I wanted to discuss something I didn’t fully realize when I first listened to Cockshott suggest that the UK should have a referendum that, among other things, banned wage labor. I think banning wage labor should actually be a demand, not in an abstract or long term sense but a very serious demand. The reason is because it is actually not that radical and also achievable without expropriation, which I think makes it a surprisingly ballsy kind of policy to be serious about. That means it is actually legal, as in Congress could do it without any changes to the constitution. I also think it is a non-reformist reform, should it be achieved even in isolation. But I would preface by saying I have no illusions such a law would be passed through a conventional electoral campaign, rather it serves a broader messaging and ideological purpose to be serious about it even as you know that it is an intolerable demand.
On the not that radical front, the reason I say that is because you can actually make wage labor illegal without expropriating any property, and without abandoning markets. You also don’t need to do it overnight, you can make it effective after some period of years or something. However, if you make wage labor illegal then all of the big capitalists would lose the vast majority of their wealth as soon as the law was passed. Jeff Bezos would still own his shares of Amazon, but all Amazon would own is its property, the warehouses and trucks and servers etc. Clearly this is not worthless, and Amazon would still be allowed legally to lease or sell this capital. But legally the only entity that could deploy labor on it for the kinds of services Amazon provided would be a co-operative, and it seems likely at least initially that someone like Jeff Bezos would be forced to lease his capital to Amazon Coop, but have no more claim to their profits. Amazon Coop would grow, as companies that employ labor do, and would slowly be able to buy up new capital and cease their leases with Bezos, and so all the remaining capitalists would find their capital stocks dwindling. Furthermore, as illustrated by the simple fact Amazon Coop can buy or rent any warehouse that meets their criteria, other developers can move in and build warehouses, which are not particularly difficult buildings to create. Jeff Bezos is now no longer the big owner of the commerce and tech monopoly of Amazon, he now owns a portfolio of equipment and buildings that are mere commodities, capable of being replaced. His competition has heightened significantly, so that now all the big capitalists of today will see their remaining wealth chipped away by market forces.
This would not result in communism, but that is why it actually is not that radical. It would preserve everything as it is, but the only difference is new companies of associated laborers would have to form to take up the productive activity of their old companies and banks would be forced to lend to them due to the fact they can’t lend to businesses that employ people, so assuming that the legislative authority of this was secure then the money will simply flow in from the financial markets by necessity for the transition to occur. The market would literally be forced to adjust, which it is entirely capable of doing because the market doesn’t require wage labor. All it requires is commodity production and monetary exchange, wage labor is unnecessary.
As I said though, I have no illusions this is actually achievable by just championing it like M4A or a $15 min wage, but it is far more radical than those policies while still being “realistic”. And the opposition to it by the bourgeoisie and establishment will reframe debates nationally on what the hell capitalism actually is, because they’d be forced to publicly confront the argument that you aren’t even depriving them of their property, you are merely asserting that people had the right to the fruits of their labor. Even if they confront you with something about “I built this company” etc. FINE! Keep it. Keep all the Walmarts in American, you own them. But you don’t own the people who work there and you don’t have an entitlement to the labor proceeds of their labor. Furthermore, this isn’t a handout on any level. The workers would have to pay the costs of doing business as the owners of the new cooperatives. They’d have to buy equipment, pay rent, and pay the upfront costs of labor. But as a consequence of these responsibilities of covering the costs, they get the surplus product that they produce. If they need to use your Walmart, they have to pay you rent for it, but you don’t get the profit of their work. It recontextualizes property and labor, it makes it very easy to begin to frame capital owners as the ones who expect to receive something for not doing any work, because the reality is their capital is not what gives them their power. It’s the fact they employ people and have a legal right to claim what those people produce, which is what is highlighted by that very argument. When you take that right away, there is no subsequent removal of their property rights. They can even still make money off of it, but they can’t make nearly the level of profits they used to make because the source of all of their profits was appropriating the product of labor, which is immediately exposed!
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