Workers create all the wealth

Over the next few weeks, we will discuss some of the basic ideas of Socialist Labour. We start with the Nigerian Labour Congress’ motto – LABOUR CREATES WEALTH

There’s a powerful myth that is repeated by most of the media every day, so that it has become common sense. This is that the bosses are the ‘wealth creators’. Without them, we are told, there would be no investment, no jobs, no development. In contrast, Socialist Labour supports the motto of the NLC that “Labour Creates Wealth”.

In current-day society the means of wealth creation are in the hands of a small class of the money bags, the corrupt elite. They own and control the major means of production – oil wells, factories and offices, hospitals, universities, the docks, airports, and so on.
As a result of ‘privatisation’ many of these industries are now privately owned. Sometimes the government still owns them. In either case, access to and decision-making control over these facilities is out of the hands of the masses.
What about the rest of us? A minority still own the means of making a living – small farmers and shopkeepers, the self employed. A few of them do quite well, but most put in long hours and earn no more than the minimum wage. Often, they move in and out of the working class. Their businesses often fail. Then they go into debt, perhaps losing their houses and savings at the same time.

The majority of the population, in the cities at least, can only make a living if they work for someone else, in return for a wage or salary. This is the working class who are the real wealth creators. They produce the goods and services society needs – in workplaces that they neither own nor control.

In principle it makes no difference whether they work for private corporations or the state. In either case, they work under bosses they don’t choose, and they earn only enough to live from one month to the next.
The goods and services that workers produce belong not to them, but to their bosses. In the very process of producing things, the working class also provide wealth for their bosses.
Microsoft workers don’t just develop software, they also develop Bill Gates’s immense riches, and his power over themselves. Similarly, Dangote workers make the cement and drive the lorries. But Dangote and his managers order them around and gain the financial benefits.

That’s what the term ‘exploitation’ means. Workers produce vast surpluses, which end up in the hands of those who rule over them, in the economy and in the state alike. The more they work, the richer and more powerful their exploiters become.
Capitalism is a system that depends on this daily robbery, carried out in every workplace, every minute of every day. At the heart of capitalism is the activity of the working class.

The working class, in this crucial sense, has continued to expand as capitalism has developed across the world. Most households in Nigeria now depend on wages to survive or hustle a living in the informal sector.
At the time that Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto, back in 1848, the working class was still a tiny proportion of the world’s population, chiefly concentrated in a few countries in Western Europe. Today, the working class in just a small country like South Korea is probably bigger than the world’s working class a century and a half ago.
Sometimes you hear it argued that the working class is shrinking, because ‘manual work’ is declining.
What a weird argument! ‘Manual’ means ‘by the hand’ – but somehow it’s supposed the nurses and teachers, people in offices and universities don’t need hands! It’s not the colour of a person’s collar that determines their class, but their relationship to the means of production.

Capitalism is the most dynamic system of production in history, and it constantly changes the make-up of its own workforce.
In 19th century Britain the biggest sources of employment were agriculture, textiles and coal. As they shrank, the metal trades grew. In turn, these have been partially displaced by new, electronics-based industries. Larger changes have taken place in Nigeria since independence. These changes have led to a massive growth to the working class and the membership of trade unions.

As the people exploited by capitalism, the working class also possesses immense potential power, not just to halt economic production, but to transform society. That power is the key to the possibility of socialism and is being demonstrated currently by the strikes of ASUU and the workers of the Federal Capital Territory.