Antoni Szwed “Many Faces of Exploitation”

Artykuł został opublikowany w: "Contemporary Moral Dilemmas", ed. D. Probucka, Berlin 2019.

Antoni Szwed “Many Faces of Exploitation”

Artykuł został opublikowany w: "Contemporary Moral Dilemmas", ed. D. Probucka, Berlin 2019.

Abstract: As the subject of this chapter there are considered different kinds of the contemporary work exploitation. Reflected below are: senseless work, unjust employment contract, bank usury towards employee, structural unemployment, implementation of ruthless rivalry between workers, globalization conditions made by great concerns, weak state and faulty law of work.

The concept of exploitation is not only a historic concept associated with the 19th-century capitalism. Is doesn’t only relate to the narrowly understood relations between the owners of capital and the paid employees. “Exploitation” is not a word that only belongs to the dictionary of Marxist theory of labour, where it is mainly associated with “surplus value”. According to Marx, the wage of a labourer, who created a product of a specified value, constitutes half (sometimes less) of this value, while the rest in the form of profit (surplus value) is kept by the owner of capital and production means. For the author of “Capital”, such a practice of appropriation of a part of this value by the capitalist was equivalent to robbing the labourer, unfairly taking away a part of their due remuneration. In order to avoid this, Karl Marx (1818–1883) proposed the socialization of capital and production means, and then the problem of the exploitation of the working class would disappear. Today, after dozens of years of Marxist experiments across the world, it is well-known, that this was an illusory and false solution, and that the issue of exploitation is much more complex than Marx ever thought. In economic activity the generation of profit is as necessary as the remuneration of employees for the performed work. In terms of economics, today’s world is much more complicated than what Karl Marx saw in the 19th century, but the concept of exploitation is still useful in all kinds of analyses of the philosophy of labour or, more broadly, social philosophy. It has a variety of meanings, at least some of which I would like to analyse in this chapter. But before I do this, I will try to establish a starting point, which will also be a reference point on the map of the various contemporary forms of exploitation of man by man. The whole considerations will be conducted more on the ethical plane than the economic or the management plane, associated with the organization of work, without completely excluding the latter, however.

Exploitation occurs in cases where those who are socially, economically and politically stronger exploit those who are in some way weaker. The stronger person could be one who has power, capital, more knowledge, more developed contacts with other people; this also applies in cases where one individual is physically stronger or has greater self-confidence, is more ruthless and selfish in pursuing their interests, more brutal in their actions. They may act directly or indirectly through institutions whose power and importance they are able to use for their own goals. The exploitation of the weaker person by the stronger one is at times the result of the emergence of sometimes significant differences between specific social groups, which have a background in economics (access to capital), systemic preferences (e.g. legislation beneficial for the rich people), favourable political situation (the rule of a party that supports “their” people) and advantage in the possession of useful knowledge and information, which others do not have, along with the ability to use it. Exploitation is also any unfair and unjust (even though in many cases legal, lawful) enrichment at the expense of another person or a group of people. Exploitation in any form is an explicit negation of the pursuit of the common good as the objective of the society as a whole.

Care for some common good, regardless of what that is in a particular situation, engages a certain group of people to common and unanimous action, which implies, to a greater or lesser degree, going beyond the individual, egoistic self-interest. It is an activity going above and beyond the particular goals of individuals and small interest groups, oriented at the good of larger groups, communities, or even the society as a whole, so that everyone participates in the obtained common good on equal terms. Such participation in the common good at least to some extent weakens the struggle between the ambitious individuals, who by their very nature seek to take ownership of the largest possible part of this good. Participation in the common good determined on equitable principles is possible, thanks to the development of social solidarity. Every kind of solidarity creates some community. They have varied scopes: narrower or broader. Some of them are corporate communities. In this chapter, I will be talking about social solidarity rather than corporate solidarity. Solidarity itself can be analysed in various aspects: ethical, philosophical, sociological and psychological, or in the aspect of political sciences.

