In December 2019, the International Workers’ Association (IWA) at its Congress held in Melbourne, Australia, decided to promote an International Week against Unpaid Wages. The Sections of the IWA agreed to carry out different activities during the 3rd week of October to call attention to the widespread phenomenon of unpaid waged and to show which tools we can use to fight it. Because we, as workers, do jobs to be paid for them, not to voluntarily make employers richer and richer.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where we are forced to work to earn a salary if we want to survive. We need money for food, housing, education, healthcare, etc. So, when we don’t get paid for our work consequences may be dramatic for us and those relying on us.
During this International Week we want to remind that we workers have our own weapons to protect ourselves from employers.
Usually people only trust courts to solve labour disputes. There are different laws in different countries. And even if it is important to know them, we cant trust them. Very often they don’t give us enough protection.
Let’s imagine that you are working without a contract, how would you prove that you worked for a certain employer and they must pay you? And without a contract, if you get fired, how would you get your compensation or your unemployment benefit if there is such a right in your country? And when you are forced to work overtime and you are not paid for it, isn’t it working for free? If your contract states that you are an unskilled labourer but you are a highly skilled machine operator, are you being paid what is fixed by the corresponding collective bargaining agreement, if there is one at all? And if you are a woman and you get less money than your male workmates even if you do the same work, isn’t it a partially unpaid wage? If you are at the end of your degree, and you are working as a covenant for a miserable salary, even if you do the same job as your more experienced workmates, aren’t you being fooled? And when you are sick but you have no right to get paid, is it your fault? You don’t need the money when you are sick? And if you get fired every June and you are hired again on September, who’s paying for your holidays? If you find only temporary jobs for one week in a month, don’t your children eat every day?
Laws simply aren’t made to protect us, but to make things easier for the employers. They are the ones who actually sponsor the laws, not the members of parliament. That’s why we don’t fight for what is legal, but simply for our interests. And we do so directly facing those who attack us and treat us like humans without rights.
Even if the law is on our side, most of the time we don’t stand for our rights because we feel isolated and we fear losing everything. We feel isolated because the states, in collaboration with the trade unions under the control of political parties, managed to make us not to believe in self-organization and solidarity to defend us. Employers just prefer to negotiate with professional representatives of the workers to solve labour disputes. That’s because they know they can buy off professional workers’ representatives, but they just can’t buy off a group of workers who are deciding at their own meetings how to fight bosses.
If we really want to protect our interests, we have to socialise the fight so the whole community knows what makes us suffer. This way we can develop a sense of solidarity when we realise that our own problems are those of our neighbours.
When they owe wages to a worker, bosses must feel that they are not facing an isolated individual, but a supportive community willing to use their own weapons.
We can’t believe in dialogue with employers to defend ourselves. We shouldn’t forget that money is all employers care about, and the proper way to fight them is making them lose profits. And so, how do we get employers to lose money? Stopping working for them, sopping buying what they sell and destroying the infrastructure they need to manufacture and sell goods and services. In other words: strike, boycott and sabotage. These are our weapons.
But don’t get us wrong. We are not fighting for a “fair” wage, because the wage-based economy is based on exploitation and benefit. Employers hire you because they need you in order to make money. And they will always pay you a little part of the money you make them earn with your work.
The daily struggle against unpaid wages is just a direct response to an immediate issue. Although we judge it to be a defensive fight, it is part of our longterm struggle for profound changes in society we need to prevent one small part of the population from living off of the rest. And these radical changes in society we call Social Revolution.
Suffering is spread all around the world we live in. And this suffering is caused by social, economic, racial and gender inequality. On top of that, capitalist economy is causing a climate crisis that’s destroying the planet. This is the reality for thousands of millions. However, the issue is not about a bunch of greedy and wicked individuals. On one side, the issue is about a benefit-oriented economy, not oriented to the need of the communities: capitalism. On the other hand, the issue is about hierarchies present in every field of social life that divide us artificially and that are source of inequality and oppression. And we shouldn’t forget that the state has always been a loyal ally of capitalism and that it will never be an instrument for social fairness, even if some socialists believe that the state will bring us equality and freedom.
If we want a different world, we need to build a new society and a new economy focused on people’s needs instead of the current one focused on the needs of the capitalists. And in order to live happy and dignifying lives and develop our potentialities we don’t need capitalism nor the states.
That’s how we see it. If you see it the same way, contact your nearest IWA group. Let’s build something together. The struggle against unpaid wages is just a struggle amongst a variety of struggles we are involved in and in which we win thanks to direct action, solidarity and mutual aid.
The International Secretariat
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