The Wage = "price of labor", in this chapter usually payment per hour
Nominal wages = money exchange value of labor power
Real wages = the sum of the means of subistence purchased by wages
Average "price" of labor = average daily value of labor power divided
by the average number of hours worked,
e.g., (daily wage of 3 shillings)/12 hours = hourly price, or wage, = 3s/12 = 36d/12 = 3d = hourly wage of 3 pence.
(In pre-metric English measure, 1 shilling = 12 pence, today 1s = 10d).
So, if the daily wage is fixed, e.g., 3s, then if the capitalists
impose longer hours, the effective hourly wage drops:
Conversely, if the hourly wage is fixed, then a change in
the number of working hours will change the workers income.
The importance of this: whether or not workers earn enough to survive, i.e., to reproduce their labor power, will depend on whether they have enough hours of work.
The implication of these two sets of observations is that unless capitalists are constrained by law, e.g., Factory Acts in Marx's time, they may manipulate hours and wages for their own benefit, to the detriment of the workers.
"Hence," Marx writes, "the perfectly rational revolt of the London building workers in 1860 against the attempt of the capitalists to impose on them this sort of wage by the hour." And hence too, the fight for the Factory acts to put a limit on such manipulations.
1) Overtime should be paid at a higher rate, because the "deterioration" of labor power accelerates during extra, exhausting hours, and therefore, the value of labor power (the cost of repairing and reproducing that labor power rises). Sometimes the capitalists recognize this and pay a bit more, although Marx suggests that the bit more they pay is not proportional to the cost of repairing the extra wear and tear on the worker.
2. If, using methods such as those described above, the capitalist succeed in lowering wages at current hours, then workers will need and either be willing to accept or even fight for longer hours.
3. The same effect is sometimes achieved by increasing the intensity of work. Higher intensity means more labor being supplied, an increased supply of labor will tend to lower wages, lower wages will lead to more overtime.
4. These kind of dynamics are circulated through "competition" wherein the success of one capitalist in this area will lead other capitalists to seek the same success as the success of the first allows the undercutting of the others through the reduction in the prices of their wares.
The same should still be true if we turned from his focus on the explicit wage to other forms of working class income that support the reproduction of labor power, e.g., unemployment compensation, welfare payments, grades, public health services. For example, in the case of unemployment compensation, that is generally presented to the public as a kind of welfare for the temporarily unemployed, we would note how it is structured to require the work of looking for work, of making the labor market function by forcing those who want to receive compensation to actively seek out employers and then provide evidence of having done so. In this case both the amount (low) of the compensation and the rules (how many interviews are required) can and are manipulated to impose more work. In each case the objective of the analysis should be to identify the particular ways in which those particular forms of income might be, or have been, or are being manipulated to impose more work.
Second, Marx's emphasis here, as in so much of the book, is on the way capital tries to manipulate this form of the wage to its own advantage. To the degree that he discusses workers' struggle, it is primarily about their defense reactions to such manipulations. His one example is mentioned in the summary above - the "revolt of the London building workers of 1860". But surely, we can go further than this and look at how workers wage struggles may be not merely "resistance" but quite positive demands for things they want. We saw this distinction in Marx's treatment in Chapter 10 over the battles over the working day. He sketched how workers resisted the lengthening of the working day, but then passed over to the attack, took the initiative, and fought for a reduction in the working day. Wage struggles, like the battles for reducing the working day, may be, and often have been struggles for higher consumption, more choices, and so on.
For example, it should be clear from his analysis above that workers have fought to raise wages not only to get more money, but to be able to work less! Success at forcing up the hourly wage, especially when they have been successful in fixing a normal working week, e.g., 40hrs in the post-WWII period, means less compulsion to work. As wages rise, not only is there less compulsion but the rising wage makes more and more possible during non-work hours and therefore leads to demands for a reduction in working hours. Thus the more or less steady rise in wages after 1945 led eventually to demands in the United States and Europe for reduced working weeks, either 35-36 hours spread out over five days, or the existing 40 hours packed into four days (an effective reduction of working time if you consider - as I think you must - that the time of preparing for work, going to work, returning from work etc is really all time "working" for the boss and not "free" for your own use).
Where there have been institutional obstacles - such as the reactionary recalcitrance of union bureaucrats to the formal posing of such demands - workers have often simply refused work and appropriated extra free time. This has happened in many ways including absenteeism, playing on the job, wildcat strikes, sabotage and so on. In the Appalachian coal fields of the 1960s and 1970s, for example, success in raising wages (in part through Keynesian productivity deals that resulted in massive reductions in the number of jobs) led many young miners to seek more free time through wildcat strikes. They would go to work with their hunting rifle or fishing pole in the trunk of their car in anticipation of a wildcat strike which would give most of them the day, or days, off. The possible provocations of such a strike in coal mines were multiple given the dangerous, poisonous character of the work. The point here is simply that it was the success in raising wages that made possible these other struggles.
