Wage slavery

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The only difference as compared with the old, outspoken slavery is this, that the worker of today seems to be free because he is not sold once for all, but piecemeal by the day, the week, the year, and because no one owner sells him to another, but he is forced to sell himself in this way instead, being the slave of no particular person, but of the whole property-holding class. ~ Friedrich Engels
Are you not slaves to the money power as much as were the black slaves to the Southern slaveholders? ~ Lucy Parsons
If the slave-owner of our times has no slave, John, whom he can send to the cesspool, he has five shillings, of which hundreds of such Johns are in such need that the slave-owner of our times may choose any one out of hundreds of Johns and be a benefactor to him by giving him the preference, and allowing him, rather than another, to climb down into the cesspool. ~ Leo Tolstoy
Competition, euphemistically called “individuality,” permeates and is systematically promoted to the masses of people while the corporate conglomerations and Fortune 500 are busy “merging and monopolizing.” ~ Kevin Rashid Johnson
The southern critique of wage slavery catalyzed in Lincoln a defense of free society. Most northerners, he insisted, were "neither hirers nor hired," but worked "for themselves." ~ Eric Foner
The contract by which he sold his labour-power to the capitalist proved in black and white, so to speak, that he was free to dispose of himself. But when the transaction was concluded, it was discovered that he was no 'free agent', that the period of time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the period of time for which he forced to sell it. ~ Karl Marx
It is an abuse of language to talk of the slavery of wages... We cannot see that it is wrong to give or receive wages. ~ William Lloyd Garrison
In most of the Southern States, a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters; while in the Northern, a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. ~ Abraham Lincoln

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.

Arranged alphabetically by author or source:
A · B · C · D · E · F · G · H · I · J · K · L · M · N · O · P · Q · R · S · T · U · V · W · X · Y · Z · See also · External links

C[edit]

  • The liberty of the northern wage earner ... amounted to little more than the freedom to sell his labor for a fraction of its value, or to starve.
    • John C. Calhoun, as cited in The Forgotten Emancipator: James Mitchell Ashley and the Ideological Origins of Reconstruction (2018), p. 55
  • Wait and see whether the religion of the Servile State is not in every case what I say: the encouragement of small virtues supporting capitalism, the discouragement of the huge virtues that defy it.
  • Human rights are rooted in human nature, and we violate fundamental human rights when people are forced to be slaves, wage slaves, servants of external power, subjected to systems of authority and domination, manipulated and controlled "for their own good."

D[edit]

  • There has never been a free people, a civilized nation, a real republic on this earth. Human society has always consisted of masters and slaves, and the slaves have always been and are today, the foundation stones of the social fabric.
    Wage-labor is but a name; wage-slavery is the fact.
  • Ignorance alone stands in the way of socialist success. The capitalist parties understand this and use their resources to prevent the workers from seeing the light.
    Intellectual darkness is essential to industrial slavery.
  • You need at this time especially to know that you are fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder. You need to know that you were not created to work and produce and impoverish yourself to enrich an idle exploiter. You need to know that you have a mind to improve, a soul to develop, and a manhood to sustain.

E[edit]

  • The only difference as compared with the old, outspoken slavery is this, that the worker of today seems to be free because he is not sold once for all, but piecemeal by the day, the week, the year, and because no one owner sells him to another, but he is forced to sell himself in this way instead, being the slave of no particular person, but of the whole property-holding class.
  • The bourgeoisie ... lets him have the appearance of acting from a free choice, of making a contract with free, unconstrained consent, as a responsible agent who has attained his majority. Fine freedom, where the proletarian has no other choice than that of either accepting the conditions which the bourgeoisie offers him, or of starving, of freezing to death, of sleeping naked among the beasts of the forests!

F[edit]

  • We do not know whether free laborers ever sleep. They are fools to do so, for whilst they sleep. the wily and watchful capitalist is devising means to ensnare and exploit them. The free laborer must work or starve. He is more of a slave than the negro because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave and has no holiday because the cares of life begin when its labors end. He has no liberty, and not a single right.
    • George Fitzhugh, describing the conditions of labor in the northern United States, Cannibals All!: Or, Slaves Without Masters (1857)
  • Fifty thousand dollars means, and is, fifty thousand dollars worth of slaves. You can command, without touching on that capital, three thousand dollars' worth of labor per annum. You could do no more were you to buy slaves with it, and then you would be cumbered with the cares of governing and providing for them. You are a slaveholder now to the amount of fifty thousand dollars, with all the advantages and none of the cares and responsibilities of a master.
    • George Fitzhugh, describing the relations of labor and capital in the northern United States, Cannibals All!: Or, Slaves Without Masters (1857), p. 32
  • Lincoln was fascinated and disturbed by the writings of proslavery ideologues like George Fitzhugh. The southern critique of wage slavery catalyzed in Lincoln a defense of free society. Most northerners, he insisted, were "neither hirers nor hired," but worked "for themselves, on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor hirelings or slaves on the other." Wage earners were generally young "beginners," hired "by their own consent"; contrary to southern charges, they were not "fatally fixed in that condition for life." Yet even Lincoln's eloquent exposition could not escape free labor's inherent ambiguities. Was wage labor a normal, acceptable part of the northern social order or a temporary status, associated with the lack of genuine freedom?
    • Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom (1998), p. 68

