Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Necessary Labour - Part 1 of 4

Labour-power is a use value, and a product, i.e. it is something which is itself produced by labour. To produce labour-power, first, the labourer her/himself must be produced. To produce a labourer, they must have food, shelter, clothing, education/training, culture and so on, and all of these products are themselves produced by labour. All of these things require a definite amount of labour-time to produce, equal, therefore, to a definite amount of value. It is this value that the labourer must produce in order to be able to reproduce their labour-power, and which, therefore, constitutes, for them, necessary labour. However, where labour-power, as a use value, differs from every other use value is that its specific nature is that its consumption involves the very act of labour, i.e. the process of creating value itself. No other use value has this property, because no other use value creates new value; no other use value, in its consumption, amounts to the performance of labour. The labourer, therefore, in the act of labour, is capable, not just of undertaking the necessary labour required to reproduce their labour-power, but also of undertaking labour in excess of that, of undertaking surplus labour, which is embodied in a surplus product, and surplus value

The working-day of the labourer is then divided into these two component parts of necessary labour and surplus labour. In the first part, they produce the value necessary for the reproduction of their labour-power, and in the second they produce a surplus value, and these correspond to a necessary product and a surplus product. What applies to the individual labourer applies to the working-class as a whole, as a collective labourer. Its social working-day divides into necessary labour, and surplus labour, a necessary product and surplus product, into the value required to reproduce itself, and surplus value. 

The value of the products required for the reproduction of labour-power consists of the labour required for their own reproduction. This labour consists of congealed labour, in the form of raw materials, tools and equipment, i.e. means of production, as well as living labour, used in conjunction with the tools and equipment to process materials into consumable products. For example, if Robinson Crusoe uses a fishing net to catch the fish required to reproduce his labour-power, the value of this net comprises a part of the value of the fish he consumes, and so he must produce an equivalent amount of value to the net, as well as the actual labour he undertakes fishing with the net. Without the net, he would have to undertake more labour fishing, so as to produce the number of fish required, and so, as soon as he starts to use it, its reproduction becomes a part of his necessary labour

For example, suppose he requires 5 fish each day to reproduce his labour-power. It takes 5 hours to produce these fish. This 5 hours constitutes his necessary labour. However, he is able to undertake a total of 8 hours labour in his normal working-day. That means he undertakes 3 hours of surplus labour, represented by a surplus product of 3 additional fish. The total value he produces in a day is 8 hours labour, the value of each fish being 1 hour. In two days, he produces a surplus product of 6 fish (a surplus value of 6 hours), which means he has enough fish to consume on the third day without needing to catch fish. He spends the third day in 8 hours labour producing a net. The net has a value of 8 hours labour. The net has a lifespan of 80 days, meaning that 10% of it is consumed each day as wear and tear

Robinson has a good reason to produce the net, because, with it, he can now catch the 5 fish required to reproduce his labour-power in just 2 hours. But, to continue to be able to do that, he must continue to have a net to assist his labour. The net, therefore, becomes a necessary product for him, even though he does not consume the net itself, but only consumes it productively as part of his fishing labour. The net is not a part of his revenue, but is accumulated out of his revenue.  He must set aside 0.8 hours per day of labour as necessary labour time, to reproduce the net. This might take the form of an actual 0.8 hours of time spent on repairing the net, or else takes the form of time, producing surplus fish, to store up, to consume at some later date, when he spends the whole day producing a replacement net, rather than fishing. His necessary labour now amounts to 2.8 hours. This is the value of the five fish he consumes to reproduce his labour-power, and this value of the five fish comprises 2 hours of immediate, living labour fishing, and 0.8 hours of congealed labour, in the shape of the wear and tear of the net. Each fish now has a value of 0.56 hours. 

The value of the net is transferred to the fish. It has a constant value, assuming no change in productivity in net production. The net cannot produce any new value, and so cannot produce any surplus value. However, as described above, that is not true with the labour-power. The labour-power previously had a value of 5 hours labour, and, as a result of the rise in productivity, created by the use of the net, its value has now fallen to just 2.8 hours. But, Robinson can still undertake the same 8 hours of labour as before, and so create the same 8 hours of new value as before. But, now, instead of producing 3 hours of surplus labour, he produces 5.3 hours of surplus labour. This is the way a rise in productivity that reduces the value of labour-power, by reducing the value of wage goods, leads to a rise in relative surplus value

What is true, here, of Robinson is true of the entire working-class as a single collective labourer. If there were 1 million such labourers, their collective, or social working day would amount to 8 million hours. Their necessary labour would amount to 2.8 million hours, and their surplus labour would amount to 5.3 million hours. The difference would be that, where Robinson has to apportion his available time between fishing and net making, the collective labourer can assign some workers to only undertaking fishing labour, and the rest to net making labour. The latter would provide the former with the nets they require, in exchange for the fish they require to reproduce their labour-power.

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