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Capitalism, it’s not a love-in

Written By: - Date published: 5:10 am, September 2nd, 2009 - 38 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags: ,

I find the Right’s assumption that the bosses are acting in some greater interest fascinating. There’s this unwillingness to believe that the bosses would be acting in their own interests and that what’s in their interests are often not in the interests of the rest of us.
Look at the comments yesterday on the Telecom engineers’ dispute. Flat out refusal from the righties to even countenance the arguments or the independent evidence, despite having no counter-evidence. In fact, the righties just assumed there are other facts out there that show the bosses are acting benevolently and generously towards the workers. It’s interesting that they even find they need to event these fairy-tales. If they support capitalism, why aren’t they comfortable with its true face?
The nature of the capitalist economic system carries with it an inherent conflict of interest between capitalists and workers. The workers’ labour makes the products using capital owned by the capitalist. The product is owned by the capitalist, so they’re the ones who get to apportion the profits from those products between themselves and the workers. The more they pay the workers, the less they get themselves.
Now, who do you think they’re going to favour? What interest do they have in paying workers more than the minimum necessary to retain sufficient workers with the necessary skills and willingness to work? None.
So, they pay them as little as possible. They try to break unions and weaken labour laws, all to drive down the cost of labour, maximising their returns. These people aren’t evil; don’t cry that I’m calling them baby-eaters. They’re looking out for their individual interests. The interests that are inherent in being a member of the capitalist class in a capitalist economy, which means (often) working against the interests of the workers.
Doesn’t mean the rest of us have to bow down and take it. Our strength is in our numbers and in our unity. When workers refuse to undercut each other and demand fair wages and conditions, they can force the bosses to agree to them.
That’s the nature of capitalism. The bosses pay as little as they can get away with, the workers have to band together to get a fair deal. There’s no need to play make believe and pretend otherwise.

38 comments on “Capitalism, it’s not a love-in ”

  1. Michael Foxglove 1

    Good man Zet. It’s a matter of the power relationship between employer and employee. The employer can in most circumstances push workers into a worse deal through this power imbalance.

    The right-wingers shall argue that it is a matter of “choice”, but let it be known that those who make such an argument ignore the reality of society, and the science of the human brain. What a pathetic premise they rely on – some 17th Century notion of a ‘state of nature’.

    We New Zealanders must start to balance the relationship that Zet defines.

  2. Tim Ellis 2

    Interesting points, Zetetic. If you assert that the “bosses” are pursuing their own interests and don’t have wider concerns, then isn’t it equally valid that the unions might be pursuing their own interests as well?

    • Daveo 2.1

      Tim. Yes, a democratic union pursues the interests of its members. That’s what they’re there for.

      • indiana 2.1.1

        Tim do you mean that Unions are essentially businesses, that their revenue streams are from paid members, that they financially manage their income to set reserves for future expenditure etc?

      • Swampy 2.1.2

        Do they get the views of 100% of their members or are they, like the student unions, just activised by a hard core minority?

  3. Zetetic 3

    Tim, do you mean the workers might be pursuing their own interests? of course they are.

    don’t imagine that unions are something separate from the workers. The unions are made up of member workers, the decisions are democratic (they vote whether to accept a pay offer, they vote whether to go on strike, whether to be affiliated to a political party). The members employ are small number of workers to work on their behalf – negotiators, lawyers and organisers – but those people (the Andrew Littles etc) are not the union, just employees of it, and they’re controlled by a democratic process.

    • Daveo 3.1

      Actually Zet, Andrew Little is elected, as are most national secretaries, though he’s still accountable to the union’s elected national executive. Otherwise spot on though.

  4. Sam 4

    “That’s the nature of capitalism. The bosses pay as little as they can get away with, the workers have to band together to get a fair deal.”

    Juxtapose this with the following statement:

    Drivers will pay as little as they can for petrol, they will act in there own self-interest. Petrol companies have to band together to get a fair deal.

    So price fixing is cool if your fixing your own price, but not so good if someone else does it?

    • Zetetic 4.1

      except that the issue of wages and conditions this isn’t one of a mere price.

      We’re talking the livelihoods of the bulk of the population and the place where most people spend a good portion of the their waking lives.

      nice try though.

  5. Sam 5

    The cost of labour sure is an issue of price when I get a tradesperson out to work on my house. Obviously, I would want to pay them a fair price for the work done, but I’m still going to get a number of quotes to ensure I get a good deal. I wouldn’t be happy if all the plumbers in the area started getting together to fix their prices.

    So if price fixing in that arena is bad, then why is it good in a larger arena?

    • snoozer 5.1

      Sam. you’re thinking small and your example isn’t one of the employer-employee relationstip. The issue is how much of society’s production goes to the workers and how much to the owners of capital – that’s what the division of profits between wages and return to shareholders ultimately results in.

      No-one’s saying capitalists shouldn’t try to maximise their slice of the pie, why do you have a problem with workers trying to do the same?

