Citizenship and “Wage Slaves”

Shklar in her book American Citizenship draws a very clear line between slavery and what many people call being a wage slave. In her eyes simply having the right to earn and retain wages for labor is a huge step up from being considered a piece of property. However many of my classmates have made the case that being a wage slave is not much better. As you are living paycheck to paycheck and completely dependent upon the good graces of their employers to get by. 

I completely disagree with this argument. For one i like not being whipped and literally bred for work. Secondly, i like having the ability to quit and the opportunity to seek out better employment. Most of you would think that i am simply brainwashed or otherwise spitting out the jargon that i am told by the “evil corporations” but again, where did you get your nifty slogan? Pop culture, and as a result you can buy all kinds of neat stuff sporting the slogan from tee shirts to coffee mugs. So it would seem you are supporting you enemy on this. 

Also, yes i do think my job sucks but look at it realistically. I do unskilled and predominantly non- physically demanding labor. So do i truly deserve to be paid significantly more? No not really, considering i work 15 hours a week and have to for the most part put in minimal effort. If i wanted to i could try to become a bank teller and make 10-12 hourly but i really don’t want to. Or i could work somewhere that pays tips such as doing delivery. But again, not overly worth it. 

And again with reference to Shklar, as a citizen you are very much more free than an actual slave. We willingly make ourselves “wage slaves” by buying things we do not need. I.E. shopping at Urban outfitters and A&F etc. or going out to eat all the time. If we were truly slaves none of this would be allowed to us. We find ways to enslave ourselves to our things. Don’t get me wrong i love my things but in the end are we really enslaved or are we infatuated? 

The 99% movement wanted better jobs, more of them and less corporate influence in DC. My question to anyone holding this view is who is going to create these sustainable good paying jobs? And if you want to ban lobbyists that’s fine i never liked PETA or the ACLU all that much anyway. But anyway that’s just my two cents. 

 

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16 Responses to Citizenship and “Wage Slaves”

  1. horboy80 says:

    Aristotle made the statement “…the citizens must not live a mechanic or a mercantile life (for such a life is ignoble and inimical to virtue), nor yet must those who are to be citizens in the best state be tillers of the soil(for leisure is needed both for the development of virtue and for active participation in politics.)”

    Imagine if you did not have to have that crappy job. If your food, health, education, transportation, and home were paid for. What would you do? Would you sit around all day just thinking? Would you create something? Would you study the classics simply to better understand the thoughts of brilliant minds? Would you do nothing?

  2. horboy80 says:

    Cicero wrote in 44 BC that “…vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labor, not for artistic skill; for in their case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery.”

    Imagine if you didn’t have to work at that crappy job. If your food, health care, transportation, housing, and education were all taken care of. What would you do? Would you sit around all day thinking? Would you create something beautiful? Would you read the classics simply to better understand a brilliant piece of work? Would you converse with strangers and talk about new ideas? Would you simply do nothing?
    That in my opinion is freedom. The ability to do nothing if one chooses and no reprecusions will avail themselves. When the mind numbing, soul sucking, meaningless drudgery that is wage labor is done away with then maybe we can find true freedom.
    Now this may be considered a utopian ideal, one that I truly believe we could obtain through technology and a collective decision to do so, but is that not something we should all aspire to create. Never should we simply accept life as it is when we can imagine something better. To do so would be giving up or becoming content. Those are the consequences of slave wages.
    No down time to ponder your life, to do things you always wanted to do because you have to go to that crappy job and do something that betters no one. And we all do it. I’m not just picking you out. We accept that this just is how life is supposed to be and therefore we go to those jobs and forget that life is happening right outside that cubicle, just waiting to be seized.
    While I agree with you that our version of slavery is not nearly as overtly despicable as pre-civil war slavery, I contend that is is worse. At least those slaves knew their standing unlike the billions of people alive today who think they are free. The slave who does not know he is a slave is truly a retched beast.

    • Ok that is a nice idea but how do you propose we do this? Have you ever seen the movie Walle? I know that is not an expert source but it illustrates a good theme common throughout literature, I can think of at least 4 books and 2 movies immediately to support this.

