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Is Work a Basic Social Right?

by Thomas Kuczynski Friday, Nov. 18, 2005 at 5:41 AM

"Hard work including persuasive work is necessary so the ruled free themselves from the worries of the rulers and then become the rulers themsevles."


By Thomas Kuczynski

[This article published in: Ossietzky, 10/26/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

One of Bertolt Brecht’s stories is titled “The Worries of the Rulers are not the Worries of the Ruled.” This title is marvelous and can serve as a starting point for my reflections.

Full of worry, the rulers in Germany declare to the ruled that work is too expensive and cannot be financed any more. We don’t have enough money to pay for you and your work.

The question about the real origin of the ruler’s money is not answered. They have too little to finance work in Germany. They also do not need to explain how this land with its allegedly high labor costs remains competitive on the world market and has been an export world master for years.

The argument of excessively high labor costs is as old as the capitalist industrial society. In order not to go far into the past, I quote the British parliamentarian Stapleton: “When China becomes a great industrial land, I do not see how the European working class population can survive the struggle without descending to the level of its rivals.” This statement was made in September 1873. The argument is not different today after the self-elimination of command socialism.

We are still far removed in Germany from Chinese wages. If the rulers want to force down the wages of the ruled to this level, wage cuts of ninety percent, not ten percent, will be necessary. Obviously they want to gradually reach this goal and are doing this successfully.

Many of the ruled have adopted the worries of the rulers and speak in the same way. One piece of evidence is the rapidly growing number of wage contracts in which wage cuts, job shifts and dismantled social benefits were supposedly consistent with the goal of job security. Despite all the concessions of the ruled, the total number of jobs in Germany continues falling. The number of those who have no work or only low-paying or one-Euro jobs climbs.

No wonder that philanthropic or humane social palliatives, that is pain-relievers, are considered in this situation and that debates focus on the amount of a basic security for the unemployed, persons unfit for work and so on. Whoever suffers pain treasures the pain-relieving effect of palliatives.

From medicine we know that palliatives a=do not remove the causes of pain and even make people dependent in the long run. This is also true for the money paid to the unemployed year after year in ever-smaller amounts. People cannot live but only survive from that. They cannot live under their own steam. Their powers diminish. Whoever is long hindered from working cannot usually work since he has forgotten how to work. The long-tem effect of an unemployment benefit – regardless of the amount – is the same as a palliative. The pain is soothed and its causes remain untreated. Treatment becomes increasingly difficult.

Many years later the “society” lacks work, not only money to pay for work. The “end of the work society” is announced. Even people who count themselves politically leftist join in this choir and obviously ignore the many jobs not done in Germany, in environmental protection and nature conservation, social and medical care, education, culture and science.

To be sure, most of this work does not “count” from a management perspective. Therefore old liberals like Adam Smith were once convinced that the state was responsible for these projects. However the neoliberals now organize this more and more administratively. For them, nearly everything must “count” except for “defending freedom” at Hindukusch, the high Central Asian mountains, eavesdropping on apartments and many other similar ventures for which there are vast funds.

Work is not all that is lacking. Some modern leftists even think some do not want to work and nevertheless must make ends meet. The basic question remains why people are unwilling to work.

In most cases, unwillingness to work is the result of disablement and not vice versa. Whoever has never learned to work or forgotten this due to long-term unemployment cannot work but has become disabled. Youths showered with demonstrations of the meaninglessness of all work day after day in the parental home, school and mass media will usually not learn to work. The acquired unwillingness to work can seem confirmed by talk of the “end of the work society.”

Far away from the New Testament canon (“whoever does not want to work should not eat”) or different epics and myths of work, a person creates himself on the basis of two things, outward nature and work. As William Petty formulated, his wealth had two sources: work as his father and the earth as his mother. Marx’ saying adopted from an anonymous English author agrees: True riches are the developed productive power of all individuals. Freely disposable time is the measure of wealth, not working hours. Both the developed productive power of all individuals and the3ir freely disposable time presuppose effectively organized and highly productive work. The right to laziness formulated so beautifully by Paul Lafargue can only be carried out on this basis.

From this starting-point, the question whether there is something like a basic social right or a human right to work can be questioned. If work is a necessity like a law of nature for the reproduction of the human species, there is just as little a right of work as there is a right of biological reproduction.

On the other hand, when work is seen in the empirical daily routine of Germany and not as a natural law, the answer to the question about a right to work is almost opposite because this right is only the right of workers to be exploited. Who of us would champion such a right?

In 1850 Marx said the right to work is a “first awkward formula summarizing the revolutionary claims of the proletariat.” On the other hand, it is an absurdity in the middle class sense, a miserable pious desire. “The power over capital stands behind the right to work. Appropriation of the means of production and their submission under the working class stands behind the authority over capital. He concludes with the statement: “The June insurrection, the June 1848 revolt of Paris stood behind the right to work.”

Given the awkward reform formulas of some leftists today, this last formula of the revolutionary claim of a right to work should be remembered. We also remember that the middle class government in 1848 changed the right to work. In Marx’ words, “it was changed into the droit a l'assistance, the right to public support. What modern state did not feed its paupers (its poor) in one form or another?”

In fact the struggle for basic social security is nothing but a struggle over the amount of the alms. We must battle for a society in which no one depends on alms any more. Philanthropy is not enough. Hard work including persuasive work is necessary so the ruled free themselves from the worries of the rulers and then become the rulers themselves.

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