v and the value of labor power

Jim heartfield jim at heartfield.demon.co.uk
Fri Aug 27 00:53:50 PDT 1999

In message <v04210120b3eb7b34274f@[]>, Doug Henwood <dhenwood at panix.com> writes
>Yeah, but there's a lot of slippage in defining the reproduction of
>labor power. For the typical First World worker it includes a car and
>a TV; for a Mexican worker (who may be employed by Ford or Sony), it
>includes a house made of sheet metal, plastic sheeting, and
>cardboard. A generation ago, the unit reproduced was said to be the
>"family"; now it's pretty much the individual worker and a dependent
>if s/he's lucky. I think Rakesh's quote from Jim O'Connor was right -
>the contents of the consumption basket depends in part on the state
>of the class struggle. Is that "real and objective"?

well, yes, the state of the class struggle is real and objective. Or to put it another way, subjective actions create objective circumstances.

The class struggle for the most part takes the form of (though is not reducible to) a haggle over wages. Like any negotiation it clarifies what the real value of the product is. Workers for whom relatively well- built homes are the norm will readily assume that well-built homes are what they deserve.

Look at it another way - are the working class in the advanced countries necessarily more combatative than those in the less? I think you would agree that they are not. And yet their wages cover a far greater sum of use values. So it could not be class struggle that accounted for wage rates.

The wage is a proportion of the total product. Where the total product is high, then the possibility is for the wage to be high too. Where the total product is low, then the possibility is not there. Societies that have high productivity also tend to increase the circle of consumption goods (as per the Grundrisse quote you posted here). US workers paid a third world salary could not reproduce themselves as US workers.

It is as Marx says, the rate of accumulation that is the independent variable, and wages the dependent.

What determines the value of labour power? The labour-time expended in its reproduction, like any other commodity. Except that in this case we reckon all those commodities (consumer durables) that are consumed in its reproduction.

I don't hold with the quoted passage, which suggests that the value of labour power is a merely subjective amount. Considering the class as a whole, it is in any event, pretty exceptional to speak of wages below the value of labour power, since, unless the wage is literally not enough to reproduce on, then the average wage will approximate to the value of labour power (individual workers, specific sections, etc, might be driven below the value of labour power).

The argument that Rakesh puts that workers' have 'alienated needs' is a piece of vague terminology that leads to two opposed conclusions.

The first is that workers' consumption patterns are profoundly restricted because the amount of goods they get is unduly restricted (my view).

The second is that the workers' needs are excessively exaggerated by advertising. That seems to me the parsimonious attitude of those who want to restrict working class consumption, who shudder with horror at the sight of ordinary people clogging up 'their' favourite beauty spot, or driving down 'their' country lane, or worse still, tossing the wrappers of their big macs onto it. This is the sentiment that sees rows of workers houses and is revolted - not because they are so cheaply built, but because there are so many of them.

In message <v02130500630bd3df8952@[]>, Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU> writes
>>The value of labour power is the principle determinant of the wage. All
>>other fluctuations are secondary.
>>Jim heartfield
>But what determines the determinant? Jim O'Connor opened up a novel line of
>investigation in Accumulation Crisis (though Jim O seems to me to make the
>value of labor power wholly contigent upon the balance of the class
>struggle and thus unconditioned in any objective sense by the rate of
>"If labor power in fact is treated by workers as if it were a commodity,
>then it may be treated 'as if' it has a value. By contrast, if workers do
>not permit their labor power to be treated as a commodity, then it can no
>longer be treated as if has a value. As we suggested, in this event
>explicable only in the context of the class struggle. No longer is it
>sensible to say that wages are above, below, or equal to the value of labor
>power; only that wages are above, below, or equal to the value workers put
>on their own labor power."
>Jim O gives explores how the process of accumulation gives rise to
>alienated needs that, under bourgeois social relations, can only be met by
>the privatized consumption of commodities that thus enter into the workers'
>consumption basket, raising the value labor power while however eaving
>social needs frustrated. It's orthodox marxism fused with critical theory.
>Jim H would doubtless read this as contempt for the lives of the masses
>masquerading as ecologically informed critical theory.
>Not that I am trying to start something.
>Yours, Rakesh

-- Jim heartfield

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