The members of such communities are typically connected by some ties: common beliefs, ideas, values or interests. Of course, these and similar elements may limit the scope of such a community, exclude many others as “not one of us”, and therefore it is worth to take into account the largest possible group, i.e. the entire society of the given country, pointing to such a common good, that to some extent applies to each individual within such a society. And conversely, we have to take into account all those who have experienced some kind of oppression, injustice, tragedy, and now need the help of others. Such need can become the fate of every individual. No reasonable person would say that due to some peculiar luck they will never in their life suffer any harm, will never feel unhappiness, will never experience any loss of health or property. That is why human solidarity provides for the possibility of mutual help. All people in a given group (society) are willing to support each other in difficult situations, for example during natural disasters (floods, storms, fires, etc.).

The Polish philosopher Fr. Józef Tischner (1931–2000) defined this solidarity in a rather original way. He invoked a passage from the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” [Gal 6:2]. When 37 years ago, in August 1980, an enormous social movement was born in Poland, which gave rise to the Independent Self-governing Trade Union “Solidarity”, Fr. Tischner was the first philosopher who attempted, in an organized and systematic manner, to determine the ethical dimension of the human solidarity that was created at that time. He reflected on this previously entirely unknown ethical phenomenon that suddenly emerged in large parts of the Polish society. Listening in to the discussions that were held every day during the first meeting of “Solidarity” in Gdańsk in 1981, on the next day with the approval of all the participants he would make a concise summary of what happened in the room on the previous day. This was usually a short ethical reflection. These reflections were the basis for the creation of The Ethics of Solidarity[1].He was troubled by the question: why did solidarity emerge? This related not only to the organizational side of the huge trade union (approx 10 million adult Poles), but to “Solidarity” as an ethical movement.

Tischner saw in this spontaneously formed solidarity movement a new type of interpersonal relations, which in and of itself was morally good and justified its own existence. He concluded that people who stand in solidarity with each other, are people of conscience. The ethics of solidarity is the ethic of conscience. “It assumes – wrote Tischner – that a man is a being endowed with a conscience. The conscience is a man’s natural “ethical sense”, largely independent of the various ethical systems. We have many ethical systems, but there is only one conscience. It is older than these systems”[2]. Of course any judgement of the conscience referred to a specific act (behaviour) is supported by some ethical knowledge, and is in some way conditioned by it, but its driving force is the primal moral sensitivity, which precedes any ethical knowledge. Standing in solidarity with another man and in relation to another man stems from the inside of a human being. Tischner also evoked St. Augustine of Hippo, who claimed that the voice of conscience is the voice of God within the human body. At the time of “Solidarity” (1980–1981), there was an awakening of conscience, which was at the same time a universal, almost collective turn towards God and another man. From the very beginning, this was a deep moral, but also religious turn. The deepening of the faith in God was closely associated with the sensitization of the conscience to the needs of another man and was tied with the rediscovery of the “neighbour”, a concrete person standing next to me, who needs to be helped. For my conscience tells me that I cannot leave a fellow man with his problems, troubles, with his helplessness. We cannot therefore accept the principle characteristic of classical capitalism: let everyone fare for themselves, and if they can’t cope, then that’s their problem. This principle in fact sanctions individual or group selfishness. According to it, the other person may as well not exist if they do not serve my interests. This also implies distrust towards another human being. People who do not trust each other, are afraid of each other; they remain “in their hiding places”[3], do not strive for real dialogue, and for that reason cannot stand in solidarity with each other.

“Bear ye one another’s burdens” – these words convey not only the simple fact of the existence of wealth inequality or differences in the social hierarchy, but above all an appeal to people of conscience – not just to the people of power or the people of wealth, but to all – to help carry the burdens of their brothers on an individual basis, when they are not able to bear them. When they are not able to do so because of bad health conditions and lower education, due to failures in the competition with those who are stronger, or due to belonging to minority groups of people who are disadvantaged in some way. This also involves systemic help to those who are excluded, who suffer poverty due to the bad organization of the public institutions or the state itself. The above words also carry the thought that a society should be a self-regulating living organism, in which no part may die or suffer from dysfunction. Solidarity understood in this way is the opposite of the broadly understood exploitation, which is always associated with the suffering of individuals or socially disadvantaged groups.

Therefore Józef Tischner defined exploitation differently than Karl Marx. When relating his reflections to the times of real socialism in Poland (before 1989), he spoke of exploitation as “unnecessary, senseless, avoidable pain”. He continued: “The pain of an exploited man is first and foremost a moral pain. Exploitation hurts like a lie, it hurts like betrayal”[4]. Tischner referred not so much to the part of the worker’s remuneration, which was taken away by the capitalist (employer), but to work itself, which “instead of life, brought decay, sickness and death”. This was “sick” work, which was no longer working[5]. The hallmark of “exploited work” is the unnecessary suffering that it causes[6]. Tischner saw this suffering not only in the employee, but also in the consumer who bought the substandard goods, the fruits of the “sick work” of the employee of the socialist workplace[7].

