community-based, non-corporate, participatory media
The Secret, Ignored Value of Labor
by Gary Sudborough Thursday, Apr. 09, 2009 at 11:04 PM
For centuries the means of production and most of the world's wealth have been owned by only a few individuals. This has led to spectacular robberies like those apparent at the present time to a quiet, ignored theft of the value of labor.
To give a logical answer as to why laboring people are not paid nearly the real value of their labor, I need to go back in history and give a basic scientific explanation of the situation. As most people know the energy that powers life on Earth comes from the sun, and is trapped by photosynthesis in plants, and animals by consuming plants or other animals obtain this energy. This energy enables animals to move, and in certain animals like human beings to do what is known as work.
Why is this labor necessary? Because human beings are born into this world naked and frail and with a multitude of wants and needs necessary for their survival. Other mammals have fur to protect from the environment, many are much stronger or swifter or like humans band together for their survival. Human beings must have food for energy, shelter to protect from the environment, clothing for the cold and because they are intelligent, entertainment and culture and because they are curious animals, scientific needs to try and understand the universe and why they exist
In order to meet the basic needs, humans cannot just lay back and bask in the sun and expend a minimal of energy. They must either grow crops, gather fruits and vegetables from the environment or do hunting and fishing. They must learn how and expend energy in making clothes and building shelters. This is the first primitive form of work. Initially, they all labored together and shared the results of their labor in common. This was what Marx called primitive communism.
Gradually, with the development of agriculture and more productive methods of increasing yields like irrigation and the saving of seeds of the better plants, a surplus of food was produced and not every human needed to labor. Then, came the con artists and the people who could make people believe their right to rule and not work was derived from God or those who were powerful enough physically and had better weapons and could rule those that did work to provide human needs. It is well known that kings in medieval Europe believed that they ruled by divine right. The nobles thought that they were almost a separate species of animal (blue bloods and gentlemen) and had the right to rule over the rabble-the lower classes of working people. Because of this utter disdain for the serfs the nobles could treat them abominably, rape their daughters, run over them in their horse-driven vehicles of various descriptions, tax them heavily and take away most of the crops they produced. The nobles lived luxurious lives on the best food, went to balls and danced, gambled and engaged in every sort of sensual pleasure while the producers of their wealth had to watch their children starve to death or die of disease. This is the beginning of the robbery of labor, although it goes much further back to slavery in the Greek and Roman empires.
As an illustration of the value of labor, let us suppose a medieval craftsman spent much more time and effort on a chair or cabinet and used more intricate designs. This chair or cabinet would necessarily have much more value than one where less effort was used.
Now, however Man's inventive mind was able to create the designs for mass production machinery. The inventors, however, except in very rare cases, were not the owners of this new mass production machinery. The owners were the ones who had by that time robbed the continents of Africa, Asia and South America of much of their wealth in gold, silver and other precious commodities, and also for centuries had been robbing the serfs of Europe of the value of their labor.
These rich capitalists needed to pay their workers only the survival value of their labor- that is the amount of money which would enable the workers to show up for work the next day. Let us assume that the amount of labor necessary for minimal shelter and food was two hours of work. Then, all the rest of the hours of the day's labor of workers was pure profit for the capitalists. Therefore, they worked people twelve and sometimes sixteen hours a day as this was surplus value as Marx called it. The only limit was that laborers needed sleep not to break down and machinery didn't. Consequently, they often hired two shifts a day to make even more profit. They often hired children because they had nimble fingers and could do delicate work faster. Also, because women and children caused less labor problems than men. In China the capitalists could work people to death in toxic environments because they had such a surplus of labor. I remember British health inspector's documenting conditions for little Chinese children in match factories, where they got phophorus burns all over their bodies. Upon death they were simply thrown on the trash heap for the dogs to eat.
As one can easily observe, workers are continually being robbed of the value of their labor, not just by people like Bernie Madoff or corporations like Enron or banks or mortgage companies, but everyday they go to work, as they are not being compensated adequately.
Labor unions have attempted to compensate for this imbalance to some extent, but workers really need to own and operate these factories themselves as they are essentially owned by thieves extending far back into history.
There is a whole mythology of sophisticated economic arguments built up to contradict Marx, but it is just so much obfuscation, done by well-paid sycophants of the owners of society. Some point to sports stars or Hollywood actors or gambing and bribery as departures from Marx's theory of value. This is just the idle rich playing with their fortunes. If all the common workers would lay down their tools and shut off their machines, the economy would halt, showing whose labor is really valuable.
Authors like Dickens, Hugo, Upton Sinclair, Emile Zola and others all pointed to the miserable and degrading treatment of the poor. To quote Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of reason, it was the age of foolishness, it was an epoch of faith, it was an epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." How little things have changed. For thousands of years it has been the winter of despair for poor, working people. Enough! There is no natural law that precludes humanity from perishing like the dinosaurs.