      Brave New World
      The Bible
      The Quran
      Storm Thief
      Walle
      What Dreams May Come

      If you do not have any responsibility or work people would simply get bored and lazy. There would be no drive to create or imagine new things. “Necessity is the mother of all inventions”. Should i perhaps pull out a psychology textbook to prove that people find meaning and value in their work?

      What i would likely do without any responsibility is probably just take classes, oh wait there would be no teachers. Or maybe i would sit around and watch netflix all day and get fat. Or just get bored, go insane and commit suicide. Any of those seem equally likely….

    • theginja says:

      “That in my opinion is freedom. The ability to do nothing if one chooses and no repercussions will avail [sic] themselves. When the mind numbing, soul sucking, meaningless drudgery that is wage labor is done away with then maybe we can find true freedom.”
      … Alright, that’s a valid point, but what are we saying here? We’ve got to keep at least a toe in reality for a minute, insomuch that labor MUST happen at some point. I mean it just has to, right? I love my Star Trek as much as the next guy but we don’t have replicators to create sustenance from nothing. And even if we eliminated the finite monetary system we utilize now, the alternatives like trade based barter systems would also entail the requirement of labor exchanges. Houses don’t build themselves, agriculture just doesn’t happen, goods just don’t arrive pre-packaged and ready for consumption. So how do we have our “food, health care, transportation, housing, and education were all taken care of”? Someone has to provide the labor for this to be a reality, right? That’s the interesting thing about many (not all, don’t attack me later) political philosophers and theorists, especially ancient Romans like your boy Cicero, when pontificating on things like freedom, liberty, and leisure, they did so far removed from the slaves who’s labor makes their existence possible.

      I must politely disagree with your assertion that “wage slavery” is worse than actual slavery. I get the whole “false consciousness” thing, I really do. I just don’t think that works unless we go with a labor theory of value (are we? Because that’s another debate altogether) … I don’t think it holds water when we take individual subjectivity into account.

      Saying this, I do like your idea of freedom, i.e. “The ability to do nothing if one chooses”. I do think freedom would be to do nothing … or anything should they choose (so long as we don’t harm or infringe on others, etc). But, I think freedom has zero to do with labor. Freedom, in a broad sense is to exert ownership over ourselves and by extension our own labor, and we should be able to do whatever we want with it. At the end of the day, you’re not a slave unless someone is coercing labor from you. Taking care of one’s own sustenance (or a family) does not fit that bill. So freedom is the ability to sell our labor to whomever we choose. Now, the repercussions of such a transaction will be an expression of subjective value. The opportunity cost of “mind numbing, meaningless drudgery” must be weighed by every individual subject, and surely the results will vary. Person X does Y job, because they see it as ‘worth it’, (this is a value expression) where another may not. This expression of subjective value is the result of freedom, not slavery.

    • yesdelrinc says:

      “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.” ~Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”

      • So your rebuttal is an appeal to optimism? That falls drastically short. The question we are debating takes place in real time, not in a perfect fictional world where anything is possible. The very Structure of the word “Utopia” Implies its own impossibility. It means “No place”.

  3. elason13 says:

    While I actually don’t believe that wage slavery is worse than actual slavery, so I agree with you there NathanWellsfry. Beat and breed is way worse than the creative suck that is also known as my cubicle. However, it sounds like you do not believe that being a slave to your wages exists, your argument being that you can 1. you can quit as you choose 2. you waste money out of infatuation, not enslavement, of materialistic things and 3. job-creating corporations are a good thing. I respect your stance, however I disagree.

    Back in September (on my mom’s birthday, but that’s beside the point), my “position was eliminated” along with 27 other employees. While they offered me a very nice severance package as well as the opportunity to find a different position within the same company, I was acutely aware of an invisible, impending doom. How on Earth was I going to support my family? I immediately got to work on finding another job. Without exaggeration, it took me 2 months of job searching 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week (as was stipulated by my severance package) before I realized I was NOT going to find another full-time position in my field, not even at my own company. I realized, also, that it was futile to even look and accepted a part-time position with the idea of going back to school full-time. I did this because I am a slave to my wages, if not for my sake, but for my family’s. I would argue that you too are a slave to your wages, unless you are purely furthering your education for learning’s – not earning’s – sake. My point is that it is naive to think that finding another job – unskilled, low skilled, or otherwise – is simple and can be done on a whim. It is extremely difficult in this economy, especially for people like myself (currently degree-less) with added responsibilities of family.