The author of The Ethics of Solidarity asked the question: how is it possible that the huge collective effort of the Poles gives such poor results in the scale of the society as a whole. And like many others at that time he believed that the state is cheating the citizens, and the citizens are cheating each other. One of the main problems were not only the chronic shortages of goods on the market, but also the production of defective or superfluous goods that no one needed. The production was carried out according to the fixed assumptions of the plans, without any consideration for the real needs of the consumers. Enormous amounts of manufactured “duds” or goods with more or less hidden defects (defective washing machines, faulty television sets, leaking oil-filled radiators or tools made of defective, bending steel) rendered the effort of the workers senseless. As a result of the erroneous and overly centralized planning and management, the product was poorly designed, improperly executed, made of poor materials. Such a product obviously did not meet the needs of the consumers. This was a system of universal waste of the fruits of labour of millions of Polish men and women. The workers were aware of the awful results of their work, which discouraged them from developing their skills and abilities, and discouraged them from creativity and constant improvement of their qualifications. It is no wonder, therefore, that this state of affairs resulted in later strikes, street demonstrations and other forms of more or less organized protest. The sense of unnecessary work generated widespread suffering, which could have been avoided[8]. This was – as Tischner put it – “blind work”. Tischner’s diagnosis was as follows: Polish work is sick, because it “does not deepen the reciprocity” between the people. A person does not work for the good of another man. The work does not allow for agreement between people, but instead became the betrayal of another man. From that Tischner drew the conclusion that the sickness of work lies in the conflict between the carried out work and the very understanding of the meaning of this work. He saw the revolt of the workers in 1980 as a rebellion against “work that makes no sense”. This gave rise to mutual accusations of incompetence, indolence, ill will, corruption, etc., and consequently broke the ties of work and resulted in the formation of various social illusions, and set people against each other in distrust and suspicion. The overall sense of work became incomprehensible. This is how “blind work” was created. Because of that in real socialism the society, mainly through the work relations, was largely an artificial community [9]. A genuine human community assumes a dialogue between the workers, not so much at the level of the spoken words, but precisely at the level of the meaningfulness of the work carried out together. This in turn creates real solidarity, which grows on the ground of conscience, reason and logic. Only reasonable work based on commonly accepted logic of thinking and action can serve the general community of people. In this way it eliminates the socialist form of exploitation, associated with senselessly performed work.

At the heart of Tischner’s thinking was the belief that the primary purpose of work is not production in and of itself, or even the multiplication of capital in and of itself, but rather the personal development of the working man. By working, a man develops himself and helps others develop when he does so in accordance with his abilities, talents, in accordance with his personality and other psychophysical abilities. He is the subject and not the object of work, when he feels to be a co-worker and a co-host along with the others. This in turn is impossible without agreement between the people. According to Tischner, “work is a special form of a man’s conversation with another man”. In this context, the products of work are similar to words spoken during a conversation. And going even further, work is not only a dialogue with the contemporary men, but also a dialogue with the past generations, which stood at their own workshops. Work is a historical agreement, because it carries on from generation to generation, as contemporary people join it through their work[10].

From the moment of the systemic transformation in 1989, in principle we no longer have to deal with cases of senselessly planned and carried out work in Poland. Currently no company that wants to stay on the market can produce things that will not find a buyer. In such a case it would go bankrupt and leave the market. The vast majority of goods and services are well addressed to potential consumers. In this sense, it would be difficult to find someone who “performs blind work”. But does this mean that today no one is experiencing unnecessary suffering which negates human solidarity? Does the category of “unnecessary pain” no longer have any power to explain anything?

Exploitation still exists, although it takes different forms than in the Times of real socialism. One form of exploitation of the weak by the powerful is the mechanism that we in Poland sometimes colloquially refer to as the “rat race”. This is a mechanism that rewards not so much the brightest and those who are best prepared to perform a given profession, but rather individuals who are absolutely ruthless in their pursuit of the goal, even if that includes “playing dirty”, and who are extremely selfish and cynical. Such fierce rivalry, contrary to the appearances, does not translate into higher productivity and better financial results for the company. Instead it destroys friendship and kindness between the workers, sometimes completely prevents co-operation, building hostility between the competing individuals, as it tacitly assumes the elimination of the rival from the game.

