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In the economy, manpower is understood to mean the maximum or actual work performance associated with physical or mental activity by workers who perform the tasks assigned to them .


Types of operation

Only humans have developed the ability to work to do. This work can consist of physical or intellectual work, work based on plan conformity, imparting wisdom or promoting social structure ( type of activity ) or managerial or executive work ( ranking ). The compound work force is made up of the components “ work ” for any type of activity for remuneration and “strength” in the sense of a person (as in the case of managers , specialists or office workers ) and less of physical strength . According to this, it concerns people who do work for remuneration.

Concept history

Work comes from the Latin arvus ( "Farmland processing"), about the Old High German arabeit , on the Middle High German arebeit . Strength is of Germanic origin and denotes muscle tension.

The leading representatives of classical economics dealt with human labor and from this developed, among other things, their wage fund theories . Karl Marx later took up the classics and made the concept of labor power a central factor in his philosophical critique of political economy .

Classical economics

In 1766 Jacques Turgot understood labor to mean, on the one hand , labor separated from the ground , but on the other hand also the product created by this labor force . Adam Smith demonstrated in his famous book The Wealth of Nations in March 1776 that the division of labor ( specialization ) can significantly increase the productivity of the labor force. Jean-Baptiste Say was the first to recognize in 1817 that all goods arise through the interaction of three production factors, namely nature (the soil; French agents naturels ), capital ( French c apital ) and human labor ( French faculté industrial ) . David Ricardo emphasized in 1817 that the demand for labor does not grow in line with total capital, but only with the amount in circulation, insofar as it serves as a wage fund. He demanded that wages must be sufficient to maintain the population's physical labor. He presents his law on wages as the consequence of the fact that the natural supply of labor (increase in labor) increases faster than the circulating capital used to employ labor. Therefore, a decrease in circulating capital leads to a decrease in the demand for labor. For the German economist Hermann Roesler , the labor force in 1871 is “only the organically determined form of a quantity of subsistence amount which constantly strives to evaporate in the ongoing life process of the individual”.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx gave the term labor power ideological connotations . The commodity character of labor in capitalism , which is only hinted at by David Ricardo and Adam Smith , is fully developed in Marx. For him, labor was a “ commodity ” because the buyer of labor ( employer , capitalist ) consumes it by letting its seller ( employee , proletarian ) work. “By labor or labor we understand the epitome of the physical and mental abilities that exist in the physicality, the living personality of a person and which he sets in motion whenever he produces use values ​​of any kind”. "Every enterprise of the production of goods becomes at the same time enterprise of the exploitation of labor power". The personality of the proletarian remains unaffected, because he sells only part of himself - the labor. Marx's theory of surplus value is based on a distinction between labor and labor. Marx was of the opinion that neither land nor capital would create surplus value, only labor power. The surplus value of the commodity arises from the use value of the “commodity labor power” or its consumption by the capitalist, from whose point of view the labor process is merely the consumption of the “commodity labor power” bought by him, which he can only consume if he is their means of production add.

Labor in the Critique of Political Economy

Marx ascribes the merit - in contrast to classical economics - to distinguish between work and "labor". The wage workers sell their labor as a commodity. The value of this commodity is determined according to labor theory as the labor time that is necessary to maintain the labor of the workers. Marx then explains the added value with the fact that the wage workers work longer than is necessary to reproduce their own labor, that is, they do unpaid overtime. The value created by this unpaid surplus labor is the surplus value that remains with the capitalists. For Marx, surplus value is the difference between the value of the commodity labor power on the one hand and the value created during its expenditure, i.e. during the total labor time, the new value , on the other.

History of theory

Marx first developed the concept of labor in the Grundrisse of the Critique of Political Economy of 1857. As Friedrich Engels later notes with regard to earlier writings, "from the point of view of later writings, expressions and whole sentences appear wrong and even incorrect ...", which is why he For example, he made changes to the republication of Marx's wage labor and capital , which “all revolve around one point”: “According to the original, the worker sells his work to the capitalist for wages, according to the current text his labor.” Engels worked on the genesis of the term based on the development of classical political economy : “As soon as ... the economists applied [the] determination of value through work to the commodity 'labor', they passed from one contradiction to the other. How is the value of 'labor' determined? Through the necessary work that goes into it. ... So classical economics tried a different turn; she said: The value of a commodity is equal to its cost of production. But what is the production cost of labor? To answer this question, economists have to do a little violence to logic. Instead of the production costs of the labor itself, which unfortunately cannot be determined, they now examine what the production costs of the worker are. ... What the economists had regarded as the production costs of 'labor' were the production costs ... of the living worker himself. And what he sold to the capitalist was not his work ... (which must have happened first), but he makes the capitalist ... his labor available for a certain payment: he rents or sells his labor. ... The difficulty with which the best economists failed as long as they started out from the value of 'labor' disappears as soon as we start from the value of 'labor' instead. Labor power is a commodity in our capitalist society today, a commodity like any other, but a very special commodity. It has the special property of being a value-creating power, a source of value and, with appropriate treatment, a source of more value than it itself has. "

Marx enables this new version of the problem, among other things, to develop the category of overtime and to develop his theory of surplus value. The importance of the distinction between labor and labor power is made clear by Marx in Capital, among other things, when he states that the “labor power that exists in the personality of the worker ... is just as different from its function, the labor, as one Machine of its operations. ”He expresses himself as follows about the problems of classical political economy in determining the value of labor:“ So how would the value of a twelve-hour working day, for example, be determined? Because of the 12 working hours contained in a working day of 12 hours, which is an absurd tautology . "Like Engels, Marx also describes the problems of classical political economy:" Busy with the difference between the market prices of labor and its so-called value, ... it was never discovered that the course of analysis not only led from the market prices of labor to its supposed value, but also to the point where this value of labor itself was dissolved again into the value of labor. The unconsciousness about this result of their own analysis ... entangled ... the classical political economy in indissoluble confusion and contradictions "

Following Louis Althusser, it could be argued that Marx and Engels are doing a kind of symptomal reading of classical political economy, that is, they work out the unasked questions and associated problems to which the classics, however, already implicitly gave an answer, namely that what they call the value of labor actually represents the value of labor.

