[OPE-L:3332] Re: labour-power shortages and Martians

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 01:59:30 -0700 (PDT)

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>What about the *demand* for labour-power?
>We have certainly seen both as a long-term process and as a relatively
>recent process, the migration of agricultural producers to cities.
>This by itself, however, need not lead to increased employment of variable
>For instance, in many developing capitalist nations (especially in Latin
>America) in the last 20 years, we have seen a flood of agricultural
>producers moving to cities in search of jobs and as a consequence of the
>crisis in the countryside. Yet, what happens when they get to the cities?
>Very frequently they obtain employment outside of capitalist relations as
>petty-commodity producers (part of the so-called "informal sector").

I think that you could have said much the same about London in the
1840s and even latter, if Mayhews Life and Labour of the London Poor,
is anything to go by. During this phase of capitalist development
real wages tend to decline because the rate of accumulation of capital may
fall short of the growth of the employable population. But as Marx wrote,
de te fabula natur, the lesson of history is that this stage is temporary.
Best estimates of population growth show world population leveling off
at around 10 billion in about 50 years time ( New Scientist, last week
reporting latest UN estimates ).

As Marxists we must remember to take the long view of history.

>> The net consequence is that accumulation of capital must now take two
>> forms:
>> a. Accumulation of variable capital takes the form of rises in the
>> wage rate, with consequent declines in the rate of profit.
>See above.

You cited conditions prior to the stabilisation of the proletarian population.
Once this happens - around the end of the last century in Britain - the social
position of the labouring classes improves. Their ability to bargain with
their employers is increased, here it took the form of the formation of general
as opposed to craft unions. The formation of general unions, indicated that
the supply even of simple labour was comming into balance with demand so that
organised bargaining was possible. I suspect that we see the first signs of
the onset of this process in Brazil for example with the growth of the union
organisations that provide the basis of the Brazilian Workers Party.

We must not be so blinded by the temporary effects produced by the recent rapid
spread of capitalism as to forget what its future trajectory will be.

>> or
>> b. Accumulation takes the form of growth of constant capital, which, being
>> unaccompanied by a growth in surplus value must also depress the
>> rate of profit.

WPC: Of course the result may be just economic stagnation and a halt to
accumulation. But such stagnation in a world of already developed rich
countries would have quite different political consequences to today. Take away
the threat of cheap foreign labour, and the political arguments for accepting
unemployment are much reduced.
Paul Cockshott