From the November 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Where are you going, daddy?" asks my daughter.
“Daddy’s off to be exploited. sweetheart". I reply.
I make my au revoirs and set off on the daily return to wage slavery. Return to wage slavery? When were the working class ever away from it?
The day begins badly. As do most days in a society where work is an economic necessity and not a function carried out for the benefit of society as a whole. When things are bad they can only get worse. Trade union officials tend to smirk when they say that their members are revolting. If our class consciousness was sufficiently developed, we certainly would be. Let’s be honest about it The working class worldwide puts up with a lot from capitalism But begin to present said members with the facts of their economic exploitation by a minority ruling class and you rapidly come to a deep and meaningful understanding of the term banging your head against a brick wall.
For the moment, even the mildest of my fellow band of wage-slaves has transformed into a militant. I can’t take any credit for this outbreak of class solidarity and outrage at their capitalist masters. If a fraction of the fervour generated on this occasion were channelled into understanding and fighting politically for the socialist alternative, we would all be casting off the fetters of capitalism today.
My colleagues' revolt is a short-lived-one. In the face of the overwhelming economic power of the bosses, it is decided that there is no choice but to accept the imposition of cashless pay.
“In the sixteenth century Nostradamus looked into a bowl of water to forecast events with some stunning successes. In 1990 economists using all the latest techniques in economic modelling did not forecast the recession at all”. (Share tip sheet).
Perhaps someone, somewhere, is already engaged in producing an academic dissertation upon the use and effect of the euphemism in late capitalist society. In the status-conscious times in which we live, where millions prefer to call themselves middle class (a sociological definition) rather than admit to the reality of belonging to the majority, propertyless working class, it is thought preferable to be “unwaged” rather than unemployed. Whether made redundant, let go, or sacked, the effect upon human lives in a society based upon production for profit, not need, is a devastating one. As I and my fellow wage-slaves were about to discover.
Considerable time, effort and money is expended by the capitalist class in persuading the rest of us that the present system of society is now, was then, and always will be. The effectiveness of this strategy is self-evident. Despite creating society’s wealth, and running society from top to bottom, the working class continue to allow economic and political power to remain in the hands of a minority class. Not even capitalism’s slumps and recessions, which occur with an unavoidable regularity, appear to dent the continuing support for a social system responsible for most of the worlds ills. Without an understanding of the economic exploitative nature of capitalism and, as importantly, an understanding of the socialist alternative, workers continue to view life from a distorted perspective.
Faced with the prospect of losing our jobs altogether, the issue of not being paid the price of our labour power in cash, assumes insignificant proportions. The prospect now is of finding ourselves having no money at all with which to pay the mortgage, pay for food, heat, light and shelter. The previous assent to the notion that businesses close because of “greedy" and “lazy” workers no longer applies. The prospect of being on the dole horrifies my colleagues. They themselves still hold to the myth that thousands enjoy a life of luxury and ease on unemployment benefit. This is, of course, perfectly true. But those enjoying the fruits of others' labour belong to the minority capitalist class whose unemployment benefit is known as profit.
In a capitalist society self-esteem, and the respect of others is determined by the amount of money you have. When, as a member of the working class, your only sellable asset, your labour power, is no longer required, your self-respect is one of the least things you stand to lose. “You lift sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Brother don’t you call me I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store” (Folk song). You work sixteen years and what do you get? Redundancy.
The capitalist class knows where its interest lies. When “boom” times reappear they will still be the only individuals to really benefit from it. How long will it be; how many slumps will the working class have to endure before it decides to make capitalism redundant?
“The nationality of the toilers is neither French nor English nor German; it is toil, free slavery, sale of self. His government is neither French nor English nor German; it is Capital. His native air is neither French nor English nor German; it is the air of the factory. The land which belongs to him is neither French nor English nor German; it is a few feet under the ground” (Karl Marx).