Progress Today: Work Longer and Earn Less Ruthless Criticism

Why wage sacrifices lead to ever more wage losses

Progress today:
Work longer and earn less

[Translated from a broadcast by GegenStandpunkt Marburg, November 17, 2004]

German companies dare something new: they require, completely openly, unpaid additional work. Daimler Chrysler wants to save 500 million additional Euros per year on its Stuttgart workforce; VW plans to lower personnel expenditures around 30%; Siemens, Opel, MAN, Karstadt-Quelle do the same. And what happens in the prestigious global corporations surely happens in the middle-sized ones and in the small sweat shops – not even to mention East Germany: collective agreements are openly ignored or bypassed in co-operation with work councils and trade unions; the working day is extended and wage incomes are shortened in a few months by more than the wage increases of the last 15 years.

The entrepreneurs once justified this with losses – as did Karstadt and Opel. In the years with record profits, they just asked provocatively: “does an enterprise have to stand on the verge of bankruptcy before it can do anything?” as a spokesperson for the firm Kugelfischer said. It does not matter whether the companies are industry leaders with super-profits or if they juggle losses; it does not matter whether they want to sweep their competitors off the market with additional cost reductions or whether they try to save themselves from bankruptcy with cost reductions – the diagnosis is always the same: the workers work too little and cost too much. So the called-for solution to all their different competitive needs is always the same: extension of working hours plus cuts in wages.

One company after another refers to the demands of competition which leave them no other choice. They practice this demand by mutually pursuing their business purpose – and this business purpose is specifically profit and exists in the fact that workers work for the company and not for themselves. The more output they deliver and the less they get from it, so much the better for the net yield and so much the better for the ability of the company to take market share away from the competition. So the interest of the capital owners rules in the form of a whole system of objective constraints; and each individual company “must” always do exactly what it wants to: it must successfully hunt for profit against the competitors, otherwise it is eliminated. But is that a good reason for the wage earners to sacrifice their own standard of living for the profit interest of capital? This only proves, in the end, that the workers are not only facing an individual greedy bastard they have to get rid of, but a whole economic system.

The entrepreneurs who argue self-confidently for the priority of profit over wages do not rely on their convincing arguments anyhow. With the regulation of longer working hours for less money, they make clear in practice that wages are not a question of a fair correspondence between labor performed and remuneration, but a question of power: if they feel strong enough and the opposite side advances weakly enough, they simply change the labor performance requirements and pay. They confront the staff with blackmail. They threaten to close German locations and to “give work” elsewhere, where the exploitable misery is larger – as well as the willingness to allow everything to fall even lower. They freely pick the cheapest and most efficient from the globally availabile surplus working people. And, of course, only if the natives fulfill the criterion for price and labor performance do they do them the favor of exploiting them. Like Mafiosi, the entrepreneurs explain their extortion to employees as an offer they cannot refuse. In unison, they communicate: “Only if German wages are competitive with Polish, Indian, etc., can we keep jobs in Germany.”

With their blackmail, the companies use the dependence of the “employees” for the work that they “give” them – and on the willingness of their people to do justice to the requirements of this dependence. And it looks like the capitalists can plan on it. However, the extorted workers should know one thing: precisely by their efforts to fulfill and carry out more demands for less money for the net yield of capital, they drive themselves ever deeper into shit. And so it goes:

What capital's power of extortion is based on and why it will continue to increase

Most people in modern national economies are dependent on someone to give them “work” in order to be able to procure the means of living. They cannot do the work necessary for getting what they need themselves by producing together – because they do not have the necessary means of production. Disposal over tools and machinery, land and buildings, inventions and know-how is reserved for a small minority by the law of property. This minority does not work, but invests – on the condition that the work that they allow others to perform brings them profit. The enlargement of the wealth of the rich is the precondition for work, even that which might deliver vital necessities. Work that does not throw off profit does not exist in capitalism. Only because of this are there unemployed people, people who need work and are unable to get it.

For their profit, the entrepreneurs are dependent on the services of their employees. But they know how to deal with this dependence so that a mutual extortion between employer and employee doesn't develop, but remains beautifully one-sided. Because the wages on which the employees must live are costs for the entrepreneurs, they use the newest machinery and make the work that they pay for ever more productive. This could be a blessing for humankind. From year to year, it is technically easier to manufacture and procure what is necessary and desirable. Technically, the necessary work decreases. But, of course, in capitalism technical progress does not take place in order to save the workers work and make more goods available. It takes place in order to save labor costs for capital – and its effects follow: if companies allow the technical efficiency of work to increase and compile the result of two working hours in one hour, then they dismiss one half of their employees and save themselves the payment of their living costs. Then the remaining other half can be glad to be allowed to go on working at the remaining jobs – at the old wages, if they are lucky. Thereby, the entrepreneurs lower their labor costs and increase their profit. The form of shorter hours known to capitalism is called unemployment – and with the productivity of factory work, the number of those who fall into misery grows because capital does not need their services any longer. Their emergency is the other side of the increasing wealth of capital.

The capital owners’ power of extortion grows along with their wealth. They use the unemployed persons created by their progress as weapons against their employees. The more productive the work, the larger the number that loses work, nationally and world-wide; the larger their number, the harder and more credible the threat of the capitalists to employ still cheaper unemployed persons in place of the traditional staff. Just by the fact that one worker may not work at all, others are extorted to work longer again. Unemployment and overwork belong together in this system and nothing is more inconceivable than that those who must work too much could share the work with those who do not work at all.

The democratic state develops the entrepreneurs’ power of extortion into a completely imposed system: it insults those unemployed persons made superfluous by capital and on public support as parasites with “a cash and carry mentality,” sets them on a 345 euro subsistence level – and so forces them into cheaper competition against the employed. They must accept any work at any wage. And thus they “prove” that the work of the so-called “normally employed” is actually much too highly paid – their living costs thereby free again for another lowering. And not only this: responsible politicians attack holidays, discuss the extension of lifetime work and announce the 40-hour week, and so on.

So poverty grows in the age of almost fully automatic factories and in the midst of the largest abundance of products of all kinds. Those whose services for capital are no longer needed lose their income with their jobs. The others who have “work” defend their status against the cheaper workers by becoming ever more similar to them – ever more industrious and poorer. This is what progress looks like today.