Marx classified labour as a unique commodity that creates value, arguing that it should not be reduced to exchange value because we are purchasing an individual's time and generating use value out of it. Today it often appears as though labour is reduced to its exchange value and exploited through a concept that Marx defines as surplus value. In such a situation, 'capitalists' try to generate as much surplus value (or extra work time) in order to earn more profit.
This is done using either of two approaches; one is by means of increasing absolute surplus value which involves extending labour work hours, the other is by increasing relative surplus value which is achieved by increasing the productivity of work. Marx refers to the rate of surplus value as the 'rate of exploitation'. (Mclellan, 1975) The rate of surplus value arouses struggles between capitalists and workers. Capitalists are constantly trying to increase it and evidently this is done through the exploitation of workers.
Another factor leading to the exploitation of workers in societies today is continuous competition. Competition is resulting in fewer firms dominating global production therefore ownership is becoming concentrated. This again has led to exploitation. Although competition undoubtedly leads to more innovation and the production of numerous new products, ultimately, it is all made possible by our willingness to pay. This is a current issue in the world today where firms are continuously producing new products and providing advanced, convenient services in order to attract potential consumers.
The result is that consumers are manipulated into purchasing desired commodities rather than necessities. In addition, the division of labour becomes increasingly complex as workers are de-skilled. This is carried out in order to maximise productivity using cheap labour and to create new world markets, as in the case with McDonalds. Therefore capitalists are in constant search for global markets and cheap labour to facilitate production at the expense of workers. As Marx believed, the exploitation of workers or the conflict of interests between owners and workers leads to a sense of alienation from aspects of our lives.
To Marx, productive work was the time during which humans expressed their individual creativity and achieved their potential; however after the development of industrial societies in the 19th century that notion of human essence changed. Work became a mere means to survival. It became unpleasant and simply a bother. This concept, known as alienation is defined as 'the separation of human beings from their very essence'. (Cuff, 1998) Workers become alienated from the product therefore they become unconcerned with what it is they are producing.
As long as they are earning the money, it is meaningless to them. This distorts Marx's idea of human essence. In addition, they become alienated from their work. It loses its artistic sense and becomes unrewarding. It is purely done for the sake of survival. At the same time, we, as members of industrial society lose our sense of humanity. For example, when purchasing food from McDonalds, people behave selfishly. They are only concerned with the food to be consumed and not with all the workers that are unfairly paid and injured in order to produce such cheap food (Schlosser, 2002).
Therefore in an industrial world, we lose sight of many humanitarian considerations. Finally, members of society also face alienation from our community, as a population. People's relationships revolve around money and the exchange involved between members of society. Our social community has very little importance in many of our lives. Eventually humans begin to behave like economic animals. Marx's theoretical interpretation of capitalism coincides well with the society and the work lives that we encounter today. In my opinion, his focus on the treatment of human labour is fundamental to understanding work today.
Nevertheless, Marx's thought overemphasizes the economic structure of society and its influential role on social life. I agree that as a result of competition, innovation and several other capitalistic features in society, many have become increasingly economic-minded and work has had de-humanising effects on many of us, however, for some, work is still an expression of individual creativity. Despite that, I found that I agreed with most of Marx's theory and developed a better and a more realistic understanding of work today.
Although I agree with Weber's theory of rationalisation and feel that his interpretation of capitalism is somewhat similar to Marx's, I feel as though Weber neglected to focus adequately on the issue of the exploitation of work today. Marx seemed to appreciate the most the essence of human labour.
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