Monday, May 4, 2009

Workers and their Situation this May Day, Part I

Note: This article consists of three parts which will be published during the rest of the week.

The importance of work

For many people, May 1st or the International Worker's Day, represents an angry shout of protest against the brutal inequities and atrocities that come from a system in which benefiting the majority is not important. Instead, priority is given to the accumulation of profits for a minority that has control (directly or indirectly) over the means that we need to satisfy our necessities. Since its original vision in 1886, founded on reducing the working day to eight hours, up until now with the pro-immigrants assertions in the United States or the strike against the privatization projects that Luis Fortuño's Government is planning to implement in Puerto Rico, this day symbolizes a flag for the diverse international groups and organizations that are aware of the exploitation, domination, and oppression that, in one way or another, become present in their lives under the actual socioeconomic regime.

One of these forms of oppression is the fact that the importance of work is not recognized. Some people (the most reactionary supporters of capitalism), disregard that work creates, reproduces, and increases wealth. They also ignore that work also creates the means and conditions necessary for capitalism to exist. The reformists, on the other hand, simply limit the work possibilities: it becomes solely a mental activity within a universe of ideas; an activity that establishes norms, contracts, and institutions in an already institutionalized universe; an activity that creates signs and language in a “textual” world. What they all elude is that human beings must satisfy their natural necessities and that, by working with the means and conditions that they have created, they generate within themselves the strength, intelligence, craftsmanship, technique, and knowledge that exposes them to new necessities. Human nature is not based on being rational, selfish or an absolute “other”; it is founded instead on the fact that, by working, humans create their own nature.

Currently, capitalism is undergoing its most precarious crisis since the thirties but the most conservative versions have kept quiet. Discussions of reformist tendencies have reappeared to discuss the issues of saving, fixing or regulating the system. However, what is really imperative is to analyze profoundly the necessity and desirability of the capitalist system and its logic. To do so, we must position ourselves within the perspective of the workers.

Within capitalism, work unravels fundamentally under the market conditions that were previously established. Once the means and necessity for expropriation were developed, the workers lost their properties (certainly becoming “free” considering that they lacked the support as well as the responsibilities of their previous relations) and had no other alternative but to sell their labor power in the market. Consequently, the one with the work tools and materials, employs workers who produce society's wealth, but instead of receiving the value of their production, they are only compensated with the market value of those things that they need to reproduce their labor power (housing, provisions, education, entertainment, etc.). In other words, workers get paid only to ensure their capability to return to work the next day under the same conditions. Capitalists increase their wealth by employing workers to sell what the workers produced, they pay their debt, and keep the remaining quantity. As a result of the control that they have over the means of production (that in this case consist of merchandise that only capitalists can buy and organize to produce), they dictate to workers what to produce and how to produce it so as to when society's wealth increases, capital increases as well. Moreover, this explains the blindness of the most fanatic defenders of capital as they envision everything from the equal market realm; overlooking the unfairness that exists in work issues. It also explains the reformists' insistence to create jobs and even jobs that pay more or the fair wage, as this does not affect the origin of the problem itself at all.

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