The State of My Workplace, and Probably Yours
As described elsewhere profitability is once again on the decline. So the capitalist class, much like the working class occasionally, is attempting to concentrate the losses on all of the other capitalists and the working class more generally. Marx says as much in so many words.
So long as things go well, competition effects an operating fraternity of the capitalist class, as we have seen in the case of the equalisation of the general rate of profit, so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the size of his respective investment. But as soon as it no longer is a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and to shove it off upon another. The class, as such, must inevitably lose. How much the individual capitalist must bear of the loss, i.e., to what extent he must share in it at all, is decided by strength and cunning, and competition then becomes a fight among hostile brothers.
One of the easiest ways to generate extra profit is to attack social reproduction and transform those resources in to further means to secure profits. If you have been following the types of proposed health care budgets that have been going forward in the current political climate, then you already know the deep cuts that the capitalists would like to make to health care.
All non-Medicare health programs would see a cut of $1.3 trillion, or nearly 30 percent, by 2027, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Medicare would be cut too, to the tune of $473 billion.
While this is great news for most capitalists since the decline in health care spending could lead to further tax breaks, military contracts, or some other form of awarding private entities public funds, it is not great news for my employer. The cuts to health care spending are, more or less, direct cuts to the pool of profit that my employer can draw from.
My employer is clearly neither strong nor cunning enough to have outmaneuvered the larger capitalist class, and is now faced with the predicament that profitability is threatened. In order to seize a greater share of declining profits, the competitive struggle has already emerged at my workplace. Just as when capitalist nations go to war it is not the capitalists in the trenches, so it is when capitalist companies steel themselves for competition. The capitalists do not do any of the competing themselves, that is a task left to the workers. Specifically, the workers of one company are driven to the utmost limits of exertion and minimums of wages such that the most degraded workers have secured their employer victory in the competitive struggle.
The easiest way to seize more profits generally is to increase productivity, and specific to my industry, acquire more accreditations. These accreditations result in a larger volume of orders, so it all spirals back to increases in productivity in the end anyway. Increases in productivity in this industry where automation is low more or less means that the workers from different companies all compete against each other by working as efficiently and quickly as possible. The net result for myself and my co-workers is a larger volume of work that we are expected to complete on top of jumping through various hoops (some quite absurd) to maintain or acquire a new accreditation. Where before I found myself fairly comfortably completing a day of work in eight hours, the experience is much more common that I remain on the clock (which does not include lunch break) for twelve. I have often made the joke that this is our form of a raise, but of course it is cheaper to pay two workers for 24 hours of labor than it is to pay three for the same time given that we must also consider deferred benefits (insurance, retirement, etc.). On a more personal note, that much overtime bumps you in to a different tax bracket where you might be making only slightly more for your four hours of time. This is, more or less, the significance of working heavy over-time. Your employer saves far more on wages by working fewer workers longer than by working more workers for less time. Sometimes even this isn’t enough, however, and where I work has seen its first full-time worker hired on at a different wage-scale to assist the other workers at the higher wage-scale. Mind you that this individual does tasks that those of us on a higher wage-scale preform regularly, but for a smaller wage. The continual staffing shortages we have experienced become the norm and we’re no longer considered short staffed as management realizes that the work can be completed by putting the screws to their existing staff. How long is it until the transition from “short-staffed” to “fully employed” to “over-employed” occurs and layoffs need to be made? I guess that depends on when the economy tanks, or when they figure out how to automate our tasks for less than what they pay us (good luck).
So how do we fight back against this tendency to increase hours and decrease wages and deferred benefits? The first step involves an honest recognition of our situation. We exist, more or less, as individuals on the job-site, and as individuals we are powerless. A few disgruntled employees can be easily replaced, especially if it means offloading their workload on to other workers thereby obtaining the same amount of work for even less cost than before. Thus the first problem to surmount is our isolation, rather than acting and behaving as individuals, we need to act collectively. Practically what this may look like is simply holding meetings among ourselves outside of work to discuss the problems of work and finding like-minded individuals from across different departments to network with. At this stage and level of the struggle these meetings can easily be disguised as simple social functions among co-workers if they are even discovered at all. These meetings need not be limited to merely work related problems either. Ceasing to act as individuals and beginning to act collectively, as a class, means addressing problems that affect every layer of our class inside and outside of the workplace. Striving to provide working class solutions to working class problems could function as our starting point to begin growing our capacity to act independently as a class to solve larger problems. So if you are reading or listening to this and know who I am at work, try to find a minute to talk with me if you are interested in starting meetings outside of the workplace to address workplace grievances. If you do not know who I am at work, why not start trying to organize for the same purpose?
If, however, the German reader shrugs his shoulders at the condition of the English industrial and agricultural labourers, or in optimist fashion comforts himself with the thought that in Germany things are not nearly so bad; I must plainly tell him, “De te fabula narratur!” [It is of you that the story is told. – Horace]