Karl Marx's solution to the Bangladeshi sweatshops

Much agonising over in The Guardian about whether the economic development of Bangladesh has truly brought benefit to the workers. Yes, lifespans are longer, diets are better, incomes higher. But, truly, have the workers benefited?

The answer yes, you blithering fool, because incomes are higher, diets are better, lifespans are longer, is perhaps too simple for modern sophisticates. Or, as one of us noted after a trip there, the young and poor are significantly taller than the generation before them - that childhood nutrition has obviously got a lot better.

But it’s worth applying properly Marxist logic to this situation. Karl himself pointing out what it is that raises the workers wages. When there’s that reserve army of the unemployed then anyone requiring more labour can just go and hire that for whatever stale crust they wish to pay. Equally, those currently employed cannot demand more of the cake because they can be ejected into that reserve army.

This situation changes when there isn’t that surplus of labour. When all who can be usefully employed are then the employers are in competition with each other for that desired labour and the profits to be made from employing it. That means that wages are bid up for those now scarce as well as desirable workers.

This is actually Marx’s description of how wages rise:

Now she has lost her job. Begum believes it is primarily because she is a union member. But she doesn’t seem too fazed. One thing that has changed is her self-assurance, the pride in her abilities: “I am not worried. I am a skilled worker; I will just go and get another job.”

As ever it is competition that improves things. Competition for our custom betters the price and quality of what is produced for our delectation. Competition for our labour means both freedom and higher wages, better working conditions.

Competition, the one thing that economies really need.