Capitalism is a system of exploitation. Capitalism is defined by the production of commodities for profit. Employment levels and living standards depend on the profitability of private firms. Businesses and capitalists make profit by paying workers less than the value they produce.
Waged labour includes anyone who does not own or control the means of production - land, tools, machines and other resources. Waged workers are not the property of individual employers, as serfs were under feudalism, or slaves in the USA before the Civil War. But workers need money to pay for food, housing, clothing etc - so they have to work for someone. The worker sells his or her capacity to work - labour power - to the capitalist.
When capitalists hire workers they buy workers' labour power for a period of time. The workers' time then belongs to the capitalist, who sets out to extract as much labour from them as possible.
Capitalists combine the means of production (technology) with the labour of
workers to produce commodities for sale at a profit.
Workers work longer than the amount of time necessary to produce the equivalent of a "living wage". If it takes four hours to produce the goods necessary for a worker to live and the working day is eight hours, the workers are spending four extra hours producing what Marx called "surplus value". And, in any case, all the eight hours, and most of workers' energy and life, is dominated by capital. The workers get a pittance, sufficient to... continue being workers. The creative energies of men and women are monopolised and channelled by the drive for profit.
Surplus value is the difference between the value added by workers during the production process and the value of their labour power. Capitalists (not workers) have control over this surplus value. It's where their profit comes
from. When we use the term exploitation we're not just talking emotionally. It's an economic fact.
Capitalism means exploitation. Yet it drives the development of industry and technology like no other system before it. It has created a vast, interdependent world system which weaves together the common fate of humanity.
The working class
Capitalism creates and reproduces the working class. The working class is the basic exploited class, so it has an interest in ending exploitation. As a result of its position in the global production chain, the working class has
tremendous power. It can bring capitalist production to a halt through strikes.
In building labour movements, workers have shown the collective, democratic skills necessary to run society on the basis of need, not profit.
As capital spread across the globe, it created waged working classes. The working class is connected across national borders by international production chains. Factories are large and closely intertwined units. Over the last two hundred years, as capitalism has developed, the working class has grown both
numerically and in social weight.
In 1950 two thirds of the global labour force worked in farming, mostly as peasants rather than farm wage-workers. By 1990 this figure had dropped to half. Today over half a billion people do industrial work. Even more provide services. The working class is now the largest class in the world.
For the AWL, workers are not passive objects of exploitation by the ruling class and the forces of the state - but active makers of history. Capitalism forces workers to band together to defend their interests. Workers use strikes, sit-ins, factory occupations and demonstrations to challenge the rule of capital.
Workers organised themselves in groups such as unions, factory committees, workers' councils - as labour movements - to challenge the power of capital. The working class is the only class that stands consistently opposed to the
bosses. Its successful struggles are collective strugglesŠ not the struggles of lone individuals, as Hollywood would have us believe.
The working class is the number one agent of change in the modern world. Labour movements have existed in Europe and North America for over a hundred years. These movements fought for free trade unions, for democratic rights, for state
education, for national health, for unemployment benefits, for pensions and for working class political representation.
In the last 30 years capitalism has expanded in developing countries, increasing the social weight of the working class. For example in South Africa, Brazil and Korea, large strike waves erupted in heavy industries. Concentrated
in large factories, young workers fought for higher wages, shorter working hours and other improvements in their conditions.
The working class is the democratic class - it has fought against military dictators and other forms of authoritarian rule and for democratic rights. In 19th century Britain the Chartists fought for the right to vote when the landed aristocracy and the rising industrial business class wanted to restrict this right to property owners.
In Brazil in the 1980s and South Korea in the 1980s and 90s the working class played the main role in ending military rule. In South Africa the working class was the social force that made apartheid unworkable. In Thailand workers stopped a military coup in 1992. In Indonesia the strike wave of the 1990s inspired the movement against the butcher and dictator Suharto. In Pakistan the working class has been the only force to oppose both the military dictatorship and the political Islamists. In China workers' struggles for independent unions
have inspired opposition to the Stalinist rulers.
In most countries working-class struggles have stagnated or declined in the years following the serious working-class defeats in the 1980s.
However there are more independent unions in the world today than ever before. Even discounting state-run unions in countries like Cuba, there are more than 200 million workers in unions across the globe.
And labour movements continue to grow, even in difficult circumstances. In Iraq workers formed unions after the fall of Saddam, and won better pay and conditions. Working class organisations are the core secular and democratic
forces in Iraq today. In workers' struggle lies the hope of change, both now and in the future.
The AWL looks to the working class and labour movement organisations not only to reform the present system but also to act as the social agent to overthrow capitalism and replace it with a socialist society of freedom, equality and
The liberation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves. Socialism requires a workers' revolution. Workers' liberty can only be won through the abolition of privileges and elites. Workers - as a class - cannot raise themselves up by exploiting people beneath them.