Sunday, February 23, 2014

The so-called "free" worker's captivity

Marx’s discussion of the disinterestedness that the slave possesses struck me as the very attitude (however inconceivable) that one would need to reject the capitalist mentality.  Marx’s sharply notes that “the slave works only under the spur of external fear but not for his existence which is guaranteed even though it does not belong to him” (1031).  Thus, from the slave’s point of view, “minimal wage appears to be a constant quantity, independent of his work” (1031).  The free worker, on the other hand, “must maintain his own position, since his existence and that of his family depends on his ability continuously to renew the sale of his labour-power to the capitalist” (1031).  This constant renewal—the inescapable necessity in the so-called “free” worker’s position—encapsulates the driving force of capital.  In capitalist labor force, as Marx suggest, we find a “great variations in the wages paid, depending on whether a particular type of work requires a more highly developed labour-power at greater cost or not”  (1032).  The system thus contrives to offer the free worker an “incentive to develop his own labour-power” (1032).  Of course, it is up to the individual to seek what Marx refers to as “higher spheres by exhibiting a particular talent or energy” (1032).  But I have come to recognize this incentive in its various forms: the free worker seeks a promotion, when a promotion is not available, working overtime will do.  In other words, the proverbial ideal that is operating here is that of more-hours-equals-more-money mentality, which may indeed have merit, but mostly to feed the capitalist’s needs and pockets.  It is only ironic that this incentive is the very driving force of the capitalist, to borrow Marx’s formulation, “in the same way there is an abstract possibility that this or that worker might conceivably become a capitalist and the exploiter of the labour of others” (1032).  One can hardly imagine our jobs/career to have nearly as much insignificance as the slave is said to regard his labor.  The best part of my day starts right before I step into the classroom to teach.  But as genuine a sentiment as this may be, I must admit that an economic incentive accompanies the desire to elevate that “particular talent or energy.”

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