From “The Sexual Contract,” by Carole Pateman (Pages 149-152)
Feminist and socialist critics of the marriage contract and employment contract severely weaken their criticism when they rely on the categories ‘exchange’ and ‘labour power’. When argument is couched solely in the terms of labor power, critics tend to concentrate on the absence of a fair exchange between capitalist and worker; that is, they concentrate on exploitation (both in the strict Marxist sense of extraction of surplus value and the more popular sense of unjust and unfair treatment). Subordiniation can then be seen as arising from explitation (or as part of exploitation) rather than as the relation that makes exploitation possible. Marx provides an illustration of this point. In his polemic against Lassalle in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx argues that Lassalle takes wages at face value as payment for the worker’s labour, instead of seeing that wages are payment for labour power. Marx stresses that the worker can only gain his livelihood if he works for nothing for a certain time for the capitalist (i.e., the latter expropriates surplus value). Capitalism depends on the extension of this free labouor by such means as lengthening the working day; *’consequently’*, Marx states, ‘ the system of wage labour is a system of slavery.’ But wage slavery is not a *consequence* of exploitation – exploitation is a *consequence* of the fact that the sale of labour power entails the worker’s subordination. The employment contract creates the capitalist as master; he has the political right to determine how the labour of the worker will be used, and – *consequently* – can engage in exploitation.
If the free worker is to stand on one pole and the slave in his absolute servitude is to stand at the other – or, conversely, if the employment contract is to be extended into the civil slave contract – it is necessary to make a sharp distinction between the sale of the slave himself (he is a commodity or a piece of property) and the sale of the worker’s labour power (a commodity external to himself, the owner). [Pateman here refers to the worker-as-abstract-person OWNing his body as a piece of property] The ‘individual’ [abstract - that's why she uses quotes] owns his labour power and stands to his property, to his body and capacities, in exactly the same external relation in which, as a property owner, he stands to his material property. The individual can contract out any of his pieces of property, including those from which he is constituted, without detriment to his self. However, although labour power is property, a commodity, it is not quite the saem as other material property. One difficulty is that,
“with most commodities at the contract of sale, the acquisition of the use-value, are concluded more or less at the same time. In the case of wage-labour there is a problem for the capitalist in that after hiring the worker he must find ways of enforcing performance of work with desired quality and in maximum quantity.”
Socialists have not been alone in noticing that labout power is an extremely odd commodity. T. H. Green, for example, a liberal writing in 1881, argued that ‘labour . . . is a commodity which attaches in a peculiar manner to the person of man . . . [Labour] differed from all other commodities inasmuch as it was inseparable from the person of the labourer.’ Green insisted that it folowed from this peculiarity of labour that freedom of contract, the right of the individual to do as he wills with his own, is never unlimited. He argued that a slave contract cannot be a valid contract, albeit entered into volunterily, since it prevents any further exercise of a man’s freedom and free use of his capacities. Restrictions can legitimately be placed on the sale of this commodity so that all men can remain in a position ‘to become a free contributor to social good’ and enjoy their freedom on the same footing as others. Green does not spell out exactly why it is that the curious attachment of labour power to the person means that freedom of contract must be curtailed. Unless the case is made in full, contractarians can always respond that the restriction is arbitrary paternalism. The questionthat is bypassed in all the argument about the duration of the employment contract, fair wages and exploitation is how this peculiar property can be separated from the worker and his labour. All the parties to the argument, in other words, tacitly accept that individuals own property in their persons.
… … In short, the contract in which the worker allegedly sells his labour power is a contract in which, since he cannot be separated from his capacities, he sells command over the use of his body and himself. To obtain the right to the use of another is to be a (civil) master. To sell command over the use of oneself for a specified period is not the same as selling oneself for life as another’s property – but it is to be an unfree labourer. The characterstics fo this condition are captured in the term wage slave.
The term wage slave ceased to be fashionable among socialists a long time ago. In its own way, ‘wage slave’ is as indispensable as ‘patriarchy’. Both terms concentrate the mind on subordination, and, at a time when contract doctrine is so popular, such reminders are necessary if feminist criticism of the marriage contract and socialist criticism of the employment contract are not to tip over into collusion with contractarianism…
… … The wage slave is subject to the discipline of the employer – but the workplace is also structured by patriachal discipline. Women workers are not wage slaves in the same sense as male workers, and nor is the subordination of the wage slave the same as that of a wife. Both employer and husband have a right of command over the use of the bodies of workers and sives, but although each h usband has his own specific demands, the content of the labour of a housewife is determined by the fact that she is a woman. The content of the labour of the worker is determined by the capitalist, but since capitalism is patriarchal, the labour of women workers is different from that of male workers. because the subjection of wives derinves from their womanhood and because the sexual division of labour extends into the workplace, it is tempting for feminists to conclude that the idea of the [absract] individual as owner [of the body] is anti-patriarchal. If women could be acknowledged as sexually neuter ‘individuals’, owners of the property in their persons, the emancipatory promise of contract would seem to be realized. Or so many critics of the marriage contract now argue.
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