Offering an employee a remuneration that is a little higher or equal to the minimum wage applicable in the given state, if there is a relatively high level of unemployment in a given labour market, also constitutes exploitation. Such remuneration is offered regardless of the working time (sometimes extended with overtime), productivity of work and even the worker’s previous experience. This is often additionally associated with pressuring workers to work on the basis of a contract for a specific task (known in Poland as so-called “junk contracts”) and not a full-time employment contract. In such a case, the employer only pays a simple tax from the employee’s income, avoiding the payment of social security contributions, and therefore depriving the employee of their due retirement pension in the future. We can add to this the instability of employment, caused by the repeated renewal of employment for periods of several months. The lack of steady employment for an indefinite period of time prevents people i.a. from taking out bank loans, which significantly impedes their ability to plan for the future and to implement their assumed goals in life. In addition, the employers often prevent the workers from joining trade unions, or prevent their establishment, threatening them with unlawful sanctions. These are downright pathological phenomena. In such situations, the employer as the stronger party gains a huge advantage over the employee (especially one with little work experience) as the weaker party. The employer frequently justifies their behaviour with the need to remain competitive on the market. Offering the lowest price for a given service in tender procedures is still the most important criterion of the competitiveness of companies. This in turn can be achieved by reducing the labour costs as much as possible, including by employing workers on a contract for a specific task and not a full-time employment contract with all the associated benefits. Such practice is unfortunately more frequent in small companies than in large enterprises.

Minimum wage also constitutes exploitation in the sense that it only allows the person to make some money to pay for everyday expenses and to meet their basic needs (although sometimes it doesn’t even provide that). As a result work is reduced to the necessity of obtaining the minimum living resources. The employee most frequently doesn’t develop in such work, as it does not give him any satisfaction, but only “burns out” with the passage of years, loses his strength and life energy. This is an example of exploitation as “unnecessary suffering”. In order to raise their income, the worker takes on additional jobs, which deprive him of time for the family, time to acquire new knowledge, time to experience literature and art. Tired due to the excessive workload, he limits his activity to cheap entertainment and passive recreation.

A common contemporary form of exploitation, associated with the speculative reduction of the individual’s income, is loans provided by banks and parabanks with a disproportionately high interest rate compared to the much lower interest rate for cash deposits. In addition, these loans are often associated with various stipulations and insurance fees, which further increase the cost of the loan. Furthermore, the loan institutions often consciously fail to check the creditworthiness of the borrower, in order to gain a new customer, which in many cases drags them into a vicious cycle of bad loans with disastrous consequences for borrower.

Another form of exploitation present in today’s developed countries is the annual debt incurred by the state budget in national and transnational financial institutions. It’s about the ongoing financing of the difference between the revenues and expenditure of the state, known as the so-called fiscal hole. Among the ruling classes there is a widespread belief that such a situation where all citizens are constantly indebted is almost the global norm. The debts will at some point have to be repaid. Most of them will be repaid by future generations, along with high interest. This means that it is not the current generation that is exploited, but rather the future generation, which no one asked for consent. This kind of exploitation is a particular kind of usury burdening the citizens.

