Greece Ignores Labor’s True Value

Greek public transportation workers recently conducted a 24-hour strike, responding to parliament’s imminent vote on the new year’s budget. BBC News reports that “[t]he budget, which is designed to satisfy bail-out requirements by the EU and IMF, is expected to pass,” and includes wage cuts for public employees. Much of what’s going wrong in Europe and around the world is encapsulated by the EU and the IMF, those vast conduits for the propagation of state-capitalism and the corporate methodology.

It’s thought that in the high-regulating EU, states like Greece are exceptions to the general rule that Europeans with blue collars fare well. What we never get to see, though, is just how much of an economy’s resources are submerged in the inflated salaries of corporate managers, how poorly labor is compensated in relation to the wealth it creates.

In reaction to the budget cuts and the strikes, the General Confederation of Greek Workers issued a statement that “[t]he struggle by the workers, pensioners and the unemployed against these anti-worker and anti-social measures continues.” The “neo-liberal policies” the statement singles out are indeed “anti-social,” and that’s not so by mere happenstance — by some accident of otherwise benevolent social engineering; this is the way the corporate state is supposed to operate, withdrawing labor at will and without appropriate remuneration for the funding of ruling class bonuses.

Every state is by definition “anti-worker,” condensing capital and resources to advance a wide bargaining power disparity that makes any real economic “choice” impossible. As anarchists, we may not like the idea of “public workers,” of the state providing transportation or other services, but within the corporatist contrivance the public/private contrast is valueless anyway.

Most six-figure salaried, suburbanite suits working in big companies are just as dependent on a system created by and for the state as the punch-card member of the local public workers’ union. Per the standard Heritage Foundation attack on the intemperance of the “public sector,” however, these Greek workers are bottom feeders, occupying a social stratum not far above simple beggars.

Advocates of the free market too often tune out a more thorough, complete exposition of the context within which the employment decisions of the average worker take place.

The destitute laborer is expected to play by the rules of the free market, forgoing “public sector” employment in favor of entrepreneurship, but the corporate gluttons who suckle from the state at every stage of the game bear none of that right-wing criticism. The account we get declares them winners on their merits, arriving at the finish line first not because the decks was stacked in their favor, but because they’re smarter, faster, better.

Competition and markets freed from the grip of the state-corporate elite entail a range of options for the worker so much wider than the narrow limits of today that we can’t fully imagine the increases in standard of living they’d produce.

A handful of dominant power-players collude with the state to write the rules and box out competition, and we’re supposed to blame the Greek bus driver when the rug is pulled out from under him. The easiest place for state-run monopolies and state-generated “private sector” oligopolies to cut costs is labor, a “resource” that has few alternative outlets in the state’s defector-proof cartel economy.

American conservatism deplores the idea of some people paying for others, of “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” but that’s what we celebrate when we commend the typical Fortune 500 company. The language of free markets and individual rights needs to abandon the victim-blaming tendency to ostracize labor.

“Adam Smith’s economics, in its pure form,” observed Paul Goodman, “is … anarchist, and was so called in his time; and there is an anarchist ring to Jefferson’s agrarian notion that a man needs enough control of his subsistence to be free of irresistible pressure.” Today’s irresistible pressure, felt now by the Greek worker, forces the cost of labor far below its true market price. When the peaceful cooperation of libertarians and anarchists dismantles the primacy of the state, hard work will be rewarded instead of looked down upon.

Citations to this article:

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist