Sunday, June 17, 2018
Richard Wolff - Capitalist employers are economic dictators
Few businesses show the skewed dynamics between employer and employees as clearly as Amazon. Its CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person, with his wealth estimated at around $130 billion. He admits the near impossibility of spending these riches and commits $1 billion a year of his “Amazon winnings” to fund a personal project of space travel. Back on Earth, Amazon’s 560,000 employees earn a median salary of $28,000, its warehouse workers face strict efficiency targets that lead some to relieve themselves in trash cans, and hundreds of Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania-based workers are on food stamps.
To understand why the relationship between employer and employee is so severely screwed, we have to look to capitalism. Capitalist businesses are starkly undemocratic. Employers are economic dictators. They wield enormous power and control that is unaccountable to the social majority around them: their employees and the communities in which they live. Employees’ labor produces profits, which belong 100 percent to the employers. Yet workers are excluded from decisions about how to use those profits. Instead, they depend on wages (set and controlled by the employer) as compensation for the work they produce.
Employers’ decisions shape major aspects of employees’ lives, both at work and away from it. The employer alone decides which commodities to produce, what production technology to use (with what side effects), where to locate the workplace, as well as what to do with the profits. Celebrations of employers’ risks, used to justify their profits, rarely even recognize that workers, too, take risks in their dependence on employers (but without getting profits for doing so).
The skills employees develop, the personal connections they make, the seniority they accumulate, the home they invest in, their personal connections (in neighborhoods, schools, churches, etc.) ― always risk being lost or diminished by decisions exclusively in employers’ hands. Above all is the decision to end a worker’s job. While an employee deciding to leave a business will likely make little or no impact on an employer; employers’ decisions to, for example, relocate production overseas, or sell or close a business, carry huge risks for employees.
This undemocratic organization of production increasingly concentrates income and wealth, as well as economic power, in a tiny percentage of the population. Those concentrations dominate politics as well. Fundraising for political campaigns and policies tends to rely on those with the most resources to offer. Wealth translates into political influence. The result is a system of decisions that protect and strengthen capitalism…. read more: