them out of business. Economic competition between enterprises fuels the drive towards capital accumulation. This, in turn, necessitates profit maximisation which expresses itself as a continuous downward pressure on wages (reinforced by competition between workers on the labour market)
We’re the ones who build things, make things, provide services, make things work, provide the ideas. But though we build the world around us, it does not belong to us. Everything that has been built around us is the result of our work and yet we don’t work for ourselves. We produce not for ourselves, but at the behest of others. The worker is compelled to labour for the purpose of producing something to satisfy the wants of others who, holding the things necessary for his life, thereby control him. He is, therefore, still a slave. We are the ones who are told what to produce, how to produce it, how much, and how fast. We are the ones who receive a paycheque, be it high or low, not for selling what we produce but for selling our power to work. With that paycheque we try to buy back what we make. The source of someone else’s profits comes from our work.
Employers claim we as workers enter a free contract and “no one is forced to do anything.” – But what planet are they on? The working class is forced each and every day into wage slavery or does money in capitalism grow on trees and all people need to do it pluck it from the branches to pay for food clothing and shelter. No, we are, collectively, compelled under the threat of poverty to sell our capacity to work – our labour power – in order to get access to those things
The modern slave-owner has no such interest in his slaves. He neither purchases nor owns them. He merely buys so much labor-power – physical energy – just as he buys electric power for his plant. The worker represents to him merely a machine capable of developing a given quantity of labor-power. When he does not need labor-power he simply refrains from buying any. Wage slavery is the most satisfactory form of slavery that has ever come into existence, from the point of view of the masters. It gives them all the slaves they require and relieves them of all responsibility in the matter of their housing, feeding and clothing.
Instead of the pressures that force people to sell their working skills to an employer, people in socialism will work as a voluntary expression of their relationship with others. Needs will replace the drive for profits and the dictates of the market in deciding what must be done. Instead of the authoritarian control imposed by boards of directors and their corporate managers, production units will be run democratically by the people working in them. Instead of the state and its government of people, in socialism, people will contribute to the decisions made democratically by the community. Wage slavery will be overthrown and labour power will cease to be a commodity. The workers, being the owners of the means of production, will also be the owners of the wealth produced, each individually enjoying what they have collectively produced.
Wage slavery has become the only option for the majority to sustain itself. The capitalist system was created through acts of theft and murder. This reality is continually defended by theories of the ideal capitalist model claiming as you do to be a return to “economic justice”, which actually only seeks to legitimise the capitalist’s source of wealth and power – the exploitation of labour for the extraction of profit. It is hypocrisy.
Many of the owning class argue that ”the wages system isn’t slavery when free and just conditions exist.” If only that were the case. Workers sell their labour power to capitalist enterprises for a wage. As a commodity, labour power has an exchange value and a use value, like all other commodities. Its exchange value is equal to the sum total of the exchange values of all those commodities necessary to produce and reproduce the labour power of the worker and his or her family. The use value of labour power is its value-creating capacity which capitalist enterprises buy and put to work as labour. However, labour power is unlike other commodities in that it creates value. During a given period it can produce more than is needed to maintain the worker during the same period. The surplus value produced is the difference between the exchange value of labour power and the use value of the labour extracted by the capitalists. In capitalism, however, the wage-worker is a “free” agent. No master holds him as a chattel, nor feudal lord as serf. This modern worker is free and independent: he has choices. He can dispose of his services to this or that capitalist owner, or he can withhold them. But this freedom is ephemeral. He must sell his working ability to someone or other employer or face starvation. In a capitalist society, workers have the option of finding a job or facing abject poverty and/or starvation. Little wonder, then, that people “voluntarily” sell their labour and “consent” to authoritarian structures! They have little option to do otherwise. So, within the labour market workers can and do seek out the best working conditions possible, but that does not mean that the final contract agreed is “freely” accepted and not due to the force of circumstances, that both parties have equal bargaining power when drawing up the contract or that the freedom of both parties is ensured. His slavery is cloaked under the guise of wage-labour.
When the worker has found an employer he receives in return for his labour a price known as wages which represents the average what is necessary for his sustenance so that he can reproduce the energy to go on working, and also produce progeny to replace him when his working days are over. During the working-day, the worker produces wealth equivalent to that for which he is paid wages, but this does not require all the time of the working day. In providing for his own keep he has also produced a surplus and this surplus belongs to the employer. This may eventually be split into profit to the manufacturer, rent to the landlord, and interest on capital invested by a financier. As capitalism develops the time in which the worker produces his own keep decreases while the surplus accruing to the capitalist increases. During this development the productivity of labour increases at an accelerating tempo: The worker continually produces more with less.
So when a man sells his labour power a number of hours for a certain wage, the amount of necessaries to produce his wages is always smaller than the amount of labour which the employer receives from him, the difference between what the worker receives as wages and what his labour power produces during his working time, constitutes the sole source of unearned income, i.e., capitalist profits. So profits exist because the worker sells themselves to the capitalist, who then owns their activity and, therefore, tries to control them like a machine.
In 1855, Frederick Douglas, a former slave, wrote:
“The difference between the white slave, and the black slave, is this: the latter belongs to ONE slave-holder, and the former belongs to ALL the slave-holders, collectively. The white slave has taken from his, by indirection, what the black slave had taken from him, directly, and without ceremony. Both are plundered, and by the same plunderers”.