Roger Odisio rodisio at
Wed Aug 25 13:13:59 PDT 1999

Thanks for this from Breman, Rakesh. It's a good accounting of some of the social forms of immiseration, which you in particular have been emphasizing, beyond the basic monetary relationship between wages and consumption needs. These are some of the things that fall under my vague generalization about job configuration and work hours, which I indicated are factors affecting workers' disposable income with which to buy their subsistence. My formulation was much too narrow, however, to capture the things Breman explains.

One thing about Marx's concept. He posits *social* subsistence as that necessary for the reproduction of labor, but capitalists would like to ignore the social part. They, or some of them in some industries in particular, want to push wages toward some measure of physical subsistence--wages are sufficient as long as the worker shows up tomorrow or can be relatively costlessly replaced by someone else. And they have their apologists, the neoclassical economists who establish what economic theory is, telling them they are right to do so, right to not tamper with the (labor) market. Minimum wage laws are inefficient.

This is but another reason why we must insist on the social element in social subsistence, and explain all the ways immiseration is a social phenomenon.

> This global offensive as defended by the World Bank has been ably critiqued
> by Jan Breman in "Labour, Get Lost: A Late Capitalist Manifesto" Economic
> and Political Weekly, Sept 16, 1995:
> "What ultimately becomes clear is that future propsects for workers in the
> global economy can only be bright if they are prepared to behave with
> maximal felixibility, i.e., to forego most forms of security and
> protection. After a balancing act, summing up the well known pros and cons,
> the verdict [of the World Bank] is that minimum wages are difficult to
> justify, particularly in low and middle income countries. The same applies
> to most other gains, often the outcome of long last lasting struggles.,
> which mainly if not solely benefit that segment of the laobur force which
> is relatively better skilled and organized. The message is abrupt, short
> and clear: the privilged treatment enjoyed by the formal secotr workers
> should be abolished in order to put an end to the obnoxious state of labour
> market dualism. Has not experience taught that capital, forced by the need
> for continuous economic adaptability in the rapidly changing world economy,
> is only interested in flexible work contracts? Well labour had better fall
> into line. Dictated by highly volatile market conditions, this means the
> acceptance of casual rather than permanent employment, of fluctuating
> instead of steady wage rewards, of variable contrary to stable hours and
> fixed length of the workday. Last but not least workers should make little
> claims or none at lall to secondarly laobur rights. In exprssing a
> preference for such a work regime, the World Bank goes to the extent of
> even rejecting as untenable, both in principle and practice, the
> introduction of safety regulations at the site of employment.
> "'Needy workers in those countries often are not reached by protective
> labour legislation. They benefit from public action that attempts to
> improve the working environment in the rural and informal sectors--e.g,
> through th eprovision of drinking water, improved sanitary conditions, or
> eradication of infectious diseases.'
> "Reflecting on the miserable plight of labour in Surat, the location of my
> urban fieldwork in west Inda and a bulwark of informal cpaitalism, which
> has witnessed pogrom and plague in quick succession during the last few
> years, I find this statement in the WB documents to be intolerably naive
> and quite objectionable."

Not naive! Pure capitalist theory.


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