The Struggle for Higher Wages

October 9, 2014

Between 1973 and 2004, average real wages, figured on the basis of the minimal cost-of-living calculator of the U.S. Labor Department, fell 20%. When we include the added cost of health care premiums which employers shifted onto the workers over these years, real wages fell by 28%. After further including tax increases (including state and local sales taxes), the decline was even greater. The trend continues.

Wages are so low because the workers receive only a small portion of the value they produce (and, for the last 40 years, a constantly decreasing portion).

In 2000, manufacturing workers created $1,900 billion in new values but received in wages only $363.3 billion (see Commerce Department's “Annual Survey of Manufacturing”). Thus workers created the value of their wages in about 1 and 1/2 hours out of an 8-hour working day. Workers received less than 1/5th of the wealth they produced while the capitalists grabbed the other 4/5ths as surplus value (profit). The average rate of exploitation in manufacturing was 427% (surplus value divided by wages).

Very early on in the history of capitalism, the workers learnt that the first, decisive step in their struggle against exploitation is to come out together; to rely on their collective strength.

In strike struggles, the workers, collectively withhold their labor-power, forcing the capitalist to confront the question of either acceding to the workers’ demands for better wages and working conditions or to have production and profit-making halted altogether.