The Cooking the Books column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
The pre-WWI US labour union boss Samuel Gompers was once asked what unions wanted. He replied with a single word – ‘more.’ It was a good answer since that’s basically what unions are about: more money, from employers, to enable their members to live a little better under capitalism. They don’t always get this and in slump conditions have to be satisfied with aiming to get ‘not so much less’.
It’s actually a better slogan than a ‘fair’ or a ‘decent’ wage since there’s nothing fair or decent about being forced by economic necessity, as most people are under capitalism, to sell their mental and physical energies to some employer for a wage or a salary. That’s wage slavery and it can never be fair however much more workers get paid.
On 18 October the TUC is organising a national demonstration in London under the slogan ‘Britain needs a pay rise’. It’s a silly slogan, designed presumably to show that unions don’t just have their members’ interest at heart but also that of the country. But ‘Britain’ is not a united community with a common interest. It’s a class-divided society in which the ‘national interest’ is the interest of the dominant capitalist class. They, not workers, are Britain.
So, what the TUC has ended up doing is trying to convince the capitalist class that it is in their interest to increase wages. This is not self-evident, otherwise they would already have done so without the TUC needing to ask them.
The TUC’s argument is that ‘getting money back into people’s pockets is essential to securing a strong recovery.’ This is to assume that the capitalist economy is driven by what workers buy. It isn’t. It’s driven by what capitalist firms invest with a view to profit. What workers can buy is a by-product of this since the more capitalist firms invest, the more workers are employed and so the more in total that workers can buy. As Marx put it, ‘if productive capital grows, the demand for labour grows. It therefore increases the price of labour-power, wages’ (Wage Labour and Capital, ch. VI).
In any event, what the TUC is concentrating on demanding is an end to too low pay. They want the minimum wage enforced more strictly and ‘higher wages from employers who can afford to pay’, explaining:
‘We know that in many low paid sectors employers could afford to pay more without making job losses. That’s why we need new ways for unions and employers to work together to set higher wages, so that workers and businesses both get a fair deal.’
It would be nice to think that this was just a ploy to get the employers concerned to pay more. Unfortunately the TUC probably believe it and do want a ‘fair deal’ for businesses as well as workers. A fair year’s profits for a fair day’s wage! In that respect they would agree with another of Gompers’ sayings, that ‘the worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.’
Workers do need more but not just more money to live under capitalism. A lot more. The whole means of production in fact so that these can be used to turn out what people need instead of to make a profit for those who monopolise them. That will mean the end of the system of working for wages and its replacement by the application of the principle ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.’