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Abraham Lincoln and Wage Slavery
During Abraham Lincoln's time, most people did not have jobs nor did they expect to be stuck in jobs, unlike our present time in which we assume jobs are necessary and that we are stuck keeping one and must get one and have one. This necessity to rent yourself to someone who has the capital and owns the company is called wage slavery. Certainly, most people would be doing something else other than going to the job and giving up their time and energy, their lives, except that they can't do anything else due to the fact they feel they must, for the sake of survival, be tied to the job. That's slavery. In chattel slavery, you would be bought and sold and work for no pay, except the food and board, such as it was, to keep you alive to work. In wage slavery, you are paid whatever it is that will give you the money to keep you alive to work. So, the only difference is in the pittance.
Consider what Noam Chomsky, brilliant linguist and academician and activist, said about wage slavery, chattel slavery and Abraham Lincoln.
Noam Chomsky, Abraham Lincoln, Wage Slavery and Chattel Slavery
What Were Lincoln's Views on Labor?
Lincoln's view on labor was that the functioning of the world presupposes that labor will exist. People will work to produce and this will make the world go round, so to speak.
The divergence from Lincoln's thought on labor, which was common during his time, and how we think of it today is in this perception today that we must work for someone else for our livelihood. During Lincoln's time, this would have been seen as an absurd assumption. At best, wage labor, or wage slavery, was a stepping stone to working for yourself and enjoying the fruits of your own labor directly, not through the authority and control of a monied class.
Even in all our slave states except South Carolina, a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters. In these free states, a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families - wives, sons and daughters - work for themselves, on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors on capital on the one hand, nor of hirelings or slaves on the other.
Indicating Lincoln saw wage labor merely as a stepping stone, he goes on to say:
The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while...This, say it's advocates is free labor - the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all, gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.
So, clearly, Lincoln did not see wage slavery as a permanent condition. Nor did he think it was a desirous condition. The underlying assumption of his statements on the matter is that you will not want to labor forever for someone else, renting yourself out to those with capital. Indeed, you will want your own capital and use your labor and its products for yourself and reap all of its benefits; and this is beneficial to everyone, and everyone ought to be free to do it.
Lincoln's objection to chattel slavery was, in fact, that this movement to economic freedom was not possible under its yoke. While, at least there's a possibility of breaking off from wage labor and being independent of a master. Neither the condition of the chattel slave nor that of the wage slave was considered ideal, for you have a master you are beholden to on the one hand and an employer that controls you on the other.
What happened to labor after the Civil War?
Well, strangely enough, even with Lincoln's conception and observation of free labor, soon after the Civil War and after slavery was abolished, free labor began to die and be replaced by wage labor. As the New York Times revealed in 1869 that free laborers
...had become far less common than they were before the war...the small manufacturers thus swallowed up have become workmen on wages in the greater establishments, whose larger purses, labor-saving machines, etc., refused to allow the smaller manufacturers a separate existence...a system of slavery as absolute if not as degrading as that which lately prevailed in the South.
Thus, America became a nation of wage workers, no longer free with their time and energy to produce on their own and reap the benefits of their hard work, time and energy. They had become controlled by a monied class that controlled the means of production and, therefore, the people who worked for them. Not a big step beyond chattel slavery at all.
Frederick Douglass and Wage Slavery
Frederick Douglass was the man who was a slave down South, who became keenly aware of his condition, strengthened his mind, and even went as far as beating his owner for beating him. With his smarts and determination, he escaped slavery and the South and went to New York where he was aided by abolitionists to stay safe and free.
At first celebratory about being able to earn a livelihood from his work as opposed to being a chattel slave that was owned and exploited by the Southern slave master, Douglass, being a thoughtful man eventually changed his views on wage slavery too.
...experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.
What is the future of wage slavery?
With the advent of the Internet and other technologies which make life easier, communication better and more things possible, it seems we are soon to see the death of wage slavery; for certain we are seeing its decline. More people are working for themselves online, at the very least not tied to a job they have to rush off to and stay at while under the thumb of the boss and the strange social order of the workplace. More people are becoming entrepreneurial in spirit and considering the value of working for themselves and being free with their time and to direct their own lives.
The industrial age is dying and being replaced with people choosing their own way, saying what they need to say and rejecting the old tradition of wage slavery and being tied to the monied elite for their livelihoods. We are communicating more, the people themselves decide how products are presented and what is said about them. Particularly because of the Internet, we have seen a surge of real everyday people making decisions as opposed to everything being directed by corporations and big money marketing.
Ordinary people are telling other ordinary people which products are worth buying. Regular folks are telling other regular folks how they see the world. We are no longer sat in front of the TV screen passively taking in the information that big companies want us to receive. We are actively participating and making the decisions and having an effect on the world.
So, the future of wage slavery is that it is going away and being replaced by people having direct lines to each other and a direct line to economic opportunities for themselves, in an atmosphere that requires less capital to do so and the technology to make it happen.
As is obvious, machines are taking over the tough labor. It will soon be completely unnecessary for human beings to do the menial and degrading tasks that we have had to endure in the past. We will be freed up to make our own decisions daily, use our minds creatively and thereby create a better world, in which we are healthy, happy and doing what we love to do, no longer held down by employment and no longer having brain and body broken down by the job.
What will happen when technology replaces human labor?
It certainly is inevitable that robots will replace the human laborer and we will involuntarily get rid of wage slavery. But what we do from there is totally up to us.