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Workers are Exploited
"All riches come from iniquity, and unless one has lost, another cannot gain. Hence that common opinion seems to be very true, 'the rich man is unjust, or the heir to an unjust one.' Opulence is always the result of theft, if not committed by the actual possessor, then by his predecessor." -- St. Jerome
We’ve already seen that Karl Marx revealed capitalism’s dirty little secret when he showed that our work day or work week is divisible into two distinct periods:
1. We work long enough to produce enough value to pay for our own labor power. This “necessary labor” is what it has always been for humans – the work it takes to keep on living and procreating.
2. We then continue working, free, for the benefit of our employer, the capitalist
Marx used the term “exploitation” to describe the process. Instead of asking a company for a job, we could ask them, “Will you exploit me, please?”
Marx called the first part variable capital. It is the wealth, probably in currency, that the capitalist spends to purchase our labor power for a given period. Since price tends to average out to the same as cost in the long, macroeconomic, run, then our wage is usually going to average the same as variable capital. So “variable capital,” “necessary labor,” and “wages” average out to the same thing. Marx called variable capital “v.”
The second part, the hours of unpaid work, Marx called surplus value. It is the amount of wealth, usually described in currency, that we produce over and above what was needed for our labor power. Marx called the surplus “s.”
Dividing the surplus by the variable capital, s/v, gives the rate of exploitation. Here’s an example: Suppose you worked for a corporation for five days. In the first day, you produced enough wealth for your own family for those five days. You produced enough wealth to repay the corporation for your wages and benefits.
Then you worked four more days just to pile up wealth for the corporation. That’s the surplus.
Divide four days of surplus wealth by one day of variable capital (s/v or 4/1), then multiply by 100 to get a percent. Did you get 400%? That would be the rate of exploitation in this example.
Your employer will never mention his rate of exploitation. If you asked him about it, he’d deny that it exists. He might talk about "productivity," but never about the rate of exploitation. It’s critical to him that employees maximize their own rate of exploitation without asking for any compensation. It’s not in the books in college classes. It’s not in the union contract. It’s not in the newspapers or anywhere, except in Marxist economics. It’s a secret.
The surplus is the explanation for class struggle. In history, it might be serfs versus lords or slaves versus pharaohs or bosses versus workers. In all of class society, the fight has been over the surplus value. Still is.
Over the years, capitalism has raised the rate of exploitation. Probably the most direct way to increase the rate is to get people to work more hours. That’s why the entire history of working people could be written in terms of the fight over working hours.
Bosses study the exploitation process all the time. The managers who “move up” in the corporation are those who increase the rate of exploitation. They time workers with stopwatches. They grasp at every innovation, every new way of doing things that will result in more surplus value. They even urge the workers, through “suggestion boxes,” “open door policies,” or other gimmicks, to reveal more ways to increase the rate of exploitation. When they implement their innovations, they either raise production or keep production at the same level and fire workers!
I gave the bosses my suggestion
I thought I was so wise
They gave me a commemorative coffee cup
And laid off two other guys
Now I stay awake and worry
Cause in my dreams I see
Some other fool’s suggestion
Helps the bosses lay off ME!
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