Capitalism Will Eat Itself?

   22 December 2006, early morning

Cheap Polish labour is pushing British workers out of the construction industry. I’m curious what the British workers bring to the table that the Polish ones don’t? If the answer is nothing, then I don’t see why they should expect to be payed 20% more just for being British.

These laborers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

In a capitalist society, if you are a worker, you need to remain competitive. That’s cold, but it’s basically how the system works. It’s the big reason why big box stores like Walmart can move into a town and destroy all the mom and pop shops that used to operate there. It’s why companies choose to outsource to places like India rather than operate locally. It’s why capitalism will eat itself.

The lower strata of the middle class — the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants — all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production. Thus, the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.

Actually, I lied, I don’t really think capitalism will eat itself anymore. Most governments put in place just enough socialist policy to keep the system working. Most developed countries have some form of unemployment insurance, health care, welfare, etc. Even if you are living in squalor, its hard to rage against the machine that is paying your way. So who do you get mad at? Who do you demonize? I think that answer should be clear.

(All quotes are from the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.)

|  

Comments

  1. In a capitalist society, if you are a worker, you need to remain competitive. That’s cold, but it’s basically how the system works.

    Apparently it doesn’t bother you that these Polish workers are in someone else’s country. Presumably then it wouldn’t bother you if cheap Mexican labour took jobs away from Canadians. After all, why should being Canadian entitle you to a good wage when there are foreigners willing to work for much less?

    Capitalist economies work within the framework of the nation-state. British workers compete with other British workers, Canadian workers with Canadian workers, etc. That’s the only way working-class people have a chance of making a decent standard of living. That’s what globalization in its present form is threatening. There are billions of poor in the world willing to work for povery-level wages.

    There are libertarians who say there should be open borders and that everyone should be allowed to live in whatever country he wants. If libertarians had their way, countries like Canada and Britain would be flooded with cheap labour to the extent that wages would fall to Third World levels. That would be great for employers who would get even richer, but it would leave ordinary people poor.

    A virtually unlimited supply of cheap labour would create a society like Brazil’s divided between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor. Immigration is already creating income inequality in the United States. See this article It’s Official: Immigration Causing Income Inequality

    And you could say good-bye to the welfare state. If you had open borders people from Third World countries with little or no government services would flock to countries like Canada that do have them. The system would be overwhelmed. It’s already under strain. Contrary to Ottawa’s propaganda, Canada is not getting the best and the brightest. The largest group of immigrants are family members who have not been selected by the point system. This is why cities like Toronto are developing an underclass. See the United Way report Poverty by Postal Code

  2. Capitalist economies work within the framework of the nation-state.

    This certainly isn’t true today. Countries don’t operate as closed bubbles and haven’t for a long time. Look at where everything you buy comes from. In many cases it won’t be from Canada. There are plenty of Canadians who are willing to work for subsistent wages as well. It has more to do with poverty than anything else I would guess. People like to enjoy the benefits of globalization, cheap prices and what have you, and then get upset when it bites them in the ass. We both think its an unfair system. I’m just saying blaming the immigrants for it being unfair is wrong headed.

  3. the immigrants who are willing to work for “poverty-level wages” are the ones who are unskilled, stupid, and useless enough to deserve it. I’m not interested in having government policy protect my job from immigrants; I’m fully capable of protecting my own job, by making sure I do a good job of it.

  4. the immigrants who are willing to work for “poverty-level wages” are the ones who are unskilled, stupid, and useless enough to deserve it.

    I have no doubt that there are skilled, smart, and capable immigrants working crap jobs. We know a doctor from Sri Lanka who was working some useless job while he was studying to get qualified here. There are probably more examples like that.

    I’m fully capable of protecting my own job, by making sure I do a good job of it.

    Exactly. People shouldn’t expect jobs like they were some sort of birth right.

  5. Don’t forget that Poland is in the EU and these workers have a right to work and live in the UK. On another note there has been a building boom in London going on a decade now. Trying to find a trades person in London is a near Sisyphean task so I don’t hold to much credence with anybody saying that Polish labourers are pushing down wages.

    The building trade is a joke in the UK. One is happy if you get half of your (english) workers back from the pub after lunch. Trust me it is a very English trait to winge and moan when a bunch of Poles, Hungarians, Estonians or any new EU country come in and do the job better, faster and cheaper. They winged about the Spanish in the 80’s and the Irish in the 70’s. The more things change….

    Look up Harry Enfield and “loads a money” for a cultural perspective on the British builder.

Don't be shy, you can comment too!

 
Some things to keep in mind: You can style comments using Textile. In particular, *text* will get turned into text and _text_ will get turned into text. You can post a link using the command "linktext":link, so something like "google":http://www.google.com will get turned in to google. I may erase off-topic comments, or edit poorly formatted comments; I do this very rarely.