In the struggle to overthrow capitalism, and continuing during the transition to communism, we are radically egalitarian. We know that the unity of the working class is essential to its ability to act as a class “for itself” where the common needs precipitate unified actions.
To that end, we articulate a program that speaks to common needs.
Such a program will identify universal access to the highest quality health care as a common need.
Such a program identifies universal access to public education of the highest quality as a common need.
Such a program identifies a safe working and living environment, free of industrial and chemical pollution, for example, as a common need.
These things– health care, public education, safety and more, represent in reality a social wage, that is an expense, and expanse, of time necessary for the reproduction of labor-power, and thus are to be provided equally to all.
Yet, there is a critical category that those involved in the struggle omit from their radical egalitarianism, and that is the wage itself. For some reason, we never get to the point, or the moment, of demanding a universal wage at the highest level for all.
In all areas, sectors, processes of the accumulation of capital, the capitalist rely upon wage variations and wage differential to thwart the cohesion of the class.
This reliance is made manifest in large format as the differential between genders, or among races.
This reliance can be made manifest in the “tiering” or “stepping” of wages.
In many more cases, the differentials are structured into the value process according to position, or task, or job category, or “craft,” or “trade,” with specific rates attached to each classification.
What is the capitalist buying from a locomotive engineer when paying a wage of $40 an hour? Time. The capitalist is buying the time of the worker to operate the locomotive and control the speed of the train.
What is the capitalist buying from a worker when paying that person $22 an hour to maintain track?
What’s the difference, besides $18 an hour? The capitalist will tell you it’s skill– that it takes ever so long to train a locomotive engineer to safely deliver the precious cargo. Skill, however, is a factor of time; the training afforded the locomotive engineer is derived from the contributions of all other workers– clerks, conductors, locomotive mechanics, track workers, electricians– who are paid less than the locomotive engineer, and without whom no train would operate.
The reproduction of the railroad is a product of social labor, and as such is the product of all workers.
What is the capitalist buying when paying a person $7 an hour to deliver pizzas by bicycle? Time. The expenditure is the same for the workers regardless of the rate of compensation.
The reduced rates of compensation impairs the ability of the workers to meet their needs at the level of the highest paid workers while the needs themselves are equal. Are the social needs of the locomotive engineer any greater, deeper, more complex than those of the pizza delivery person? Would a class program accept differences in the portion of the wage that has been identified as the social wage, the access to medical care, education, public transportation, safe drinking water, based on job classification? Of course not.
Think of it this way: after the overthrow of capitalism, aren’t the workers themselves going to impose a radical equalization of wages as a transition to the abolition of wages completely? Of course they are, and so our starting point must lead to that transition, to that overthrow of those relations of capital. The unity of the class is forged in the struggle to socially actualize the commonality of needs.
We are not advocating in this or any case a “leveling” down of wages to the mean or median level. The bourgeoisie have made a career out of that. The task is to make the wage itself irrelevant; to deprive the bourgeoisie the ability to fractionalize the working class on the basis of wage differentials. That task can be, and is partially, achieved when social production is controlled by the workers for the creation, satisfaction, and expansion of the needs of all members of society. That task is partially achieved when the “social compensation” –of universal access to the highest quality medical care, the best education, improved housing, efficient public transportation, the safe and healthy environment– overtakes and then overwhelms the compensation of workers in different categories of work through variable wages when in essence all such categories are the same– the distribution of the collective time necessary for reproduction.
The reproduction of the worker is social labor and the highest level of compensation should be a single, universal wage of all workers.