Wages: Part Two

October 3, 2006

In an earlier article (see The Worker 8/28/06), we showed how wages have been falling for the past 30 years to the point where most workers do not make enough to keep life and limb together.

For example, in 2004, the average wages of private sector workers were $543/week or $28,236/year. Yet a basic family budget for a 4-person Chicago family was $43,704/year or 54% more than the average worker's income.

We also showed how these starvation wages translate into greater and greater profits for the capitalists. Today, on average, a worker creates the value of her/his labor in about 1 and 1/2 hours out of an 8-hour working day. The new values produced in the other 6 and 1/2 hours go to the capitalists as profit.

The fact is that for the last 30 years, the capitalists have been forcing wage cuts and other concessions onto the workers. Along with hourly wages, the capitalists have also been systematically and drastically slashing health insurance coverage, stealing and slashing pension plans, revising work rules to increase the speed and intensity of work, eliminating any semblance of job security, etc.

In addition to these direct means of increasing the exploitation of the workers, the capitalists have also been using the government to slash the "social wage" by cutting back on unemployment insurance and workers comp, all but eliminating income-support for the poverty stricken, slashing housing assistance and Medicaid, etc.

These social insurance funds were created as a result of decades of struggles by the workers and helped raise the general level of wages and the standard of living of the people. The laws creating these funds recognized, at least in part, that everyone has a right to food, health care, housing, etc. and created a minimum floor for wages and workers' standard of living. By slashing and eliminating such social guarantees, the capitalists undercut this floor, increase competition amongst the workers and further force down wages.

The root problem is that under the capitalist system, the workers, as a class, are exploited and oppressed.

Under capitalism, a tiny percentage of the population (the capitalist class) owns the means of production (the tools needed by people to produce food, housing, clothing and all the other material goods).

The vast majority of people are workers who have been reduced to the status of wage slaves because they have no way to secure a living except by selling their labor-power (ability to work) to the capitalists.

Workers produce all the new values and material goods. But, under capitalism, wages (the price paid by the capitalists for workers' labor-power) are only a small portion of the total new value created. The rest of the newly created value is grabbed by the capitalists as profit.

However, the workers need not and do not accept this state of affairs. In fact, there is a continuous and irreconcilable struggle between the capitalists and the workers over the value produced. The capitalists struggle to maximize their profit by keeping wages as low as they can. The workers struggle against capitalist exploitation.

The workers' struggle includes: 1) immediate economic battles for better wages and working conditions against individual employers; 2) political struggles - struggles of the working class as a whole against the capitalist class - for generalized improvements in wages and conditions; and 3) the struggle to eliminate the conditions of exploitation altogether - the struggle to abolish the capitalist system and win emancipation.

Capitalist ideology tries to confine and liquidate workers' economic struggles by insisting that "wages must be competitive." "Competitive wages" mean wages which give the capitalists the ability to "beat out" their competition by grabbing maximum profit. In other words, first, last and always, the labor of the workers must be devoted to making the capitalists rich.

Similarly, the capitalist ideology fights against the workers' political demands - i.e. such generalized demands as universal health, increased Social Security pensions, etc. - by insisting that the "country can't afford it" or "the government has no money." But everyone knows that our country is incredibly productive and that the government has huge resources at its disposal. The real issue is that the capitalists are insisting that they, and they alone, have claims on the country's wealth.

In every case, the capitalist ideology proceeds from the point of view that the workers must accept their exploitation.

The workers' movement must thoroughly repudiate these and all variants of capitalist ideology. It is the labor of the working class which produces all the material wealth of society and the workers' movement proceeds not only from the need to secure their economic existence but to emancipate themselves (and society as a whole) from capitalist wage-slavery.

The results of any particular struggle or the general level of wages at a particular historical moment are dependent, in the final analysis, solely on the balance of forces between the workers and the capitalists.