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Submitted by on June 30, 2011 – 8:31 amNo Comment

When any of us go to work, we’re exchanging our labour for money, which is a fairly straightforward and, in itself, a relatively fair transaction.

Of course, in a capitalist economy we don’t get paid to the full value of our labour, because we always produce a surplus value that is kept by our employer.

While this surplus value can be used to reinvest in improving or growing the business (buildings, machinery, training etc.) which also helps provide work for other industries, the prerogative of the capitalist boss is to keep that surplus as pure profit – a reward for owning the means of production and organising it successfully.

This profit can then partly be spent on making the owners’ lives more comfortable or luxurious, and can also be invested with an aim to further accumulate profit, often from buying shares in companies that must themselves find ways of increasing the surplus value provided by their workers, in order to pay out dividends.

As we know, when people get rich enough they can save yet more money by finding ways to avoid paying taxes, which ordinary working people can’t avoid even if they wanted to. When most workers think about it rationally, they appreciate the benefit to themselves and society of skimming the top off their earnings to go towards a common public good.

So, when a worker provides his or her labour, the value of what they produce is first skimmed for their employer’s profit (surplus value), which leaves gross earnings that are then skimmed again (taxes).

Our pay slips clearly show the latter, but never show the former, and not surprisingly we don’t often think too much about it.

Because of the current global crisis of capitalism, that second and more open skimming of our wages for taxes is itself going to be skimmed to pay for a national debt that was largely caused by the greed of those who carry out the first skimming of the overall value of our labour.

They clearly weren’t alone in causing the crisis, as they were helped by the bankers whose greed, when trusted with what the workers had left after the double skimming, led them to gamble on lending it to people who couldn’t really afford to be borrowing it, mainly because their labour wasn’t valued highly enough to be able to buy some of the things they were helping to produce.

So rather than our taxes being used to make society better through investing in things we all benefit from, like public health, education and transport, much of it will now go to people who have not only caused the debt crisis, but who will also be able to continue skimming away the surplus value of our labour – while freezing, and perhaps reducing, our gross earnings, that themselves may also be taxed more heavily if some in power get their way.

The private sector, because it is controlled by the people who profit from the surplus value of workers’ labour, is definitely not going to be a solution to this latest crisis of capitalism. Some private companies might do well out of the cuts to public services, but because these ‘services’ will be run as profit-driven enterprises, the only ones to benefit will be the people who skim the profits away for themselves.

As colluders in this process, the major governments of the world aren’t showing any willingness to prevent what promises to be the biggest ever shift of wealth from a growing poor to the increasingly rich, so that just leaves the workers to do something about it. The workers, after all, will always hold a trump card, but appear more scared than ever to use it.

The only way the workers can stop this robbery is by refusing to provide their labour, and for a long enough time to bring this whole stinking system crashing down, and then maybe the surplus value of their labour can instead be used to fund public services, including workplaces.

This would be the only tax needed – taken from surplus value created by workers rather than their already-skimmed wages. Some argue that by removing the right of the wealthy to profit from the labour of the less wealthy, you take away any incentive for progress. This argument reveals an unhealthy disregard for human motivation and creativity.

The success of worker co-operatives for instance, and an ongoing belief that technological, scientific, medical and other progress should be for everyone, and not boxed off by corporations to be meted out to the wealthy, should be enough to see off those demeaning and usually self-serving arguments.

The ruling classes won’t give up their hold over the surplus value of our labour easily though – they have the media, police and army on their side after all, the latter two only being needed if the more formidable barrier of a lack of class consciousness is overcome – but the one prospect they’re terrified of is a strike, especially one they can’t confine, like a General Strike.

Strikes though are irresponsible, according to capitalists and their right wing cheerleaders like Boris Johnson and his privileged mates from public school who make up the government, but they are joined, unfortunately, by a whole load of ordinary working people who wouldn’t see an underlying issue if it was shown, if you can imagine such a thing, on the TV news, or all the other media outlets that treat strikes like acts of terrorism against reasonable people, especially commuters, holiday makers, people in potentially burning buildings and the dead waiting to be buried.

They’ll enjoy the benefits that have been fought for by other working people risking their livelihoods and lives through strikes, like not sending their children to work in factories, or watching their football team come out to play at 3 o’clock on a Saturday, but they’ll cross a picket line rather than risk missing a payment into their pension scheme.

They’ll also react with the same incredulity to the label ‘scab’ as would a kindly 19th Century cotton plantation owner to the label ‘racist’.

The biggest threat to a strike is isolation. In the end not enough people supported the Miners’ Strike in 1984/5. Some cloak their lack of solidarity with their fellow workers by pointing to the fact that the NUM didn’t play by the rules imposed upon them by the rich and powerful.

A ballot would certainly have been nice when the leaders of our democratic country decided they wanted to invade Afghanistan in 2001. Though to be fair, I’m sure if there’d been an international body, like say the UN, which required a resolution to be passed to make the action legal, they would have respected that.

A General Strike is what’s needed now. Democracy has never been allowed to extend to economic matters in this country, so withholding their own labour is about as democratic an action workers can take. Fuck the laws on who can strike and in what circumstances, no major injustice has ever been overturned without breaking oppressive and unfair laws, and consigning them to a country’s hidden and embarrassing history.

Illegal and irresponsible workers’ strikes were crucial in ending the exploitation of child labour in Britain. The 1819 Cotton Factories Regulation Act was criticised by factory owners, including those in Manchester, as undermining the laws of the free market as it restricted them to only employing those less profitable workers of ten years old and above, and for only twelve hours a day.

A General Strike wouldn’t solve everything, for that we’d need one in every country, and some of the union and reformist-led pitfalls of the past would have to be avoided, but it’s the only way we can show the ruling classes that we’re not scared of them, that we’re not so grateful to have a job that we’ll keep our head down while our colleagues get shafted, that we want the fruits of our labour to be shared by everyone, and not just the rich. So come on, let’s hit the gates…

o This article featured in issue six of AFLM:SPG. Please don’t reproduce without permission. Issue seven will hopefully be out in August/September.

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