[OPE-L:6929] Wage-Labour and Free Labour

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sun Apr 07 2002 - 09:00:18 EDT

Re Rakesh's [6928]:

> workers can in fact be separated from the means of production without
> being either free to negotiate with other employers (workers on
> visas, workers in compounds behind barbed wire, workers tied down by
> immovable pensions) and/or free to spend a spend their wage as they
> wish (slaves, workers in compounds surrounded by barbed wire).

Under capitalism,  all but the the labor of slaves above typically takes the
form of wage-labour.

Let's briefly  take a look at  these one at a time in the order that you
listed them:

a) *workers on visas* -- this might impose certain legal restrictions on
workers (e.g. the length of employment, what jobs one can apply for, etc.)
but these workers can become wage-labourers.  Wage-labour does not have
as a necessary characteristic these legal freedoms.

b) *workers in compounds behind barbed wire* -- this as well can and does
take place but it doesn't mean that those workers don't work for capital in
exchange for a wage.  Restriction on movement is indeed not uncommon
for workers internationally (due to borders and immigration laws) and
internally (e.g. the restrictions on  freedom of movement by Palestinians in
the West Bank or historically the restrictions on movement of Jewish workers
Ghettos in Europe or the plight of wage-earners in some "Free Trade Zones"
in Southern Asia today) but this does not mean that they are not

c) *workers tied down by immovable pensions* -- these workers _do_
have the 'freedom' to lose their job and thereby have the 'freedom' to lose
their pensions.  This is not inconsistent with other 'freedoms' for wage-
workers, e.g. if one is not able to sell ones'  labour-power, then one has
the 'freedom' to starve, be homeless, not be able to obtain medical care,
die.  Thus, 'freedom' for wage-labour is *very* much a two-edged sword.
Yet,  the fact that they receive pensions which can not be shifted from job
to job does not mean that they thereby cease to be wage-workers.

d)  *workers in compounds surrounded by barbed wire*  -- it is true that
these workers may not be able to spend their wages wherever they want
on whatever they want, but that is not a necessary condition for the
existence of wage-labour.  Nonetheless, these restrictions have happened --
e.g.  company towns with company stores.  The barbed wire  has been
used in some cases (e.g. at military installations and 'company towns') to
keep others _out_ -- such as union organizers.

Note that in all of the cases above (barring legal statutes that prevent it)
capitalists are able to 'free' workers as and when they wish, e.g. due to
injury on the job,  resistance to management demands, old age, etc.
In this sense, 'free labor' implies certain freedoms for capitalists (which
might be restricted by the state).

I think you are confusing 'free labor' with 'democratic rights for workers'.
Yet, there is no supposition that workers must be 'free' in the latter sense
for them to become wage-workers.

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Thu May 02 2002 - 00:00:08 EDT