The Core Issue

Labour and Wage

Surendra Pratap

From the perspective of labour, in the capitalist society, the wage is the core issue and the central point of conflict in labour-capital relations; it impacts and gets impacted by all other dimensions of the labour-capital conflict. Therefore, this issue may be the starting point of discussions on the new development dynamics and labour, as well as on the issue of labour law reforms.

The capital has been aggressively commoditizing, privatizing and monopolizing all wealth and resources of the society, i.e., transforming everything into means/source of profit generation, and dispossessing the people from any control over means of production and subsistence and thereby increasingly transforming the whole population into wage labour surviving only by labeling (selling their labour power) and generating profit for the capitalists. Larger is the population dispossessed from the means of production/subsistence, larger is the profit economy (larger population dependent on the market for their most of the needs) and larger is the reserve army of labour consistently putting downward pressure on wages, i.e., large number of workers are always compelled to compete with each other and ready to work for lower wages. Therefore, the working class struggles always emerge with three dimensions, and these dimensions are reflected in all daily life struggles of the labour :

a)   Struggle against dispossession and the Struggle to regain some kind of control on the means of production/subsistence: This is a continuous struggle, the capital attempts to dispossess them, they oppose, and even after complete dispossession they continuously attempt to regain some kind of ownership/control on some kind of means of production/subsistence, many times they succeed and then capital again attempts to dispossess them. The workers' struggles emerge stronger when a collective consciousness develops and a new dynamics emerges to increasingly building and exercising collective ownership/control on means of production/subsistence they possess or they won in their struggles.

b)   Struggle for increasing the share of wages and increasing control over their work (labour process): The labour (including wage labour and self employed producers/ workers), is consistently engaged in a struggle to increase the share of wages in the wealth produced by its labour, and to increase its control or reduce the control of capital on the labour process and working conditions. This is reflected in all daily struggles of the workers and also in its struggles for better labour laws ensuring better wages, better working conditions and better space for collective bargaining. This is related with the issues like what should be the minimum standards of wages, working conditions, and social security, that may serve as the base level for collective bargaining and how these minimum standards may be determined? The workers sell their labour power (i.e., contract for working for a period of time) and not sell themselves or their body and soul, and therefore it is to be insured that their health is not affected by work in any way, how this can be ensured and what kind of minimum standards of occupational health and safety may be implemented for this, and what compensation the employers need to pay workers if their health is affected by the work? If the industries affect the environment, it creates additional costs for the workers and people at large in various ways, what kind of minimum standards need to be created to minimize and nullify this impact, and if workers and people at large get affected in any way, what compensation the employers need to pay to the workers and the society in general? How the redistributive justice can be insured and how it may lead to consistent improvements in the life and work of the workers with overall development of country's economy?

c)   Struggle for control over wealth generated by labour and how and for what it is to be used, i.e., Struggle to democratize the polity, economy and society: The whole wealth of society is produced by labour (product of actions of labour that it performs on nature and the chain of activities that it performs in various stages to produce a commodity). The labour is paid only the wages that forms only a very small part of the total value of commodities that it produces, but the whole additional value is also produced by labour and ethically that also primarily belongs to the labour. In other words, it is the labour that donates the whole wealth produced by it, to be used for social development. The taxes paid by the capital also come from the same unpaid value of labour that is captured by the capitalists as profits. Moreover, the workers as citizens and consumers pay huge additional amounts from their wages in the form of various kinds of taxes. All this forms the background and justification for the demands for a greater control of workers on the whole social wealth and a greater democratic space for them in determining how and for what this wealth may be used. This is reflected in daily struggles of workers and demands of working class movements for policies to ensure free or highly subsidized necessities like food, water, housing, education, health, transport and energy etc, better and universal social security and the policies that facilitate building a more humane and enlightened society, free from all social evils and inequalities.All the above three dimensions are inter-related and impact each other. However, this interrelationship brings an overall positive impact for labour only when the working class movement is able to integrate the above three aspects in its struggles (by way of uniting the working class movements) and is able to push for labour laws that clearly integrate the above three aspects.

In a capitalist society, the labour laws are nothing but a kind of formal contract between labour and the capital determined by the balance of power between the two classes in a particular time and space. This balance of power is also reflected in and interlinked with the nature of politico-economic regime and the degree of neutrality that the state apparently displays in labour-capital relations. If the working class movement emerges powerful and is able to tilt the balance of power in favour of labour, it is able to compel the state to amend labour laws in favour of labour to upgrade the labour standards, or compel the employers by way of collective bargaining to upgrade the labour standards over and above what is provided by existing labour laws. In these situations the state is also compelled to show more neutrality in dealing with labour-capital relations, if not acting in favour of labour. However, the situation is reversed when the balance of power is decisively tilted in favour of capital. In such situations, the capital is able to compel the state to reform the labour relations (labour laws) against labour, and even when labour laws remain the same, practically they lose their meaning and relevance. The state no more appears as a neutral entity, and in collusion with capital it openly acts against labour. This dynamics appears very clearly in various phases of Indian history, particularly when one compares the situations before and after liberalization.

It is important to keep the above aspects in mind while discussing on the issues related to new development dynamics and labour, and on the issue of labour laws reforms.

Vol. 48, No. 10, Sep 13 - 19, 2015