(What follows is by Chris Okane, a graduate student in social and political thought. His blog is here.)
As the punditry weighs in on how Hilary Clinton's inevitability became evitable, Clinton has responded in a number of desperate ways. The brash attacks have got the headlines- as they always do- but I want to focus on her new commercial running in Ohio, as it is far more illuminating for those of us interested in the politics that underlie neo-liberal posturing.
I believe Clinton's new ad was introduced following her speech in Youngstown, a steel town, which has been particularly devastated by the effects of globalization. This setting reflects the Ad's purpose: to appeal to the traditional democratic base of lower income workers i.e. the working class. But the content of the ad backfires because Clinton's attempt to identify with working class is made palpably ludicrous, first by her patronizing empathy, then by the way she identifies with their lives:
Here is the video to watch, just to see the end. But if you can't be bothered, here is the text for the crucial part:
"You pour coffee, fix hair, you work the night shift at the local hospital," says the announcer in the 30-second spot, Night Shift, over footage of workers on the job.
"You're often overworked, underpaid, and sometimes overlooked. But not by everyone. One candidate has put forth an American family agenda to make things easier for everyone who works so hard."
The ad ends with a photo of Clinton working at her desk at night. "She understands. She's worked the night shift, too."
Now of course the "night shift" that Clinton works is qualitatively different than that being worked by the people at whom the ad is aimed. This distinction recalls Marx's biting passage* where he discusses how the capitalist attempts to identify with his textile workers by claiming that he, the capitalist, also contributes to the valorization process. The crucial difference between Clinton and the night shift worker in Ohio and the capitalist and his textile worker, respectively, is of course choice vs. coercion. Whereas Clinton chooses to check her email at night and the capitalist chooses to produce yarn, the night shift worker in Ohio and the textile worker are coerced and into working under inhumane conditions.
Marx helps us understand the historical social conditions that have led to this famous division of labour. For surely the bourgeois consciousness that Marx describes is the ur-principle of neo-liberalism's economic policy.
The same bourgeois consciousness which celebrates the division of labour in the workshop, the lifelong annexation of the worker to a partial operation, and his complete subjugation to capital, as an organization of labour that increases its productive power, denounces with equal vigour every conscious attempt to control and regulate the process of production socially, as an inroad upon such sacred things as the rights of property, freedom and the self determining 'genius' of the individual capitalist. It is very characteristic that the enthusiastic apologists of the factory system have nothing more damning to urge against a general organization of labour in society that that it would turn the whole of society into a factory (Capital, 477).
This principle stands at the root of the disjuncture between Clinton's supposed affinity with people who work the night shift and her support for the conditions that force these people into such a situation. For Clinton's a-historical, classless rhetoric obscures the contested nature of the working day.
In the history of capitalist production, the establishment of a norm for the working day presents itself as a struggle over the limits of that day, a struggle between collective capital, i.e. the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e. the working class (Capital, 382).
Further, her affinity with the person who works the night shift as a worker- rather then as a person- already demonstrates her viewpoint is that of collective capital. For, she gives no consideration to the dehumanizing effect working under such conditions has on the night worker, nor does she provide any prospect of changing them. Instead, her empathy is wrapped in the valorization process, which takes the working day as a given. In this two important points are revealed: The first is that like a law of gravity the neo-liberal candidates worldview mirrors the capitalists. The second is that this worldview, cannot discuss matters such as class or economic coercion. Here the capitalist truly meets American political discourse.
What is a working day? What is the length of time during which capital may consume the labour-power whose daily value it has paid for? How far may the working day be extended beyond the amount of labour-time necessary for the reproduction of labour-power itself? We have seen that capital's reply to these questions is this; the working day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of a few hours of rest with which labour-power is absolutely incapable of renewing its services. Hence it is self-evident that the worker is nothing other then labour-power for the duration of his whole life, and that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and by right labour-time, to be devoted to the self-valorization of capital. Time for education, for intellectual development, for the fulfillment of social functions, for social intercourse, for the free play of the vital forces of his body and his mind, ever the rest time of Sunday (and that in the country of Sabbatarians)- what foolishness! But in its blind and measureless drive, its insatiable appetite for surplus labour, capital oversteps not only the moral but even the merely physical limits of the working day. It usurps the time for growth development and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It haggles over meal times, where possible incorporating them into the production process itself, so that food is added to the worker as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, and grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, renewal and refreshment of the vital forces to the exact amount of torpor essential to the revival of an absolutely exhausted organism. It is not the normal maintenance of labour-power which determines the limits of the working day here, but rather the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory and painful it may be, which determines the limits of the worker's period of rest. Capital asks no questions about the length of life of labour-power. What interests it is purely and simply the maximum of labour-power that can be set in motion in a working day. It attains this objective by shortening the life of labour-power, in the same way that a greedy farmer snatches more produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility (Capital, 375-6).
* Our capitalist, who is at home in his vulgar economy, exclaims: Oh! but I advanced my money for the express purpose of making more money. The way to Hell is paved with good intentions, and he might just as easily have intended to make money, without producing at all. He threatens all sorts of things. He won;t be caught napping again. In future he will buy the commodities in the market, instead of manufacturing them himself. But if all his brother capitalists were to do the same, where would he find his commodities in the market? And his money he cannot eat. He tries persuasion. Consider my abstinence; I might have played ducks and drakes with the 15 shillings; but instead of that I consumed it productively, and made yarn with it. Very well, and by way of reward he is now in possession of good yarn instead of a bad conscience; and as for playing the part of a miser, it would never do for him to relapse into such bad ways as that; we have seen before to what results such asceticism leads. Besides, where nothing is, the king has lost his rights; whatever may be the merit of his abstinence, there is nothing wherewith specially to remunerate it, because the value of the product is merely the sum of the values of the commodities that were thrown into the process of production. Let him therefore console himself with the reflection that virtue is its own reward. But no, he becomes importunate. He says: 'The yarn is of no use to me: I produced it for sale.' In that case let him sell it, or, still better, let him for the future produce only things for satisfying his personal wants, a remedy that his physician MacCulloch has already prescribed as infallible against an epidemic of over-production. He now gets obstinate. 'Can the labourer,' he asks, 'merely with his arms and legs, produce commodities out of nothing? Did I not supply him with the materials, by means of which, and in which alone, his labour could be embodied? And as the greater part of society consists of such ne'er-do-wells, have I not rendered society incalculable service by my instruments of production, my cotton and my spindle, and not only society, but the labourer also, whom in addition I have provided with the necessaries of life? And am I to be allowed nothing in return for all this service?' Well, but has not the labourer rendered him the equivalent service of changing his cotton and spindle into yarn? Moreover, there is here no question of service. A service is nothing more than the useful effect of a use-value, be it of a commodity, or be it of labour. But here we are dealing with exchange-value. The capitalist paid to the labourer a value of 3 shillings, and the labourer gave him back an exact equivalent in the value of 3 shillings, added by him to the cotton: he gave him value for value. Our friend, up to this time so purse-proud, suddenly assumes the modest demeanour of his own workman, and exclaims: 'Have I myself not worked? Have I not performed the labour of superintendence and of overlooking the spinner? And does not this labour, too, create value?' His overlooker and his manager try to hide their smiles. Meanwhile, after a hearty laugh, he re-assumes his usual mien. Though he chanted to us the whole creed of the economists, in reality, he says, he would not give a brass farthing for it. He leaves this and all such like subterfuges and juggling tricks to the professors of Political Economy, who are paid for it. He himself is a practical man; and though he does not always consider what he says outside his business, yet in his business he knows what he is about (Capital, 293-300).