The true value of labour
A labourer who knows the true value of his labour is an unwelcome guest within a society that has embraced capitalism. Labour has proven to be essential, and the same opinion manifested itself in the mind of John Locke when he came up with the labour theory of property. John Locke developed a theory of property which showed some relationship between labor and economic value. There are three possible meanings of a labour theory of value. But for the purposes of this article, we focus on two dimensions of the theory. First, labour as a source of use-value and secondly, labour provides the only justifiable claim to receiving the exchange value of the goods it produces.
It is important to distinguish between use value and exchange value before delving into how they help us understand the true value of labour. To differentiate the two, Adam Smith used an example of diamond and water. The things with the greatest value in use have frequently little or no value in exchange, for example water. It is almost impossible to get something more useful than water, yet the things it can be exchanged for are scarce. Diamonds are considered more valuable and there is a wide array of things it can be exchanged for. Water is miles clear of Diamonds when they are to be compared based on utility.
Labour as a source of use value depicts that effort is commensurable to the price of the commodity that the labourer produces. Let us go back to our example of diamond and water, the difficulty in its extraction, sorting and cutting also adds to the price that the diamond would go for. Water has utility but extracting it requires only digging a borehole. It is not sensible that the extractors are awarded the same as those who extracted Diamonds. Consequently, it does not need a high price to repay its labour. Secondly, which emphasizes the first point, labour justifies the reward for the service that the labourer injects into the production of the product.
This then raises three issues, first, depending on the type of activity you venture into, your wages will reflect the accrued benefits. There is a paradox under this first issue. The paradox is that the longer and harder you work in Kenya, the less the payment you receive. White collar workers work from 8:00 AM and their working schedule comes to a halt at 5:00 PM. Casual labourers on the other hand have to wake up much earlier, spend too much energy yet get paid less than their colleagues who work in offices. It is time to focus on the areas that we have now neglected for the very longest time. We need these workers the same way we require the services of those who work in those nice offices.
Secondly, the utility does not often translate to a high exchange value: a worker in a bakery or shoe industry does not earn the same as a miner in the gold fields or diamond mines. This is because the price that is fixed on bread cannot create adequate profit to cater for the salary of labourers. Thirdly and most importantly for the purposes of this article, even if a labourer is involved in the extraction or production of goods whose exchange value is high, he or she cannot realize the true value of his labour because of the exploitation by those who own factors of production. Further exploitation of workers who are involved in the production of goods with a weaker exchange value can be even more devastating. This and other factors illustrated in this article explain why bridging the gap between the poor and the rich remains fictitious.
Labour is considered as one of the factors of production. A person can own their own labour and consequently reap the full benefits of what he had sown. Adam Smith correctly noted that a dyer who discovers a means of producing a particular colour which cost half the common price of the material could enjoy extraordinary gains which arise from the high price which is paid for his private labour. This would properly consist of the high wages of that labour. Now consider if there is a labourer under this dyer, under a fixed wage subjected to him by the dyer. This labourer cannot claim a share of the surplus even if their labour amounted to the acquisition of that surplus. Such inequalities are caused by the relations of production that arise from the ownership of forces of production.
These forces of production are Labour, power, raw materials are instruments and tools used in the process of production. Labour alone cannot complete the production process. One must have the material that is to be converted to finished products. The forces of production give rise to the relations of production. There is stratification because of the forces of production, this has manifested itself in terms of the division of society into classes. The Bourgeoisie (ruling class), own the forces of production and thus get to control the products emanating from those forces of production. The proletariat (working class) doesn’t own these factors of production, as a result, they can only work under the bourgeoisie since they also need other factors of production to complete the production.
This then makes Marx question doctrines like freedom of contract when it comes to waged labour. This can be primarily attributed to the fact that humans are bound by natural constraints in the first place. It is evident in the sense that humans have to meet their daily needs like hunger. Others even wish of going abroad to explore what overseas offers. We need not forget the recurrent cases of abuse and even of Kenyans who have gone to work especially in the Middle East. These dignified humans undergo all forms of abuse including but not limited to physical, social and sexual abuse. They are treated as if they are children of a lesser god.
To meet his needs, man has to work. In contemporary society unlike earlier when the commons existed, there is a high intensity of privatization. This privatization is at the heart of every state’s law and is greatly safeguarded by it. A person cannot utilize the assets under the control of another person. This person thus must be given the go-ahead first to make use of the factors of production (through contract), and out of their produce, the owner decides on how to reward this person. This person does not have a choice since he or she has to meet his or her needs. He also cannot choose how his labour is to be rewarded. This person is the proletariat, and he or she is vulnerable to oppression by the bourgeoisie.
