[OPE-L:1652] Re: wages, productivity and climate

Subject: [OPE-L:1652] Re: wages, productivity and climate
From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Tue Nov 09 1999 - 15:05:46 EST

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 09 Nov 1999 20:42:20 +0100
From: Jurriaan Bendien <djjb99@worldonline.nl>

Hi Jerry

Your write:
> In particular, I
> fear any theory of wages which is based on different physiological
> needs of people. I question whether it is the case scientifically,
> historically, and/or culturally.

Well theories never scared me. Actually, I never suggested any theory of
wages which is based on different physiological needs of people. I merely
suggested that workers' physiological needs can differ according to
geographic area, climatic conditions and ethnic group, which can be
reflected in wages, particularly when they are at a low level anyway. I
think that was what Marx was mainly talking about. It's another reason why
the social valuation of labour power is a less simple process than you
might think in constructing some abstract model. The precise extent to
which specific physiological (or cultural) needs are actually reflected in
wages paid obviously depends on social-cultural factors, struggles,
economic conditions etc. I am arguing these may need to be examined more
concretely to explain wage levels and differentials.

>3) does the productivity of labor differ by virtue of differing climates
> (and geographies)?

I think it can do, absolutely, and you would know this if you went to work
in a very hot climate, let's say equatorial Africa. Just look around and
observe ! Of course, with the benefit of modern technology and modern
production techniques we can often cancel out these effects these days.

> There is no *necessary*
> link between an increase in the productivity of labor and an increase in
> wages.

True, but there is still a difference between us here. I think that the
level of labour productivity achieved normally implies a maximum limit
beyond which wages cannot rise, just as the physiological requirements
imply a minimum limit. The higher the productivity of labour, the more and
more variegated are the needs of the working class, which will tend to be
reflected in the value of labour power, other things being equal, which
they may not be.

> I think this would be a meaningless "experiment". The "way their
> labour-power was formed and the circumstances in which they normally
> work" are results not of nature and climate but of training, experience,
> culture, and historical struggles.

I disagree, from experience of working in different countries, with workers
from different countries and with different ethnic groups. Nature and
climate do have an effect, just like training, experience, culture and
historical struggles, and employers indeed take this into account in hiring
particular workers to do particular jobs. However, the further development
of capitalism tends to cancel out such effects more and more.
> Thus, you could look at how quickly and hard workers work in different
> industrial settings internationally (e.g. auto assembly plants). There
> would be differences, to be sure, with the intensity of labor varying to
> a great extent internationally. Yet, these differences can not be
> attributable to climatic differences or alleged physiological
> differences.

I am not arguing that, although climatic conditions and physiological
differences could have some effect, which employers will take into account.
Actually, climatic conditions can have yet another effect on wages, namely
when workers are paid extra for working under adverse weather conditions
(but that is not what Marx has in mind here I think). Thus, for example,
when I worked as a forestry labourer in New Zealand, I received not only
"tea money" and a "meal allowance", but also a "weather allowance".

You may say "climate" is a silly and obscure subject, but for many, many
wage workers it isn't.

In solidarity


This archive was generated by hypermail 2a24 : Sun Dec 12 1999 - 17:29:14 EST