3) The Labour Market

Submitted by Ed on November 19, 2010


From what we have already related in a condensed form we have been able to see that SABOTAGE, even in its English expression of "Go Cannie," is derived from the capitalist conception of human labour, which it considers as a merchandise or a commodity.

All bourgeois economists are agreed in upholding this theory and they unanimously declare that there exists a labour market just as there are markets for meat, grains, fish, etc. This granted, it is but logical that the capitalists act towards the "flesh for toil" in the same way as they would act in buying any other merchandise or raw material - that is, strive to obtain it at the very lowest price possible. There is, assuming as true the premises, nothing more normal.

We therefore find ourselves confronting the law of supply and demand.

The capitalists, however - and this is little understood - expect to receive, not an amount of labour proportioned to the wages they pay, but, on the contrary a much greater amount, quite independent of the wage level - in fact, the very maximum the worker can supply. In other words, the bosses expect to buy, not a given amount of labour, commensurate to the wages they pay; but the intrinsic labour power, the whole strength of the worker - indeed, it is the whole worker himself - body and blood, vigour and intelligence - that the employers exact.

Only, when they expound this pretension, they forget that labour power is an integral part of a reasoning being, endowed with a will and the capacity to resist and react.

Of course, everything would be nice and smooth for the capitalist world if the workers were as unconscious as are the steel and iron machines whose servants they are; and, if, like the machines, they had in the place of their heart and brains, a boiler or a dynamo.

But it is not so. The workers know what conditions are made for them by the present social system - and if they submit to them. it surely does not happen with their pleasure and consent. They know that they possess a certain labour power and if they consent to let it to an employer in a certain, determined quantity or for a determined time, they strive that the said quantity or time be in direct proportion to the wages they receive.

Even amongst the most unconscious workers, even amongst those that never put in doubt the right of the employers to exploit them, there arises the notion of resistance to the voracity of the capitalist.

The exploiters have naturally found out the workers' tendency to economise their labour power - and this explains why some of them have resorted to emulation and the premium system as a stimulus to a larger amount of work.

The master masons especially - and at Paris above all - have adopted a practice which, since 1906, has become quite obsolete; since the masons united in powerful syndicates. This scheme consisted in placing in each stone yard and building a worker secretly paid much better than his comrades. He would hustle more than any one else and it was necessary to follow him or risk being antagonised, called a laggard, or discharged as incapable.

This behaviour demonstrates that the masters treat their workers worse than their machines.

Indeed, the latter are bought on a guarantee of a certain specified production in a specified running time, and owners do not pretend to demand a larger output; whilst, when they engage workers, they demand from them, as we have said, the maximum of their productive capacity - both in strength and skill. This discordance, which is the basis of relations between workers and masters, throws a light on the fundamental opposition of interests between the two parties - the struggle of the class which owns the instruments of production against the class which, deprived of capital, possesses no wealth outside of its labour power.

And on the economic field, as soon as exploited and exploiters come face to face, we see the ineradicable antagonism that drives them to the two opposite poles and consequently renders always unstable and short-lived their agreements. Between these two parties, to be sure, it is impossible to close a contract in the precise and fair sense of the term. A contract implies the equality of the contracting parties and their full freedom to act - indeed, the specific characteristics of a contract conflict in bringing together two parties who agree on and sign something to the real interest of both of them, either for the present or for the future. Now, when a worker offers his labour power to an employer, the two parties are far from being on the same footing of independence and equality.

The worker, obsessed by the urgency of securing his daily bread - if not already in the clutches of hunger - does not possess the serene freedom to act, which his employer enjoys. Moreover, the benefit which he derives from the letting out of his labour is only temporary, inasmuch as, whilst he secures an immediate gain, it is not difficult to realise, on the other hand, that the risk he exposes himself to, with the sort of work that is imposed on him, may endanger his health and his future.

Therefore, between the workers and their employers there cannot be any agreements deserving to be qualified as contracts.

What it has been agreed to call a working contract lacks the specific and bilateral character of a contract proper. Indeed, we confront a purely unilateral contract favourable to only one of the parties; in other words, it is a real lion and lamb contract in which the strong (the capitalist) dictates the conditions to which the weak (the worker) must of necessity submit.

From this state of facts it necessarily follows that in the labour market there are nothing but two belligerent armies in a state of permanent warfare. Consequently, all agreements and all business relations between the two must be precarious and short-lived, inasmuch as they are vitiated beforehand by the graduation of the greater or smaller resistance of the antagonists on which they rest.

And it is just for this that: between employers and workers there is never, nor ever will be made, a binding and lasting understanding, a contract in the true and loyal sense of the word.

Between them there are and can be only armistices which, by suspending the hostilities from time to time, introduce a momentary armed truce in the incessant warfare.

Capital and labour are two worlds that violently clash together!

Of course, it may - and does - happen that there are infiltrations of one into the other; by virtue of a sort of social capillarity some absconders pass from the world of labour to that of Capital, even forgetting and disowning their origin and often taking place amongst the most intractable defenders of their new adopted caste.

But these fluctuations do not render infirm the antagonism of the two classes; on one side as on the other, the interests at play are diametrically opposite and this opposition manifests itself in everything that constitutes the warp of human existence.