Marx on labor-power as commodity

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“But here comes the key to profit. The laborer who contracts to work can ask only for a wage that is his due. What that wage will be depends, as we have seen, on the amount of labor-time it takes to keep a man alive. If it takes six hours of society’s labor per day to maintain a workingman, then (if labor is priced at one dollar an hour), he is ‘worth’ six dollars a day. No more.

But the laborer who gets a job does not contract to work only six hours a day…he agrees to work a full eight-hour, or in Marx’s time, ten- or eleven-hour day. Hence, he will produce a full ten or eleven hours’ worth of value and he will get paid for only six…

But meanwhile the capitalist gets the full value of his workers’ whole working day, and this is longer than the hours for which he is paid…The system is perfectly ‘equitable,’ and yet all workers are cheated

…capitalism, where historical forces have created a propertyless class of workers who have no alternative but to sell their labor-power – their sheer ability to work – as commodity.”

Excerpted from The Worldly Philosophers by Robert L. Heilbroner

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