ENGLISH

ON THE TRADE UNIONS

 

Karl Marx 


1847

Wages

    VII. Workers’ Associations

 

An element in the population theory was that it is supposed to lessen the competition among workers. The associations, by contrast, have the purpose of removing it and replacing it by union of workers.

The economists are right when they remark against the associations:

1.

The costs which they cause the workers are mostly greater than the rise in the gains they want to get. In the long run they cannot withstand the laws of competition. These combinations bring about new machines, a new division of labour, removal from one place of production to another. In consequence of all this a reduction of wages.

2.

If the combinations were to succeed in keeping the price of labour so high in one country that profits fell significantly in relation to the average profit in other countries, or so that capital was held up in its growth, stagnation and recession of industry would be the consequence, and the workers would be ruined together with their masters. For that, as we have seen, is the condition of the worker. His condition deteriorates by leaps and bounds when productive capital grows, and he is ruined from the start when it declines or remains stationary.

3.

All these objections of the bourgeois economists are, as we have said, correct, but only correct from their point of view. If in the associations it really were a matter only of what it appears to be, namely the fixing of wages, if the relationship between labour and capital were eternal, these combinations would be wrecked on the necessity of things. But they are the means of uniting the working class, of preparing for the overthrow of the entire old society with its class contradictions. And from this standpoint the workers are right to laugh at the clever bourgeois schoolmasters who reckon up to them what this civil war is costing them in fallen, injured, and financial sacrifices. He who wants to beat his adversary will not discuss with him the costs of the war. And how far the workers are from such mean-spiritedness is proved to the economists by the very fact that the best-paid workers form the most combinations and that the workers spend all they can scrape from their wages on forming political and industrial associations and meeting [the costs] of this movement. And if in their moments of philanthropy Messrs the bourgeois and their economists are so gracious as to allow in the minimum wage, that is, in the minimum life, a little tea, or rum, or sugar and meat, it must by contrast appear to them as shameful as incomprehensible that the workers reckon in this minimum a little of the costs of war against the bourgeoisie and that out of their revolutionary activity they even make the maximum of their enjoyment of life.