Monday, May 19, 2014

Media, manipulation and the language of capital

The time during which the laborer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labor-power he has purchased of him. Marx

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I have often referred to the use of language and how it reflects a class point of view.  One of the most common is this term used repeatedly in the big business press, “willing”.  Mexican workers are “willing” to work for lower wages than North American workers.  Chinese workers are “willing” to work for less than Mexican workers and Vietnamese workers are really “willing” as they are cheaper than the Chinese workers. The lower paid are always the lower paid because they are "willing" to accept such. I am sure workers would be quite “willing” to make more money if that was on the table.

The reality is of course that what the big business press means by “willing” means in the language of workers that they are more desperate, or they face more direct violence from the state or company thugs or a combination of the two, something the Bangladeshi workers face all the time. Capitalism is a system of production that relies on coercion and violence in order to function.  The Cambodian workers have discovered how “unwilling” bosses are to pay higher wages as striking workers were shot by Cambodian police acting in the employer’s interests. South African minders were also shot for striking their employer.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, what the 1%’s theoretical geniuses call “emerging” from the recession, productivity, the output of goods and services produced divided by total hour worked, rose 5.5% by the fourth quarter of 2009. Capitalist economists say this increase occurred as “workers did more with less.”  What this translates to from the workers’ point of view is longer hours, speed ups, increased multi-tasking, greater competition as workers cut corners and safety protections and the psychological damage brought on by the stress of internecine warfare on the job as a larger pool of unemployed hover on the sidelines ever “willing” to take your place.  Indirectly, there is the psychological damage this does to personal relations and the family.

But here we are five years later and this slow train is still barely chugging along.   Worker productivity growth has been averaging 1% a year since 2011 and in the first quarter of this year was down from Q4 of 2013. “Workers were actually less efficient…” in Q1 of 2014 is how Business Week puts it. But here again, language matters.  A “productive” worker from a capitalist’s point of view is a worker that produces surplus value for them, it is not what social need that worker might provide.

What’s happening to a great extent is that the owners of capital are on strike.  They are refusing to invest in the productive forces. It’s interesting that when workers go on strike, and disrupt the labor process, when we withhold or refuse to sell our labor power, hire out our life activity over a period of time to the owner of capital, the political representatives of the 1% pass legislation or get one of their judges to force us to sell this commodity of ours. If we refuse then they use the armed forces of the state to force us to comply with this law of theirs.  Yet even though profits are high, capitalists are sitting on more than $2 trillion, an increase of 70% over the past four years, and are refusing to invest it. No police action against them.  No forcing them to invest in production at all, after all, freedom means not being able to tell a capitalist, the rightful owner of capital, where to put their money and when.

“Growth of capital spending is about 30% below the average of the prior five recoveries” Business Week tells us. The owners of capital are refusing to buy the machinery, plant, technology and computers necessary to the labor process because it's not profitable to do so.

Capitalists do not invest to create human needs, use values.  The reader probably tires of me reminding us that the poverty, starvation, and catastrophic health situation throughout the planet has nothing to do with lack of resources.  The reason earthquakes kill thousands more people in Iran or Turkey as opposed to the US has nothing to do with the strength of earthquakes but the difference in investment in social infrastructure. It is a capital flow problem.

Capitalists, as Marx pointed out, are not misers; they are rational capitalists. They invest in order to make profit, to earn money without working.  If profit-making is dubious and risky; they won’t invest no matter what the needs of the community.

The future is not a rosy one.  “We keep thinking business investment is going to pick up, but it just keeps disappointing”, says one spokesperson of the 1%. “We’re just seeing an abundance of caution”. He adds.

This is at the crux of the matter when it comes to our economic well being and our continued survival.  As long as a section of society has the right to appropriate the wealth created by those who labor and as long as they own the labor process, the system will continue to be rife with crisis and human poverty and starvation, not to mention the wars and environmental disaster that result from this unplanned for profit system.

The capitalist mode of production is leading us down the path to towards global catastrophe and eventually the end of life as we know it.  This is no exaggeration.

One would hardly know it given the highly censored and controlled media in the US but there is a global revolt against the savagery of the so-called free market.  Even here in the US, we saw 80,000 people protesting austerity in North Carolina in the past period.  There are numerous though unconnected struggles throughout the country around environmental issues, housing, education, transportation, and against racism, sexism and mass incarceration. And most importantly we saw the election of an open socialist to the Seattle City Council, the only open socialist on a municipal body in the US.

The US capitalist class has a very efficient and intensive propaganda machine. I would also argue that the state security forces and covert activity associated with it has easily surpassed in numbers the security apparatus of the former Stalinists in the Soviet Union. The US bourgeois have mastered the art of deception as they say.

But in the last analysis conscious has a material base. Mass consciousness is a product of being not the other way round as Marx famously explained and there is an explosion waiting to happen in the US.  The police state was beefed up in response to the rise of the Occupy Movement and coupled with the refusal of the heads of organized labor to offer any alternative to the status quo despite having the resources to do so, the development of a genuine workers’ mass movement is delayed and will inevitably be a very complicated and confused process.  What is lacking at the moment is a force that can bring the many separate struggles that are occurring throughout the country around different issues in to one united direct action movement.

A by-product of these factors are the mass killings that occur almost daily as victims of the market seeing no way out lose their humanity and the will to continue. In the US, so many bought in to the false argument that one is in control of one’s destiny.  That it’s all out there if you work hard. When this is proved false by events, the anger is internalized, blame is internalized and the result is dehumanization.

I wrote some time ago of the two young 20 year-old women I met who both told me they did not want to bring children in to this world; they saw no future for them.

Fortunately, as the working class begins to find its feet and a new movement does arise with all its failings, this mood will change.  Fighting back is always a healthy activity. 

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