[OPE-L:236] RE: the book on wage labor

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Tue, 10 Oct 1995 17:46:57 -0700

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In message Tue, 10 Oct 1995 05:16:03 -0700,
Paul Zarembka <ECOPAULZ@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu> writes:

> On Mon, 9 Oct 1995, Michael A. Lebowitz wrote:
(Paul said)
>> > If the value of labor power is determined by class struggle, what
>> > *theoretical issues* are raised--issues beyond descriptions and
>>> analysis > of the historical record? Please list some of them, even
>> > if you feel you > have covered them in one book and two articles.
>>> Thanks. >

(Mike responded)
>> I've thought that I have been raising theoretical issues. Let me
>> add one which is implicit in the book and which I've never gotten
>> around to writing up and sending off. That is the suggestion that
>> there is a missing variable ic CAPITAL--- the degree of separation
>> among workers (conversely, the degree of unity), and that both the
>> workday (positively) and the real wage (inversely) are related to
>> this. If one has this theoretical insight, it offers a way of
>> interrogating explicitly that historical record. Of course,

(Paul wrote)
> If the above is theoretical question number one, let me list the others
> you have mentioned, Mike, and will see if I understand (quotes are from
> your 01 Oct message):
> 2) "the struggle for higher wages", including "the question of social
> needs" and "the standard of necessity"
> 3) "understand why capital is mystified, why the inexorable laws of
> capital haven't led to its collapse"
> 4) "workers struggles need to be theorized"
> Have I missed any, Mike?

I haven't been counting, Paul, but the above all sound pretty good to me;
and added to those should be points noted below.

>> > So, I reject a statement such as the above: "the effect
>> > of a lower value of necessaries is an increase in the real wage of
>> > workers--- ie., productivity s move together!..." It MAY
>> facilitate some > concessions, particularly if you a world power and
>> want to buy off the > cannon fodder at home in order to extend the
>> exploitation process abroad. >

>> Workers are not paid in use-values. They are paid in money-wages.
>> The reduction in the values of necessaries increases the real value of
>> those wages, no? If not, I hope you'll explain why (either now or,
>> perhaps more appropriately, when we start going through CAPITAL).

> No, it does not lead to higher wages, it leads to greater ability on the
> part of capitalists to lower the exchange value of labor power. I believe
> you are thinking in the neoclassical sense of prices of food, clothing
> and shelter falling, with nominal wage rates fixed, leads to higher real
> wages.

Now you've gone too far, Paul. I never, EVER think in the neoclassical
sense! We're going to have to set some ground rules about unacceptable
flaming. 8-)
Yes, when the values of necessaries fall, capital will of course drive to
capture all the fruits of productivity gain. But, then, of course it is
always attempting to do so unless we are assuming that workers are fixated
at physiological subsistence (but in itself that does not stop capital). If
we make that CAPITAL assumption that the standard of necessity is given,
then presumably workers will save when the value of necessaries fall and
will presumably offer little resistance to capital's drive. Thus, the
picture in CAPITAL. However, if the real wage is permitted to vary and if we
acknowledge that at any given point within capitalist society workers are
immiserated, that the social needs generated within the society exceed the
needs normally satisfied (and that this gap indeed underlies wage demands),
then workers will struggle not to have their money wages fall equivalently
to the values of commodities. If you accept that, then presumably you will
also accept that the ultimate result will depend upon the respective power
of the parties--- ie., upon class struggle. It is interesting, Paul,
that you are only talking about capital's side above, which is of course
the very problem I'm trying to address. The argument I make in the book
(p.95) is that by assuming real wages constant when productivity increases,
"CAPITAL assumes that the degree of competition among workers is (and
remains) such as to prevent any 'quantitative participation in the general
growth of wealth'" --- an assumption that cannot distinguish between a
situation in which workers are successfully organised in trade unions and
one in which they are separated and unorganised.
What we have here is an example of how CAPITAL in itself does not provide
us with an adequate answer.

>> > I cannot prove it right now, but I propose that productivity in the
>> > period of the past twenty years (the lifetimes of many of our
>> students) > has been rising AND real wages are going DOWN (so that the
>> rate of surplus > value is really moving upward).
>> >

>> I don't have any doubt that this is true (and not just on a US
>> level). My argument is that this is not occurring because productivity
>> is rising as such but, rather, because the increased technical
>> composition of capital affects both productivity and the reserve army.
> I don't understand this one.

What I meant was that the increase in the technical composition of
capital, by displacing workers, is the necessary (but not sufficient--see
above) condition for relative surplus value; ie., that productivity
increases in themselves, ceteris paribus (oops, is this neoclassical?) lead
to rising real wages, indeed to no change in the division of the workday.

> Thanks, Mike, for staying in this dialogue.

No problem. You may be advancing objections that others share, so in that
respect it may be a dialogue only in form. For those who had rather we went
on, however, I would stress that we are here clearly talking about problems
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 255-0382
Lasqueti Island (current location): (604) 333-8810
eamail: mlebowit@sfu.ca