[OPE-L:2397] Re: Re: Re: the employment contract and capitalism

From: Ernesto Screpanti (screpanti@unisi.it)
Date: Wed Feb 23 2000 - 11:21:17 EST

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Riccardo wrote in [2391]
>I don't understand both the notion of workers' freedom and the notion of
>employers's power.

Freedom is the possibility to choose the goals and the means of his own
actions. Wih the employment contract the workers give up this freedom as
far as labour activity is concerned. By taking an obbligation to obedience
they create the employer's power, i.e. the ability to determine the goals
and means of the workers' action, in the labour process.

>>>> It produces the conditions for exploitation
>>>> in the production processes independently of the way property rights are
>>>> distributed.
>>>But, are they "independent"? Why *do* workers work for capital? Isn't
>>>the answer to that question related to both the ownership of means of
>>>production by the capitalist class and the *non-ownership* of means of
>>>production by the working class? Thus, property rights (and the absence of
>>>property rights) *directly* relates to why workers enter into a
>>>"employment contract" to begin with.
>>I am not so sure. 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. 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.
>I guess that not all the situations where the workers have no control of
>the labour process are capitalist. Am I wrong?

No, you are right.

>>>> The employer can be a private capitalist or a public company
>>>> or a state company or whatever else. There will be capitalist
>>>> anyway, provided the power relation is used to make workers produce a
>>>> surplus value usable for sustaining capital accumulation. This implies,
>>>> among the other things, that also a system based on state ownership of
>>>> means of production can be a capitalist system (like the Soviet Union!).
>>>This also implies that state employees rather than being paid out of
>>>*revenues* and performing unproductive labour, are productive labourers
>>>who create surplus value. Yet, this seems to me to obliterate the
>>>productive vs. unproductive labour distinction and the production vs.
>>>distribution of surplus value distinction.
>>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. If so, also a policeman in a state capitalist system is
>>productive .
>I guess that surplus value is in some way linked to the market, not simply
>surplus labour. Or are you referring to some kind of indirect productivity
>of policemans?

I will return on this problem in another message.

>>>I will pass on a discussion of the former USSR at this point (although,
>>>others can discuss it if they wish). Let me only note here that the
>>>question of whether the USSR was capitalist is a *much more* concrete
>>>question than the question we are discussing now. Also, let me note, that
>>>a position one way or the other on whether the USSR was capitalist or
>>>socialist or a transitional economy can not *determine* our perspective on
>>>the much more abstract question.
>>I agree.
>>>> The basic reason why the ownership of the means of production does not in
>>>> itself suffice to produce the conditions for capitalist exploitation is
>>>> that the right to residual control it grants is not a right to control
>>>> workers but just to control the machines. These do not produce
anything if
>>>> they are not handled by workers. But then you need an institution to
>>>> the workers to do what the capitalist likes. This institution is the
>>>> employment contract.
>>>The "institution" that compels the wage-earner to perform a certain
>>>standard of work in the labour process is ultimately the understanding
>>>that since the capitalist has the right to hire and fire (a consequence,
>>>in part, of the ownership of the means of production),
>>No, it is a consequence of the employment contract and labour law.
>I guess it is the real subordination of labour to capital (inside the
>capitalist labour process). Neither the 'law' nor the 'ownership'.

The obbligation to obedience is established by the contract, is legitimised
by the law of labour, is enforced by a repression system (police forces
etc.). controlled by the state. When there is the obbligation, the
legitimation and the enforcement system, then there are the conditions for
a real subordination. When the employers exert their commands there is a
real subordination.

Please do not answer for the moment. Wait for another message.


> Riccardo Bellofiore
>Office: Department of Economics
> Piazza Rosate, 2
> I-24129 Bergamo, Italy
>Home: Via Massena, 51
> I-10128 Torino, Italy
>e-mail bellofio@cisi.unito.it, bellofio@unibg.it
>tel: +39 035 277545 (direct)
> +39 035 277501 (dept. secr.)
> +39 011 5819619 (home)
>fax: +39 035 249975
Ernesto Screpanti
Dipartimento di Economia Politica
Piazza S. Francesco 1
53100 Siena
tel: 0577 232784
fax: 0577 232661

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