Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Capital I, Chapter 17 - Part 3


Marx again makes clear the difference between increasing the intensity of labour – undertaking more labour in a given length of time – which is a means of extracting Absolute Surplus Value, and increasing the productivity of labour, which increases Relative Surplus Value.

Increased intensity of labour means increased expenditure of labour in a given time. Hence a working-day of more intense labour is embodied in more products than is one of less intense labour, the length of each day being the same. Increased productiveness of labour also, it is true, will supply more products in a given working-day. But in this latter case, the value of each single product falls, for it costs less labour than before; in the former case, that value remains unchanged, for each article costs the same labour as before. Here we have an increase in the number of products, unaccompanied by a fall in their individual prices: as their number increases, so does the sum of their prices. But in the case of increased productiveness, a given value is spread over a greater mass of products. Hence the length of the working-day being constant, a day's labour of increased intensity will be incorporated in an increased value, and, the value of money remaining unchanged, in more money.” (p 491)

How much value is created then, in a given working day, depends upon the extent to which the intensity of labour varies from the normal intensity in the society. As illustrated previously, if 1000 units are produced, at a normal level of intensity, in 12 hours, but using the same instruments of labour etc., these same 1000 units are instead produced in 10 hours, by increasing the intensity of the labour – speeding up the pace of work, reducing the unproductive time by various means – then this 10 hours of labour represents in fact, 12 hours of labour-time, and has that value. But, if the intensity is increased, whilst the length of the working day remains the same, then more value is created in that time than previously. Now a 12 hour day might actually represent, 13,14, or 15 hours of labour-time depending on the intensity of the labour.

Moreover, this increased value, created during the day, means that both wages and surplus value can increase simultaneously. That might mean that both rise equally, or that wages rise more than surplus value and vice versa, or that one rises whilst the other does not.

But, as Marx points out, the fact that wages rise by this means, does not mean they necessarily rise above the value of labour-power. The opposite may be true. The value of labour-power is determined by the cost of its reproduction. Part of that cost is what is required to cover its wear and tear. But, that wear and tear might increase disproportionately if the labour is used too long, or too intensively. As seen earlier, the worker requires a certain number of hours a day rest, to recuperate their powers. Encroaching on that can mean the worker is worn out prematurely.

If the intensity of labour were to increase simultaneously and equally in every branch of industry, then the new and higher degree of intensity would become the normal degree for the society, and would therefore cease to be taken account of. But still, even then, the intensity of labour would be different in different countries, and would modify the international application of the law of value. The more intense working-day of one nation would be represented by a greater sum of money than would the less intense day of another nation.” (p 492)


Marx sets out 3 laws.

(1.) The working-day creates a greater or less amount of value in proportion to its length — thus, a variable and not a constant quantity of value.

(2.) Every change in the relation between the magnitudes of surplus value and of the value of labour-power arises from a change in the absolute magnitude of the surplus-labour, and consequently of the surplus value.

(3.) The absolute value of labour-power can change only in consequence of the reaction exercised by the prolongation of surplus-labour upon the wear and tear of labour-power. Every change in this absolute value is therefore the effect, but never the cause, of a change in the magnitude of surplus value.” (p 492)

He then examines the effects of shortening and lengthening the working day.

1) Shortening.

The value of labour power, and the amount of necessary labour-time remain the same. A worker requires the same amount of necessaries whether they work a normal working day or only half of it. They only require more if their labour-time extends beyond the normal working day, or beyond its normal intensity. Surplus labour and surplus value are reduced as a result. It falls both absolutely and relative to wages.

Only by reducing wages below the value of labour power could capital avoid this fall in surplus value.

All the usual arguments against the shortening of the working-day, assume that it takes place under the conditions we have here supposed to exist; but in reality the very contrary is the case: a change in the productiveness and intensity of labour either precedes, or immediately follows, a shortening of the working-day.” (p 493)

2) Lengthening.

If the working day is 10 hours = £10, and necessary labour and surplus labour both equal 5 hours = £5 each, then, if the working day is increased to 12 hours = £12, wages remain £5, whilst surplus value rises to £7. This assumes the value of labour-power does not rise as a consequence of this increase. Surplus value rises absolutely and relative to wages. Conversely, although wages have not fallen absolutely, they have fallen relative to surplus value.

The increased amount of new value produced, as a result of this longer working day, means that both wages and surplus value could rise simultaneously.

This simultaneous increase is therefore possible in two cases, one, the actual lengthening of the working-day, the other, an increase in the intensity of labour unaccompanied by such lengthening.” (p 493)

As with increased intensity of labour, the price of labour power (wages) may fall below the value of labour-power even though wages remain constant or even rise.

The value of a day's labour-power is, as will be remembered, estimated from its normal average duration, or from the normal duration of life among the labourers, and from corresponding normal transformations of organised bodily matter into motion, in conformity with the nature of man. Up to a certain point, the increased wear and tear of labour-power, inseparable from a lengthened working-day, may be compensated by higher wages. But beyond this point the wear and tear increases in geometrical progression, and every condition suitable for the normal reproduction and functioning of labour-power is suppressed. The price of labour-power and the degree of its exploitation cease to be commensurable quantities.” (p 493-4)

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