[OPE-L:2388] Re: the employment contract and capitalism

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Tue Feb 22 2000 - 05:43:00 EST

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 09:37:07 +0100
From: Ernesto Screpanti <screpanti@unisi.it>

Jerry wrote in [2386]

>Ernesto wrote in [2383]:
>> Workers can be formally the owners of the (or some)
>> means of production, for instance through pension funds or the public
>> ownership of the "workers' state", yet they can be exploited if they
>> have no control of the labour process.
>I think this confuses the lack of control by the producers of the labor
>process in general (which occurs in all class societies) with the
>specific social form that it takes under capitalism. Under capitalism,
>the relationship between capital and labor in the labor process is
>conditioned by the value-form imperative. I.e. the imperative to produce
>and sell commodities and thereby actualize the surplus value that existed
>only as an abstract possibility at the time of the employment contract.
I agree with this. I do not see the confusion. The employment contract is
typical of capitalism, not of slavery or serfdom.

>> The institutional conditions of exploitation can be
>> independent from the distribution of property rights. The owners can
>> be shareholders without control. The exploiters can be managers or
>> bureaucrats without ownership.
>Ownership vs. exploitation?


>Are you suggesting then that the owners of a capitalist firm are not
>necessarily the exploiters?


>Yet, if one receives the benefits of
>exploitation and owns (a non-nominal share of) the capitalist firm, isn't
>one the exploiter just as surely as a slaveowner was the exploiter
>of her/his slaves?

No. One who receive the benefits of exploitation is one who receives the
benefits of exploitations (e.g. rentiers, orphans and widows etc.). An
exploiter is one who controls the labopr procesa and therefore is capable
to make the workers produce more than they earn. The institutions through
which exploitation can be implemented are many. In capitalism the most
important and the typical one is the employment contract.

>> I am not so convinced of that distintion. If productive labour is that
>> which produces surplus value, a foreman who controls, punishes and
>> coordinates workers thus obtaining from a team a value which is higher
>> than what would produced in the absence of the foreman himslef, then
>> the latter is productive.
>No, "foremen" and supervisors -- while employed in the labour process --
>do not produce surplus value. Rather, their function is to *represent the
>interests of capital in the labour process* by extracting work from
>workers. They are an intermediate layer (part of the so-called "middle
>class") between capital and labour in the employment of capitalists. Their
>function is very similar to the *overseer* under slavery. Unlike the
>overseer, corporate managers don't use a whip since that form of control
>is not needed under capitalism with "free labour". Rather, the threat of
>being fired, and thereby the threat of joining the industrial reserve
>army, takes the place of the whip and other more violent forms of

Consider a team of workers in which team production prevails. You need a
"supervisor" who controls and coordinates the team. The surplus value
produced by the team with the supervisor is higher than that produced by
the team without the supervisor. Therefore the supervisor contributes to
the production of surplus value. Or do you beleive that coordinating
activity is not work? How can a factory of 1000 workers function without
coordination activity? If the supervisor receives a wage which is lower
than the surplus value he contributed to produce he is an exploited worker.
>This, moreover, is a distinction that (more class-conscious) workers know
>well. They know that their "supervisor" is not one of "us" but one of
>"them" -- i.e. they represent the interests of a class that is alien to
>workers in the labour process.

Yes and they know that also themseves are "one of them". The workers
produce surplus value for capital not for themeselves. This is an aspect of

>> If so, also a policeman in a state capitalist system is productive .
>The police are paid out of *revenues* received by the state primarily in
>the form of taxation. As such, the funds allocated for the payment of the
>police and other state employees represent a *re-distribution* of
>surplus-value. And the *distribution* of already existing surplus-value
>should not be confused with the *production* of new surplus-value.

And waht about a wage which is higher than the value of labour power? Is it
a redistribution of surplus value? Or just a cut in surpluls value? And
waht about an "efficiency wage" which is higher than the value of the
labour power and induces workers to work harder and produce more surplus
value? Are efficiency wages paid out of "revemue"?
>A more difficult question is whether the police are part of the

I do not see great difficulty. Capitalism, among other things, transforms
workers in the ennemies of themselves, both individually and socially. Is a
wage worker who punishes his wife (to make her work harder at home) part of
the working class.

I am enjoying very much this discussion. I would like other people to

In solidarity,

Ernesto Screpanti
Dipartimento di Economia Politica
Piazza S. Francesco 1
53100 Siena
tel: 0577 232784
fax: 0577 232661

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