Monday, 10 September 2012

Capital I, Chapter 10 - Part 1

The Working Day

1) The Limits of The Working Day

The working day, Marx says, is determinable but not determinate. In other words, it is of no fixed length, but we can know how long it is at any one time. The period of the day the worker has to work to cover their wages, i.e. to reproduce themselves, is fixed by the labour-time required for the production of the necessaries required for the reproduction of Labour-power. The number of hours required for that will vary in accordance with what those necessaries are, and the levels of productivity in producing them.

But, in addition to this period of Necessary Labour, we have the period of Surplus Labour. The ratio of Surplus Labour to Necessary Labour, the Rate of Exploitation, is also the same as the Ratio of Surplus Production/Value to Necessary Production/Value – the Rate of Surplus Value.

Knowing this rate doesn't, on its own, tell us the length of the working day. A 100% rate can apply as much to a 2 hour day, 4 hour day, or 24 hour day. It only tells us that in each of these variants, an equal portion of the day is devoted to creating Surplus, as to reproducing the Labour Power consumed.

The other limit Marx identifies here are that, in relation to Concrete Labour, it is impossible to work more than 24 hours in a day. In fact, as he says, a horse can only be worked 8 hours in a day. So too, humans require a portion of the day to sleep, eat, learn, procreate and in general reproduce their Labour-power. So, the actual limit must always be less than 24 hours – at least on an average, because Marx himself gives examples of people working 36 hour shifts. Likewise, because the aim of capitalist production is profit, the period of Surplus Labour cannot be on average zero, because, if it were, Capital could make no profit.

There is a point to be made here that I have made elsewhere. Marx, in discussing these limits is talking about the limits of Concrete Labour-time. However, as he earlier demonstrated, the relevant measure for Value is not Concrete but Abstract Labour-time. It is Abstract Labour, not Concrete Labour, which is the essence of Value, which creates Value, and which is its measure. There is for that reason, in practice, no limit to the number of Abstract Labour Hours in a day, because Concrete Labour can, and frequently is Complex Labour, not Simple Labour, and each hour of Complex Labour represents several hours, and potentially many, many hours of Simple Abstract Labour.

Marx, in discussing the difference between Abstract Labour and Concrete Labour, earlier, illustrated that the multiple of Complex Labour to Simple Abstract Labour is decided in the market by what consumers are prepared to pay for the product of that Complex Labour, compared to the product of Simple Labour. So, for example, consumers are prepared to pay huge amounts of money, individually and collectively, to enjoy the product of 1 hour's Concrete Labour by a Robbie Williams, or a David Beckham, or indeed of a top clothing designer, computer games programmer, and so on. Its that Complex Labour, rather than the Labour-time that actually goers into physically producing a CD, creating the football stadium, the suit, or DVD, which is responsible for their high value. In fact, the more technology has developed the less of this Constant Capital is actually required for modern production, and the greater proportion of it is made up of Labour Power/Variable Capital. The consequence of this, in reducing what Marx calls the Organic Composition of Capital, and increasing the Rate of Profit, will be dealt with in Vol. III.  (For more on this point see my blog post - The Tendency For The Rate Of profit To Rise! and also A Reply To Dr. Paul Cockshott).

On that basis, the Complex Labour Hour of David Beckham might equal 1000 hours of Abstract Labour-time. Could he work for 24 hours (and the reproduction of his Labour-power on various forms of digital, electronic media, that can be viewed around the globe, 24 hours a day, is an attempt to achieve that), then in a single day, he might be capable of working for 24,000 hours, whereas a nurse, even if they were physically able to do it, might only be able to work for 24 hours. It can be seen why, on a Capitalist basis, such grotesquely different wages can be earned, and yet why Capital might still make a hugely bigger profit from the Labour-Power of a David Beckham, or a Robbie Williams, than out of that of a nurse. Its one reason we don't have TV Talent Shows to recruit Nurses.

