For most economists, labor is simply a commodity, bought and sold in markets like any other – and what happens after that is not their concern. Individual prospective workers offer their services to individual employers, each acting solely out of self-interest and facing each other as equals. The forces of demand and supply operate so that there is neither a shortage nor a surplus of labor, and, in theory, workers and bosses achieve their respective ends. Michael D. Yates, in Work Work Work: Labor, Alienation, and Class Struggle, offers a vastly different take on the nature of the labor market.
This book reveals the raw truth: The labor market is in fact a mere veil over the exploitation of workers. Peek behind it, and we clearly see the extraction, by a small but powerful class of productive property-owning capitalists, of a surplus from a much larger and propertyless class of wage laborers. Work Work Work offers us a glimpse into the mechanisms critical to this subterfuge: In every workplace, capital implements a comprehensive set of control mechanisms to constrain those who toil from defending themselves against exploitation. These include everything from the herding of workers into factories to the extreme forms of surveillance utilized by today’s “captains of industry” like the Walton family (of the Walmart empire) and Jeff Bezos.
In these strikingly lucid and passionately written chapters, Yates explains the reality of labor markets, the nature of work in capitalist societies, and the nature and necessity of class struggle, which alone can bring exploitation – and the system of control that makes it possible – to a final end.
Can the Working Class Change the World? (Monthly Review Press).
is Editorial Director of Monthly Review Press. For many years, he taught working people in labor education programs throughout the United States, seeking to teach, speak, and write for and with the working class and not just about it. He has helped organize labor unions and has written extensively about them. Apart from this title his most recent book is
Praises for the book:
“A high percentage of people in the wealthy centers like the United States see capitalism as doing more harm than good. A rising generation of workers sees system change as our best hope for a livable existence. People want better, more meaningful work that doesn’t kill us. Work, Work, Work is exactly what we need. For all of us concerned about how we escape from the racist, sexist, and ecologically destructive, winner-takes-all brutality of capitalism, this book is our indispensable guide and a manifesto for our times.” ―Hannah Holleman, organizer and professor of sociology at Amherst College.
“In a world torn apart by obscene wealth inequality, imperialist wars, pandemics, political anger and looming ecological catastrophe, it is frequently said that the ‘system isn’t working right.’ But what if it’s working exactly as it’s meant to? What if these multiple crises are an inevitable consequence of the way most of the world’s population are forced to sustain their lives under capitalism? And what if the riddle of their origin lay in that one feature of daily life so taken for granted that it’s true nature eludes us – Work? Mainstream economists proclaim that labor is a commodity to be bought and sold like any other in the free market, that workers are free to sell their labour power and are duly compensated in return, and that the blind forces of self-interested competition ensure supply and demand tend towards optimal levels, with freedom maximised as a result. In Work, Work, Work: Labor, Alienation and Class Struggle, Michael D. Yates penetrates through the veil of all these assumptions, revealing the true nature of work in capitalist society as a process through which surplus value is extracted from a large and property-less class of wage labourers to line the pockets of a powerful minority who own society’s productive property. This book lays bare the mechanisms by which this exploitation is achieved, detailing the multiple ways capital controls every aspect of the workplace, from the use of algorithms that dictate every movement, to strategies such as fire and rehire that keep the working class divided. In these lucid and impassioned chapters, Yates offers a radical rethink of the nature of labour markets, the degrading reality of work in capitalist societies, and the promise and necessity of class struggle, which alone can propel humanity from the misery of alienated work towards a world of free and meaningful production.” ―Lucia Morgans, researcher, Swansea University