Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Two Conservative slogans: “A decent wage for a decent day’s work” and “Work harder you idle shirkers”.

Just what is a “decent” wage?

Recently, in one of his tiresome sermons, The Prime Minister, David Cameron, told workers that they should strive for “A decent wage for a decent day’s work” (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 22nd July 2012). Just what exactly is a decent day’s wage? Is it £100 per day, £1000 per day or £10000 a day? And just what is a decent day’s work? Is it a 24 hour working day, a 12 hours working day, or a three hours working day?

Etonian Dave’s former Bullington Club fellow member, Boris Johnson scribbles out a weekly column for the DAILY TELEGRAPH on a Sunday afternoon for £250,000 a year. Now, Johnson refers to this not inconsiderable amount of money as “chicken feed”. Is this the “decent wage” for a “decent day’s work” Cameron has in mind?

Then there is Tony Blair. His “decent wage” for advising the bankers, JP Morgan on a very casual basis is £2.5 million a year. Just what this advice consists of, nobody knows. Perhaps it was ethical advice on JP Morgan’s $722 million settlement with the US Government after dodgy derivative dealings nearly bankrupted Birmingham, Alabama. Or was is sage counseling on J.P. Morgan Securities record fine of £33.32 million ($49.12 million) in June 2010 by the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA) for failing to protect an average of £5.5 billion of clients' money. Or its major losses of $2 billion May, 2012 Who knows? However, the sum of £2.5 million is not chicken feed by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps Boris Johnson, thinks Blair’s “decent wage” for services rendered to JP Morgan is not a “decent day’s” work?

In reality there is no such thing as a “decent” or “fair wage”. There is no objective criteria for measuring a “decent wage” any more than there is for one measuring a “decent day’s work”. Wages are not governed by decency and fairness. And nor are they governed by the type of work involved whether the work happens to be pleasant, dangerous or boring.

Decent” is one of those words like “fair” which when used in political discourse is similar to wading through the sticky treacle of a Polly Toynbee article in the GUARDIAN. Polly-T fantasy capitalism – an absurd “fair” and “equitable” and “responsible“ capitalism favoured by the newspaper and its readership largely made up of that “dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of 'progress' like bluebottles to a dead cat” (Orwell: THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER).

The criticism levelled by Socialists against the wage and wage slavery in particular is not moral but political. The ability to work under capitalism becomes a commodity because the worker has to sell his or her labour power to an employer for a wage and salary. Workers are not only free to sell their labour power to an employer but free from the ownership of the means of production and distribution and what is produced. As a commodity, labour power is costed and evaluated, bought and sold, employed, and made redundant. Furthermore, labour power is exploited producing more value (surplus value according to Marx) than the value of the wage and salary going to the worker.

And employers can exploit, degrade and dehumanise the ability to work in this way because they own the machinery of production and distribution. And they also have their political representatives demanding from the working class an ever higher productivity; an ever increasing rate of exploitation.

“Work harder”

So it comes as no surprise to read that a group of Dave’s fellow Tory MP’s from the “Free Enterprise Group” have recently attacked workers in a book “BRITANNIA UNCHAINED” for being “idle and lazy”. Of course, no comment is made by the authors on the idle and parasitical capitalist class living off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. Nor is there any comment made on the grotesque appetites of the “political class” with their furry snouts deep in the swill of the Westminster expenses trough.

Priti Patel, one of the authors of the book has never worked in the real world having held various “political” appointments since graduation and a stint in PR –the art of lying for your client - as has another of the authors, Chris Skidmore MP who also scrawls out the odd book on the Kings and Queens of Britain. Have they had to endure the day-to-day grind and boredom of wage slavery?

You will not find these politicians engaged in a culture of “graft, risk and effort". Like previous generations of politicians who pontificate on the question of the workers’ productivity they do not believe the working class perform a “decent day’s work” but try to do as little as possible. As Paul Lafargue wrote in his book THE RIGHT TO BE LAZY (1883):

Capitalist ethics, a pitiful parody on Christian ethics, strikes with its anathema the flesh of the labourer; its ideal is to reduce the producer to the smallest number of needs, to suppress his joys and his passions and to condemn him to play the part of a machine turning out work without respite and without thanks (Marxist.org).

As for the accusation of workers “swinging the lead”, if Ms Patel and her “free enterprise” evangelists ever bothered to sit – and they will be lucky to find a seat - in the second-class cattle trucks coming out of London on a Monday to Friday evening to the suburbs they will notice countless workers glued to the screens of their laptops working diligently away in their own time for their employers benefit. And these politicians have the gall to tell workers they are idle, lazy and not working hard enough!

Time is Money

Rather than labour power being a source of creativity in meeting human need, under capitalism all the employer is interested in is extracting as much surplus value from labour power as possible. So the capitalist tries to claw as much time from the working class as possible to increase surplus labour time in which exploitation takes place.

The TUC claims that workers are increasingly “working for free” for their employers not understanding that all workers work for free for their employers because that is how the capitalist class make their profits. Workers work necessary labour time for their wages and salaries and a surplus labour time for their employers.

The TUC has asked the question “Where have all the lunch breaks gone”? They point to another 30 minutes or so of time conceded to the employer as workers have become to believe what they were told by the merchant banker, Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film WALL STREET that “Lunch is only for wimps”. Now, only one in five workers takes a regular lunch break (BBC 28th April 2012).

The TUC, ensnared in the dead-end politics of the Labour Party, denies the existence of the class struggle and instead idiotically calls for ”a responsible capitalism” and the conservative doctrine of “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”. In the real world the class struggle takes place over the intensity and extent of exploitation and politically over the ownership of the means of production and distribution. In the real world of the labour market there is no “decency” and there is no “fairness”.

Abolish the wages system

As for the expressions “a decent day’s wage” or “a decent day’s work” they are so Conservative. Both phrases implicitly conserve the capital-wage labour relationship. The implication is that there is nothing beyond the wages system. Workers are forever locked in a struggle over the extent and intensity of exploitation. The pay packet and the workers’ time in employment are the limiting horizons imposed by the dogma; “there is no alternative to the market”.

Marx replaced this reactionary conservatism with the revolutionary watchword “abolition of the wages system”.

If the abolition of the wages system was consciously and politically enacted by the working class it would mean two important revolutionary changes: first, the abolition of the labour market; buying and selling of labour power, wages and salaries employers and employees and, second, in its place the establishment of free voluntary social labour working creatively together to produce and distribute useful things to people according to need.

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