Wage slavery

Wage slavery is a pejorative term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor by focusing on similarities between owning and renting a person. It is usually used when a person’s livelihood depends on wages or a salary , especially when the dependence is total and immediate. [1] [2]

The term wage slavery has-been used to criticize exploitation of labor and social stratification , with the form seen Primarily have unequal bargaining power entre labor and capital (PARTICULARLY When workers are paid Comparatively low wages, eg in sweatshops ), [3] and the lath as a lack of workers’ self-management , fulfilling job choices, and leisure in an economy. [4] [5] [6] The criticism of social stratification covers a wide range of employment choices by the pressures of a hierarchical society to perform otherwise unfulfilling work that deprives humans of their “species character”[7] not only under threat of starvation or poverty , but also of social stigma and diminishing status . [8] [9] [10]

Similarities between wage labor and slavery were noted in Cicero in Ancient Rome. [11] With the advent of the industrial revolution , Proudhon and Marx elaborated the comparison between labor and slavery, [12] [13] while Luddites emphasized the dehumanization brought about by machines. Before the American Civil War , Southern defenders of African Americanslavery invoked the concept of wage slavery to favorably compare the condition of their slaves to workers in the North. [14] [15]The United States abolished slavery after the Civil War, but labor union activists found the metaphor useful. According to Lawrence Glickman , in the Gilded Age , “References abounded in the labor press, and it is hard to find a speech by a labor leader without the sentence.” [16]

The introduction of wage labor in the 18th century Britain was set with resistance, giving rise to the principles of unionism . [17] [18] [19] [20] Historically, some organisms labor and social activists-have espoused individual workers’ self-management or worker cooperatives as feasible alternatives to wage labor. [5] [19]


The view that is working for the future is back to the ancient world. [22] In ancient Rome, Cicero wrote that “whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and puts himself in the rank of slaves.” [23]

In 1763, the French journalist Simon Linguet published an influential description of wage slavery: [13]

They were worthy of the most important things in the world because of their ability to pay the price. farm laborers who will not be allowed to eat in the kitchen they will not be allowed to eat in the kitchen to enrich him … what effective gain [has] the removal of slavery brought [him?] He is free, you say. Ah! That is his misfortune … These men … [have] the most terrible, the most imperious of masters, that is, need. They must therefore find someone to hire them, or die of hunger. Is that to be free?

The view that has a strong influence on the history of the past, and is much more important in the late 18th and early 19th century by the defenders of chattel slavery, and by the opponents of capitalism (who were also critics of chattel slavery). [9] [24] Some defenders of slavery, mainly from the southern slave states, argued that Northern workers were “free in the end – slaves of endless toil,” and that their slaves were better off. [25] [26] This contention has been partially corroborated by some modern studies that indicate slaves’ material conditions in the 19th century were “better than what was generally available to urban workers at the time.”[27] [28] In this period, Henry David Thoreau wrote that “[i] t is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern But; . ” [29]

Some abolitionists in the United States considered the analogy as spurious. [30] They believed that wages were “neither wronged nor oppressed”. [31] Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans argue that they are likely to have the opportunity to work for themselves in the future, achieving self-employment . [32] The abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass having beendeclared, “now I am my own master”, upon taking a paying job. [33]But later in life, he concludes the contrary, “experience can only be slavery of a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other”. [34] [35] Douglass went on to speak about these conditions as arising from the bargaining power between the ownership / capitalist class and the non-ownership / laborer class within the monetary market. “No more crafty and effective motto for defrauding the southern laborers could be adopted by the marketplace. the land-owner and the shopkeeper. ” [36]

Self-employment became less common as the artisan tradition slowly disappeared into the later part of the 19th century. [5] In 1869 The New York Times described the system of wage labor as “a system of slavery as absolute as not degrading as that which recently prevailed at the South”. [32] EP Thompsonnotes that for British workers at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 19th centuries, the gap in status between a servant, a hired wage-laborer and the discipline of the master, and an artisan, who might ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘ ” [17] A “Member of the Builders’ Union” in the 1830s argued that the trade unions “will not only strike a strike, but more wages, but will ultimately abolish wages, become their own masters and work for each other;[18] This perspective inspired the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union of 1834 which had the “two-fold purpose of syndicalist unions – the protection of the workers under the existing system and the formation of the nucleus of the future society” when the unions take over the whole industry of the country. ” [19] “Research has shown”, William Lazonick summarizes, “that the ‘free-born Englishman’ of the eighteenth century – even those who, by force of circumstance, had to submit to agricultural labor tenaciously resisted entry into the capitalist workshop. ” [20]