There is a subsequent question that needs answering. How did the bourgeoisie come to be what they are, and how did they acquire these significant other factors of production? In our country Kenya for instance, when we regained self-rule after fighting for independence for a very long time, the political elites mastered the art of land grabbing and acquiring public wealth for their own purposes. Key political players illegally took away land belonging to the freedom fighters and converted it into their own. To this day, some of the families of the freedom fighters such as Mau Mau have never witnessed the fruits of law and justice.
It is not surprising therefore that the families of the first two presidents and their allies own vast lands in Kenya. The Kenyatta family for example owns more than five hundred thousand acres of land. Owning such amounts puts them in a better place way ahead of the rest of the Kenyans. Subsequently, the Kenyatta family owns an expansive business empire and controls what is a huge aspect of the economy. The ruling class are, therefore, in a different class from the rest of the citizens. Political players have dominated economic spaces in Kenya for a very long time. It is time to create an equal playing field.
Hegenomy and Marxism
Gramsci’s theory of Hegenomy seeks to explain two things, namely:
- How the apparatus of the State or a political society can stratify the society and ensure that the resulting strata will accept the resultant status quo. This is done through various mechanisms an example is through the legal institutions. For instance, capitalism could not survive without a legal system which services and legitimizes private ownership of the means of production.
- Secondly, it is through their daily activities that the proletariat consent to be ruled by the ruling class. In this case, the ruling class do not use any military force to impose their ideas on the proletariat. A nation, an economic group or a political entity can dictate to others the way to follow and the way of acting and thinking.
Hegenomic cultures are values, ideas and beliefs that primarily dominate over other ideas and could sometimes be imposed on societies that already had their own cultures. In Kenya, for instance, the idea of private ownership of land was alien to us prior to the coming of the Europeans. Currently, it is enshrined under Article 40 and 64 of the Kenyan Constitution. Colonial administrators laid down paths for indigenous tenure to be replaced with the property norms of Europe.
For Marx, the right to property was recognized by law in response to the economic needs of the bourgeoisie at a particular time. That law is designed in such a way that it appears Non-Partisan yet if it is critically analyzed it would be found that it serves the interests of the ruling class. Compared to the primitive communism mode of production where people were only bound by natural constraints and everyone was equal, the capitalist mode of production was characterized by social constraints on the working class. However, as Marx posits, through revolution under the socialist mode of production, communist mode of production could still arise again. In the communist mode of production, every labourer gets to control what they produce and the profit of what they produce.
This is contrary the assertion made by Adam Smith in his book, the wealth of nations where he compares the workman in a civilized nation to hunters and fishers in savage nations. He says that a workman, even of the lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and industrious, may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniences of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire. However this workman might not be getting the true value for whatever he is producing.
Actualization of equality in the relations of production has proven difficult. However, to counter this impasse, there is a need to ensure that the workman’s interest is put first. This is not what we are vouchering for, but it can help solve the problem of citizens seeking greener pastures in other countries, as a result, some get tortured in Saudi Arabia. This migration to different countries to seek greener pastures is caused by two things. First, the reward for labour in Kenya does not come close to its value. Secondly, most Kenyans can only provide semi-skilled and unskilled labour, in our country however, this type of labour is not appreciated that much in terms of wages. In my hometown, for instance, I have witnessed a few lucky Kenyans who went to Saudi Arabia for three years and came back, bought land and built houses. Surprisingly, some of these workers are considered to be of the same caliber to the ones in Kenya. It is high time that employers in Kenya realise that what they are offering is way too less the true value of labour. With that same spirit, there is need to review the salary that is being offered in Kenya.
The 2008 International Labour Organisation( ILO) Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization reiterated the significance of the ILO’s fundamental goals and emphasized the need to improve labor protection measures, particularly “healthy and safe” working conditions and regulations relating to pay and earnings, hours, and other aspects of work, aiming to ensure that everyone has a fair share of the benefits of progress and that all employed people who require such protection are paid a minimum living wage. The ILO was founded on the principles that labour is not a commodity and that enhancing working conditions is essential to achieving social fairness, national prosperity, and long and unbroken peace. These essential working conditions and requirements are just on paper in the Kenyan context.
Hegenomy, Gramsci argues, is a battle of ideas to become widely accepted in the society. The working class must enter the hegenomic process so that their ideas can become more powerful than the ideas of the ruling class. Every set of ideas can be challenged and there is never a fully all-encompassing set of ideas. The Bourgeoisie are happy with the relations of production since it allows them to extract surplus from the workers, the proletariats however need change.
