It’s been forever since I’ve posted here. Sorry, fighting off personal crap. Anyway, I found myself making a long-ish comment on facebook, and I think I got it more or less right (enough qualifiers there?), so I’m going to copy it to here. The issue was the claim by another commenter, and I hope I’m summarizing him correctly, that capitalists mistreat workers because they’re morally corrupt, whereas in my opinion the problem is systemic, not personal. If I’m correct, it brings up the question: why, exactly, must a corporation treat its workers as poorly as possible while still keeping them coming back the next day? If it isn’t greed, and I contend greed is more of an effect than a cause, then why is it? Here’s what I said:
I’m going to take on your assertion that capitalists have a choice about how to treat workers, because it’s important. Please bear with me as I try to work through this.
The issue is competition. Not in the simple, straightforward sense (lower wages = lower prices = underselling the competition) because, in fact, the connection between wages and prices doesn’t work like that.
It’s a bit more complex. Lower wages (and the equivalent in reduction of benefits &c) put more money into the pocket of the capitalist. Some of this goes into supporting his life style, but for most of these people, that’s pretty well set. Instead, the extra money becomes capital, much of which, in practice, goes into the financial markets of pure speculation, some of which becomes investments in other companies, often competitors (the degree to which the major capitalists have their hands in each others’ pockets is mind-boggling), and some of which goes back into the business.
It can go into the business in various ways: a greater sales force, more investment in advertising and marketing, even research or new manufacturies. Maybe even a temporary massive “loss leader” (which looks like lowering prices, but the temporary nature makes it a different animal). In any case, all of these translate to the same thing: the fight for market share.
The fight for market share is brutal, constant, vicious, and, in the end, a fight for survival. A two percent loss of market share can send the board of directors into a panic. And, by their standards, it should: market share represents your power, your security, and your freedom to maneuver and take chances.
In short, a major corporation ( smaller companies, niche companies, or those like entertainment in which market share is less dependent on financial might can and sometimes do treat their workers well) that puts a significantly greater percentage of its working capital into labor than its competitors, is putting itself into a very dangerous position. Thus, the constant drive to put less into things like health care, a comfortable environment, safety precautions, and, of course, wages.
This is one half of the class struggle. The other half, obviously, is the desire of the labor force to have as much as possible of those things. But the point is, that is why I disagree with your position that capitalists are free to treat workers as well as they want. And if you’ve stayed with me for all of this, whether you agree or not, you have my thanks.