The RMT strike will fail … even if they win their demands

According to the Daily Mirror, these are the issues motivating workers in the RMT strike in Great Britain:

“Essentially it boils down to pay and working conditions. The RMT argue that their staff – who worked throughout the pandemic – are now facing below inflation pay rises after years of wage freezes. The union wants a pay hike of at least 7%, ahead of predicted rises to inflation of 11% in the autumn. The RMT rejected a 2% offer, with an added 1% tied to job cuts. They are concerned about proposed redundancies and changes to working conditions, after the railways proposed making efficiencies following the pandemic, which has led to more people working from home. Unions believe that as many as 2,500 jobs could be at risk.”

Now, here is a problem for communists: while they may support the RMT strike very much and many communists even participate in it as members of the unions, they actually want the opposite of what the unions are fighting for.

Come on, let’s be honest.

It is no secret that every communist who is part of this strike, and all communists who support it, want every worker without exception, including RMT members, to be jobless and to labor without any wages at all.

Where the mass of workers want to gain steady, stable employment, communists want 100% unemployment and the complete replacement of direct human labor in production by machines. Where the mass of workers want to gain a steady, stable living wage, communists want wages to go to zero.

Largely, the difference between what the average worker wants and what the average communist wants is a matter of time horizon. In the short term, communists view employment and wages much the same as the mass of workers. The difference between the communist view and the view of the average worker tends to take shape only past the point we might call the communist horizon — that point where assumptions about employment and wages among communists rather unpredictably invert so that both employment and wages go to zero.

I say ‘unpredictably’ because, if asked, I doubt many communists can even define the conditions under which this state of affairs would emerge. -Some might cite Marx’s commentary on the Gotha Program or another classical communist, but I doubt they could do more than regurgitate the basics. And, without being able to define those conditions, we really have no way to determine whether we have met them 150 years after Marx’s commentary.

I mean, after all, Marx was wrote his brief comments in 1875. This is 2022. In 1875, the telegraph was a killer app. Times have changed, right?

When Marx wrote his commentary, the communist horizon was — to use a polite modern term — aspirational, which is to say it was something the proletarians aimed for, but could not hope to immediately achieve even if they took power. Material conditions were not prepared for the complete abolition of labor and wages. The closest workers would hope to get to that ideal, even if they held state power, was some form of system where their private consumption was tied to their labor contribution. No one could access to common consumption means without making this contribution. A situation, in other words, where those who lived off the labor of others would be eliminated.

And even if the working class gained power, it still would take decades of further development to reach material conditions corresponding to the communist aspiration of a society where access to the means of consumption was no longer tied to any labor contribution.

But in 2022 we are now 150 years, 15 decades, from the time Marx wrote his commentary. Being extremely conservative and assuming no more than a 5% annual increase in the technical productivity of social labor over this 150 years, living labor today is perhaps 1800 times more productive than it was when Marx wrote his commentary.

That means one worker today can easily do the labor of eighteen hundred workers in 1875! That should give you just a hint of the capacity of capital to increase the productive power of social labor.

In 1875 the gap between where society was and the communist horizon was a chasm that required decades at the minimum to cross. Marx knew he would never see it. He also knew his children and those with whom he corresponded and their children would likely never see it as well. It was to some extent understandable that there would be an equally vast gap between what communists set as their aim and what the average workers set as their aims. The chasm between aspiration and reality was so large that in practice communists could demand an end to all wage labor, while fighting alongside the mass of workers who only wanted good jobs at good wages.

But 150 years later can we say this horizon remains as distant and the chasm so vast as it was at the time when Marx wrote his commentary? When a worker today can produce literally two thousand times the output created by her great-great-grandfather in the same working day, is it possible to maintain the communist horizon remains as distant as it was when his contemporary, Marx, was writing his Critique?

Assuming it is not, then we have a problem.

The average worker today still thinks about wage labor much the same way their great-great-grandfather did 150 years ago: as something that is as natural and eternal as gravity. They are, therefore, shocked when the capitalists tell them their jobs are scheduled for elimination and their wages will be inflated away.

Communists, who continue to fight alongside these workers, also seem to be unaware that times have changed. They really don’t seem to recognize the incongruity of demanding capital stop trying to get rid of jobs when they themselves want to get rid of wage labor too.

So, it is rather weird that as capital has developed the productive power of social labor and, theoretically at least, moved society closer to the possibility of the complete abolition of necessary labor, the mass of workers defiantly cling to wage work and continue to resist any effort to allow their wages to fall to zero.

It is even more bizarre that communists, who arguably should be aware of the progress capital has made in the last 150 years and thus should know better, indicate in both their actions and their literature very little awareness of the possibility for the complete abolition of wage labor in the production of material wealth that has been made possible by this progress.

Communists today act with no more awareness of the real potentialities of our time than a worker who has never once picked up a piece of literature more theoretically sophisticated than a Sanders’ campaign handout.

In the RMT strike, there is nothing that can save these workers jobs and wages. Moreover, none of us should want to save these miserable jobs and wages. It is an insult to human dignity to ask anyone to live like we are expected to live.

Communists should grow the fuck up and join the 21st century with the rest of society. This ain’t your great-great-granddaddy’s capitalism. We do not need more of these meaningless battles that cannot be won.

Note: I’m mostly on Telegraph now.

13 thoughts on “The RMT strike will fail … even if they win their demands”

  1. Wouldn’t it be smarter to have it so that workers work less each week and then pay them more for each hour? Then eventually decreasing hours and increasing wages until finally reducing the number of hours each week to zero?


    1. Unfortunately, communists miss the point. There is no other end but getting rid of wage labor. That means wages go to zero, not infinity. People — and by people I mean communists people — fetishize the commodity form. They want communism, but not if it means they have to stop selling their labor power, which has the magical property of making other commodities appear as if by conjuring. Do you really think there is any connection between the worthless paper you are paid and the commodities you receive at the grocery store?


    1. I have no words to convey my sense of loss to this unexpected news. Thomas was longtime friend and comrade, who corresponded with me. We never met, but often I felt as if I were conversing with him when I wrote my blog posts. I am consumed with such crushing sadness.


    1. This is a very good critique of the idea of reducing hours of labor. I don’t agree with it, but it certainly sets the standard for an adequate defense of the idea.


      1. Sure you know that we’re all-in as of reducing hours of labor, as a matter of fact thanks to your teachings which we’ll always appreciate. But there are, in our opinion, some considerations that need some additional attention.


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