Academia and wage labor

Paul W. Cockshott cockshpw at
Thu Oct 6 06:57:47 MDT 1994

On Wed, 5 Oct 1994, Thomas Schumacher wrote:

> However, universities do do a lot to help in the expansion of capital(s) --
> particularly in the hard sciences where capital finances particular research
> projects, etc.  Even in the social sciences, academics exchange their labor-
> power against capital in the form of research grants and consultancy projects.

A consultancy or research project is not normally a sale of labour power, but
a form of subcontracting whose product, research results, is sold at value.
The university researcher whose project is funded by a firm is not employed
by the firm and their time is not the firms to dispose of. This is what gives
them a degree of autonomy.

> Academics also affect the expansion/contraction of capital by the impact of
> education on the value of potential workers' labor power.  While university
> teachers may get paid by the state (for example), this does not position them
> outside of the circuits of capital.
To the extent that education affects the value of labour power, it raises it
and thus reduces the rate of surplus value. To the extent that an educated
labour force may accelerate technical change in a country, the capitalists
of that country may appropriate a large share of the relative surplus value
produced in the world as a whole, which is presumably why they are willing
to countenance the expansion of education.
However the fact that university teachers have an affect on the reproduction
of labour power does not make their labour part of the circuit of capital.
Sex is even more necessary to the production of labour power, but that
does not make it part of the circuit of capital.

For something to be part of the circuit of capital, capital must be
embodied in it during the process M-C-M'. This is what is meant by capital
having a circuit during which it assumes different physical forms.

> If you look at academics as low-wage writers, we exchange against the capital
> of publishers, most often *way below* the value of labor power for that work
> (compare the wages of an academic writer to those of other writers working for
> larger publishers).  In this sense, academics are wage workers like other
> writers.

Whils I would agree that we are shoddily paid for our labour in writing
books, writers are not generally wage workers. Journalists are, but most
authors are paid for their product rather than for their time. To be a wage
worker your time has to be purchased. This is not to say that authors may
not be swindled out of part of their due, in that the product of their
labour rather than their labour power may sell at below par.

> some quantitative criteria) but is produced by/under changing conditions.  When
> private capital invests in public schools (thereby securing a working class for
> the future and thereby capital's own future), do the teachers in those schools
> suddenly change class positions?  Without even doing anything?  Hmmmm....

At the present there is in Britain and I believe in the US as well an effort
by the ruling class to import management styles that originate in industry
into the public sector. As this proceeds, the working conditions of public
sector workers, including those with more autonomy like academics can come
to approach those of workers in industry. To the extent that this occurs
peoples class position changes and this may yet produce political effects.


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