      • Sam 5.1.1

        Touche, I guess.

        I have a problem with anyone price fixing, whether it’s Telecom (having inherited an unfairly large slice of the market for cabling labour), or oil companies, or workers through unionisation. It is all the same to me, the threat of force or monopoly to gain higher than market rates for your services.

  6. outofbed 6

    One suspects that many of these “rightwinger’s ancestors would be turning over in their graves.
    This I’m “alright Jack” attitude would be sickening to them
    Many of the very things that righties take for granted have been hard won by workers banding together to form unions.

    My grandparents fought long and hard to help secure the rights that I now enjoy
    I have not forgotten their struggles and know that we have to keep up the fight, least we loose what they have achieved

  7. Maggie 7

    Tim clearly needs a lesson in reality.

    By changing the relationship with their workers, Telecom, or its lackeys are changing the entire rules of the game, without any consultation with the other players.

    By requiring their workers to buy their own jobs, Telecom avoid the following: this list is by no means exhaustive:

    1) Income Tax (this becomes the workers responsibility)
    2) ACC payments
    3) GST, (absent from an employment relationship this now enters the equation)
    3) Holidays, both statutory and annual
    4) Sick Leave
    5) Bereavement Leave
    6) Parental Leave
    etc etc

    The worker becomes responsible for all these issues. He, in effect, is turned into an employer and pays thousands of dollars for the privilege.

    But it doesn’t end there. Unlike other business people the Telecom worker has only one customer, Telecom. At any time Telecom can cease using him and cut his business off at the knees. Presumably, if they do, he still owes them for a business which has become valueless.

    Now do you get it, Tim?

    • indiana 7.1

      Maggie, do you think courier companies in NZ are equally as bad as Telecom, that apply the same contracting out of labour principles?

  8. rave 8

    All very interesting but the reality of capitalism is not an imbalance of power between bosses and workers, but the fact that bosses profits are produced from the surplus labour of productive workers.
    The imbalance of power only exists because workers accept that the bosses have the right to take their profits from workers labour. This gives the bosses the whip hand.
    Once that stops, the system stops…

    • indiana 8.1

      Fair enough, but what if I was self employed or even directly employed, by Telcom or a publicly listed company, cannot I not slowly invest money in shares in that company, then my productivity contributes to the profits made by that company paid back to me as dividends? I am sure there is the argument that I am so lowly paid I will not have enough surplus income to invest in shares…but maybe I should give up smoking, drinking and KFC just for even six months 😉

      • snoozer 8.1.1

        my, letting the predjudices show there a bit old boy.

        The idea of workers owning the means of production is nothing new. You’re describing a piecemeal progressive evolution towards a variant of anarcho-syndicalism. There are businesses around the world (even a few in capitalsit economies) where workers directly own the profits, rather than getting a share apportioned by the boss.

        One barrier to your approach is that most companies, including any large ones are not publicly listed. Another is getting the money to start investing in the first place… the deep dark secret is most capitalists get theirs from daddy

        • Sam

          Why should that be a deep dark secret? Surely people should be free to give their money to whomever they like, even their offspring.

          Jealousy is such an ugly emotion.

          • Quoth the Raven

            Sam – It’s horrible bludging when bennies get money without labouring isn’t it? but when trust fund babies get money without labouring it’s all good eh?

            • Sam

              Stealing my money via the ballot box (otherwise known as taxation) to give to a bludger is horrible, yes. If I choose to give my money to my bludging offspring, then that is my choice and no concern of anyone else.

            • Quoth the Raven

              I actually oppose taxation as coercive and removing the right to the full product of one’s labour just as capitalists do to workers and I oppose capitalism on free market grounds. I would voluntarily support people through mutual aid. I’m trying to demonstrate the hypocrisy in both sides, not just yours – witness indiana’s comment.

            • Draco T Bastard

              If I choose to give my money to my bludging offspring, then that is my choice and no concern of anyone else.

              If you gave your bludging offspring all your money and it simply went down as they spent it it wouldn’t be a problem – they’d eventually run out and have to produce some value. The issue is that the money can be used to garner an income without actually producing any wealth.

            • Sam

              So Draco, what if I build a house on my property and rent it out. I then die and leave the house to my offspring who continue to rent it out and “garner an income without actually producing any wealth”. Would this be OK? If not, are you proposing that all property/money should revert to the state upon death?

            • Pascal's bookie

              If not, are you proposing that all property/money should revert to the state upon death?

              There’s an idea. Why not?

              Deals to any problems arising from concentrated wealth and elites, makes more real the claims of a market based economy delivering rewards based on merit, would allow for lower levels of taxation elsewhere, would satisfy the notion that wealth is generated not purely by an individual but also by the society that sets rules to allow wealth creation, and that’s just off the top of my head.

              What a sterling idea Sam. Thanks.

