If it is so clear that each crisis goes at the expense of the wage workers – what’s all the bellyaching for? Ruthless Criticism

Lessons from the Crisis
If it is so clear that each crisis goes at the expense of the wage workers –
what’s all the bellyaching for?

[Translated from Radio Lora, Munich, January 11, 2010]

The free market economy has gone through many a crisis, and each time there’s complete bedlam. This time the responsible politicians and critical journalists are maintaining they even “looked into the abyss.” With “abyss” they mean that for a moment it looked as if even the Holiest of Holies of this economic order, money, might have gone down the tubes. And what are we supposed to learn from that? It is absolutely crucial that normality has to return again – nothing but away from the abyss! The normal market-economic business life – for which money is the central point and which led to the crisis – must completely get off the ground again! Seen that way, there is one certain profiteer of crises: capitalism – the same one is to function as usual. Everyone who was afflicted by the usual course of business before the crisis and felt some discontent because they could notoriously never make ends meet or had to reckon with the next lay-off should forget all that in the face of the much greater damage from the crisis and long for the times “before.”

Of course: “These things must never ever happen again.” Like in every crisis, guilty persons are being found, and this time around there had been an agreement on “banksters” with their “greed.” This is handy, because then the state in all its power can become active with all sorts of conditions and laws, restricting bonuses and salaries and enacting tougher regulations in matters of “risks” – and one thing has at any rate been achieved: good faith in the actually beneficial and economically so indispensable effects in the business of banking can feel strengthened, if only the “black sheep” have got a bloody nose. Others culprits will be found for the next crisis. The “climate catastrophe” is perhaps a frontrunner…

There’s one rule for coping with the crisis: there’s a lot of energy being taken in propaganda and regulations in order to comprehend the crisis as the exception to the rule – the other way around, the rule is given the best testimonial. If this is so, we invest some energy to show what can be learned from the exception about the rule – provided one refrains for a moment from the one and only desire to wish the crisis disaster away.


To begin with the main point: the bulk of the people has only one opportunity to earn a living in a market economy. They need an employer in order to offer themselves, i.e., their labor power – there’s nothing else they have – against a remuneration. In a crisis, significantly more people than usual get to experience – and all others get to experience it first-hand, too – how insecure such a livelihood is. But a crisis is nothing special in this respect, such an existence is always insecure. Nobody gets paid because he needs money, but only because an employer considers such expenses as profitable – for the profit of the company. Public companies do not calculate any differently. Nothing goes without profit and everything depends on it. That is why there is kind of a natural law in capitalism: wages have to be low, and there’s an increasing work-load demanded. All jobs are dependent on this decree – and this is why there’s no guarantee for their profitability. Every entrepreneur works on making his workplace more profitable than those of his competitors. That is why he demands that every job, day in day out, stand the test of profitability – which is why constantly jobs don’t fit into the scheme of things. Capitalistic logic demands that money that can no longer be used in a profitable way needs to be spared – and with it the human being whose income depends on that money.

In a way, everybody knows that the economy is run this way and reckons with that. What regularly happens, however, is something peculiar. Whenever, as is the case now, layoffs are piling up and firms stop hiring, when wage concessions and overtime no longer help and when the hard-earned living is destroyed, then nonetheless everybody is amazed and in fear, and there’s a great public grumbling. Then it is obvious: people on the one hand continuously try to adapt to “reality” – which, as is said, is “the way it is” – of course for no other reason than to make the best of it. On the other hand, the same people don’t really believe, or at least don’t really take seriously, what everybody actually notices and knows: they can only work for a living as long as their employers’ calculations work out. People cling to this “as long as” as if there were really this “one boat” in which the company and the workforce were rowing together. As long as they have a job, they simply do not want to admit that a job is paid for no other reason because and in order that a firm makes money by utilizing labor. They do not want to admit that the only opportunity that the majority has, namely to earn their living by wage labor, is not an end but once and for all merely a means – for the employer’s purposes.

Now that the moans and groans have started all over again about “lost jobs” and the “many difficult fates behind them,” they are useful for one thing alone: to uphold the lie with which “realistic” people who try to make the best of everything struggle through life: somehow and in the end, the purpose of the market economy just has to be, at least in part, the livelihoods of those who depend on wages, and somehow they should be able to earn the wages on which they depend. And yet the lesson is unambiguous: if a large portion of the wage-dependent population is plunged into deprivation, while the remainder can no longer be certain of their future income, this is not a crisis. A crisis is when profit-making no longer functions. Then livelihoods get sacrificed across the board, because in the market economy their right to exist derives solely from the benefit that a company can extract from the use of their labor. In a crisis, none of this gets glossed over, but at the same time, nobody really wants to accept the clarification.

This is least of all the case for the unions. They know instinctively that there’s only one remedy: profit-making has to function again. As representatives of the wage-dependent population they have one and only one offer as to how the profitable exploitation of the working population can be gotten off the ground again and how mass-lay-offs can be restricted: more concession on wages, more unpaid working time, more sacrifices in spare time. And nobody realizes, least of all the unions themselves, that their offer only testifies to what nobody wants to admit: employers’ business interests, in the crisis more than ever, are irreconcilably opposed to what workers need and require for a secure livelihood. The special lie of the unions is, however, that their offer could nonetheless reconcile these antagonistic interests – wholly at the cost of wage-dependent people. And even that doesn’t get the unions anywhere. A crisis thwarts every last hope for reconciliation between the necessity of making a living and the laws of appropriate market behavior. Of course, firms demand that their workers make concessions in terms of wages and working hours as soon as they run into difficulties, they happily accept such offers. But not even in normal times does that go toward “creating jobs,” rather than lowering costs and making workers superfluous. And once profit-making falters across the board, earnings and earnings opportunities get slashed – voluntary impoverishment – encouraged by the unions – won’t “rescue” anything.