(OPE-L) are wage struggles primarily "defensive" struggles?

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Thu Jun 12 2003 - 08:45:06 EDT

Re: (OPE-L) Re: the _struggle_ over the length of theRe Rakesh's message dated Wednesday (Was: the _struggle_ 
over the length of the working day):

> Jerry, are you saying that Marx did conceive of wage struggles as, 
> if not defensive, then as  responses to the previous action and 
> enroachment of capital?

On Marx:

a)  the relation that Marx asserted was *justified empirically*: i.e. in 
99 out of 100 cases.   The significance of this becomes clearer below
when I go on to describe how most wage struggles have changed in 
form since Marx's day.

b)  If one views class struggle as a *strategic* process, then it is of 
course true  -- *tautologically*  --  that every strategic move is a 
response to previous actions as well as a move which has the 
offensive goal in sight.  From this perspective, the belief that wage 
struggles are defensive responses is simply a recognition that those 
struggles have to be comprehended historically in context.  I.e. these 
struggles do not "fall from the sky" but instead are the outcome of a 
historical process in which both the "encroachments of capital" and 
the perceived needs of workers have to be comprehended.


On the issue itself  (namely, whether wage struggles are 
primarily  "defensive" struggles against the "encroachments 
of capital"):

There *are* some wage struggles which seek to maintain the real
wage of workers against the "encroachments of capital."  Some
instances that come to mind include:

-- struggles by workers in inflationary periods for cost-of-living
agreements that automatically increase wages following an 
increase in inflation.

-- struggles to preserve existing wage (and benefit) levels against
demands by capitalists for "givebacks" (as we saw in the US in 
the 1980's fight against the "concessions movement").

What has to be comprehended, though, to answer the question 
in the subject line is that wage struggles are overwhelmingly *union 
struggles*.  Placed within the context of collective bargaining,
on what does the success of a wage struggle depend?

Put simply, the success of wage struggles depends on the
solidarity and militancy of workers.  Because capital can attempt
to divide workers by threatening e.g. to bring in scabs, to replace
workers with robots, to relocate the production process to another
region or nation, etc.  this means, though, that the success of 
many wage struggles depends not *only* on the solidarity and 
militancy of workers employed by an individual capitalist firm but
on the solidarity and militancy of workers employed in different
crafts and industries, by different employers, and in different 
regions and nations.  The lack of a strong, solid, and militant
international solidarity movement (not surprising given the 
support for "labor-management cooperation"  by most trade 
union "leaders" internationally) constitutes a barrier to the 
expansion of wage gains.   

Placed within the context of *union* members fighting wage
struggles,  one must comprehend *why* workers want increased
wages.  Yes, of course, workers *need* wage gains in order to
protect their standard of living, but they also *want* actual wage 
gains where there are increases in real wages.  

Why?  The want a higher standard of living.  They want, even
though there are limits to how far this goal can be achieved
under capitalism,  the "good life."   They, influenced by corporate 
advertising,  want more -- and better (and often this means more
expensive)  -- commodities.  They might want a better place to 
live.   Those workers with families often fight tenaciously in wage 
struggles "por los ninos."  I.e. they fight today in the hope that 
their children will have better lives.   

None of this can be comprehended if we focus *only* on the 
wants and needs of capital.  Once we recognize that workers 
also have wants and needs, we can comprehend why workers'
struggles for increased wages (and other goals) are not primarily 
or only "defensive" struggles.

The proposition that "99 out of 100" struggles for higher wages
are struggles against the "encroachments of capital" can not 
be sustained empirically or historically. Indeed, as unionization
has spread to a great extent since Marx's time,  the extent to
which workers struggle *for increased real wages* has greatly
expanded.   (NB: I do not mean to prioritize wage struggles
above.  Struggles by workers for many other objectives have
become increasingly important.  I am _only_ focusing on wage
struggles here because I am responding to your comments and
questions about this particular form of class struggle.)

The last part of your post is interesting and worthy of response,
but I am tiring and the above is enough for now (with the exception 
of the PS).

In solidarity, Jerry

> Of course the autonomist school and its offshoots try to turn the 
> picture upside down by conceiving of the movement of capital as a 
> defensive response to previous action and encroachments of an 
> autonomous working class on the ruling class. In some ways, it 
> seems to be a radicalization of the wage squeeze theories of crisis in 
> the 1970s.
* I'll let John or Alberto reply, if they wish, to the above.
>  I think John H refers to this as a Copernican breakthrough-- <snip, JL>
* What is the exact reference that John made to a "Copernican

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