The Demand for Equality in the Living Wage: Exceeding Calculation and Cooptation.

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:45
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Nathalie JAQUES, University of Auckland, New Zealand
This paper is grounded in empirical research undertaken on a local Living Wage Campaign at the University of Auckland and seeks to draw from this particular site some fundamental problems and limitations that are equally significant to political organising around wage labour in general. This is not just a case of contractual disputes within particular sites of work and the negotiation of working conditions therein. Rather, within these particular struggles universal principles for determining social and economic value are questioned and contested. Immanent to existing systems of wages and the notions of value they express are the operations of inclusion and exclusion which universally characterise the dynamic of capital to count and differentiate. This dynamic is fundamentally governed by a logic of inequality. In failing to situate the living wage within the labour-capital relation, politics premised on universal principles of equality and justice are susceptible to corruption and cooptation in operations of exclusion.

To escape this containment of equality, this paper draws on the thought of Alain Badiou to formalise the counting operation of capital. It aims to demonstrate how Living Wage campaigns are at risk of reproducing and further entrenching existing systems of counting value and appearance in disqualifying some workers from legitimate claims to a living wage. On the other hand, however, it argues that there exists a demand for equality at the heart of the living wage claim that is always in contradiction with the logic of capital. This demand contains the possibility of a political truth in antagonism with the conditions in which these political goals could be realised. This paper ultimately seeks to establish a grounding upon which we can think what is possible for wage labour anew, from a decided position of equality that refuses to concede to the compulsion of capital to count.