The use of the term slave wage by labor organisms May originate from the labor protests of the Lowell Mill Girls in 1836. [37] The imagery of wage slavery Was Widely used by labor organisms During the mid-19th century to object to the Lack of workers’ self-management. However, it has been replaced by the term “wage work” towards the end of the 19th century, as their organizations shifted their focus to raising wages. [5]

Karl Marx describes the capitalist society as an infringement of individual autonomy because it is based on a materialistic and practical concept of the body and its liberty (ie, as something that is sold, rented, or alienated in a class society ). According to Friedrich Engels : [38] [39]

The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured of existence, but it can be miserable because of the master’s interest. The individual proletarian, property as it was of the whole bourgeois class, which has no secure existence.

Similarities of wage work with slavery

Critics of wage work

  1. Since the chattel is a property, it is a value that can be used in the future. The slave chattel has made more money for the slave. For this reason, in times of recession, chattel slaves could not be fired like wage laborers. A “slave wage” could also be harmed at no (or less) cost. American chattel slaves in the 19th century HAD Improved Their standard of living from the 18th century [27] and, selon historians Fogel and Engerman planting show records That Slavic Worked less, Were better fed and whipped only occasionally – Their material terms in the 19th “Being better than just being at work in the city” [28]This was partly due to the social and economic problems of an economic system different from the capitalist wage slavery. According to Mark Michael Smith of the Economic History Society: “intrusive and oppressive, paternalism, the way masters employed it, and the methods used to manipulate it, rendered slaveholders’ attempts to institute capitalization work on their plantation ineffective and so allowed slaves to carve out a degree of autonomy. ” [40]
  2. Unlike a chattel slave, a wage laborer can (barring unemployment or Lack of job offers) choose entre Employers, purpose They usually Constitute a minority of owners in the population for qui the wage laborer must work, while Attempts to Implement workers’ control we Employers may be considered an act of theft or insubordination, and thus be with violence, imprisonment or other legal and social measures. The wage laborer’s choice is to work or face poverty or starvation. If a slave chattel refuses to work, a number of punishments are also available; from the negative effects of positive ownership reinforcementto achieve best results and before losing their investment by killing an expensive slave. [41] [42]
  3. Historically, the range of occupations and statuses held by chattel slaves has been nearly as broad as that held by free persons, indicating some similarities between chattel slavery and wage slavery as well. [43]
  4. Wage slavery, like chattel slavery, does not stem from some immutable “human nature,” but represents a “specific response to material and historical conditions” that “reproduce [s] the inhabitants, the social relations … the ideas … [and] the social form of daily life. ” [44]
  5. Similarities were blurred by the fact that proponents of wage labor won the American Civil War , in which they competed for legitimacy with defenders of chattel slavery. Both presented an over-positive assessment of their system, while denigrating the opponent. [8] [30] [31]

According to American anarcho-syndicalist philosopher Noam Chomsky , the similarities between chattel and wage slavery were noticed by the workers themselves. He noted that the 19th century Lowell Mill Girls , who, without any reported knowledge of European Marxism or anarchism , condemned the “degradation and subordination” of the newly emerging industrial system, and the “new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forgetting all but self “, maintaining that” those who work in the mills should own them. ” [45] [46] They expressed their concerns in a protest song during their 1836 strike:

Oh! Is not it a pity, such a pretty girl
Oh! I can not be a slave, I will not be a slave,
For I’m so fond of liberty,
That I can not be a slave. [47]

Defenses of wage labor and chattel slavery in the literature have linked the subjection of man to man with the subjection of man to nature; arguing that hierarchy and a social system is particular relations of production represent human nature and are no more coercive than the reality of life itself. According to this narrative, any well-intentioned attempt to fundamentally change the status quo is naively utopian and will result in more oppressive conditions. [48]Bosses in both of these long-lasting systems argues that their system is a lot of wealth and prosperity. In some sense, they both create jobs and their investment entailed risk. For example, slavers who risked losing money by buying slaves who later became ill or died; while hired by the hiring workers to make money. Marginally, both chattel and wage slave may become bosses; sometimes by working hard. It may be the “rags to rich” story, which occurs in capitalism, or the “slave to master” story that occurred in places like colonial Brazil, where slavs could buy their own freedom and become business owners, self-employed, or slave owners themselves. [49]Social mobility, or the hard work and risk it can entail, are thus not considered to be redeeming factor by critics of the concept of wage slavery. [50]

Anthropologist David Graeber has noted that, historically, the first wage labor contracts we know about – whether in ancient Greece or Rome, or in the Malay or Swahili city states in the Indian Ocean – were in fact contracted for chattel slaves (usually the owner Would Receive a share of the money, and the Slavic Reviews another, with qui to Maintain his or her living expenses.) Such arrangements, selon Graeber, Were quite common in New World slavery as well, whether in the United States gold Brazil. CLR James argued that this is the most important of the techniques employed in the field of industrialization. [51]

Decline in use of term

The use of the term “wage slavery” shifted to “wage work” at the end of the 19th century as groups of the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor shifted to a more reformist, trade union ideology instead of worker’s self-management. Much of the decline was caused by the rapid increase in manufacturing after the industrial revolution and the subsequent dominance of wage labor as a result. Another factor was immigration and demographic changes that led to ethnic tension between the workers. [5]

As Hallgrimsdottir and Benoit point out:

centralization of production … declining wages … [an] expanding … labor pool … intensifying competition, and … that referred to all [wage] work as slavery and avoids claims for wage-earning concessions in favor of supporting the producer of the world (by diverting strike funds towards funding … co-operatives, for example) the specific conditions of slavery and low … [5]

Treatment in various economic systems

Some anti-capitalist thinkers claim that the elite maintain wage slavery and a divided working class through their influence over the media and entertainment industry, [52] [53] educational institutions, unjust laws, nationalist and corporate propaganda , pressures and incentives to internalize to the power structure, state violence, fear of unemployment [54] and a historical legacy of exploitation and profit accumulation / transfer under prior systems, which is shaped by the development of economic theory:

Adam Smith noted that employers often conspire to keep wages low, and [55]

The interest of the dealers … in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public … [They] have an interest in deceive and even to oppress The public … We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, on this account, that masters rarely combines, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in the field of tacit, but constant and uniform combinations, it is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parts must, upon all ordinary opportunities, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other a compliance with their terms.


The concept of wage slavery could conceivably be traced back to pre-capitalist figures like Gerrard Winstanley from the radical Christian Diggers movement in England, who wrote in his 1649 pamphlet, The New Law of Righteousness , that there “shall be no buying or selling, no fairs nor markets, but the whole earth shall be a common treasury for every man, “and” there shall be none Lord of himself. [56]

Aristotle stated that “the citizens must not live a life-force or a life-and-death experience”, nor do they want to be citizens of the soil (for leisure is ” [57] often paraphrased as” all paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind. ” [58] Cicerowrote in 44 BC that “it is not easy for them to work for their manual labor, not for the job market.” [59] Somewhat similar criticisms have also been expressed by some proponents of liberalism ,Silvio Gesell , and Thomas Paine , [60]Henry George , who is inspired by the Georgian philosophy , [9] and the Distributist school of thought within the Catholic Church .

To Marx and anarchist thinkers like Bakunin and Kropotkin , wage slavery was a class condition in place of the private property and the state . This class situation rested primarily on:

  1. the existence of property not intended for
  2. the concentration of ownership in few hands,
  3. the Lack of direct access by workers to the moyen de Production and consumption goods,
  4. the perpetuation of a reserve army of unemployed workers,

and secondarily on:

  1. the waste of workers’ efforts and resources on producing useless luxuries;
  2. the waste of goods so that their price may remain high; and
  3. the waste of all those who sit between the producer and the consumer, taking their own shares in the production of goods, ie the middle man .


Fascism was more hostile against independent trade unions than modern economies in Europe or the United States. [62] Fascist economic policies were widely accepted in the 1920s and 1930s and foreign (especially US) corporate investment in Italy and Germany. [63] [64]

Fascism has been perceived by some notable critics, like Buenaventura Durruti , to be a last resort of the privileged to ensure the maintenance of wage slavery:

No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings fascism to their privileges. [65]

Opinions on psychological effects

According to Noam Chomsky , analysis of the psychological implications of wage slavery goes back to the Enlightenment era. In his 1791 book On the Limits of State Action , Classical Liberal Thinker Wilhelm von Humboldt explains how “it does not matter how it’s done, it’s only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into its very nature; it does not really work with human energies, but with mechanical exactness “and so when we work under the control of” we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is. ” [66] Both the Milgram and Stanford experimentshave been found in the psychological study of wage-based workplace relations. [67]

Self-identity problems and stress

According to research, modern work provides people with a sense of personal and social identity that is tied to

  1. the particular work role, even if unfulfilling; and
  2. the social role it entails eg bread-winning family, friendship forming etc.

Thus job loss entails the loss of this identity. [68]

Erich Fromm argued That if a person perceives himself as being white what he owns, Then When That Person Loses (or Even Thinks of losing) what he “owns” (eg the good gold looks sharp mind That allow _him_ to sell His labor for high wages ), then, a fear of loss of personality and tendencies. In contrast, When a person’s sense of self is based is what he experiences in a state of being white(creativity, love, sadness, taste, sight etc.) with a less materialistic regard for what he once had, then less authoritarian tendencies prevail. The state of being, in the context of a worker-managed workplace and economy, the self-ownership entails a materialistic notion of self, which would allow a state of being. [69]

Investigative journalist Robert Kuttner and Jeffrey Johnson and Ellen Hall discusses the work of public-health scholars, and concludes that to be at risk of poor health, physically and mentally. ” Undergoing labor, “a relatively small elite demands and gets empowerment, self-actualization, autonomy, and other work satisfaction that partially compensates for long hours” while “epidemiological data confirm that lower-paid, lower-status workers are more likely to experience the most clinically damaging forms of stress, in part because they have less control over their work. ” [70]

Wage slavery, and the educational system that precedes it “held power held by the leader. ] power of initiative, this sense of responsibility, the self-respect which comes from being manned, is taken from the men, and consolidated in the leader of their initiative, their responsibility, their self-respect becomes … [and the] order and system is in the making of the world, from being independent thinkers to being ‘the men’ … In a word, it is compelled to become an autocrat and a foe to democracy. For the “leader”, such marginalization can be beneficial, for a leader ” No comments for the top level of intelligence in the rank and file, except to applaud his actions. Such intelligence from its point of view, by opposition and criticism, is an obstacle and causes confusion. “[71] Wage slavery “implies erosion of the human personality … [because] some men submit to the will of others, arousing in these instincts which predisposes them to cruelty and indifference in the face of the suffering of their fellows.” [72]

Psychological control

Higher wages

In 19th-century discussions of labor relations, it was assumed that the threat of starvation Proponents of the view That modern forms of employment Constitute wage slavery, Even When APPEAR workers-have to a Range of available alternatives-have icts perpetuation Attributed to a variety of social factors That Maintain the hegemony of the employing class. [44] [73]

Harriet Hanson Robinson in an account of the Lowell Mill Girls wrote that generously high wages were offered to overcome the degrading nature of the work:

At the time the Lowell cotton mills were started the caste of the factory girl was the lowest among the employments of women. … She was represented as one of those who deserve to destroy her purity and selfrespect. In the eyes of a woman, she was a brute, a slave, a beaten, pinched and pushed about. It has been possible to overcome this prejudice that they have been offered to women that they may be induced to become millennial, in spite of the opprobrium that still clung to this degrading occupation. [74]

In his book Disciplined Minds , Jeff Schmidt points out that professionals are trusted to run organizations in the interests of their employers. Because employers are trained to make every decision, they are trained to “ensure that each and every one of their work favors the right interests-or skewers the disfavored ones” in the absence of overt control:

The resulting professional is an expert in the field of intellectual property research, theorizing, innovating and creating privacy within the confines of an assigned ideology. [75]

Parecon (participatory economics) theory posits a social class “between labor and capital” of higher paid professionals such as “doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers and others” rote work “. [76]

Lower wages

The terms “employee” or “worker” are often replaced by “associate”. This plays up the allegedly voluntary nature of the interaction, while playing the subordinate status of the laborer, as well as the worker-boss class distinction emphasized by labor movements. Billboards, as well as TV, Internet and newspaper advertisements, consistently show low-wage workers with smiles on their faces, appearing happy. [77]

Job interviews and other data on requirements for low skilled workers – particularly in the job market employment options and expect them to feign unremunerative motivation. [78] Such screening and feigning may be used only in the presence of a person who is self-employed, but also in the employment relationship. job-switching or union activity. [78]

At the same time, employers in the service industry have justified unstable, part-time employment and low wages by playing down the importance of serving jobs for the lives of the laborers. ). [79] [80]

In the early 20th century, “scientific methods of strikebreaking” [81] were devised – employing a variety of tactics that emphasized strikes undermined “harmony” and “Americanism”. [82]

Workers’ self-management

Noam Chomsky has written in support of labor movements.
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Some social activists objecting to the market system gold price system of wage working, Historically-have regarded syndicalism , worker cooperatives , workers ‘self-management and workers’ control as feasible alternatives to the current wage system. [4] [5] [6] [19]

Labor and government

The American philosopher John Dewey believed that until “industrial feudalism” is replaced by “industrial democracy,” politics will be “the shadow cast on society by big business”. [83] Thomas Ferguson has postulated in his investment theory of economic theory that the state of the economy is underpinned by economic growth. [84]

Noam Chomsky has argued that political theory tends to blur the ‘elite’ function of government:

Modern political theory stresses Madison’s belief that “in a just and a free government the rights of both. But in this case it is useful to look at the doctrine more carefully. There are no rights of property, only rights to property, rights of persons with property, …

[In] representative democracy, as in, say, the United States or Great Britain […] there is a monopoly of power centralized in the state, and secondly – and critically – […] the representative democracy is limited to the political sphere in the field of economic development […] That is, as long as they are able to pay for themselves, they are willing to hire them, as long as their role in production is simply that of ancillary tools, then there are striking elements of coercion and oppression that makes talk of democracy very limited, if even meaningful. [85]

In this regard, Chomsky has used Bakunin ‘s theories about an “instinct for freedom”, [86] the militant history of labor movements, Kropotkin ‘ s mutual aid evolutionary principle of survival, and Marc Hauser ‘s theories supporting an innate and universal moral faculty. , [87] to explain the incompatibility of oppression with certain aspects of human nature. [88] [89]

Influence on environmental degradation

Loyola University philosophy professor John Clark and libertarian socialist philosopher Murray Bookchin have criticized the system of wage labor for environmental destruction, arguing that a self-managed industrial society would better manage the environment. They, like other anarchists, [90] attribute much of the industrial revolution to the “hierarchical” and “competitive” economic relations accompanying it. [91]

Employment contracts

Some criticize wage slavery on strictly contractual grounds, eg David Ellerman and Carole Pateman , arguing that the employment contract is a legal fiction in which it treats human beings juridically as mere tools or inputs by abdicating responsibility and self-determination, which the critics argue are inalienable. As Ellerman points out, “[t] he employee is a co-responsible partner to be a co-responsible partner for the supply of revenue [costs] or the output [revenue, profits] of the use’s business. ” [92]Such contracts are inherently invalid “since the person remains [s] de facto fully capacitated adult à la personne de la personne de la personne de la personne de la personne de la personne et de la personne de la personne et de la personne et de la personne. [93] As Pateman argues:

The contractarian argument is unassailable all the time it is accepted that abilities can be acquired to an external relationship to an individual, and can be treated as if they were property. It is also implicitly accepted that the exchange is between the use of the property and the exchange of property. . . The answer to the question of how property can be contracted out is that no such procedure is possible. Labor power, capacities or services, can not be separated from the worker. [94]

In a modern liberal-capitalist society, the employment contract is enforced while the enslavement contract is not; it is considered valid because of its consensual / non-coercive nature, and the latter is considered inherently invalid, consensual or not. The noted economist Paul Samuelson described this discrepancy.

Since slavery has been abolished, human capitalization is forbidden by law to be capitalized. A man is not even free to sell himself; he must rent himself at a wage. [95]

Some advocates of right-libertarianism , among them philosopher Robert Nozick , address this inconsistency in modern societies, arguing that a consistent libertarian society would allow and view as valid consensual / non-coercive enslavement contracts, rejecting the notion of inalienable rights.

The comparable question about an individual is a free system to slavery. I believe that it would. [96]

Others like Murray Rothbard allow for the possibility of debt slavery , asserting that a lifetime labor contract can be broken so long as the slave country appropriate damages:

[I] f has agreed to work for life for the exchange of 10,000 grams of gold. [97]

Schools of economics

In the philosophy of mainstream, neoclassical economics , wage labor is one of the most important things in the world , just like a carpenter would sell a flesh, or a farmer would sell wheat. It is considered neither an antagonistic nor abusive relationship, and carries no particular moral implications. [98]

Austrian economics argues that they are not “free” unless they can sell their labor, because they have no self-ownership and will be owned by a “third party” of individuals. [99]

Post-Keynesian economics perceives wage slavery as a result of inequality of bargaining power between labor and capital, which exists when the economy does not “allow labor to organize and form a strong countervailing force”. [100]

The two main forms of socialist economics perceive wage slavery differently:

  1. Libertarian socialism sees it as a lack of workers’ self-management in the context of substituting state and capitalist control with political and economic decentralization and confederation .
  2. State-socialists view it as an injustice perpetrated by capitalists and solved through nationalization and social ownership of the means of production .

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