Wage slavery isn’t real a real thing


Recently, I’ve been defending some practices of Walmart.  By no means am I trying to defend Walmart itself as a company as they are guilty of attempting the various methods of market manipulation like so many other big businesses.  What I’m defending is the voluntary transactions between the business and its employees.

And that brings me to this topic: wage slavery.  What this actually is, I’m not entirely sure.  To me, it’s an oxymoron.  Slavery is holding someone against their will in order to perform some sort of work for you.

Slavery, however, is not a person giving a job to another individual and the two people coming up with mutually agreed upon terms, including payment and job requirements.  How am I a slave to someone if my labor is paid for and I volunteered at the start?

The best definition of this wage slavery that I have heard is when a business doesn’t give its employees high enough wages because they know that their job is the only job their workers can get.  Well, you’re begging the question that there really is no other work out there.  And in regards to the “without the job, you’ll starve” justifying forcing an employer to increase compensation, if I were stuck on a deserted island, if I didn’t work for myself, I would die.  It’s not that someone has to offer me a job, the onus is on me to provide for my own wellbeing.

If you’re offered a job and the pay isn’t enough for you, but you take the job anyway, why should the terms of the employment then change?  Unless you prove that you’re worth more money, why should your employer offer you more?  If you believe that you can do better elsewhere, your employer will make sure that you’re kept happy with pay so that someone else doesn’t come along and offer you more.  If someone is able to do your job more efficiently and at the same rate or cheaper you may be in danger of being replaced.

As a mechanical engineer (using myself as an example), years of training in college and on-the-job experience provide me with a degree of job security.  The skills I acquire in my position aren’t necessarily what another engineer has developed in his or her job, so the time and money needed to be spent training someone to replace me might outweigh the lower salary the competing engineer would be willing to take.  This security is one of the benefits that I receive for taking the risks of spending a lot of money for college and putting in a lot of hard work into earning my degree.

Those jobs that require little to no skill often can be performed by almost anyone.  Being a greeter at a store literally only requires you to be able to: 1) Recognize other humans beings; 2) Say, “Hello, welcome to Store X” when they walk by.  If you demand that your employer give you more money, they’ll probably tell you to accept what you’re being paid or they’ll pretty easily find someone else to take your job.  In other words, you don’t have much leverage in jobs that don’t require very much skill.

That’s not to say that low-skilled jobs are dead-end.  We’ve all heard stories of the janitor rising up in his company to an executive position.  Those are the people who work hard, even at the most menial of tasks.  Their superiors recognize the hard work and may give them more responsibility.  If they can prove themselves with each increase of responsibility, they’ll likely continue to be promoted.

This happening to everyone is of course not guaranteed.  The only guarantee is that if you don’t work hard and do a good job, you’re not going to move up at all.

The world isn’t perfect and many people who are good at their jobs still struggle to make ends meet.  What are the options?  Working harder (like previously mentioned), finding a new job, finding a second or even third job, or starting your own small business are all valid and good choices.  A choice that you do not morally have is to use or delegate the use of force on your employer to pay you more.  Just like you don’t want a gun to your head to work a job at a certain pay, is it then right for you to use the state to point a gun at an employer’s head to make them pay certain wages?

If the state begins to threaten businesses with penalties and other manifestations of force unless they act a certain way, who’s the real slave in the job marketplace?

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[…] relationships and wages, I want to quickly touch on the idea of a “livable wage.”  Much like the myth that is wage slavery, the idea of a livable wage has snuck its way into mainstream discussions and is accepted by many […]

I think you are missing some elements though… On concept your idea sounds correct, but in practice this is a more complex problem. For example, why do we still work 9 hours a day, just like we did in 1950, when we are not much more productive thanks to all the technologies? The answer to the question is that the extra productivity is translated in profits for the ruling class of the world. The system needs to continue like this, even if there is enough food and shelter for everyone, and even if most do completely meaningless work (for example… Read more »
Rollo McFloogle
Thanks for the response. You say that you’re an entrepreneur, so I’m assuming that you’re working for yourself, not for the rulers of the world (well, you’re being taxed, but that’s a different story). I’m sure that you’ve utilized all sorts of technology that wasn’t available in the 1950s. Heck, maybe your business wasn’t even possible in the 1950s. But despite all of this technology, I’m sure you’re putting in way more than 40 hours a week in your job like I do, especially towards the beginning of your business’s start. Why is that? More generally, when technology increases productivity,… Read more »
Neel Joshi
Well I’m not going to touch the notion of wage slavery, because I, too, don’t know what that means, but to me the big gripe with Walmart is some of its unethical treatment of employees when it comes to wages and benefits. For example (and I don’t know if this is still the case), Walmart would give its “full-time” employees something like 39.5 hours a week so that they were technically not full-time, and thus not eligible for benefits. You might continue to argue that the employee willfully agreed to work under those conditions, but I would say that we… Read more »
Rollo McFloogle
But is that law even just? If someone agrees to sell their labor to an employer for a certain amount of money, what right does any other entity (in this case, government) have to come in and change the terms of the agreement? Benefits are part of an employee’s wages. Maybe if Walmart had people work the number of hours that forced them to pay benefits, they couldn’t afford to keep them employed? Walmart uses a low cost business model to keep their prices low. Paying their employees benefits would then require them to raise their prices to keep their… Read more »