Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Making The Workers Pay? - Part 4

In Part 3, I looked at the means by which Capital seeks to deal with the drying up of the Latent Reserve, and the contradictions, which result from this. Of course, the other means used by Capital to resolve the problems that arise from the using up of the Latent Reserve also create contradictions, and problems for Capital. For example, the use of immigrant labour causes political problems, particularly when a crisis occurs, and workers are made unemployed. Capitalism did not spring into existence on a blank canvas. It arose out of Mercantilism and Feudalism, and all of the ideology that went with those systems, and indeed which they, in turn, had inherited from the past. So, for example, Capitalism proper, Industrial Capitalism, exploits people without fear or favour. It does not care whether you are British or Indian, black or white, gay or straight, male or female, a Manchester United or a Manchester City supporter. It performs a cold cash calculation of what your labour-power is worth, and what profit it can make from it. But, this industrial Capitalism entered existence in societies where these differences DID play significant roles, where people were far from being equal. Feudal society was based on the notion that everyone was unequal, that society was like a pyramid with God at the top, the Kings beneath him (with God always seen as a paternal rather than maternal figure, and thereby providing an ideological basis for the subordinate role of women) and so on down to the lowliest serf.

When bourgeois ideas first begin to take root, they do so as the manifestation, not of the rise of the industrial bourgeoisie, but of the merchant classes, whose symbiotic relation with the Feudal Aristocracy establishes the system of Mercantilism, and with it Colonialism. As, the Black American Marxist, Oliver Cromwell Cox, describes, in “Race, Caste and Class” Racism arises as a means by which this bourgeois ideology, which asserts a fundamental equality – Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite – reconciles its actions in treating millions of human beings in the Colonies as fundamentally UNEQUAL! It does so, by denying their humanity. Although, logically, from the perspective of cold cash calculation, this kind of discrimination makes no sense for developed industrial Capitalism, as with many other aspects of society it inherits from the past – for example, in Britain the failure to carry through consistently the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution, the persistence of heredity in the shape of the Monarchy, House of Lords etc – the Big Capitalists prefer to deal with it by bureaucratic methods, rather than by a frontal assault on those sections of society – such as the small capitalists, reactionary petit-bourgeois etc. - where these ideas have strongest grip. Indeed, where they can oportunistically use it for their own advantage, to divide a powerful and challenging working-class, they are prepared to do so – though it plays less of a role in this respect than many of the Left suggest.

A look at the experience of the 1980's shows that, in fact, in those old heavy industrial areas, where deindustrialisation, and the collapse of industries such as Mining, Steel Making, Shipbuilding etc. occurred, women's employment fared significantly better than that of Men. It was not just the fact that female labour-power was cheaper to buy for Capital, but that frequently in the new, light industrial production that was established, and certainly in the new service industries, female labour-power was more productive than male labour-power. It was often not discrimination from Capital, that women faced in these areas, but from working-class men. Certainly, there is evidence that where women became the main or only breadwinners in these areas, it did not result in a significant reduction in their domestic workload to compensate. An intersting discussion and analysis in this respect is provided by Jane Wheelock in “Capital Restructuring and The domestic economy: Family Self-respect and The Irrelevance of 'Rational Economic Man” (Capital & Class 41, Summer 1990). A look at the preponderance of female labour-power in the State Capitalist sector, which grew markedly from the late 1980's through to 2010, particularly in these areas, is an indication of that. State Capital located to these areas, partly in order to offset, the effects of deindustrialisation, which could have had long-term consequences for the economy as a whole, but also to take advantage of cheap labour thereby providing itself with an alternative to the astronomical costs facing businesses located in London.

Another contradiction faced by Capital in this regard is that, following the initial period of industrialisation, when what is required is a vast, available supply of cheap, unskilled Labour-Power, Capital's strategy changes. It is no longer dependent upon this Latent Reserve, but is able to deal with its requirements for growth, and the cyclical fluctuations of the Business Cycle, by utilising another labour reserve – the Floating Reserve. The Floating Reserve, as the name suggests is made up of workers who float in and out of the labour market. The relative over-population, which Capital creates, by the continual rise in labour productivity, is the main source of this floating reserve, made up of workers who spend a few months out of work, before finding a new job. Even during the 1930's, the average period of unemployment for a worker was only around six months – though, in areas like the North-East there was chronic unemployment with large numbers of workers unemployed for years. But, it is useful for Capital, particularly during periods of Long Wave downturn, such as the 1930's, 1980's, to be able to concentrate this Floating Reserve on women, who can be encouraged by one means or another to return to the home, or on immigrants, who can be either excluded via Immigration Controls, or encouraged to leave the Labour Market if not back home. The use of “Guest Workers” in Germany, whereby Turkish workers were encouraged to come to the country when there were labour shortages, but who had few rights, and who could be sent back home when there was no more work, was a classic example of this.

But, here too Capital faces contradictions in this regard. The EU as a single market requires the operation of a free movement of labour within its borders. Now, for example, in Britain, the greatest number of immigrants come from within the EU, particularly from Eastern Europe. But, as was seen with Mrs Duffy's intervention against Gordon Brown, at periods of high unemployment, this can lead to these workers being scapegoated for the problems of Capitalism. It also means that the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory Party, under pressure from UKIP and the BNP, can exert additional influence on the Party, pushing it further in the direction of the interests of the nationalistic small capitalists, and the reactionary petit-bourgeois. For Big Capital, whose agenda is for the creation of a Federal Europe, with open borders, the free flow of Capital and Labour, for the establishment of a central state, with control over fiscal and monetary policy etc. This is the opposite of the direction of travel they require. Once again, the attempts by Capital to “Make the Workers Pay” are riddled with contradiction, which ensure that it suffers itself as a consequence of such measures. That is not surprising given Marx's analysis of Capital as a social relation. Who says Wage Labour also says Capital, just as who says Capital also says Wage Labour. These are not in reality two distinct things, but as Marx makes clear, merely aspects of the same thing. Capital cannot make Labour pay without imposing costs on itself as a consequence, just as Labour cannot make Capital pay without imposing costs upon itself.

Back To Part 3

Forward To Part 5

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