Wage Slavery?

posted by Jonathan Logan on 2009.02.09, under Blog, Liberty

I still have to admit that the whole concept of “wage slavery” escapes my little confused brain.

Wage slavery, as it seems to me, is based on the following understanding:

People working for less compensation then they think would be just. This does not only include the monetary wage but also often the demand for being directly in control of the means of production and even to be paid “the full value of the product”. Often the “control of the means of production” extends to “not being bossed around and treated as property”.

While I do understand all of the above concerns, and sympathize with them (which is one of the reasons I became self-employed), I do not fully understand how to call it “unjust” or even slavery.

Slavery to me means: A person becomes property of another, and this relationship is manifested in the tools of coercion that the owner can legitimately use against the slave: Corporal punishment, incarceration, threat of killing, killing. By these tools of coercion a slave can be forced to remain a slave, he can be kept from walking away.

I might be disconnected from today’s working environment, but while I was employed at a steel company, we were all free to go, cancel our job, any time. No one with a whip was waiting to drive us back into the plant. No death squads were visiting the homes of those that quit. And there was no dungeon where under-performing “slaves” were kept. If you didn’t like your wage, you could petition to the bosses, or even organize a strike. And if that didn’t help, you could quit and look for other employment, or become self-employed. You could walk away anytime, and if you underperformed you might get fired by the “slave-masters”. This, if I may say so, did not look, feel or even smell of slavery. So, I quit, took another job (at a software company), and later even went self-employed.

Wage-slave activists usually step in at this point and say: Yeah, but if you loose your job, you will die of hunger. Since you do not own property and means of production you cannot start your own business. And without work you will starve. So, loosing your job means that you die, which is the same as being forced to work under the threat of being killed.

There are several responses I have to that:

  1. No one kept me from owning property or procuring means of production. When I decided to leave employment and become my own boss, I drastically reduced my expenses, moved into a 12 sqm shit-hole of an apartment, stopped smoking etc. and started to save as much cash as I could. It took me about two years to have enough money at hand to buy the necessary tools for my job, to train me on some necessary things like book-keeping, and to have enough cash to survive a few months should business be low. It did work out ok, though it was for sure one of the non-so-funny times of my life. But, I created freedom for myself. Something a slave couldn’t do.
  2. “Loosing your job means to starve”. That statement sounds to me like “people are entitled to life”. I don’t think so. This planet is a pretty cruel place. Only few areas really support comfortable survival of humans. Humans are actually born to die, and they extend their years on this planet by subdue nature by the pure force of their work, intellect and will. We carbon units are entitled to nothing. We must wrestle from nature the necessities of survival, cradle to grave. So, why should I then be entitled to force others to sustain my life in a way I prefer? The same is true for your “fully owned” farm where you are owner, boss and worker. If the farm doesn’t produce as much as you like, you can either stick with it and reduce your wishes, increase production by working harder and more intelligent, or to leave the farm and starve to death. In most western countries nothing but myself can keep me from surviving on my own. Yes, there are other, tougher places on the planet were farmers are driven from their plot and such. But I don’t see many of those people complaining in this forum (cause they really have to fight for their survival all day, no time to type some messages to cozy westerners).

Based on my thoughts so far I petition anyone using the word “wage slavery” to find a new term. Why? Because I see it as an affront against anyone who was ever a “real slave”. Wage slaves are not even close to what slavery really means, far from it. Yes, maybe the situation of “wage slaves” is not ideal, which is why I support lots of worker activism, walkouts, even unions. It is why I support good property rights so that individuals can remain on their plot of land to do farming (or whatever). And it is why I support free markets and no welfare, so that the residuum unemployment goes away to give more power to worker action. It is also why I am against minimum wages, simply because they keep workers and employers to settle down on the “right price” for work.

But please, don’t call it wage slavery, cause it aint slavery at all.

Slavery is a prohibitive activity. It does not just increase barriers, it makes them deadly. This does not apply to wage work today in the west. It does however apply to taxes, cause if you are a moral person (not taking welfare without paying taxes), and you work, they will force you to pay taxes or kill you (if you don’t agree to jail). No employer does have that power, not even through the help of the state (so far).