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Disposable time as a common-pool resource VI — Withholding labour

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Disposable time as a common-pool resource VI — Withholding labour Superficially, it might seem that the individual worker can deny access to an employer offering unsuitable terms. But it is here we need to factor in that peculiarity of labour-power noted by the silk weaver, William Longson, that a day’s labour not sold on the day it is offered is “lost to the labourer and to the whole community.” “If his capacity for labour remains unsold,” Marx agreed, “the labourer derives no benefit from it, but rather he will feel it to be a cruel nature-imposed necessity that this capacity has cost for its production a definite amount of the means of subsistence and that it will continue to do so for its reproduction.”This contingency and urgency of employment

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Disposable time as a common-pool resource VI — Withholding labour

Superficially, it might seem that the individual worker can deny access to an employer offering unsuitable terms. But it is here we need to factor in that peculiarity of labour-power noted by the silk weaver, William Longson, that a day’s labour not sold on the day it is offered is “lost to the labourer and to the whole community.” “If his capacity for labour remains unsold,” Marx agreed, “the labourer derives no benefit from it, but rather he will feel it to be a cruel nature-imposed necessity that this capacity has cost for its production a definite amount of the means of subsistence and that it will continue to do so for its reproduction.”This contingency and urgency of employment effectively undermine the worker’s option of refusing work. The option of refusing work at unsuitable wages or conditions is further undermined by competition from incrementally more desperate job seekers – a population Marx famously referred to as “an industrial reserve army,” a more dramatic name for the relative surplus population he analysed in the Grundrisse.


The pervasiveness of unemployment from the paid labour force collaterally stigmatizes and marginalizes unpaid work. For example, “welfare to work” schemes require single parents of young children to take low-paid work that often forces them to depend on unsuitable childcare arrangements. Such rules discount the social value of parenting work but are enforced on the grounds that public assistance recipients are employable.


There are no barriers to entry to unpaid work and relatively few credentials awarded for doing it. Thus mobility from unpaid care work to paid employment is impeded. Work done outside the paid labour force rarely counts as work experience. Instead, the time away from paid labour depreciates accumulated skills and credentials.

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