The impetus to this change has to be triggered by trade unions and labour organizations. These bodies are the voices of the labourers and have to be effective. The government and other political figures have taken steps to silence trade unions. The mouthpiece of employees is the trade unions that they belong to. It is saddening that the government which ought to be putting the interest of the citizens first has been at the fore front pushing for the fall of trade unions. Teachers, for example, were forced to fight on their own when Wilson Sossion had to quit being the secretary-general of Kenya National union of Teachers.
Francis Atwoli has been the Secretary-General of Central Organisation of Trade Unions Kenya since 2001. He claims that he has served his fifth and final term. We recognise the fact that this honourable trade union has no policy concerning the number of terms that her officials ought to run, however, leadership in this key trade union should be changing regularly. Atwoli was very much involved in the presidential elections campaigns. Arguably, he politicised an office that ought to be politically neutral. The focus ought to be on making lives of Kenyan workers better as opposed to concentrating on selfish and personal interests.
The role of education and dexterity in escaping the harsh relations of production
Mental work as opposed to physical labour has no limit. If at all there is a limit to it, it is based on the extent of knowledge and creativity a person hones. A physical labourer cannot bear more than his physique can handle. Furthermore, with the advent of robots and machines in the contemporary society, one might question the role of physical labour in the future.
As people shift towards more mechanised approaches to labour, the relevance of human labour in the future remains to be a doubt, there is a need to ensure that the processes of acquisition of knowledge and skills serve everyone equally. It is primarily through education that people acquire knowledge that is conventionally accepted. There are different modes of acquiring knowledge and creativity required by the job market, but without acquiring it from required institutions it becomes difficult for recruitment. For instance, one needs a certificate from an institution to show that they have acquired the requisite knowledge for the profession.
Recently, there have been reforms in Kenya to ensure that there is equality in the acquisition of education. It is this quest for equality however that brings about inequality. As the government tried to reach its goals of ensuring everyone is in school (in compliance to article 53 (b)), it failed to find out who is truly learning. schools attended by the children of lower-class residents are crowded and not conducive to education whereas children belonging to the ruling class attend schools that are learner-friendly. Building adequate facilities like laboratories should be considered when setting up schools. The assertion that everyone is in school is not enough if we can’t answer the question of whether they truly are acquiring the same quality of education. In the same spirit, we recommend in this article the addition of the word quality in Article 53 (b) to orchestrate equality in modes of acquiring knowledge and skills.
Even Roscoe Pound listed inadequate Education in the legal profession as a problem. He was alarmed at how it was easy to be admitted to the bar. The fact that he was admitted to the bar before the age of twenty yet he had already begun a career as a botanist showed how easy it was to get into the profession. The requirements were less stringent and that Pound could only attribute his eminence among legal scholars to his own initiative and genius. Furthermore, it was a matter of policy that every profession should be accessible to all. In law, for example, the method of acquiring the requisite knowledge was through the apprentice training of lawyers. Almost anybody could serve a term as a clerk in an attorney’s office and then go into practice for himself. The problem with this was that the legal profession was full of unprofessional services and unsatisfactory results. It even prompted Mr. Justice Miller to remark that the prime factor in the formation of the law was ignorance.
It, therefore, goes without saying that equality in terms of accessibility should be premised on the mode of acquisition of knowledge and not on the recruitment into the profession that requires that knowledge. Education should be accessible to all, not just any education but quality education. In contemporary society, contrasted with Pound’s era, job requirements are stringent but the education that is offered to enable people to meet those requirements is not accessible to all equally.
“It is never too late for young people to have opportunities to learn. Our youth deserve to be equipped with the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly demanding and uncertain job world. Given that today’s students will be tomorrow’s citizens and leaders, a good and relevant education is essential to turn aspirations into reality.”
Research by the world bank found that the learning crisis is propelled by little information available on who is learning and who is not. Article 43 (1)(f) of the Kenyan constitution enshrines the right to education. Everyone has the right to Education, but is it just education or good and relevant education? It is only the youth who are guaranteed relevant education and training under Article 55 (a). The omission of words like ‘relevant’ or ‘quality’ in Article 53 (b) discriminates the child based on the education he or she ought to be getting. The childhood phase is the most fundamental and therefore the base has to be strong enough.
Compounding the problems is the uncertainty of the future job market. As earlier mentioned, with the advent of robots and machines, labour that is presently human will reduce greatly. A typical instance is the invention of a concrete mixer. The use of spades to mix cement, sand, gravel and water is now backdated and has long been replaced by the concrete mixers. The advent of Bitcoin for instance, might also lead to termination of employment of cashiers in banks on account of redundancy. This is primarily because we believe that cryptocurrency might be the future currency and there will be no need to store cash in banks. All these are creations of the mind, something that physical labour cannot achieve. It is high time that we tell our children the truth. They should not only be educated to be employed, but also to be innovative and creative. This way they serve the community, and they also get to earn a living without having to rely on someone who wants to exploit their prowess.