G[edit]

J[edit]

  • Reading Blood In My Eye I discovered that capitalist-private property relations are the source of class inequalities, which is the primary factor in my being a member of a class that bears all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages. Under the influence of illegitimate-capitalist values, I was pursuing the alleviation of social-economic hardship through individual advancement. This is a wholly inadequate remedy to social problems because it doesn’t challenge the fundamental injustice of class-exploitation and class-oppression, which are responsible for creating the socio-economic ills in the first place. Unaware of my class interest, I was perpetuating my own oppression by engaging in competitive capitalist practices that ensure the smooth functioning of the system as the exploiting minority profits in more ways than one off the division and disunity engendered by competition, so prevalent amongst the exploited. Look around: competition, euphemistically called “individuality,” permeates and is systematically promoted to the masses of people while the corporate conglomerations and Fortune 500 are busy “merging and monopolizing.”
    • Kevin Rashid Johnson, Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin Rashid Johnson (2010)

K[edit]

  • It is my firm conviction that the day is coming when the individual small merchant will cease to exist. In his place will be millions of persons working for wages and salaries whereas yesterday and today there were and are proprietors. In other words, I believe the time is coming when practically all mercantile and industrial affairs will be conducted by corporations.
    • James R. Keene, reported in The Painter and Decorator, vol. 20, May 1906, p. 324

L[edit]

  • It is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life. Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed; nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless. ... A few men own capital, and those few avoid labor themselves, and, with their capital, hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class—neither work for others, nor have others working for them. ... In most of the Southern States, a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters; while in the Northern, a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families—wives, sons, and daughters—work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. ... There is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States, a few years back in their lives, were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages a while, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.

M[edit]

  • It must be acknowledged that our worker emerges from the process of production looking different from when he entered it. In the market, as owner of the commodity 'labour-power', he stood face to face with other owners of commodities, one owner against another owner. The contract by which he sold his labour-power to the capitalist proved in black and white, so to speak, that he was free to dispose of himself. But when the transaction was concluded, it was discovered that he was no 'free agent', that the period of time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the period of time for which he forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not let go 'while there remains a single muscle, sinew or drop of blood to be exploited'.
    • Karl Marx, Capital, p. 330, quotation is from Friedrich Engels
  • The times when Christian-Germanic robbers stole entire countries, deprived the inhabitants of the soil, and pressed them to feudal service, were indeed terrible enough. But the climax of infamy has been reached by our present "law and order" system, for it has defrauded more than nine-tenths of mankind of their means of existence, reduced them to dependence upon an insignificant minority, and condemned them to self-sacrifice. At the same time it has disguised this relation with all sorts of jugglery that the thralls of today - the wage slaves - but partially recognize their serfdom and outlawed position, they rather incline to ascribe it to the caprices of fortune.

P[edit]

  • Formerly the master selected the slave; today the slave selects his master, and he has got to find one or else he is carried down here to my friend, the gaoler.
  • How many of the wage class, as a class, are there who can avoid obeying the commands of the master (employing) class, as a class? Not many, are there?
    Then are you not slaves to the money power as much as were the black slaves to the Southern slaveholders? Then we ask you again: What are you going to do about it? You had the ballot then. Could you have voted away black slavery? You know you could not because the slaveholders would not hear of such a thing for the same reason you can’t vote yourselves out of wage-slavery.
    • Lucy Parsons, "Americans! Arouse Yourselves!" September 24, 1905, in Freedom, Equality and Solidarity, p. 99

S[edit]

  • If a state should pass laws forbidding its citizens to become wise and holy, it would be made a byword for all time. But this, in effect, is what our commercial, social, and political systems do. They compel the sacrifice of mental and moral power to money and dissipation.

T[edit]

  • If the slave-owner of our times has no slave, John, whom he can send to the cesspool, he has five shillings, of which hundreds of such Johns are in such need that the slave-owner of our times may choose any one out of hundreds of Johns and be a benefactor to him by giving him the preference, and allowing him, rather than another, to climb down into the cesspool.
    • Leo Tolstoy, The Slavery of Our Times (1890), Chapter 8: Slavery Exists Among Us
  • Slavery exists in full vigor, but we do not perceive it, just as in Europe at the end of the Eighteenth Century the slavery of serfdom was not perceived.

    People of that day thought that the position of men obliged to till the land for their lords, and to obey them, was a natural, inevitable, economic condition of life, and they did not call it slavery.

    It is the same among us: people of our day consider the position of the laborer to be a natural, inevitable economic condition, and they do not call it slavery. And as, at the end of the Eighteenth Century, the people of Europe began little by little to understand that what formerly seemed a natural and inevitable form of economic life-namely, the position of peasants who were completely in the power of their lords-was wrong, unjust and immoral, and demanded alteration, so now people today are beginning to understand that the position of hired workmen, and of the working classes in general, which formerly seemed quite right and quite normal, is not what it should be, and demands alteration.

    • Leo Tolstoy, The Slavery of Our Times (1890), Chapter 8: Slavery Exists Among Us

W[edit]

  • Man is a slave in so far as between action and its effect, between effort and the finished work, there is the interference of alien wills. This is the case both with the slave and the master today. Never can man deal directly with the conditions of his own action. Society forms a screen between nature and man.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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