From the June 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
It’s exploitation that causes workers’ problems.
On an ultra-simplistic level we could say that capitalism in the persona of capitalists uses capital (in its basic form, money) to make a profit. By utilising capital in the form of property, equipment, machinery, investment or speculation the capitalist needs to employ members of the working class in order to increase the original capital for the benefit of the capitalist. This can only be done if the workers agree knowingly or unknowingly to their own exploitation.
Why exploitation? In the monetary world society we live in everyone has a need for money on a regular ongoing basis in order to secure the essentials of life. By accepting employment workers undertake to work (knowingly or unknowingly) part of the time for their own remuneration and part of the time in order to meet the capitalist’s need for reinvestment in their business and to augment their accumulation of profit.
There are three elements to the capitalist’s expectation in relation to employees. First, workers must be paid sufficient remuneration to keep them returning to work; the terms and conditions of work may change depending on the available source of labour. Second, the capitalist’s own ongoing costs must be met – replacement machinery, upkeep, purchase of materials etc. And third, there must be a sufficient element of profit for the capitalist as his incentive to continue. As a business gets bigger, employing a larger workforce, the accumulated ‘extra’ time (over and above the length of time required to earn the wages) from this extra workforce gets added to the capitalist’s pot, increasing their profit, not the workers’ pay packets. When demanding a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay who stops to ask about the capitalist’s own fair day’s work? Capitalism labour to make profit, to make big money for a few at the expense and from the labour of the majority, i.e. exploitation.
When the recognition hits home that money is the recurring impediment, the fundamental issue in the daily life of the worker awareness grows of all the many problems it causes. Whatever issue is under consideration – be it getting to and from work, getting married, having children, repair and maintenance of personal property, heating the home sufficiently, having a holiday or a reasonably comfortable retirement – the primary issue is a financial one. Money is the issue.
A season ticket for premier league football is beyond the means of most of us, as is a ticket for the opera, a family trip on an open-top London bus, or even higher education for a growing child (add your own would-be-nice list). For the worker it’s a constant prioritising of seemingly never-ending constraints in the form of utility bills, car payments and servicing, rent or mortgage – all eating away at the possibility of a financially stress-free enjoyable family day out, let alone a financially stress-free month until the next pay day rolls around.
None of the simple pleasures mentioned above are beyond the capitalists’ reach however. They, the tiny minority, can have it all. But, actually, who is dispensable, who indispensable? In a monetary society the worker needs the capitalist and likewise the capitalist needs (some) workers. Notice just how unbalanced this equation is: there are always more looking for work than can find it, whilst those seeking workers have an almost inexhaustible supply. However, in a world of voluntary work and free access (a post-money society) the worker will have no need for the capitalist who will then need to join the rest of us and become a contributor too to fit into the new, inclusive and cooperative society.
Whether from an individual or community standpoint economic problems greatly impinge on social life. Individuals are severely limited within the system as to the impact they can have on their overall situation. Similarly, communities are limited by their local budgets as to the overall impact they can have on the general quality and quantity of facilities available for their residents. Any so-called political ‘solutions’ that are offered or imposed to ease social problems are almost invariably economically based (because what can be done without money?) and limited in scope (because of economic limitations) thus not offering genuine, complete, satisfactory solutions at all.
It’s a vicious circle of individual or community issues requiring solutions which invariably need economic input. The entanglement of social/political issues with economic concerns keeps us bogged down in an illusory, ostensible, false position, one we are led to believe has no alternative– an apparent but deceptive case. Inequality of access, whether to goods or services, is largely an economic factor alienating sectors of society one from another.
The main factor – exploitation – being the element that needs to be eliminated if we are to win the class war, let’s ask ‘who needs money most?’ The working class can win this fight when they recognise the antagonism between the capitalists’ need and their own needs. Money is not what we need – it’s the things it buys us we need. Capitalists do need it – it’s the basis of their accumulation. We win the class war when we plan together for a society of voluntary work and common ownership that will overcome the constraints of capitalism and rid ourselves of the divisive class system. It’s not a moral issue but a simple material fact: the principles of capitalism and socialism being opposite and antagonistic.