"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

The Fundamental Problem With Labor Movements

Beggars can’t be choosers.

Think of a homeless guy who washes car windows in traffic in hopes of getting paid.  That’s the position of the wage slave.

The tragedy of the modern labor force is that people are completely dependent on jobs.
Unless a laborer gets a better offer from another employer, he’s impotent at the bargaining table.  Because he eats by selling his labor, he can’t withhold his labor.  Because he can’t withhold, he is powerless, a slave in all but name—a slave to the necessity of survival as a subsistence farmer is slave to his fields.  Even if he chooses to go on strike and be hungry for awhile, it’s all too easy to replace him with someone else who does the same thing.  And when his strike doesn’t work, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to eat again, he may even be blacklisted, all but sentenced to death by exile into the wilderness.

As soon as we go looking for jobs, we’re limited in what we can demand.  A man who opens a business may need employees, but he didn’t ask our parents to give birth to us, nor does he naturally bear any duty to care for us.  He can’t be held responsible for the entire human race—keeping a business alive is hard enough.   He has his shop and maybe he hires a few guys if he needs them, and dismisses them when they’ve served their purpose.  Someone who lives only selling his labor must be one of those guys that gets hired and finds ways to stay employed or he’s faced with starvation.

Earning bare subsistence wages for backbreaking labor that makes some other guy rich sucks; I’ve had to do a decent amount of it to get by.
I’ve also played around with small operations to make some money on the side.  I found out it’s astonishingly difficult to pay yourself even $7.50 an hour.  I’ve tried selling sourdough bread, I’ve sold asian herbs over the internet.  Until you have an operation at critical mass.  You’re actually a lot better off working at McDonalds.  When you clock out at McDonald’s you can check out and not worry.  If you have your own thing, there’s not truly any such thing as a day off.  Until you’ve risked substantial capital to build up infrastructure of some kind, simply panhandling yields a competitive wage compared to most things you could do on your own.

The only way anyone gets a better deal in this life is by having leverage at the bargaining table.  Until hamburger flippers have better options, they won’t get 15 dollars an hour.  If they can’t work for 7.50, 5 dollars an hour, or even .50 cents an hour they’re even worse off!  So how do they expect to get a better deal?
I remember traveling around the UK learning how Welshmen went hungry when slate mining declined and the Cornish when the tin market crashed. When the one job in town went away, grinding poverty gave way to the threat of outright starvation. “Grinding” at least suggests a process that can be carried on from day to day, even if it’s unrelentingly miserable.

We live in a post-industrial world where only a few percent of the population is needed to do the truly essential work of providing food and infrastructure.  The rest is a desperate attempt to make human lives worthwhile.  Once the goods are produced, it’s absurd to suppose that the rest can all try to provide value by serving each other the goods.
People have always had to earn their keep.  Those who have been unwilling or unable to provide value to others have starved.  One brief thought experiment suffices: Do you want to buy food and housing for a mob of strangers?  Can you?

A few years ago I wrote about the Highland Clearances because it’s a definitive example of how the real world really works:  When sheep became more profitable than peasant tenants, the people were promptly evicted en masse to make way for sheep.  We can also observe countless other examples in the British Empire alone.  They exported food from Ireland during the Irish potato famine and from India during Indian famines.  Human life is cheap and wealth is dear.

If we consider that money is just a stand-in for wealth, and wealth itself is food, shelter, mates, luxuries for the human and the products of photosynthesis for the plant—every living thing in a sense is a business.
And in the course of nature, failed businesses perish from the earth.

I’ve wondered before if we can defy the experience of generations and truly assign human life an intrinsic value in practice.  New things happen after 10s of thousands or even millions of years all the time.  But by the pattern we know—that of an agricultural oligarchy, useful specimens are retained by those who control wealth—the rest discarded into the trash pile.

That said, even if no useful work is to be done, billions of unneeded specimens still have a very useful product to offer—they can be hired for the indispensable service of not looting, plundering, and causing mayhem—or at least you won’t have to pay the greater expense of hiring armies to slaughter them all.  Such has been the basis of social programs and welfare since ancient Egypt and Rome.
No man would be willing to earn 50,000, live on 10,000 himself and support 4 other strangers on 10k each.  But many a man might sacrifice 10,000 of his 50,000 a year to be left in peace.  On exactly this premise our current order continues to coast along on borrowed inertia from better times.

3 responses to “The Fundamental Problem With Labor Movements

  1. Pingback: The Fundamental Problem With Labor Movements | Neoreactive

  2. sunhater May 17, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Awesome post as always !

  3. AAB May 20, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Wharram Percy in England was another example of an instance when sheep farming become more profitable than cereal farming, and hence sheep displaced humans:

    Although the site seems to have been settled since prehistory, the village seems to have been most active from the 10th to the 12th centuries. The Domesday Book of 1086 records it as Warran or Warron. The Black Death of 1348–49 does not seem to have played a significant part in the desertion of Wharram Percy although the large fall in population in the country as a whole at that time must have made relocation to a less remote spot more likely. The villagers of Wharram Percy seem to have suffered instead from changes in prices and wages in the 15th century, which gave pastoral farming (particularly of sheep) an advantage over traditional cereal farming. The village was finally abandoned in the early 16th century when the lord of the manor turned out the last few families and had their homes demolished to make room for more sheep pasture.


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