The Plight of the Wage Slave: Surviving on Less than Living Wage

Often compared to chattel slavery, wherein a class of masters directly owns workers as property, wage slavery refers to a system in which an owning class, through its dominion over land and the means of production, coerces workers into selling their labor. Wage slavery and chattel slavery both involve a form of exploitation and control over individuals, but they operate within different economic systems and social contexts.

(We do not intend, in any way, to make moral comparisons between the two ideas since chattel slavery is obviously one of the most morally reprehensible forms of human exploitation in our history as a species. Our intention is to demonstrate that wage slavery is a milder form of slavery and is, to a much lesser extent, also fraught with moral implications. We, at TheKoinBlog, are outraged that human beings have even been held as chattel slaves and condemn the practice with the utmost vehemence.)

In both cases, individuals are subjected to coercion and lack autonomy over their labor. In chattel slavery, individuals are considered property and are owned outright by others, who have complete control over their lives and labor. Somewhat similarly, in wage slavery, individuals are often trapped in jobs where they have little bargaining power, forced to accept low wages and poor working conditions due to economic necessity – this is obviously seen more commonly in third world countries where workers are often exploited nearly to the point of chattel slavery. However, even in first world countries workers can be exploited, albeit to a much less degree. We will see that both systems perpetuate inequality and limit the freedom and agency of the individuals involved.

While wage slaves have the legal freedom to leave their jobs, they often face economic coercion that keeps them tied to exploitative working conditions. Additionally, where chattel slavery was historically based on racial or ethnic hierarchies, with certain groups considered inherently inferior and thus suitable for enslavement, wage slavery affects individuals across various demographics, although certain marginalized groups may be disproportionately affected.

Despite these distinctions, both systems perpetuate forms of oppression and economic exploitation.

The Concept and History of Wage Slavery

Wage slavery (or starvation wages) is a term used to criticize exploitation of labor by business, by keeping wages low or stagnant in order to maximize profits. The situation of wage slavery can be loosely defined as a person’s dependence on wages (or a salary) for their livelihood, especially when wages are low, treatment and conditions are poor, and there are few chances of upward mobility.[1][2] . The term is often used by critics of wage-based employment to criticize the exploitation of labor and social stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor and capital, particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, such as in sweatshops,[3] and the latter is described as a lack of workers’ self-management, fulfilling job choices and leisure in an economy.[4][5][6] The criticism of social stratification covers a wider range of employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical society to perform otherwise unfulfilling work that deprives humans of their “species character”[7] not only under threat of extreme poverty and starvation, but also of social stigma and statusdiminution.[8][9][4] Historically, many socialist organisations and activists have espoused workers’ self-management or worker cooperatives as possible alternatives to wage labor.[5][10](Wikipedia)

Wage slavery, a term that came out of the hustle and bustle of the industrial revolution, paints a dark picture of a laborer’s existence wholly hinged on meager wages drawn from grueling work. This concept, a manifestation of extreme economic inequality, was rampant during the era of industrial growth where labor was often incredibly hard and repetitive. These people, dubbed wage slaves, lived a life tethered to the whims of their employers, barely scraping by and constantly teetering on the brink of destitution.

In this oppressive system, the capitalist class reigned supreme, taking advantage of workers who, lacking options and bargaining power, were left in a state of perpetual vulnerability. Their plight was further exacerbated by the absence of worker protections, a sobrering reminder of the socioeconomic disparity that underscored the wage slavery phenomenon.

The Ruling Class and Its Exploitation of Workers

Throughout history, class structure has played a pivotal role in the reinforcing of wage slavery. At the top of this hierarchy exists the ruling class, comprised of business magnates, tech giants, corporate executives, and wealthy entrepreneurs, who enjoy disproportionate wealth and influence. This elite group often profits by exploiting the labor of the working class, relegating them to subsist on less than a living wage in order to maximize their own profits and power.

This dynamic allows the ruling class to amass wealth and control, while the working class remains stuck in a cycle of poverty and powerlessness.

Traditionally, corporate entities have shown resistance towards measures designed to protect workers, such as labor unions and minimum wage laws. They prioritize the accumulation of wealth, even if it means keeping their workforce in a state of constant vulnerability. This scenario underscores the sinister relationship between the ruling class and wage slaves, demonstrating a systemic imbalance that persists to this day.

What Can Be Done About It?

This is a very difficult question. The whole system is geared to operate under the market economy, resource-based currency, consolidated control, central bank, good-old-boy aristocratic social structures that have been in place since the beginning of civilization. Not only are the systems geared to operate this way, but the human mind has also been programmed, over thousands of years, to operate under the same ideas.

What’s more, when people are presented with alternative concepts of currency, value, monetary systems, etc., they have an almost inability to grasp the possibility that there might be a different way of doing things – so deeply are they programmed by the exploitive system that has “enslaved” their minds, bodies and souls for so long. But there are alternatives to wage slavery and people can learn to understand them and make use of them – the question is whether the ruling class will allow them to.

Here are a few examples:




Transition Network

 Bay Area Community Exchange (BACE) is a timebank

Giving Tuesday – building stronger communities one hour at a time

The Time Banking Solution

Trade Services with a Time-Based Currency

Time Banking is Catching On

Build Your Savings and Cut Expenses with Time Banking

How To Make Life Better With Time Banking

Return to Village Living; Why Small Communities are the Survival Strategy of the Future

Live Better On Less; Adopting Minimalism

Concluding Thoughts on Wage Slavery

The insidious cycle of wage slavery is a long-standing challenge deeply woven into the fabric of human history – perpetuating power structures and power struggles. It’s essential that we collectively acknowledge this issue and proactively look for solutions together. Advocacy for equitable pay, comprehensive worker protections, and supportive economic policies are important first steps towards enabling workers to break free from the bonds of wage slavery but more needs to be done.

We need to take an active role in defining our own economic reality and future by educating ourselves about alternatives and then taking steps to make these alternatives a reality for ourselves, our families and our communities.

Ultimately, combating wage slavery is a struggle for human dignity, social justice, and the inalienable right of every person to have control over their own economic freedom and ability to provide themselves with a decent standard of living. It isn’t a revolution that needs to happen but, rather, an evolution. The old system has become obsolete, and a new system is emerging – what that new system turns out to be is up to you.