One problem of Communism was that workers did not work very hard. This occurs to this day in Cuba.
As the workers in the USSR used to say, “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”
It’s true that wages were low under Communism, but so was rent and prices, so it was not such a big deal. Education, health care, transportation, culture, etc. was free, and rent was very low. Wages had to be low because the state spent so much money.
The state was responsible for all of education, health care, transportation, infrastructure, housing, and the building and maintenance of all structures in society. Everything was owned by the state. If the state did not keep it up with continuous repair and construction, everything would fall apart.
If workers were paid more, the state would not have enough money to fund health care, education, transportation, infrastructure, to buy raw materials and manufacture things with them, etc. Everything would start to fall apart.
But low wages were not the real reason that workers do not work hard under Communism. Workers need to be disciplined, otherwise, according to human nature, they will tend to screw off. Under Communism, workers quit at half day, call in sick, don’t show up at all, fulfill their quota and go home for the month, etc. This sounds like a lot of fun, but unfortunately, productivity suffers and workers screwing off is a big reason for a lot of the problems of Communism – shortages, poor products, lines, etc.
The problem is that under Communism it was hard to get rid of slackers. Say you have ten slackers in your plant. Sure, you can fire ten of them, but then what? Communist countries had full employment. If you fire ten slackers, you may well not be able to fill those positions with more workers, so you will have ten unfilled vacancies in your plant. Hence, slackers were usually just kept on the labor force.
Under capitalism, workers are typically horribly abused. The only places where they are not is when they have labor unions. Cheerleaders for capitalism need to own up to the fact that under capitalism, workers are the enemy. The capitalist state is dead set against the workers, as is the capitalist media, and in many cases, the capitalist army and police. Even capitalist society opposes its own workers, as it portrays workers as failures and losers.
Workers need to own up to the fact that capitalism is a purely worker-hostile system. Under capitalism, bosses (and their management lackeys) and workers are essentially enemies. The bosses hold all the cards, not only that, but they have the entire machinery of the state backing them up.
The only way that workers can even the score is via their own organizations, labor unions. But capitalist societies hate labor unions. The state, the media, and often the army and cops are dead set against labor unions, who are seen as the enemy of society.
Even society itself is typically against unions. Here in the US, many workers have been brainwashed into hating unions, which are only their own organizations to represent their interests.
The middle classes are typically not unionized, and they see unions as overpaid organizations of working class inferiors – the blue jeans and lunch pail crowd. For this reason, many middle class members of society do not wish to join unions, since to do so transforms you into a redneck with a high school education, a beer belly, work boots and a lunch pail. The middle class sees themselves as superior to the working class, so to join a union is to lower oneself in society.
Middle class rage at striking workers was important in the ushering in of Margaret Thatcher under the Tories in the UK in 1980. The public got behind efforts to break strikes of the trash collectors and to privatize the coal mines, which broke the coal miners’ unions. There was a strong class element to Thatcher’s election.
To the middle classes, Thatcher was sticking it to the overpriveleged working class unions. The British workers have always voted for Labor – they never voted for Thatcher. But the UK is now like the US in that most of the population identifies as “middle class,” whether they are or not.
Even in Communist states like Vietnam and China, workers are horrifically abused in the parts of society that have been handed over to foreign firms. There seems to be no way around the terrible abuse of workers under capitalism, in particular under developing capitalist states. Can the defenders of capitalism on this site show me any possible universe in which capitalism in developing states does not involve monstrous abuse of workers? And if it’s inevitable, what good is the system?
The Communist societies really were workers’ paradises in a way. The workers ran the show. Probably never in modern history have workers been treated as well as they were in the Communist countries.
Nevertheless, when workers ran the show, they fucked off and ran the system into the ground.
And under capitalism, workers are terribly abused.
Truth is that neither system works very well.
8 thoughts on “The Fate of Workers Under Capitalism and Communism”
Good article! To an extent actually existing socialism was a workers’ paradise. Social contradictions existed, however. Workers’ unions were a conveyor belt for the Communist party. It wasn’t exactly democratic. When there were workers’ strikes, they were repressed, if necessary with armed force (Berlin, 1953). On a lot of your observations, I concur. I’m not sure that workers didn’t vote for Thatcher. Not many, but some did. They wanted to buy their social housing, and many of them lost their now private owned houses when the next bust came along, at the end of the 1980s, when mortgage rates soared from around 7% to 15%.
Under a well-run capitalist country, you suffer now and enjoy later. All developed countries went through this phase. Life is full of sacrifices….it all comes down to your priorities. I pick capitalism.
One of the huge failings of communist governments is they don’t really have elections… just purges and overthrows .. .so that you get these egocentric “Presidents for life” and such.
As for unions I think the US middle class was generally in support of unions in the 1930s though the mid 60s. What happened in the 1970s is that American products started declining appreciably in quality (most notably automobiles..) and some unions became very arrogant. I have read that the pension funds of the unions in 1974 could have purchased every major company on the SP 500 but they didn’t make any moves towards that end. Their concept wasn’t to own part of the company but to extract as many dollars as they could (likewise this was and still is the foundation for much of the management also…) They got a collective wakeup call when the Japanese combined with the oil crunch put a major squeeze on them.
