[OPE-L:2872] Re: Value of labour power and real wage

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 26 Aug 1996 19:09:00 -0700 (PDT)

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Hans wrote in [OPE-L:2862]:

> Excuse my exuberance, I am so happy to be on this list.

I'm happy that you're happy.

> If the capitalists introduce
> new machinery, so that the workers see that they are producing more,
> and at the same time real wages are not rising, then this will be
> taken as such an affront by the workers that they will simply not go
> for it. Just as they would not go for slavery. No unions are
> necessary, no organization is necessary, they will oppose this *as
> one man*.

I don't think it's as simple as this, unfortunately. Atomized individual
workers (especially assuming that the relative surplus population > 0), do
not automatically demand higher wages following increases in productivity.
While workers are "free" to attempt to sell their labor power to other
capitalists, they also (regardless of whether they view it as "fair")
*fear* unemployment (and fear is frequently just as important, and in some
cases greater, in determining workers' responses as are ideas concerning

Also, while workers generally understand that slavery is unfair (a belief
also supported by bourgeois ideology), they do not necessarily view
constant wages as productivity increases as being unfair. That realization
is not something that comes to workers automatically, but is the result of
class struggle. Indeed, one should remember that many workers have
illusions about becoming capitalists themselves and accept the rights of
private property and profit as self-evident. To the extent that workers
"*as one man*" (I would prefer, person) won't go for it, this would be
most likely the result of collective action and trade union organization.

> All the time the capitalists told them: we cannot pay you
> more because there is not more to go around. Now they see that there
> is more to go around, and they will demand at least a part of it.

In the post-WW2 period, this scenario has frequently been seen (especially
in advanced capitalist nations with strong labor unions). In the US, it is
part and parcel of what some have called the "labor accord" whereby as a
result of "labor-management cooperation" (=class collaboration), the trade
union "leaderships" frequently agreed to give up certain rights related to
grieving the nature of the labor process and the effects of technological
change (including potential job loss) in exchange for automatic increases
in wages that would accompany productivity increases. Probably the
clearest example of this was the "Annual Improvement Factor"
negotiated by the United Auto Workers under Walter Reuther which
guaranteed 3%/yr. wage increases for productivity gains in exchange
for the inclusion of a "management prerogatives" clause in contracts.

The "concessions movement" of the 1980s demonstrated, among many other
things, that it could not be expected that workers will automatically
fight back when they view management actions as "unfair" (of course, the
trade union "leadership" had a lot to do with this as well).

In OPE-L Solidarity,