Following is Part 2 of a paper by Fred Goldstein, a member of Workers
World Party’s Secretariat, submitted as a contribution to the discussion
of the 17th International Communist Seminar held in Brussels, Belgium,
on May 16-18. It is a summary of the third and concluding section of a
book entitled “Low-Wage Capitalism, Colossus with Feet of Clay,” soon to
Part 1 of the paper, which appeared in the last issue of Workers World,
concluded with a survey of the forces in the U.S. that could serve as a
basis for a resurgence of the class struggle, including 15 million
workers in organized labor and another 50 million workers who want to
This potential force includes the masses of unorganized workers, the
under-employed, and the unemployed struggling to survive. It includes
the communities of workers and their families being devastated by home
foreclosures and evictions; the groups that have been fighting for
immigrant rights; the “living wage” movement; the struggles for
universal health care; activists fighting homelessness and demanding
affordable housing; neighborhood groups fighting to improve the schools.
It also includes the anti-war movement; groups fighting to save the
environment from devastation by corporate polluters; and opponents of
police brutality, the death penalty and the prison-industrial complex.
Above all, class unity can only be attained by supporting the thousands
of groups around the country—local, regional and national—that have been
fighting against racism and national oppression, sexism and gender
Plant occupations and the right to a job
New strategies and tactics are needed for the crisis. The question is
how to put a stop to the present bloodletting of layoffs by the bosses.
The issue before the working class and the unions especially is: do
workers have a right to their jobs? As the creators of the wealth of the
bosses, do they not have equity, do they not have property rights to the
wealth that they have created? By what right can they be deprived of
The labor of the workers has created the wealth that has been invested
and reinvested over and over again to create the plants, the offices,
the mines, the hospitals, etc. Having created all this property, workers
should have a property right to their jobs. In simpler terms, workers
have “sweat equity” in their jobs and in the workplace as well.
Workers have every right to prevent the bosses from depriving them of
their jobs. This is simply workers defending their property rights. The
right to occupy a workplace to prevent closings and layoffs must be
established as a fundamental right of the working class. Possession of
the plants should be viewed as nothing more than asserting the property
rights of the creators of the wealth that built those plants.
The capital of the owners is nothing more than accumulated labor of the
workers, for which the workers have not been paid. Seen in this light,
the seizure of the workplace by the workers in defense of their jobs is
nothing more than their laying claim to property that they have created.
Challenging the capital-labor framework
In order to fight management, it is necessary to reject the ideological
framework of management. Even within the framework of the capitalist
system, the workers in their present situation cannot move forward in
any significant way unless they challenge the labor-capital framework.
The workers will have to challenge some of the basic prerogatives of
capital and the ideology of the supremacy of the capitalist market and
the rights of capitalist property. Indeed, when the UAW workers seized
the plants in Flint, Mich., when the hundreds of thousands of workers
carried out successful sit-downs in 1936 and 1937, they challenged the
property rights of the bosses. It was the only way they could win.
Over the past three decades, the bosses have been using the argument of
the need to “remain competitive” as their wedge against the workers in
the struggle for concessions. However, in the unfolding economic crisis,
their argument for “competitiveness” may be superseded by their
assertion that shutdowns and layoffs are necessary because the company
must maintain profitability and prevent losses.
The question of profitability must be subordinated to the right of the
workers to jobs and income. The workers have the right to take over
their workplaces and operate them with government or corporate
subsidies, if necessary. Workers have the right to demand jobs programs
to deal with their crisis as a class.
The capitalist government gives hundreds of billions of dollars in
subsidies to the military-industrial complex, to corporate firms for
research and development, to build infrastructure for corporations, and
so on. Workers have a right to demand that this largesse, this charity
to the corporations, be redirected to meet the needs of the workers in a
When the capitalist system utterly fails to meet the most elementary
needs of survival for millions of workers, then the workers have the
right to deal with the crisis by defying capitalist methods and
beginning to establish their own legal rights and their own power on the
ground. This will require struggle but it will also demand that the
workers get beyond the basic assumptions of capitalism so that their
struggle can be effective.