    As for your second argument: while I believe that everyone is a slave to their wages, it isn’t as simple as being because they are infatuated with materialistic things. Low wage people, and I mean people who are below the poverty line, are the worst hit. I do not think that they are enslaved to wasting money on unnecessary wants, as their main concern are needs (food, shelter, CHEAP clothing). They do not have the purchasing power of the upper classes and are truly dependent/enslaved by their typically low skilled jobs. On the other hand, I think that the upper classes are also enslaved to their wages, but for another reason. While you believe that people are merely infatuated with the things they buy, I believe that these people are enslaved. If you told an avid A&F or Dillard’s shopper that Savers or Goodwill had some really nice, gently used clothes/items for a fraction of the price, do you think they would suddenly stop shopping at name brand stores? I think not, and that is because they are enslaved. Why do you think these businesses spend so much money on advertisement? They do this to trick people into paying 100 times as much for an item than they (that is to say the children in China) spend making it.

    Lastly, corporations are evil. Period. But if you really don’t understand why, than please refer to previously stated children in China. Also, the huge pay they make off the backs of their slaves… oop! I mean employees/customers. Yes, they create jobs, but they also eliminate and control who gets those jobs, typically ignoring quality over quantity in a multiple of ways.

    • 1. So this “Evil” corporation offered severance packages and potential job placements in other parts of the company yet they are still evil? Believe it or not companies are made up of real people, who like you have a job to do and want to keep it. The main concern is making a profit. If they have to shut down then a lot more than 27 people will be SOL. I sympathize that you were let go but that is not because you were being screwed by the “evil company”, it was out of necessity for their survival.

      2.”They do not have the purchasing power of the upper classes and are truly dependent/enslaved by their typically low skilled jobs.”

      That is fair to say, but they have opportunities here in America. They are not locked in to the poor house for life. There is welfare, scholarships, Federal Job placement programs etc. At some point there is an issue that comes down to being beat down and having no more motivation because you think you will fail. There will always be people on the bottom of the prosperity ladder. You cannot eliminate that, the best you can do is raise the lowest level of living as much as possible. But to do so you will inadvertently make rich people richer.

      3.”Lastly, corporations are evil. Period. But if you really don’t understand why, than please refer to previously stated children in China.”

      http://www.laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/sweatshop_hall_shame_2010.pdf

      Go to the bottom of the page, companies such as Nike and Gap are not as “Evil” as you claim.

      There are also a variety of ways to rate a company. How are you claiming they are evil? Morally, as in overtly malicious and intentionally causing harm. Or disregarding ethics in favor of short term gain? Animal Abuse, discrimination, poor working conditions?

      Also question. If job creating companies are evil then who do you propose should create all of the sustainable jobs that people need?

      • yesdelrinc says:

        An article on the Foxconn Chinese wage scandal and its attempts to clean up its reputation:
        http://www.zdnet.com/blog/china/iphone-manufacturer-foxconn-to-double-worker-salaries-by-2013/438

        Sweatshops in the United States, really? No, we don’t do that:
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/sweatshop-la-fashion-urban-outfitters-aldo-forever-21_n_2302493.html

        Maquiladoras in Mexico from the United States, Europe, and Asia:

        Just a few examples of how wage-slavery still exists. There is more where this came from.

      • elason13 says:

        1. In my first point, I wasn’t trying to prove that corporations are evil, nor that my company is evil. Not all companies are. Again: “My point is that it is naive to think that finding another job – unskilled, low skilled, or otherwise – is simple and can be done on a whim. It is extremely difficult in this economy, especially for people like myself (currently degree-less) with added responsibilities of family.” This in reaction to your point that wage slavery does not exisit because an individual can quit and find another job at any time.

        2.”At some point there is an issue that comes down to being beat down and having no more motivation because you think you will fail.”
        I agree with you there.
        Question: who are the poor getting beat down by and why, in your oppinion?
        How does raising the lowest ladder of the work force’s wages make the rich, richer?

