Value and wages
glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Sun Aug 6 23:25:45 MDT 1995
> Concerning Marx's ideas about the "minimum wage", I refer those who are
> interested to a section of "Results of the Immediate Process of
> Production." See Section IV [Isolated Fragments]; [The Sale of
> Labour-Power And the Trade Unions], especially pages 1069-1071 in
> _Capital_, Volume 1, Penguin edition.
It seems that many don't have the Penguin edition. If you are going to
buy _Capital_ this is, in my opinion, a much better version than the Kerr
or Progress/New World editions. The above article appears as an
"Appendix" in the Penguin edition, but not at all in the other editions.
>From page 1069:
" ...the *value of labour-power* constitutes the conscious and explicit
foundation of the *trade unions* whose importance for the English working
class can scarcely be overestimated. The *trade unions* aim at nothing
less than to prevent the *reduction of wages* below the level that is
traditionally maintained in the various branches of production. That is
to say, they wish to prevent the *price* of labour-power from falling
below its *value*."
>From page 1070:
"The workers *combine* in order to achieve *equality* of a sort with the
capitalist in their *contract concerning the sale of their labour. This
is the *rationale* (the logical basis) of the *trade unions*. What they
purpose is that 'the accidental immediate neediness of a labourer should
not compell him to make do with a smaller wage than supply and demand has
*already* established in a particular branch of labour' and thus depress
the *value* of labour-power in a particular area below its customary
level. The *value* of labour-power is 'regarded by the workers
themselves as the *minimum wage* and by the capitalist as the *uniform
rate of wages* for all workers in the same trade'. For this reason the
unions never allow their members to work for *less* than this minimum.
They are insurance societies for the workers themselves." (emphasis in
original; Sections quoted by Marx are from T.J. Dunning, Secretary to the
London Consolidated Society of Bookbinders, _Trades' Unions and Strikes:
Their Philosophy and Intention, London, 1860).
So ... how are we to interpret this? Initially, Marx says that the value
of the commodity labour power is equal to the costs to produce and
reproduce that commodity. But as Steve, John, and I have said before
there is a social, historical, and "moral" element to the value and price of
this commodity. That "price" is paid to workers in the form of wages.
When we go on to discuss trade unions at another, more concrete level of
determination, we see how trade unions modify the value of the commodity
labour-power and the wage. I see this as simply a more concrete
expression of the "moral" and "historical" factor that determines the
value of the commodity labour-power. Trade unions prevent wages from
going below a certain minimum and can affect the moral and cultural
understanding of what is the value of labour-power historically understood.
But ... let's not just look at what Marx wrote! Let's try and think
through these matters logically to understand the real social forces at
work! I believe that this little exercise has reinforced the need for us
to reconceptualize economic reality and *move beyond* Marx! Let's get on
to the task of completing the theory by at least attempting to sequence
the remaining topics that need to be addressed.
What we need to do initially is to examine Marx's plans for _Capital_
critically, see what topics need to be addressed (from *our*
perspective), and then see whether we can develop an outline that
attempts to place each of these topics in a logical sequence.
I, once again, call on you to be part of this project. I *really* think
we can do this!
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