The concept of wage slavery is one that is commonly contested, by left- and right-wingers alike. It is often assumed that it is intended as a degradation of the hard working people of the world — but it is more just a recognition of reality.
Most people object to being told that they are a Wage Slave… but why?
The notion of wage slavery, taken reasonably, is actually rather difficult to refute. The idea that we are in an entirely different social position to chattel slaves is based upon the assumption of our freedom. But this sense of freedom is an illusion which rests upon the contradiction between law and reality. The law grants us personal liberties, and we therefore have the right to make our own decisions: where to live; who to work for; or whether to work at all. But underlying this veil of freedom are the real, material, physical facts, and they run as such: you can only live where you can afford to live; you can only work for someone who will willingly employ you; and while you are under no legal obligation to work for anyone at all, you will find it a struggle to live while not doing so.
“Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. Of course, “one can at least change jobs,” but you can’t avoid having a job … freedom means more than the right to change masters.”
- Bob Black
Such a strong feeling of personal aversion to claims of wage slavery no doubt stems from a sense of pride. But this objection to the mere notion of wage-slavery only acts to perpetuate the reality of the condition: people’s misplaced sense of pride paradoxically serves to maintain their humiliating position. Imagine, of those chattel slaves who fought for political emancipation, if they had instead simply denied the existence of slavery. But it’s difficult to express the common sense behind, and the political importance of, the term ‘wage-slavery’ when somebody has already decided that what you’re saying is offensive.
Those who are so quick to erect barriers against the spread of alternative ways of running society should consider the question: what is it that you are defending, and in whose interest? Capitalism is an inefficient social system which causes a catastrophic level of death and destruction on a daily basis. It is a system in which many are forced to live in poverty or die through starvation in a world of unprecedented abundance; a world capable of providing life’s necessities for all of its inhabitants. Capitalism is a miserable social order in which those who own but do not produce live parasitically off the labour of those who produce but do not own. But its continuation ultimately depends upon the continuation of workers’ consent. Those of us who think a different world is not only possible but desperately essential if we are to survive as a species, have withdrawn ours and we urge you to do the same: until then, the onus for justification lies with you.Moral or immoral, with or without an acceptable face, involving fundamentalist or free markets, with or without a state, (the latter an oxymoron if ever there was one) capitalism shouldn’t be supported by the majority it exploits. We don’t have to choose the lesser of two evils – we can aim for something much better. A world where the resources of the planet have stopped being the property of rich individuals, corporations or states and have become the common heritage of all. On that basis goods and services can be produced directly to meet people’s needs without the intervention of markets. Neither a free market nor a controlled market but a non-market society.
A more equal, fair form of capitalism which is a little bit kinder to workers is not being advocated, but the abolition of capitalism altogether: that is, the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and of the wages system, and the establishment of a society based upon the maxim of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.
In socialism, everybody would have free access to the goods and services designed to directly meet their needs and there would be no system of payment for the work that each individual contributes to producing them. All work would be on a voluntary basis. Producing for needs means that people would engage in work that has a direct usefulness. The satisfaction that this would provide, along with the increased opportunity to shape working patterns and conditions, would bring about new attitudes to work.
Given the required nature of the revolution, i.e. carried out by the majority, all we can really do at present towards achieving this is to try to persuade other workers of its necessity. The time will come for more practical efforts towards socialism, but while the majority of workers still support capitalism and cannot think beyond merely changing political leaders, we have a long way yet to go.
Perhaps it’s time we organized and “took the big bag” as it were — and began truly living.
“The most bewildering thing about man is his idea of work and the amount of work he imposes upon himself, or civilization has imposed upon him. All nature loafs, while man alone works for a living.”
- Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living
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