            • Sam

              So you’re in favour of the use of force against the innocent then? Awesome. Or the abolition of property rights? Try getting that past the electorate… oh yeah, that’s where the use of force against the innocent comes in.

            • Draco T Bastard

              I then die and leave the house to my offspring who continue to rent it out and “garner an income without actually producing any wealth’.

              No, because they’re still not producing any wealth. You produced that wealth and benefited from it. Your children have no such claim.

              Upon your death having the land and house revert back to state ownership seems like a good idea.

            • Sam

              Ok… so it reverts to the state. Who in the state decides what is done with it? What if it is a particularly nice house, a mansion say, does it go to the chairman of the party? Or are we talking one of these idealised states where there is no incompetence or corruption and every member of the bureaucracy has the morals of a saint?

            • Pascal's bookie

              Lordy sam, you’re a bit boring mate. project much?

            • Sam


            • Pascal's bookie

              Yeah that’s what I thought too sam, so I gave with respect to what I was given.

              I gave you an opening to say something interesting but all you could come up with was to ignore it and roll with the same old randian derived submoronic horseshit that everyone here has seen and demolished about seventysillion times.

        • indiana

          Which individual or particular group have I prejudiced against?
          What does 😉 at the end of comment mean?

          Can the members of a union not negotiate to own shares in a non listed company instead of a pay rise?

          Another is getting the money to start investing in the first place…perhaps investing in Lotto, the TAB, Pokies could all be a start too…..oh and by the way 😛

          • snoozer

            yeah, maybe had the PC antennas on too sensitive, just you get a few of the KB types making references to KFC like that.

            Nothing against workers taking shares in theory.

    • Relic 8.2

      Partly right Mr Rave, the term used in Marxist writing is “surplus value’ which is the “hidden’ value created by workers over and above what they receive in wages and any benefits, that is appropriated by the employer. Margins and cost plus pricing (that many people assume is where the capitalists profits come from) are in addition to this initial exploitation.

      Marx dealt more with widget production rather than service, creative and contract industry so the calculations are more complex nowadays, the theory remains valid though and modern economists still try and debunk his ideas such as the tendency for the rate of profit to fall over time. It is said that capitalists take risks and invest, and they may do in a narrow sense, but in general terms any wealth that exists is a result of previous application of physical and intellectual labour applied to the natural and subsequent technological resources of the natural world. Who decided a small group should have exclusive ownership of most of the world? I never got a vote.

      Finance capital inclusive of leveraged buyouts and all the rest muddy the waters as does the ideological position of many who consider life consists of competing individuals rather than groups with a community of class interest. Particularly in NZ where there is a high number of self employed and contract workers. Self employed often do have a boss though, known as ‘the bank’ or the ‘landlord’.

      • rave 8.2.1

        Surplus value true, I prefer to use surplus labour in this context just in case there is any doubt about where value comes from.
        The majority of self-employed these days are disguised wage workers, like Telecom subcontractors. The beauty of Marxism is that it can handle all these ‘complextities’ and relate them back to the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, whereas the bourgeois hacks are all running around talking about green shoots coming through the toxic debt – fools!
        Anti-spam says ‘determine’. Marx speaks even here.

  9. Swampy 9

    When I grew up, unions held all the cards through compulsory membership. They played those cards often through numerous strikes, there was hardly a week went past without some strike or other, it was the standard union standover tactic every time there was some dispute or other with their bosses they went on strike.

    National got elected and set about doing something about it, introducing voluntary membership and that was the end of NZers being used as political footballs by unions campaigning, often politically as the weak industrial relations laws allowed them to do then.

    Now no one except a handful of hard core lefties including some diehard marxists union leaders really believes we should still have compulsory membership of unions. The union leadership bleats on about freeloading, but people don’t want to pay their high fees to support the Labour Party. So if unions don’t want to be like Unite and stick to the basics they only have themselves to blame.

    Using the example of Telecom. Labour decided that they didn’t like Telecom very much, a lot of harder lefties were urging Labour to bash them hard, so Labour did hit them hard with the LLU without any financial compensation. Whereas Labour would have done the country a better service by buying out the lines and those engineers would be employed by Kordia or something instead. So I blame part of this debacle on Labour, it is hardly surprising Telecom is striking back at a key Labour affiliated union in this.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      There was never compulsory unionism in NZ. There was the simple fact that if you didn’t belong to the union your wouldn’t get award rates of pay and be worse off by a few hundred dollars per year (in todays $$$, probably the equivalent of a few thousand per year). After the ECA was passed you got those wages whether you belonged to the union or not and so you were better off not belonging. The union still negotiated, you got the benefits of that negotiation but you didn’t pay for it – commonly referred to as free loading. Policy proposed and passed by National against the full wishes of the people.

      I suggest you go and read Prosperity for All? by Brian Roper

      ..with the LLU without any financial compensation.

      They got plenty of compensation in the form of outrageous profits which have seriously harmed NZ.

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