Ross Gwyther, November 2010
From the Surplus Value website: http://www.surplusvalue.org.au/index.html
“..The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps..”(Shelley’s Song to the Men of England)
You may have been struck by the news in November that millionaire businessman Clive Palmer bought some of his workers a Mercedes for Christmas!
What a turnaround for the books. This slightly overweight and usually dishevelled capitalist who disdains the trappings of the suited corporate world treats his employees so handsomely. Or does he?
The story was told in the Australian on November 20th. Palmer’s nickel processing factory north of Townsville had netted him $200 million this year. In return he paid for a holiday to Fiji for each of the 750 workers at the plant. As well as this, he bought for the 50 most valued workers a $50,000 Mercedes Benz. Quite a Christmas present – or so our national rag would have us believe.
In reality what Clive did, was to give back to these workers a little of the money they had made for him. It takes only a minute to work this out for yourself.
$200 million profit created by 800 workers – that amounts to $250,000 profit created by each worker on average. This is after the cost of the raw material (nickel) and the other processing materials. It is after the cost of the electricity to make the plant operate. It is after the cost of renting or buying the factory. It is after the cost of paying each worker their annual wage.
Where did all the money – the costs of the raw materials and power and wages, as well as the $200 million profits come from? Well a moment’s thought answers the question. It came from the added value which the work of those workers created – they took nickel ore, and turned it into ingots of nickel. Each worker- whether they pulled the furnace, fixed the electric cabling, added up the company’s books, or designed the marketing brochures for selling the nickel – all were essential to this transformation of rocks into metal that could be sold to the world.
In other words it was their labour which transformed those rocks – and created the extra value which ingots of nickel have over dusty rocks from the centre of Australia.
Palmers “magnanimous” action puts him in the long tradition of the philanthropists of capital – the Carnegies and Rockerfellers. In the short run their actions endear them to the working class. They are portrayed as kind and generous, rather than as robber barons.
In the long run we can only thank them for exposing the reality of capitalism. Their actions show up in stark reality the full extent to which they exploit those who work for them. They provide a nice lesson in what surplus value really means – or as George Bernard Shaw said, “behind every great fortune, there is a great crime”
Ross Gwyther (PhD) works in Brisbane as an organiser with the National Tertiary Education Union, after an earlier career of more than 20 years as a research geophysicist specialising in earthquake studies. His interests centre around strategies for labour movement renewal and union organisation, and the intersection of these with community movements around ecological and peace issues.