To continue with the question of class-conscious ideology, consider the
universal argument of the capitalist class against the workers about the
need “to remain competitive.” Why do the bosses constantly bring this up
in labor negotiations (assuming the workers have a union)? It is a clear
statement that the one who wins the capitalist competition is the one
with the lowest labor costs. Thus, in order for the capitalist in
company A to beat out the capitalist in company B, the workers in
company A have to out-compete the workers in company B by allowing their
wages to be cut below the others.
Accepting the bosses’ notion that labor must subordinate its demands to
the overriding necessity of capital to remain competitive and profitable
is a self-defeating ideology. The workers cannot be guided by it. Such
arguments completely tie the fate of the workers to the perils of the
To unravel this problem ideologically, it is first necessary to restate
the fundamental Marxist truth that the substance of profit is surplus
value. And surplus value consists of unpaid labor. Profits are directly
proportional to the unpaid labor of the workers. Higher profits mean
that more surplus value is extracted from the hides of the workers. If
the workers are paid more for their labor, the profits of the bosses are
lowered proportionally. This absolutely reciprocal relationship is what
lies behind the irreconcilable antagonism between workers and bosses.
To hold the workers responsible for the profitability of capital is to
demand that they agree to intensify their own exploitation to solve the
crisis of their exploiters. If this is explained to the workers, they
can easily comprehend it.
There are times when concessions may have to be given, because the
situation is very unfavorable for the workers. But the idea that
concessions must be made so the boss can be “more competitive” chains
the fate of the workers to the capitalist market.
The question should be posed: Why must the exploited sacrifice their
wages, their benefits, their working conditions and their very jobs in
order to maintain the continuous prosperity of the exploiters, who have
lived off the wealth created by the workers in the first place?
Class-consciousness and the fightback
The strategy of class-wide fightback, concepts such as a right to a job
and the right to occupy workplaces, the need for international class
solidarity with oppressed workers around the world and the need for the
workers to see themselves as a world class united by their common
exploitation—such concepts cannot be spontaneously arrived at. The
intervention of a class-conscious revolutionary vanguard that
understands and can promote the ultimate goal of getting rid of
exploitation altogether, abolishing capitalism, is indispensable to the
It was Lenin, the architect of the first successful socialist revolution
in history, who fought for this conception at the beginning of the 20th
century. He argued for the creation of a revolutionary party, which
became known as the Bolshevik Party.
Lenin argued strenuously for bringing socialist, political
class-consciousness to the workers as a highly important task, along
with carrying on economic agitation, strikes and demonstrations. He put
forward all this in the groundbreaking pamphlet “What Is to Be Done?”
written in 1902.
Socialism the only way out
Nothing can change the facts about the overriding contradiction
governing all of modern society. This contradiction is between, on the
one hand, the private ownership of the world’s vast means of production
by a tiny minority of fabulously wealthy corporate financiers who
operate the entire system for profit and, on the other, the highly
developed, interdependent, socialized, global production process set in
motion 24 hours a day by the labor of the world’s working class under
increasingly onerous conditions.
Nothing can change the fact that capitalism has entered a new stage in
which more and more layers of the working class are pushed into
conditions of poverty and near poverty and face job loss, eviction,
foreclosure, hunger, health crises—all clearly arising out of the
capitalist profit system.
It is scientifically correct to assert that socialism is the antithesis
of capitalism, and is its only form of negation. There is no other
historically possible resolution of capitalism’s fundamental
contradictions. Socialized production must be brought into
correspondence with socialized ownership, thus enabling the socially
planned use of the world’s productive and natural resources.
Imperialism in the age of the scientific revolution is expanding and
deepening exploitation and oppression on an unprecedented scale. What is
referred to as “globalization” is in fact the expanded export of capital
and the use of cutthroat trade by giant transnational corporations to
pile up huge profits at the expense of the people of the world. In
short, it is a phase of intensification and widening of the imperialist
plunder of the globe.
This process of expanded global exploitation, which is proceeding at
breakneck speed due to modern high technology, has profound consequences
at home and abroad and is rapidly developing the groundwork for the next
phase of the world historic struggle for socialism.
“Low-Wage Capitalism” will be published this fall. For information and
to donate to the cost of publication, contact the publisher: World View
Forum, 55 W. 17th St., 5th floor, New York, NY 10011.
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