Friday, July 04, 2008

The going rate of exploitation

Found on the Marxmail mailing list, this little beauty from the Irish Times. It tells us that the average Irish worker produces 48,500 euros of profit per year for the owners. These figures were produced by the Unite union to disprove the idea that profits for Irish capitalists are somehow 'too low' or being squeezed by unjustifiably higher wages. Actually, it suggests an extraordinary rate of exploitation. According to the Industrial Development Agency [pdf], the average wage in Ireland was 627.24 euros per week in 2007, which is just over 32,000 euros per year. This figure is offered by the IDA as an instance of how competitive the Irish labour market is for foreign direct investors. It boasts of a skilled, educated labour force capable of the production of a great deal of value at lower cost than German or Dutch workers (but, interestingly, a bit more expensive than the average UK worker). According to Unite: "In total terms, profits in the sector increased by over €5.6 billion in the five-year period [2000 - 2005], while total wages - despite a substantial increase in employees [over 50,000] rose by well under half". Some industrial sectors experienced a rate of profit as high as 40%, which is well above average, comparable to the UK Continental Shelf (north sea oil) in recent years.

Where to begin? With the fact that for every 2.5 euros of value produced by an Irish worker, the capitalists get to keep 1.5, just because they own the means of production? Or with the fact that the rate of exploitation has clearly risen quite dramatically, and Irish capitalists are complaining about this state of affairs? "No fair! Every increase in value produced should go to us exclusively, not those greedy bloody workers!" It is just this core aspect of production that should be borne in mind when you read statistics about inequality, usually couched in moralistic terms or those of social cohesion. Growing inequality is a state of affairs produced by class struggle, by capital's endeavour for more profit in particular. It is a social injustice rooted in the system, not a deviation from it. The Irish employers' yelp for more profit is just the latest phase in that struggle. The other context to be remembered is the recent push by Irish corporate capital for acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty - disgracefully supported by Labour, just under two-thirds of Green Party members, and some trade unions in Ireland. Sinn Fein and the Irish SWP were integral to the campaign for a 'No' vote. Much of big business rallied for the Treaty through Ibec, the Irish equivalent of the CBI, which welcomed the Treaty's 'liberalisation' components. What did they expect to get out of the deal? Same thing as when they backed the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005, before French workers blew the thing to kingdom come. More privatisation and deregulation, further opportunities for accumulation. As Ibec said: "A yes vote for the Lisbon Treaty creates the potential for increased opportunities for Irish business particularly in areas subject to increasing liberalisation such as Health, Education, Transport, Energy and the Environment." The Treaty also vaunted increased militarisation as part of the EU's supporting role for the American empire. It's extremely important that Ireland voted 'No' to this measure, because Ireland is the only state that is required by law to hold a referendum on EU Treaties. Gordon Brown, for example, has no intention of offering British workers the chance to express their view - it's far too risky, and there is too much at stake, particularly when he's busy slashing wages for millions of public sector workers.

Incidentally, Richard Boyd Barrett, a key anti-Treaty campaigner, will be at Marxism on Sunday to give a bit of background. If you're there, you might check him out.