Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Normal Working Day - Part 6 of 7

There are then objective limits to the maximum working-day, just as there are objective limits to the minimum working-day (necessary working day). But, these maximum and minimum limits only thereby define the terrain on which the matter of the normal working-day is to be settled.

We can only say that, the limits of the working day being given, the maximum of profit corresponds to the physical minimum of wages; and that wages being given, the maximum of profit corresponds to such a prolongation of the working day as is compatible with the physical forces of the labourer. The maximum of profit is therefore limited by the physical minimum of wages and the physical maximum of the working day. It is evident that between the two limits of the maximum rate of profit an immense scale of variations is possible. The fixation of its actual degree is only settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction.

The matter resolves itself into a question of the respective powers of the combatants.

(Marx – Value, Price and Profit)

But, capital always has the upper hand, because the power of capital derives from the fact that it only demands labour-power when it can be utilised profitably, whereas workers always have to supply labour-power in order to live. In the end, as Marx and Engels state, this issue of the power of the combatants comes down to a question of demand and supply, and that is determined by the needs of capital accumulation.

In reality, the strikes etc. represent only the superficial playing out of these underlying economic laws. The bounds within which any settlement, be it of wages or working hours, can be reached are already constrained by these objective laws.

“I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities.”

Marx – Value, Price and Profit

Whilst, if the working-day falls to a too low level the ability to produce absolute surplus value will become a constraint on capital accumulation, if the working-day is excessively prolonged, it will wear out workers more quickly, raising the value of labour-power, and so reducing surplus value, as well as acting to reduce the intensity of labour, with a similar effect.

In order to get beyond these constraints, capital has to look to other solutions. The aim of capital is not to prolong the length of the working-day, but to prolong the period of surplus labour. This was the insight that Ricardo had over Smith, when considered in the context of the collective working day.

So, when Say says,

“From seven million fully employed labourers there would be more savings than from five million.” (TOSV, Chapter 4)

Ganilh is quite right in refuting this saying,

“With every step made by civilisation, labour becomes less burdensome and more productive; the classes condemned to produce and to consume diminish; and the classes which direct labour, which relieve (!), console (!) and enlighten the whole population, multiply, become more numerous and appropriate to themselves all the benefits which result from the diminution of the costs of labour, from the abundance of products and the cheapness of consumer goods. In this way, the human race lifts itself up.” (ibid)

Marx quotes Ricardo, who points out that Adam Smith made this same error in overstating the importance of the size of the gross product as opposed to the net product.

“Whether a nation employs five or seven million productive labourers to produce the net revenue on which five million others live, “the food and clothing of five millions would be still the net revenue.” (ibid)

Employing more workers who added nothing to the surplus product would “... enable us neither to add a man to our army and navy, nor to contribute one guinea more in taxes” (l.c., p. 215).” (ibid)

There is no point extending the working day of the individual worker from 15 hours to 18 hours, if at the same time, the amount of necessary labour rises from 12 hours to 16 hours, because the result is a fall in surplus labour from 3 hours to 2 hours. The same is true in relation to the collective working-day. If each worker works for 10 hours, then for 10 workers this will amount to a collective working-day of 100 hours. The surplus labour may amount to 30 hours. If 20 workers are employed the collective working-day will be 200 hours, but the surplus labour might fall to 20 hours, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the rise in the number of workers may be symptomatic of a fall in productivity. Secondly, as more workers are employed, this rise in demand for labour-power may cause a rise in wages.

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