Sunday, February 23, 2014

Class against class (2011)

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.
Janet Surman

World View: China – fighting back (2002)

From the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

The leaders in China no longer even pretend to make Marxist noises – they are too busy trying to oversee the country's fuller integration into the world capitalist system. Despite the rate of growth in the Chinese economy, this is no easy task, and moreover China's workers need to be kept in their place as well, since capitalism inevitably produces resistance on the part of the exploited.

It is easy to underestimate the extent of China's involvement already in global manufacturing: the country now produces half the world's toys and two-thirds of its shoes, for instance. In December 2001 China became a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), part of the system set up by the major capitalist countries to try and ensure that the world economy operates without slumps and on the basis of “free” trade. Chinese imports and exports should increase, but under WTO rules, government subsidies to many industries will have to be phased out and various tariff barriers reduced. The Chinese government accepts that the 10th Five Year Plan (2001-5) will involve much economic disruption, including at least three million workers – and possibly far more – being laid off from state-owned companies. The benefits of all this will accrue to the 0.6 percent of the population who own private businesses and the 2.6 percent who are top government officials, not to the ordinary workers.

A number of recent reports have emphasized the resentment felt by many Chinese workers at the way they are treated and the way their bosses line their own pockets. In the north-eastern city of Daqing, once presented as a model for industrial development, workers at a petroleum company have been staging a sit-in to protest against a buy-out package. Oil production has been reduced, as more oil is imported and the main oil company gets listed on the Hong Kong and New York stock exchanges. Elsewhere in Daqing, a construction company simply told its employees not to come to work, as there was no money to pay them. The were not sacked, so had no chance of receiving state benefits. To make ends meet, some were forced to sell vegetables in street markets. They have staged demonstrations, but have not linked up with the oil workers, as they know little of what is happening elsewhere in the city. The government-controlled press, and the lack of any real workers' organisations, make cooperation among different groups of workers very difficult.

Elsewhere, disputes at work are reaching staggering levels, as can be seen from a few examples. In the large city of Shanghai, the number of disputes has increased by 40 percent a year. In February 2000, over 20,000 miners in Liaoning province attacked government buildings and fought with police for three days, as a response to the mine where they worked going bankrupt and their being offered an unacceptable redundancy package. In January 2001, hundreds of workers from a chemical company in Jilin province that was being shut down blockaded a major road for three days in freezing temperatures. But again, these actions tend to be taken in isolation from each other.

In the “Special Economic Zones”, especially in the south of China, overseas companies have been lured in by the promise of tax breaks and cheap labour. The result has been the creation of sweatshops for the likes of Nike, where working conditions are as bad as anywhere in the Philippines or Indonesia. Such places are death traps, with minimal fire precautions and emergency exits often being locked shut. This is the kind of freedom that the advocates of free trade are really talking about. But operating in China can present unexpected problems for overseas companies: for instance, the Italian sportswear manufacturer, Diadora, set up a factory in central China, only to find it often producing more than they had ordered and selling the surplus to local shops at lower prices.

In addition to cheap labour power, the earth's capitalists are attracted by the prospect of China as a market – who can ignore the chance to get at a billion potential new customers? Big US-style shopping malls now exist in most cities, and international brands are well-known. At an elite level, China is the world's largest importer of French brandy. The market for personal computers is growing rapidly, and one prediction is that by the end of 2002 China will be the second largest market (after the US). Apple, who currently have just 0.2 percent of this market, are frantically trying to improve their market share.

Socialists have long pointed out that the Maoist victory of 1949 was not socialist, that ordinary folk were not in charge of the so-called People's China. Surely nowadays nobody can deny that China is just another capitalist country.
Paul Bennett