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.” (p 224)

The Complex Labour of a surgeon is capable
of creating more Surplus Value than that of a
nurse, despite the high wages of surgeons.  But,
 Capital, to avoid paying those high wages, tries to
replace the surgeon with robots.  In doing so the
new Value created by the surgeon, including the
 Surplus Value, disappears too.
Within a single day, Capital can suck in absolute terms more from a single worker, providing Complex Labour, than a single worker providing Simple Labour. Yet, Capital seeks continually to reduce what it pays for the Labour Power, which means it continually tries to reduce the Complex Labour to Simple Labour, to mechanise it and so on.

Once again, the contradiction at the heart of every commodity, including Labour-power, between Use Value and Exchange Value, is expressed. The more Complex the Labour, the higher the Value it produces, i.e. the more skilled the Use Value, the more Value it creates in a given time, and, therefore, the more potentially profitable it is. The more Capital tries to reduce the cost of purchasing that Use Value, the more it reduces the Complex nature of the Labour provided, and, thereby reduces its potential profitability!

On the one hand, the individual Capitalist has an incentive in trying to have workers work as long as possible, because with the Necessary Labour-time fixed, the longer the working day, the longer the period of Surplus Labour.

Marx then presents the workers argument against such an extension.

You preach to me constantly the gospel of “saving” and “abstinence.” Good! I will, like a sensible saving owner, husband my sole wealth, labour-power, and abstain from all foolish waste of it. I will each day spend, set in motion, put into action only as much of it as is compatible with its normal duration, and healthy development. By an unlimited extension of the working-day, you may in one day use up a quantity of labour-power greater than I can restore in three. What you gain in labour I lose in substance. The use of my labour-power and the spoliation of it are quite different things. If the average time that (doing a reasonable amount of work) an average labourer can live, is 30 years, the value of my labour-power, which you pay me from day to day is 1/(365×30) or 1/10950 of its total value. But if you consume it in 10 years, you pay me daily 1/10950 instead of 1/3650 of its total value, i.e., only 1/3 of its daily value, and you rob me, therefore, every day of 2/3 of the value of my commodity. You pay me for one day’s labour-power, whilst you use that of 3 days. That is against our contract and the law of exchanges. I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place. You may be a model citizen, perhaps a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in the odour of sanctity to boot; but the thing that you represent face to face with me has no heart in its breast. That which seems to throb there is my own heart-beating. I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity.” (p 224-5)

Later, in Capital, Marx does indeed refer to the speech in Parliament of William Ferrand MP, who complained that three generations of workers had been used up in in the space of one generation. The consequence was that the workers were being used up. Again, as Marx sets out later, in Capital, some of the more forward thinking Capitalists, like Wedgwood, recognised that, and supported legislation to limit the working day. Engels, also in “The Condition Of The Working Class” details how the Big Capitalists abandoned these kinds of penny-pinching methods of extracting Surplus Value. There are lots of examples that demonstrate this.

In 1974, during the Three day Week, it was found that many firms were producing as much in three days as they normally did in five. France, with far more holidays, and a shorter working week, has better rates of productivity per hour, than the US's most productive state, California. The lesson being that, when workers are not worked so hard, they frequently work more productively.

Marx is wrong then when he says,

There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class.” (p 225)

In reality, the question of the length of the working-day is inseparable from the question of the reproduction of labour-power, and the Value of Labour-power. In the end, as he and Engels write elsewhere, it comes down to a question of demand and supply, which, in turn, is inseparable from the accumulation of Capital. If Capital burns out the available supply of Labour Power then wages must rise – which may indeed take the form of a reduction in hours worked – but also, Capital will recognise the importance of wise husbandry of that Labour-power. The real reason ultimately that restrictions on the working day were introduced and enforced, was that the Big Capitalists recognised it was in their interests. That didn't mean that individual Capitalists did not try to subvert those laws, of course.

However, we should remember Marx's historical and logical approach in writing Capital. For the period he is writing about, the inception of industrial production, his argument is correct. It is the basis of capital Accumulation on the basis of Absolute Surplus Value, which he in the process of explaining.

No comments: