Labour power (in German: Arbeitskraft; in French: force de travail) is a crucial concept used by Karl Marx in his critique of capitalist political economy. Marx distinguished between the capacity to do work, labour power, from the physical act of working, labour. Labour power exists in any kind of society, but on what terms it is traded or combined with means of production to produce goods and services has historically varied greatly.
Under capitalism, according to Marx, the productive powers of labour appear as the creative power of capital. Indeed, "labour power at work" becomes a component of capital, it functions as working capital. Work becomes just work, workers become an abstract labour force, and the control over work becomes mainly a management prerogative.
- The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor contract is free what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
- By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labor. By proletariat, the class of modern wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live.
- The dominant notion of rationality is a capitalist notion of rationality, that is, whatever is profitable, whatever can be organised in terms of social control of labour-power and control of natural resources.
- David Harvey, The history and present condition of Geography: an historical materialist manifesto (January 1984), YouTube video, 1:10:15, posted by "IGU Channel," May 7, 2014.
- The directing motive, the end and aim of capitalist production, is to extract the greatest possible amount of surplus value, and consequently to exploit labor-power to the greatest possible extent.
- Unlimited exploitation of cheap labour-power is the sole foundation of their power to compete.
- We have just seen that, apart from money-capital, circulating capital is only another name for commodity-capital. But to the extent that labour power circulates in the market, it is not capital, no form of commodity-capital. It is not capital at all; the labourer is not a capitalist, although he brings a commodity to market, namely his own skin.
- The capitalist cannot store labour-power in warehouses after he has bought it, as he may do with the raw material.
- The labour-power is a commodity, not capital, in the hands of the labourer, and it constitutes for him a revenue so long as he can continuously repeat its sale; it functions as capital after its sale, in the hands of the capitalist, during the process of production itself.
- By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labor. By proletariat, the class of modern wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their [labor power in order to live.
- Not only have material wealth and the possibilities for freeing mankind definitively from the burden of meaningless, repetitive and mechanical work increased, but so too has the polarization of society between fewer and fewer owners of capital and more and more workers of hand and brain, forced to sell their labour-power to these owners. The concentration of wealth and power in a small number of giant industrial and financial corporations has brought with it an increasingly universal struggle between Capital and Labour.
- Ernest Mandel, Introduction to Capital. Introduction to volume 1 (1976)
- Wealth in the hands of the holders of wealth is not capital until it controls the means of production, buys labor power, and puts it to work, continuously expanding surpluses by intensifying productivity through an ever-rising curve of technological inputs.
- Only when the stock of wealth can be related to human energy by purchasing living energy as "labor power", offered for sale by people who have no other means of using their labor to ensure their livelihood: and only when it can relate that labor power to purchased machines - embodiments of past transformation of nature by human energy expended in the past - only then does "wealth" become "capital".
- The essence of capital is its ability to mobilize social labor by buying labor power and setting it to work. This requires a market in which the capacity of human beings to work can be bought and sold like any other commodity: buyers of labor power offer wages, which sellers accept in return for a commodity, their own labor.
- The capitalist mode acts to accumulate capital through the hiring of labor power, but is marked by the cyclical alternation of labor mobilization and labor displacement; each intake of labor power uproots some prior adaptation, while each sloughing off of labor power creates a new cohort of the unemployed.