Furthermore, during the COVID period, a lot of workers were retrenched from work to reduce the cost of spending in response to economic difficulty. This makes us wonder how the employees would survive if they did not resort to other creative means to earn a living during the period that they were unemployed. It is obvious that the employer would rather sacrifice the only sources of income of the employee just to keep their businesses afloat. These actions are justified by the redundancy concept. Section 2 of the Employment Act states clearly that the services of a labourer that are considered to be superfluous can be terminated. However, these terminations of contracts are subject to procedural rules that are enshrined in article 40 (1) of the employment act. Further, section 43 and section 45 bar employers from unfairly terminating a contract of an employee.
Most workers in Kenya are unaware of these rules hence it is easy to infringe on their rights. In fact, even if they are aware of these rights, most of them cannot afford legal fees. They end up going to court as pro se litigants. There is a need to create awareness among the working class on their rights.
Labour Relations Act, 2007
Labour Relations Act, 2007 recognizes the fact that employees have the freedom to join trade unions of their choice. Section 5(2)(a) of the said Act sates that no one may pressure, threaten, or demand a worker or someone looking for work to stop being a member of a union, join one, or give that membership up. However, Kenyans employees have often directly or indirectly departed from this very essential provision. Just three years ago, some members of Kenya National Union of Teachers gave up their union membership to be considered for advancements. Teachers Service Commission used parallel payrolls and failed to pay Knut Members.
We recognize the fact that the drafters of the Labour Relations Act, 2007 did meticulous work. Nevertheless, they could have done better. The good thing is that members of parliament can still amend this legislation to do away with the ambiguities, and inconsistencies and avoid unnecessary repetition. It is worth noting that section 5(2) and section 7 of the Labour Relations Act, 2007 are repeated word for word. This is ultimate manifestation of poor and lazy drafting. The drafters should have concentrated on areas that had been left out.
The right to demonstrate and picket enjoys both constitutional and statutory protection. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 empowers everyone to, among other things, demonstrate peacefully and armed. In addition, the Constitution provides for a fair hearing in article 50. However, Kenyan employers have defiled these essential provisions times without number. Doctors, for example, have been fired in the recent past for participating in lawful strikes. In the present case, they were sued by the county government, and the outcome of the case was pending. It was very wrong for the county government of Mombasa to fire them before the matter came to its logical conclusion.
Actualization of salary reforms and the role of employees
Actualization of laws relating to salary of labourers is yet to be attained. This is due to employer’s reluctance to develop a bargaining relationship with the workers, or because the employees are not organised. Article 36 of the Constitution empowers workers to form associations of their kind. It states that every person has the right to freedom of association, which includes the right to form, join or participate in the activities of an association of any kind. It is therefore the duty of labourers in harsh working conditions to organize themselves and ensure that they are treated well, essentially in terms of the payroll. However, this requires that labourers are educated on what exactly they are entitled to so that they do not demand more or less. Article 41(5) of the Constitution constitutes a provision that allows for trade unions to engage in collective bargaining with employers’ organisations. However, for these employees to engage in collective bargaining processes they need to be very aware of their rights as labourers. Only then can there be equality between the employees and employers in the process of collective bargaining.
During the labour celebration day, the former President, Uhuru Kenyatta announced a Salary increase of up to 12% minimum wage for Kenyan labourers. Actualization of this requires that workers are made aware of such reforms. It is only then that they can organize themselves to combat unscrupulous businessmen who tend to milk more and offer less Napier grass to the cow they are milking.
Members of Parliament also just pay attention to their own interest. They only seek to increase their own salary and even complain when they get a salary cut. These salary cuts were meant to reduce government costs for effective operation of the roles of the government. We disagree with Jeremy Bentham when he posited that the legislator, through the art of legislation could bring forth the greatest happiness for the greatest number. In contrast, they(legislators) are motivated by self-interest to enact legislations that do not encompass the common good. They focus on their salaries and forget to advocate for the salaries of the citizens who pay taxes that finance them.
