By David S. Pena
Last month’s article discussed the exploitation of workers under capitalism, so let’s briefly review the main points of that discussion, and then we’ll consider some objections to the view that capitalism exploits workers.
Capitalists want to maximize profits, and they do this by exploiting the working class. The basic method of capitalist exploitation is to pay workers the lowest wage they can get away with (as close to mere survival as possible) while forcing their employees to do the maximum amount of work. More specifically, capitalists try to maximize the value they get out of you, in the form of the product or service that you produce, by increasing the period of time that you have to work beyond the time it takes you to produce enough to cover your wage or salary.
For example, last month we looked at an auto parts worker who was paid $50 per 8-hour day. That worker was able to produce $50 worth of product in approximately 3 minutes. Thus it took the worker an insignificant amount of time to produce enough value to cover the day’s wage. If you consider only those 3 minutes, it looks like an even exchange between the worker and the capitalist. The worker produced $50 worth of product and will be paid $50 in return. But don’t forget, our factory worker has to stay on the production line for a much longer time—another 7 hours and 57 minutes— just to get the $50. If this had been an even exchange, in which the wage equals exactly what the worker produces, the workday would have ended after those 3 minutes. But if that happened the capitalist wouldn’t make any profit, and maximizing profit is the whole point of capitalist production. Nearly $10,000 worth of surplus value was produced during the additional 7-plus hours that the worker was forced to remain at work. The capitalist steals this value from the worker; the worker is never paid for producing it. This theft of surplus value is what is meant by the term “capitalist exploitation.
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