Because workers are paid so-and-so much per hour, and because their work time is so carefully monitored, it would seem that because if they work more, they are paid more, that they are not exploited. But this apparent correlation between labor time and pay obscures the existence of surplus labor time. On the aggregate it is obvious that there is surplus labor time - it is expended producing the means of production - but at the micro level each capitalist's access to those means of production is controlled by the amount of profit they earn. The more labor they can get their workers to do, ceteris paribus, the more profit they make, the more investment they can undertake by buying the products of the aggregate surplus labor. Not surprisingly, when Marx talks about overtime wages, one of the things he emphasizes is that even though workers are paid extra for working longer, that extra pay is only a small portion of the value their labor adds to what they are producing and to the profits the capitalists realize upon the sale of those products.
As Juliet Schorr documented in her book The Overworked American, the assault on workers in the United States by the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s resulted in such reductions in hourly wages (and other benefits) and such increases in unemployment that more and more workers were forced to work overtime in order to try to maintain their real income and standards of living. This was not a change in this industry or that industry, but a change in the overall condition of workers at the national level. By mid-century capital had learned from John Maynard Keynes and his followers how government macro economic policies could be brought to bear against the class as a whole and the methods previously used by individual capitalists could be generalized.
Two associated effects were the way more spouses were forced to enter the labor market to seek a second wage in order to maintain the family wage and the way more workers were forced to seek second jobs for the same purpose. In both cases the amount of work being extracted from the working class increased as people worked longer hours - whether in old jobs, new jobs or extra jobs. Official statistics on "overtime" naturally fail to take such phenomena into account.
Currently workers in Western Europe are under also considerable pressure to accept both a lengthening of the "normal" working week - which many had suceeded in reducing to 35 hours in the last quarter century - and overtime. The weapon being used by European business and government to achieve this increase in exploitation is the "competition" of Eastern Europe - especially those just recently admitted to the European Union.
In one of the cases Marx cites in this chapter (p. 690), that of the baking industry, he uses a screed from one set of bakers against another set to illustrate how desperate foreign workers and young workers who "are obliged to accept almost any wages they can obtain" were being forced to work extra-long hours giving some baking enterprises a competitive advantage over others. Today in Europe the same kind of thing is engineered as poor workers from the collapsed communist East have been pitted against the higher waged, shorter working time, better organized workers in Western Europe. Added to this pressure is the threat by modern multinational corporations to close down operations in the higher-waged West and move to the lower-waged, longer working time, less organized East. Their excuse, as in Marx's time, is "competition". In a recent New York Times' article we find the following testimony by the representative of one of those multinational corporations:
What this use of desperate immigrant labor and of the threat of corporate displacement to weaker pools of labor demonstrate is the real class logic behind "competition." The term is used rhetorically, and ideologically, to evoke competition between corporations or between nations, but what we see here is that the capitalist organization of "competition" is really the pitting of workers against workers with the objective of undermining the power of the stronger through the employment of the weaker. The corollary to this strategy is that of fanning racial and ethnic prejudices and the vicious politics that support them. Thus in Germany fear of Polish or Turkish workers feed Nazis hate groups who, crying "Defense of the Fatherland!!", attack those workers and burn their apartment buildings down. Thus similar hate groups in France, egged on not only by Jean Le Pen's minority National Front Party but by official state policies encouraging such competition mount similar campaigns. Thus American politicians from George H.W. Bush to David Duke play the racial card against Black and Latin workers in the United States. In each case the politics works to divert workers from the defense of the rights they have gained through past struggles and capitalists have an easier time driving down wages, imposing overtime and redefining "normal work time" upward. After being defeated as a capitalist strategy for almost forty years in the West, absolute surplus value is back with a vengence.
forms of wages
transformation of form
laws of wages
2. What happens to the real wage if the intensity of labor rises while time wage rates remain constant?
3. How have the capitalists manipulated time wages in order to force workers to work more? How was this done in the colonies when workers could evade wage labor by retreating to the land? Do any elements of this persist today?
4. How do time wage rates such as $10.00/hr. hide exploitation?
5. Under what conditions would workers demand overtime or longer working hours?
6. How can overtime wages be both nominally higher per hour and actually lower in real terms?
7. During periods in which workers are struggling to reduce the length of work time, what else must they demand to avoid a fall in real income?
8. How are wages an expression of working class power? Of its weakness?