Wage Slave

Are You a Wage Slave?

Do you spend more each month paying down your debts than buying new things?
Do you depend completely on your job for money?
Do you have a giant school or credit card debt you’re paying down right now?
Do you worry every week about losing your job?
Do you have an at-will employment contract or do you work in an at-will state?
Are you asked to work longer and longer hours at your (salaried) job, with you having no say in it?
Are people preventing you from starting or joining a union at your job?
Are people encouraged to stay in their positions at your job? Is there no room for advancement?
Have you never gotten a cost-of-living wage increase?
Do you trade your hours for dollars and live for the weekend?
Is there intensified competition for jobs like yours?
Do you have any bargaining power over how much you are paid?
Have wages not risen significantly in your field in the last 10 years? And/Or are you part of a wage freeze?
Even if you work full time, do you have to use a credit card to buy clothes for your job or groceries?
Do you rent or lease the place you live right now?



Aristotle made the statement “[a]ll paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind”.


As the Blue Scholars say, it’s a 501 Community Plantation!


Ready to ride shotgun with Cicero?

According to Wikipedia,

Wage slavery refers to a situation where a person’s livelihood depends on wages, especially when the dependence is total and immediate.

It is a negatively connoted term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor, and to highlight similarities between owning and employing a person.

Cicero wrote in 44 BC that “…vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labor, not for artistic skill; for in their case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery.


The term ‘wage slavery’ has been used to criticize economic exploitation and social stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor and capital (particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, e.g. in sweatshops), and the latter as a lack of workers’ self-management (which criticizes the job choices that an economy allows). The criticism of social stratification covers a wider range of employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical social environment (i.e. working for a wage not only under threat of starvation or poverty, but also of social stigma or status diminution).

The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master’s interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence. -Karl Marx

Do YOU feel like you have a secure existence? Yeah. Me neither.

The term ‘wage slavery’ was widely used by labor organizations during the mid-19th century, but the structural changes associated with the later stages of industrial capitalism, including “increased centralization of production… declining wages… [an] expanding… labor pool… intensifying competition, and… [t]he loss of competence and independence experienced by skilled labor” meant that “a critique that referred to all [wage] work as slavery and avoided demands for wage concessions in favor of supporting the creation of the producerist republic (by diverting strike funds towards funding… co-operatives, for example) was far less compelling than one that identified the specific conditions of slavery as low wages…”

Do you see declining wages? Do you see intensified competition? Do you see an expanding labor pool? WTF are we supposed to do about this mate?

Wage laborers and their families incur debt from financial institutions to compensate for insufficient earnings.

Are you paying down massive debt of one kind or another? Hmmmmm. Are the cards stacked against you? Are you SEEING this now?

According to economist Steve Keen, the “deleveraging” moments when they (or the governments they live under) pay down debt instead of spending on consumption or investment in real-economy infrastructure, result in economic crises or even depressions (such as The Great Depression).

Wow, what are we in right now?

“To Marx and anarchist thinkers like Bakunin and Kropotkin their concept of wage slavery was as a class condition in place due to the existence of private property and the state. This class situation rested primarily on:

  • The existence of property not intended for active use,
  • The concentration of ownership in few hands,
  • The lack of direct access by workers to the means of production and consumption goods
  • The perpetuation of a reserve army of unemployed workers.

As you’ll see from the quotes above, this has all come around before. What worked then was regulating the system so workers had a voice, wages were raised, debts were forgiven, and social mobility was possible again.

My Story

When I was working full time at nonprofits I fulfilled all of these criteria and then some. I had no money to buy groceries at the end of the week and lived on credit. Meanwhile my bank took out my money in different orders all the time so they could get the maximum overdraft fees. I was overdrawn CONSTANTLY. I lived frugally, barely had any furniture, put off repairing my car until it died, biked 10 miles to work whenever I could, bought the cheapest food, barely went out to eat, and worked long hours and still had no money.

Sound familiar? What’s YOUR story? Write it in the comments!

If you look at jobs on craigslist right now, you’ll see the same problem, wages at $13-$15 an hour with no hope of advancement, people asking you to work “part time” for $28,000 a year as a Development Director. No matter if you’re in a “rich state” or a “poor state.” Wages have not risen in any significant way in our sector in some time. Only if you’re at the top of the administrative heap at a college, university or elementary school have wages risen significantly for you. And that leaves out most of us.

First of all, if you ARE a wage slave, it’s not your fault. It’s what you have to do to survive. For now.

But there IS something you can do.

How about you start out, right now, in 2012, and resolve that you are going to do better for yourself. Get more for yourself, get a better paying job, or work for yourself. How about resolving to tell more people about what wage slavery is to start with?

Get enough people on your side, maybe start a union, maybe just sign a petition demanding better working conditions.

You can ALSO take my webinar “Moving On Up In Your Nonprofit Career” and that will be a good way to figure out a way out of all of this. Seriously. It’s gonna rock.