Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Addenda - Part 23

[(E) Unproductive Labour. As Labour which Performs Services; Purchase of Services under Conditions of Capitalism. Vulgar Conception of the Relation Between Capital and Labour as an Exchange of Services]

Labour cannot be defined as productive or unproductive on the basis of being one type of concrete labour as opposed to another. In the same way, it cannot be defined as productive or unproductive from the perspective of the buyer of the product of that labour.

If I employ a cook, I do not buy their labour-power as a commodity, but the service their labour provides in cooking my dinner. If this cook works for me in exchange for a payment for this service, their labour is unproductive. It creates no surplus value.

Suppose I buy the service of this same cook, however, who is employed by a catering company, or an employment agency who pay their wages. As far as I am concerned, there is no difference. I pay the same amount of money, and obtain the same service. The money I have spent is not capital, in either case. It is simply money used as means of circulation, the same as if I bought any other commodity for consumption.

However, in the second case, the labour of the cook is productive, because it exchanges with capital; not my capital, but the capital of the catering company or employment agency, which employed them, and pays their wages, with the express intention of producing a profit from doing so.

I may even pay less, in the second case, than in the first case, because the capitalist employer of this labour will have all of the advantages of capitalist production to reduce the cost of production that an individual worker does not possess. This is why the self-employed often end up paying themselves lower wages per hour than if they were selling their labour-power to a capitalist employer. 

“I buy the tailoring labour for the service it renders me as tailoring labour, in order to satisfy my need for clothing and consequently to serve one of my needs. The merchant-tailor buys it as a means to making two talers out of one. I buy it because it produces a particular use-value, renders me a particular service. He buys it because it produces more exchange-value than it costs, as a mere means for exchanging less labour for more labour. 

Where the direct exchange of money for labour takes place without the latter producing capital, where it is therefore not productive labour, it is bought as service, which in general is nothing but a term for the particular use-value which the labour provides, like any other commodity; it is however a specific term for the particular use-value of labour in so far as it does not render service in the form of a thing, but in the form of an activity, which however in no way distinguishes it for example from a machine, for instance a clock.” (p 403-4)

Anyone, including workers, can buy services provided directly by unproductive labour. It is simply the purchase of a commodity in exchange for money.

“The service which he buys may be more or less necessary —for example, the service of a physician or of a priest, just as he may buy either bread or gin. As buyer—that is, as representative of money confronting commodity—the labourer is in absolutely the same category as the capitalist where the latter appears only as buyer, that is to say, where there is no more in the transaction than the conversion of money into the form of commodity.” (p 404)

Back To Part 22

Forward To Part 24

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