Today's understanding of the workforce

Today the word worker is mostly used synonymously for employee . They are the providers of labor in the labor market . However, there are different views as to whether the object to be exchanged on the labor market is labor, work performance , employment relationships or employment contracts . In 1998, Gudrun-Axeli Knapp understands labor as the "side of labor capacity specified for certain application conditions", because only "in utopian conditions of non-alienated work (...) can subjective labor capacity and labor force that is alienated be thought of as identical…".

As a unit for measuring the workforce, the person- hour (previously: man-hour ) or longer time units are often used today . Terms such as labor shortages or surpluses dominate the political debate and stand for overemployment (higher demand for labor ) or underemployment (higher labor supply , unemployment , labor force potential ).


Web links

Wiktionary: Worker  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon : Arbeit , Volume 1, 1984, Col. 256.
  2. ^ Friedrich L. Weigand: German Dictionary . Ed .: Herman Hirt. 5th edition. tape 1 . Walter de Gruyter, 1968, p. 81 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed February 21, 2018]). .
  3. ^ Günther Drosdowski, Paul Grebe: The dictionary of origin. The etymology of the German language. Vol. 7 . Dudenverlag, Mannheim 1963, ISBN 978-3-411-00907-7 , p. 364 .
  4. Wolfgang Pfeifer (head): Etymological dictionary of German. Unabridged, revised edition. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1995. ISBN 3-05-000626-9 ; 7th edition 2004, ISBN 3-423-32511-9 . A digital version of this dictionary is available in the lexical information system:
  5. ^ Jacques Turgot : Réflexions sur la Formation et la Distribution des Richesses , 1766, p. 94.
  6. ^ Adam Smith : An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Welfare of Nations , 1776, pp. 9 f.
  7. ^ Jean-Baptiste Say : Traite d'economie politique , 1817, p. 480.
  8. ^ David Ricardo : On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation , 1817, p. 238.
  9. ^ David Ricardo: On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation , 1817, p. 239.
  10. Hermann Roesler : About the basic doctrines of the economics theory founded by Adam Smith , 1871, p. 178.
  11. ^ A b Karl Marx : Das Kapital: Critique of Political Economy , Volume 1, 1872, p. 152.
  12. Karl Marx: Das Kapital: The Circulation Process of Capital , 1890, p. 42.
  13. Karl Marx: Das Kapital: Critique of Political Economy , Volume 1, 1872, p. 172.
  14. Michael Heinrich : The science of value , 3rd corr. Edition, Münster 2003, p. 259 ff.
  15. On the labor force at Karl Marx, cf. z. B. Emmanuel Farjoun / Moshe Machover: Laws of Chaos; A Probabilistic Approach to Political Economy , London: Verso, 1983. Free verso books . There p. 88 ff. “2. Labor power - the Essential Commodity of Capitalism ”.
  16. ^ Friedrich Engels : Introduction to wage labor and capital , MEW 6, p. 593.
  17. Friedrich Engels: Introduction to wage labor and capital , MEW 6, p. 594.
  18. ^ Friedrich Engels: Introduction to wage labor and capital , MEW 6, pp. 595, 598.
  19. ^ Karl Marx: Das Kapital I , MEW 23, p. 561.
  20. ^ Karl Marx: Das Kapital I , MEW 23, p. 557.
  21. ^ Karl Marx: Das Kapital I , MEW 23, p. 561.
  22. "A symptomal reading aims to reconstruct the" problematic "of a text, ie the theoretical-analytical frame of reference in which certain terms, concepts, theories etc. function"; see. Louis Althusser: For Marx , Frankfurt / Main 1968.
  23. “In texts you repeatedly come across symptomatic defects in the form of blank spaces and contradictions. They are symptomatic because they point to an underlying theoretical problem. Althusser's prime example of this are answers to questions that have not been asked ... “; Lars Bretthauer / Alexander Gallas / John Kannankulam / Ingo Stützle : Introduction , in: the same (Ed.): Poulantzas read .
  24. Elmar Altvater : Labor market and crisis , in: Michael Bolle (ed.): Labor market theory and labor market policy , 1976, p. 52.
  25. Dieter Mertens : The labor market as a system of supply and demand , in: MittAB, 1973, p. 279.
  26. J. Kühl, reference system for approaches to a theory of commercial and contracted work , in: MittAB, 4/1975, p. 289.
  27. Wolfgang Kleber: Labor market and labor mobility , 1979, p. 2 ff.
  28. Gudrun-Axeli Knapp : Division of Labor and Socialization , in: Ursula Beer (Ed.): Class Gender: Feminist Society Analysis and Criticism of Science , 1998, p. 242.
  29. Gudrun-Axeli Knapp: Division of Labor and Socialization , in: Ursula Beer (Ed.): Class Gender: Feminist Society Analysis and Criticism of Science , 1998, p. 239.