[Translated from Gegenstandpunkt Marburg radio broadcast: April 7, 2004]
For entrepreneurs, the worker is first of all the nice source of profit. That's why they can never get enough of the labor they purchase: the longer, faster, more productive, more flexible the labor is, the larger the saleable product that belongs to the company. Second, the worker is an annoying cost factor. In the interest of their profit, companies keep the total wages they pay as low as possible. They employ only the absolutely minimum number of workers necessary for the output, and then they use them to the utmost. At the same time, they constantly reduce this minimum by applying new labor-saving technologies. And then they pay the people they still need as little as they will put up with. In the effort to press down wages, they pit workers against each other, nationally and internationally: they always take whoever is the cheapest and most willing, and in this way lower the living standards of them all.
The state does not take exception to the exploitation of its working citizens. On the contrary: the profit-creating work that the entrepreneurs organize and the employees perform is its basis of existence. Like the entrepreneurs, the banks, the stock exchange and others, the state also lives off the fruits of the labor managed out of the wage-dependent. It takes part of the profits of the capitals and the wages of the wage dependent in taxes; and when it goes into debt to finance its budget, it helps itself to the success of finance capital. Economic policy aims to promote the profitable employment of labor, this source of wealth and power for the state, and increase its yield. The government always wants more growth from capital than capital can manage by itself. It always promotes investment conditions and lures as much capital as possible – at the expense of other national investment sites – to its own territory.
In former times, the welfare state was part of attractive investment conditions – in a time when it was a matter of producing a labor force useful for capital. In opposition to the entrepreneurs who killed off their workers with starvation wages and endless workdays and in opposition to the class warriors who wanted to overthrow these conditions, the state power ensured the stability of capitalist exploitation. It forced upon the entrepreneurs a limitation of the working day and similar measures. It obligated the workers to pay into compulsory insurance funds. Since then, the working class as a whole has financed the survival of its members when they are in the plight of not earning any money because they can't sell their labor to capital. For the state power, it was never a question of forbidding the entrepreneurs from making their harmful calculations with work or forcing them to pay for the living expenses of their employees when they can't work or aren't allowed to work. The provisions for the emergencies that are predictable in the lives of wage laborers was made compulsory for the affected persons. Otherwise, as every socially-conscious politician knows, they would not build up these provisions, because they can't afford to on the wages they earn; i.e. normal wages are not enough for them to voluntarily build up the necessary reserves. That means: wages are truly not enough to finance a worker’s entire life. It is only enough by forcing a redistribution among the insured. Today this great blessing is being undone.
For years, the government has been dissatisfied with the performance of its source of wealth: capital does not grow in the country, and if it does grow, then not as fast as somewhere else. The politicians combat this evil and improve investment conditions for capital by leading a comprehensive fight against wages. If employing any of the millions of unemployed isn't promising for making the entrepreneurs a profit, then this is because they are probably too expensive and do too little. Maybe there would be more demand for them if there were a lower general wage level – and if not, the profits of those enterprises that do employ workers will rise anyway. The government is sure that it does not overlook anything in the economic situation when it impoverishes the working majority and gives capital breaks with thousands of different cuts in primary and secondary wage costs. When there are more than enough workers available and looking for work than are needed by capital, in all occupations and at all skill levels, the social regulations of previous times are considered superfluous.
The millions of unemployed show their usefulness for capitalist society in that they threaten the social conditions of the employed. The threat teaches them that they shouldn't demand anything; that they can calmly sacrifice still larger parts of their take-home pay for health, education, and old-age pensions; and also that they won't immediately starve to death with much less unemployment benefits and pensions. The government relies on this when it criticizes the achievements of the welfare state, which once were supposed to make capitalism bearable for the workers, as an expensive, erroneous trend that it rolls back. The country must no longer afford labor costs as before; and it can no longer afford it if it wants to be the winner of globalization. The employees must become poorer so that capital grows faster and the nation advances in the international competition. The wealth of the nation is based on the poverty of the masses.
How the labor unions answer the depletion policy
Actually, the class war from above leaves little room for illusions. The entrepreneurs are uncompromising. They ruthlessly teach that nationally, as well as internationally, there are too many applicants for the few jobs they have to “give,” and impose ever crappier wages. The representatives of the state are just as uncompromising: they tell the people that there is no alternative to their impoverishment, and that it is useful.
Anyone who exhorts “stand up, so that it gets better” answers the bluntly announced conflict very “asymmetrically.” This protest does not fight against the hostile interest and the political power that openly declares it, but against the alleged misunderstanding of the powerful that their interest requires the irreconcilability that they actually show. Labor unionists demonstrate their willingness to compromise against the other side's refusal to compromise. They declare themselves in favor of the “necessity for reforms,” and know thereby precisely what “reforms” mean today, and demand only that they should not land so radically and completely on one side, burdening the employed and unemployed wage laborers as they do.
In each case, they condemn the latest degradation and express their all-around ok to the socially-regulated exploitation of former times. Don't they notice what a devastating judgment they express about their source of income when they demand the welfare state be funded because they can't live without it? It's an admission that that the wages that the entrepreneurs pay for their work can't pay for them and their families – and can’t support a long life anyhow. If they demonstrate for state protection and social security benefits, they assume that working for the profit of capital makes the working poor and the unemployed vulnerable to extortion, and they wish only that the unemployed, the poor, the sick, and the elderly get a somewhat better treatment in their misery. Because – does this have to be remembered? – even in its best days, the welfare state never abolished poverty.
Organized workers now face the state as an enemy which bases its progress on their poverty. They appeal to this enemy as a bad helper in their need, one that should get better – and which could also be better, in their opinion, with no damage to its program. They don't want to believe that the government's goal – making the nation the strongest growth area on earth in the international location competition – excludes concern for working people. They don't want to know about the announced purpose and the appropriateness of this politics; they criticize it as inadequate, unnecessary, blinded by “neoliberalism” – and in no way stand for the irreconcilability of their own life interests to the success of the nation. Instead, their opinion leaders recruit for the protest with the twisted logic that their requests would fit the nation's course just super, “alternatives are possible,” and the nation wouldn't have to sacrifice anything to treat its employees better: not growth, not victory in the location competition, not a strong currency and not world power. There they are wrong.
Nothing will get better in the social situation from a “stand up, so that it gets better!” which doesn't want to identify an enemy and damage anything. Of course, “another world is possible” – but without tangling with the world-political ambitions of the state and the basic arithmetic of capital, this isn't possible.