Ferdinand Tonnies distinguished the community (Gemeinschaft) from an association (Gesellschaft). What is interesting is the selflessness exhibited by the characteristics of the community. It was characterized by selflessness and a people that developed genuine emotions (work was regarded more as a calling) for their work and for each other. Material production in the community, contrasted to the society was primarily for use and not for gain. Knowledge and practical skills were transmitted through inheritance, experience and apprenticeship without being charged. In contemporary society, however, labour and property are treated as chattel that can be used to further the interest of a few. Furthermore, when the value of labour started to be measured with money, the attitude of most people towards their professions changed. Most people wanted to venture into the job market for money and not for the passion they had for the job. As a result of this, many people hated their jobs and the only beauty in it was the end month.
Most people just started to view work as a business that would propel them to a happy ending and not as a calling. Earlier, labourers could serve the community with their skills, however, in the capitalist regime this labourer is a free-standing individual who cannot survive without prioritizing self-interest. This labourer transitioned from being visionary and virtuous to being money-oriented, at some point even corrupt just to keep up with the pressures of life. Some spouses even view marriage as a business and have therefore contracted into the same with the hope that during divorce or during succession upon death they can get the lion’s share. This situation was recognized in the case of UMM v IMM which stated that the division of property on a 50:50 basis as a result of the interpretation of Article 45(2) of the constitution could imperil the marriage institution.
Marriages have lost their sanctity following the advent of the prenuptial agreements which motivate the people who are thirsty for wealth to get into marriages even where there is no love. This could not happen during the communal regime since property like land could not be transformed into abstract marketable commodity that could be subjected to monetary valuation. As it has continuously been stated in this article there is an impasse and therefore, changing the entire system would require public participation. We however opt for mitigation, in the sense that the slope should be reduced to almost level. Through proper wages and improving the livelihood of the working class, there would be no need for them to rely on marriage as a source of income. People will marry the spouses they love and not spouses who can financially support them.
Kenya has created a capitalist society where self-interest overrides the common good. It is no longer news that those who are in the lowest cadre in our society do not enjoy social protection. A casual labourer does not have the luxury of taking a holiday. Doing so would indirectly expose his family to hunger. We tend to make workers feel like family by calling them fancy names like aunties and yet we treat them adversely. Actions speak louder than words; social classes ought not to be a barrier to how we relate to our employees.
We need to overcome the capitalist mindset of using employees to achieve our goals while neglecting their well-being. We ought to have a drastic shift to a communal way of life where we care for the interests and rights of each and every one. Social protection should be in the mindset of the rich and powerful. Employers ought to come up with creative ways of shielding their employees, especially during harsh economic times. The current working conditions are not suitable. There is a need for employees to take progressive steps to make working conditions better. In addition, employees should not be subjected to extremely long working hours. They also need to spend their precious time with their families and in their personal growth.
Finally, we note that our society does not have a perfect structure, we are divided into classes because of our positions regarding the relations of production. However, blaming the current structures would be futile since the causes of these structures trace back in history. This historical evolution involves a combination of hegemony and the use of state and law to impose capitalism on Kenyan society which had embraced communal ownership of property. This article does not seek to impugn the current Bourgeoisie. It just seeks to ensure that the rights of the Proletariat are taken care of to mitigate the fact that they cannot access what is rightfully theirs (the true value of their labour).
John Juma Odalo is passionate about research especially in the field of Human Rights. He is also an enthusiastic writer, and he has achieved recognition for his completed works. Johnodalo18@gmail.com
Michael Omondi Odhiambo has an unbeatable interest in research and is a keen and enthusiastic follower of emerging jurisprudence Myllomoshgmail.com
 Karen I. Vaughn, John Locke and the labour theory of value, Pergamon press Ltd, 1978, vol,2
 Ibid fn1
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 Ibid fn 1.
 Ibid fn 3
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 Pound, the formative era of American law 8 (1938)
Ibid fn 18
 Pound, the formative era of American law 8 (1938)
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 Ibid fn 3
 Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development, World Bank.
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 Mohamed, Abdirahman Abdulahi, determining the success of of the implementation of industrial and labour relations law on economic growth and development in Kenya, http://repository.riarauniversity.ac.ke/xmlui/handle/123456789/1062 accessed Mon, Jan 9th 2022
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 Edwin Mutai, Business daily, Mps seek sh.1.1m monthly pay and sh.7.5 m car grant https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.businessdailyafrica.com/bd/economy/mps-seek-sh1-1m-monthly-pay-and-sh7-5m-car-grant-3813792%3fview=htmlamp accessed 19th Jan 2023 Kenya’s public sector wage bill stands at 50 percent of annual government tax revenue and the IMF puts the global benchmark at 35 percent.The government has for years struggled to contain its ballooning wage bill that has squeezed funds for development, forcing the State to take loans for financing development projects and paying salaries.
 UMM v IMM  eKLR