All workers, at all wage levels, are facing intensified exploitation
The bourgeoisie spreads the false notion that only workers receiving very low wages are exploited. Their spokesmen talk as if skilled workers who receive above average wages are leading a cushy life.
When airline pilots go on strike, the propaganda in TV is that they are highly paid and have no business to go on strike. When bank workers or those employed in petroleum or IT companies go on strike, the capitalist media screams: “Look at these people; they earn more than a lakh of rupees per month and are still going on strike. They do not care for the poor unorganized workers who get only a few thousand rupees per month!”
It is important for all workers to understand that what is actually taking place is the intensification of capitalist exploitation of all categories of workers, from unskilled to highly skilled, from the minimum wage earners to those earning in lakhs per month. The bourgeois propaganda is aimed distorting the reality and splitting the working class on the basis of wage levels.
What is the reason for the wide range of wage rates that exist among workers? To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the economic law governing the determination of wages in a capitalist economy.
Like all other commodities, labour power is bought and sold at a prevailing market price. The rate of wages is nothing but the price of the specific commodity, labour-power. As with all commodity prices, the wage rate is subject to the law of value.
The value of any commodity is determined by the quantity of socially necessary labour-time required to produce that commodity. How is the value of labour-power determined?
The value of labour power is determined by adding the value of all those commodities required to keep the worker alive and healthy enough to continue to sell his or her labour power, day after day, and generation after generation. In other words, it is the sum of the values of the food, clothing, home rent, health care, children’s education and other goods and services needed for maintaining the worker in working condition, ever-ready to sell his or her labour-power.
The value of labour-power depends on the specific historical conditions in a given country. In some countries, motor cars have become part of the necessities for reproduction of labour-power; in our own country, telephones used to be the preserve of a minority a few decades ago while today they are necessities for all working people. The value of labour-power depends on “the degree of civilisation of a country, more particularly on the conditions under which, and consequently on the habits and degree of comfort in which, the class of free labourers has been formed”.
Labour power of the same kind and skill level has different values in the United States or Canada than in China, India or Bangladesh. This is due to the differences in historically evolved living conditions and standards of the necessities of life.
Within a country, wage levels depend to a great extent on the level of skill and training required to perform a particular job. In general, skilled labour power fetches a higher wage than unskilled labour power. Within skilled labour, there are different levels of education, training and experience.
The value of highly skilled labour-power includes the social labour-time that has gone into achieving the required level of education and training. Thus, for instance, the value of the labour power of a specialist with 5 years of professional training in addition to 12 years of school education is higher than the value of a trained mechanic with 10 years of school education and 2 years of a technical diploma.
The wage rate fluctuates around the value of labour power. It is generally below this value, due to the greater bargaining power of the capitalists relative to workers, and due to the presence of a reserve army of unemployed, which the employers use to press wages down. How close to the value of their labour-power they are able to get depends on whether the workers are organised and wage a united struggle for their rights. Wage rates exceed the value of labour power on rare occasions, such as when there is a short-supply of a particular kind of workers at a particular time.
When workers are set to work, their labour adds value to material wealth. Human labour produces more than what is required for maintaining that productive force at the same level. In other words, the value added by a certain quantity of social labour is more than the value of that quantity of labour-power. The difference is pocketed by the owner of capital as surplus value. This means in effect that workers work part of each working day to reproduce their own upkeep, and the remaining part of the day they are producing surplus value which expands the wealth of the capitalists. The principal source of expansion in the wealth of the capitalist class is the unpaid labour extracted from the working class.
While skilled labour-power costs more for the capitalist as compared to unskilled, it is to be noted that skilled labour produces more value per hour as compared to unskilled labour. It is also to be noted that educated and skilled workers in many modern sectors in our economy are made to work extraordinarily long and late hours. Such is the case with the IT sector and the private sector banks.
The degree of exploitation is the ratio between the surplus value extracted by capital and the value paid as wages to the workers. Suppose a particular kind of skilled labour is twice as productive as simple labour. Suppose such a skilled worker gets double the wage of unskilled simple labour-power, but is made to work for 72 hours per week as compared to the normal 48-hour working week. The value created by such a skilled labourer in one working week will be equal to the value created by simple labour in three working weeks of 48 hours each. The degree of exploitation of that skilled worker is higher than that of the unskilled worker, even though the former is earning double the wage earned by the latter.
The main point to grasp is that all sections of workers are facing the capitalist offensive aimed at intensifying their degree of exploitation. The capitalist class is extracting surplus value out of the pilots and IT workers just as they are extracting surplus value out of the auto workers, construction and head-load workers. The intensity of this extraction is rising in all cases. Keeping down the real wages and extending the working day are the way the degree of exploitation of all workers is being intensified.
The issue for every section of workers is to fight against the rising degree of their exploitation, joining hands with all sections of workers engaged in the same struggle.
An example of the exploitation of IT workers
According to news reports, on April 25, 2013, hundreds of employees at the Finland offices of India’s largest software services exporter TCS staged a walkout protesting against job cuts.
The firm has about 800 employees in Finland. About 160 Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) employees based at its offices in Espoo and Salo in Finland reportedly staged a walkout at the company’s premises protesting over the decision to cut around 290 jobs. The total workforce at TCS stood at 2,76,196 as of March 31, 2013.
Recent reports also reveal rapidly growing incidence of depression and mental illness among India’s 3 million strong IT workforce. According to the director of NIMHANS, one of India’s largest psychiatric and counselling centres, in the past six months, more and more IT workers have reported problems of acute depression, insecurity, low confidence, dejection, aversion to social life and panic. Last year alone, 600 such cases were reported .
Doctors at NIMHANS estimate that in the current year, 5 out of every 10 patients will be IT professionals. At Max Hospitals’ mental health department in Delhi, doctors estimate that roughly a third of all patients will be IT professionals.
The IT industry which has an estimated annual revenue of $76-billion, is in crisis all over the world. The first targets of this are its workforce. In order to maintain its profits, the industry is reported to be slashing fresh hiring, demanding better and more diverse skills from existing workers and heavily retrenching workers.
A decade or so ago, when the IT sector was booming, it was a magnet for young workers, with its high salaries, stock options and modern workspaces. Youth in the age group 23-30 joined this sector in large numbers. They were made to work long hours into the night and even on weekends, to meet the company’s targets. This adversely affected their health and their social and family lives. The high work pressure and social isolation led many to depression and other stress related mental ailments.
Now, in the conditions of the economic slowdown and large scale retrenchment of workers, more and more of them are reported to be suffering from mental ailments. The sudden change in their incomes and lifestyles is believed one of the causes for this.