Now the only expansion of unions in the US is in the government sector where pensions and health benefits decidedly outstrip the private sector. I doubt that can continue. Where the US needs unions the most (farm workers and the food industry…) they have been undercut by a huge supply of illegal labor. It would be basically impossible to unionize these fields until the flow of illegal aliens is slowed dramatically. (The possibility of which I place somewhere between Bob Hope and no hope…)
Capitalism combined with partly worker ownership could conceivably work pretty well. That’s sort of how Microsoft and much of the tech industry operated in the 80s and 90s through stock options and it was quite successful for innovation, worker compensation, and productivity. (although stock option programs were eventually badly abused…)
My position is that it is absolutely obvious that all workers ought to be in a union. That is simply self-evident. White collar workers think that they don’t need unions because they are not abused. They are wrong. Even tech workers are terribly abused. See cases of Hindu 1-B’s coming in and US workers having to train their Hindu 1-B replacements and then killing themselves in the parking lot afterwards.
On what universe is the boss ever going to give you a square deal unless you are in a union? Forget it. As it is, the bosses have all the power, and the workers have zero. Unions only give the workers the same power that management and ownership always have.
Middle class White Americans oppose unions because they don’t belong to them! End of argument. The anti-union argument has never made sense and never will.
In the most progressive countries like Sweden, 93% of the workforce, including most management even, is unionized. Management thinks they are part of the ownership, but they are not. They are just abused workers like any other.
Even tech workers are terribly abused. See cases of Hindu 1-B’s coming in and US workers having to train their Hindu 1-B replacements and then killing themselves in the parking lot afterwards.
A Tech union absent a restriction on outsourcing or insourcing (H1-B visas..L1 visas and apparently a few others..) will go nowhere. I am not necessarily against Tech unions but saying Tech workers are abused (unless you are talking about line workers..) is a great exaggeration. We’ve had it good for a long time. (and in reality still have it good..) If you don’t cut it (and your company keeps you and a bunch of people like you..) then that company will go under and you are out on your ass anyway. It’s not the same thing as a coal miner or line worker.
As for the middle class (previously…from the 30s to the 60s) not supporting unions… well pretty much all of the union workers in the US in the 1950s (around 38% of the labor force..) were middle class so I think that wasn’t always true.
Some of the crap that the UAW pulled basically pushed Chrylser and GM into bankruptcy… (Job banks were if you were laid you could collect a few paycheck and not work for years on end…. full medical benefits that covered everything with no deductions….)
In contrast fast food workers and farm workers are often badly abused and much of the left spouts off about unions but you ain’t gonna shit happening till you turn off the endless supply of desperate labor.
As for state, federal, and local government… who are the owners… oh.. you and me.. who is the competition…..? No one. And by the way I am also disgusted at the huge salaries of investment bankers, most CEOs and CFOs and jokers who sit on corporate… boards. They generally aren’t the owners… they are the high end looters.
This doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.
According to your argument, unions ruin companies by making them uncompetitive vis a vis the competition. But if this were the case, then all of the corporations in Sweden would be bankrupt since 93% of workers there are in unions.
Any decent union will work with the company to open the books so that the company will not go under. Often the companies refuse to open the books and just demand horrible cuts in pay and bennies. Unions are understandably leery of that. Any company willing to sit down with workers and open books to show how cuts in pay or bennies are needed otherwise the company goes under will find a willing friend in the union. If the company goes under, 100% of the workers are out a job. Hardly any union wants that for its workers. Problem is that so often corporations do not work in good faith.
Tech workers only have it good since tech compies actually compete for the best workers by trying to outdo each other in bennies, conditions and pay. That’s hardly the case for any other industry in the US.
If you have ever worked in a government job, and I did for many years, you will feel very lucky that you had the union on your side.
The competition for the UAW industries (Jap firms) were all non-unionized, especially in the South. Remember when the Clinton scum cheered about the Jap firms setting up factories in the US South? Guess what? Those were all non-union firms.
Any worker who opposes unions, suppose the boss/management enemy and opposes his fellow workers is a stupid fucking asshole. Apparently we have 10’s of millions of stupid fucking assholes workers here in the US. American workers deserve every shitty thing that is ever going to happen to them for their anti-union insanity.
Any decent union will work with the company to open the books so that the company will not go under. Often the companies refuse to open the books and just demand horrible cuts in pay and bennies.
In the private sector most employees of unions are (or were) in companies that were publicly traded… by definition .. that means the books are open. That didn’t matter.. in the 70 and early 80s (Steel, auto related..) and it didn’t matter with GM.. the companies still hit the wall and had to file bankruptcy.
According to your argument, unions ruin companies by making them uncompetitive vis a vis the competition.
No.. that’s not what I said.. although I could provide you examples of where that indeed has happened. I will reiterate.. without enforcement of immigrations and limits on traded goods from countries with much cheaper labor rates.. then unions (in the private sector) will continue to lose ground. As for Sweden.. I tend to believe their unions are much less contentious and I suspect they have fairly strong direct and indirect trade barriers.
Under US slavery the situation was much the same sometimes. The owner could provide incentives to work, otherwise, the incentive was simply fear of lashing. Nonetheless, plantations made millions in the antebellum South, Haiti, Brazil etc..