Friday, September 2, 2016

Are They Job-Creators? (2016)

From the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The employing class create jobs, people sometimes say, so we cannot do without them. Opening a new office or factory or supermarket leads to jobs being created, it might seem.

Is this really an argument for capitalism, and for the existence of a class of capitalists who own companies and the land, factories, and so on? Emphatically not, but to see this we need to step back a bit and look at how society and production are organised.

In order to work, people need to have access to raw materials, a workplace, equipment, machines and other tools. This applies not just to digging your garden or doing a spot of DIY, but also when someone is working in a factory, building site, office, call centre, hospital, school, restaurant, shop, etc. In the case of someone working for an employer, the real question to ask is: what stops them from having access to the means of production, to use the formal term for the various kinds of machines and so on, in the first place? Why can people not get together and co-operate to make phones or serve coffee or build homes?

This is where the whole way that society and production are set up enters the picture. People cannot just work together without the materials they need, precisely because the employing class own and monopolise, and so control access to, the means of production. They say in effect, ‘You can’t work here and produce that without our say-so.’ This is not a matter of what individual capitalists state but of what the collective power of the capitalist class implies. They can sack workers or reduce their working hours or alter their working conditions or simply refuse to employ people who are willing to work, all because they cannot make a profit (or enough of a profit) from employing them. They are in a position, then, to stop people working, so at the very least ‘creating jobs’ means they don’t prevent people from working and producing useful goods and services.

What about the claim that the capitalists produce the ideas and inventions that people make use of? This is hardly ever the case, as most technological developments are the results of the combined efforts of many workers (scientists, engineers, technicians, and so on), not of the capitalists. And nobody could seriously argue that it is the owners who produce the machines that workers use: it is the working class who produce the lathes and tractors and computers and software that are used in the production process.

So the capitalists do not create jobs, and workers do not need a class of employers. Rather, they need us in order to produce their profits. A classless society will have no place for a separate set of employers to make production possible: people will just get together, organise things by and for themselves, and perform useful and satisfying work.
Paul Bennett

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