        I believe that this also a naive approach to the issue of poverty in a neoliberalistic society where social programs always come second to making a buck. Welfare (TANF) is limited to 5 years, health insurance has been cut for many, even while Obama is pushing for reform, public education’s budget has decreased. Yes, federal grants for education exist, but they are not sufficient as they do not pay for everything. Also, if a poor person works 12-16 hours a day just to get by, when will they have the time to go off to college?

        3. What yesdelrinc said. 🙂 Evil corporations are evil because they disregard the lowly humans who manufacture their product, at times paying less than $2 a day. However, like I said before, not all corporations are evil.

        “Also question. If job creating companies are evil then who do you propose should create all of the sustainable jobs that people need?”
        Answer: People would make the sustainable jobs. Just because heirarchical, top down corportions have been how we have worked in the labor force in the past and present does not necessarialy mean we have to continue in that path in the future. I have another class, where we have been discussing the idea of “making” and “new work.” Making is basically creating for yourself what you need, not relying on corportions mass produced goods. By using technology such as 3D printers, people can do “new work” on collaborative teams, with no hierarchy, on a common goal. They can at times connect with other teams if needs arise outside of their expertise. This would basically be a redistribution of resources, cutting out corporations. No longer will the rich get richer, but, hopefully, income would stablize. That’s just one option.

  4. Good please do if you have any more.

    Also firstly, Chinese Factory wages. As you may have noticed they are paying well above minimum wage before the hikes. There was nothing wrong with where they were at. The overall costs and standards of living are not the same as here in America. So i do not see how that is wage slavery.

    Secondly. The company bears some blame but so do the employees. And this is why we have laws to protect people, so when some companies like individuals do something wrong or immoral we correct them.Not all companies are bad like not all people are good.They did what they did to gain a competitive edge in a tough industry. Should we ask how many extra hours the average salary employee puts in? My guess is a lot more than 40. Also this does not make every company evil, or individuals “wage slaves”. If you want real wage slaves think industrial revolution working conditions.

    “Maquiladoras in Mexico”

    That sounds like a flaw of the Government of that country, not of companies who export labor. If they are not offered water or bathroom breaks then that sounds like the local people in charge of running the plant are to blame, not the company themselves. Does the primary company know that employees are being treated badly? How do you propose they police all of their factories if there is no local government backing?

    And yes when cheaper sources of labor are available the markets do move. There is nothing wrong with that.

    • There are a number of aspects that this video fails to acknowledge.

      Firstly, under the table income. There are plenty people who are technically in poverty because they either live off of welfare or make money that they “forget” to report to the government.

      And Secondly, as the video points out a lot of middle class people have their investment in their home. As property prices inevitable rise again so will the wealth of the middle class.

      Also, you are neglecting the fact that owning a company does not equal in your pocket cash any more than owning a house does. If your company does not make a profit or you are unable or unwilling to sell it that makes it tied up and thus you are not able to use it. Bill Gates is filthy rich, but did he do anything illegal to earn that wealth? He has had some questionable lawsuits yes but that is not illegal.

      Another point it fails to make that this graph is not only tied to Businesses and their owners but celebrities. People who we pay a lot of money to go see in theaters. Are they also evil?

      Again i maintain if you think businesses are evil, WHO DO YOU PROPOSE CREATE JOBS?

      If you really think you are overworked and underpaid start your own business. In my old neighborhood a lot of Hispanic people started their own yard care businesses that were legitimate and had employees, so it is not impossible.

    • Also, read this. Although i doubt you will agree, i think it has some merit. I admit i don’t entirely agree with the direction the author took, but the point stands.

      http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/04/5113/

  5. ryrooney says:

    I completely agree with the point you are trying to make. Being a slave is completely different from being a “wage slave”. I don’t even think people should use the phrase “wage slave”, it completely undermines the historical aspect of the word slave. “Wage slave” is a contradiction within its self, but that is beside the point. Whenever I hear someone say use that phrase they are just complaining about how they have to go to work to earn money so they can pay their bills and it’s just a vicious circle. None of these people are actually slaves who are forced to do labor for no pay. I agree that most people hate their jobs and are just there for the money, so society should come up with something different other than “wage slave”.

    I liked how you said that we find ways of enslaving ourselves by buying into designer brands and buying into all the crap that society tries to feed us. if we were real slaves we wouldn’t even have the option to buy anything. “Wage slave” lessens the significance of what it means to be a slave.

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