Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Normal Working Day - Part 2 of 7

The working-day is divided into two parts – the part that constitutes necessary labour, and the part that constitutes surplus labour. The part that constitutes necessary labour produces all of those products that the labourer requires to reproduce their labour-power. As those products also contain means of production – raw material, wear andtear of machinery and equipment – it also entails the labour required for the reproduction of those consumed means of production. That is separate from the means of production which are used not for the production of means of consumption, but which are used for the production of means of production.

If we were to assume that the working-day was equal to the necessary labour, i.e. no surplus labour, then, using Marx's formulation in Capital II, it comprises Department I (v) and Department II (v). In this case then, Department II (c) – intermediate goods – is equal to Department I (v). But, Department I total output is equal to c + v. In other words, a part of the value of its output comprises means of production consumed in its own production, and this value – congealed labour – is not the product of current labour but past labour.

Given specific conditions, i.e. the level of technology, and consumption needs of the labourer, the length of the necessary working-day is objectively determinable. In other words, if the worker could live solely on 100 kg. of grain, the necessary working-day is that time required to produce this 100 kg. of grain.

A people that live in an area of year-long temperate weather may require very little in terms of shelter and clothing; if food is relatively abundant they may require little time to gather it. Marx gives the example of a primitive tribe that could meet its needs simply from a few hours per week harvesting a sago tree.

“But consider, for example, an inhabitant of the eastern islands of the Asiatic Archipelago, where sago grows wild in the forests.

'When the inhabitants have convinced themselves, by boring a hole in the tree, that the pith is ripe, the trunk is cut down and divided into several pieces, the pith is extracted, mixed with water and filtered: it is then quite fit for use as sago. One tree commonly yields 300 lbs., and occasionally 500 to 600 lbs. There, then, people go into the forests, and cut bread for themselves, just as with us they cut fire-wood.'” [F. Schouw: “Die Erde, die Pflanze und der Mensch,” 2. Ed. Leipz. 1854, p. 148. ]

(Capital I, Chapter 16)

Similarly, the native Americans were able to meet their needs by hunting and fishing, moving across the vast open spaces.

But, this amount of necessary labour, expended during the working-day, clearly does not form an upper limit on the length of that day. I might need to work four hours per day, in order to produce all those things I need to consume to live, but that does not prevent me from working six, eight, ten or twelve hours during that day. Absent any other incentive, I may be content to only work the necessary four hours, but, in less favourable environments, I may have an incentive to work longer, so as to provide means of raising my level of productivity, or making my future consumption needs more secure.

For example, in the harsher climate of Northern Europe, there may have been an incentive to develop settled agriculture, rather than rely on hunting and gathering etc. Marx and Engels cite this as a reason that the productive forces are developed sooner and faster in some regions rather than others.

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