Even a dozen years ago in Poland, we had the problem of high unemployment reaching almost 20% (this is no longer the case, and in many branches of production and services we are now seeing a shortage of labour), which gave rise to enormous amounts of “unnecessary” suffering, especially in young people. Because it persisted for a long period of time, some sociologists believed that it was structural in nature. Structural unemployment affected those whose specific skills and learned professions were no longer attractive in the labour market, and in some cases were not needed at all. The German sociologist Ralph Dahrendorf (1929–2009) spoke openly about the “population of unnecessary humans”[11]. The  labour market coped fine without them. While the state behaves differently, and attempts to surround such people with at least a minimum of social care, its abilities to provide financial support quickly run out along with an increase in the number of people needing help. The welfare state (except for the most affluent countries in the world) ceases to fulfil its role, because the care for the weakest individuals (including the permanently unemployed) is becoming increasingly expensive. The relatively low percentage of employees – which, of course, varies in different countries – in relation to the total population of a given society, coupled with the increasing average length of human life in the developed countries, as well as the early transition to retirement, result in a situation where the workers are not able to support the other group, even while paying increasingly high taxes. The quickly growing budget deficits of the welfare states are a visible sign of that. Ralph Dahrendorf noticed an interesting phenomenon. Although work productivity is increasing, this does not translate into a significant increase in the number of jobs. “The increase in work productivity – Dahrendorf notes – only means that much fewer people produce more things”. But “if fewer people produce more, then more people produce nothing”. The result is that the earnings of those who produce, are needed to support the ever-growing group of people who do not produce anything. This leads straight to tax increases, which cause increasing labour costs, redundancies (including collective redundancies within so-called restructuring processes), a further increase in unemployment and the resulting economic downturn. In such a situation, the central governments have no choice and have to carry out unpopular reforms that lead to the reduction of existing social benefits. Dahrendorf sees the reasons for this state of affairs in the lack of “balance between prosperity, social solidarity and personal freedom”. Welfare states (e.g. Germany, Sweden) originally promised to maintain this balance, and there were periods in the history of post-war Europe when it seemed that this was possible. Starting from the 1990s until the present time, it is becoming increasingly clear that this was an illusion. The enclave of prosperity is shrinking. New areas of poverty are emerging among those who were expelled from the labour market. According to Dahrendorf, this is happening because the social bonds, the human solidarity and the willingness to cooperate were destroyed.

Solidarity cannot be built with administrative and economic methods. Top-down political actions have little effect. Since there is no solidarity, there is room for exploitation. Those who are stronger (company managers, experts, high-class specialists, politicians currently in power) retain the socio-economic control of the state despite the deteriorating conditions; however, this takes place at the expense of the permanently excluded, who are simply being written off. This means that a certain impoverished and helpless part of society – which is not
necessarily marginal in size – is not able to make its contribution to the common good. Objectively speaking, each member of that group has its own individual skills, talents, some of them can have a good education in their field, but all of that is of little interest to those who are stronger. What comes, they say, from the fact that someone is an excellent Egyptologist, when no one is offering tchem paid work. In such a socio-economic structure such a person can at the most be a hobbyist, similar to a collector of stamps or sea shells.

If there is no solidarity, through which the abilities and skills of everyone could be utilized, because there is no market demand for that, this space is filled with strong competition between the individuals. “Those who engage in the tough, competitive struggle, cannot afford to have pro-social attitudes and often cannot even afford to have a normal social life. These are loners – out of choice and out of necessity (…). Competitiveness becomes a value displacing solidarity and social ties, that were the foundation for the functioning of the welfare states. The global competition of the 1990s between economic systems, states, large corporations, but also between all of us and each of us individually, has shaken the value system and the whole model of life of that beautiful Europe” – says Ralph Dahrendorf. The society is beginning to splinter into those who work hard (or even toil for over a dozen hours per day), and those who do not know what to do with themselves, because they have no regular occupation. Those who win on the market, win for themselves. Their goal is their own career and money. Many of them are convinced that they have done right by those who have not succeeded (who lost the game), because they believe that the rules of the game were fair and that everyone could participate in it, and because of that they are now passing them by with indifference. Every man is the master of their own destiny – they say. Everyone should take matters into their own hands. The fact is that someone wins and someone loses – just like at a football stadium.

Strong and ruthless competition is bad, and is something undesirable in the long term. If it persists for too long, sooner or later the conflict between the ability to achieve a life of prosperity and the social solidarity will threaten the freedom of the individual. “In the name of competition – says Dahrendorf – social solidarity will be destroyed, and masses of people will determine, that they were deprived of their place in the world, and that there is no one they can turn to for help. This will lead to social unrest and the postulate of authoritarian rule will become widespread”. We will then face the threat of a retreat from democracy in favour of greater acquiescence to authoritarian rule, limiting the freedom of the individual in the name of the common good, as it is understood by the authoritarian government. There are countries in the world in which the national income is increasing, there is perfect order, but there is no freedom. In this context, the German sociologist mentions the examples of Singapore and China. In these countries the economy is developing well, there is social order, but there is no democracy. As a European liberal Dahrendorf doesn’t have the slightest bit of sympathy for these, as he calls them, “Asian values”, but he allows the possibility (a pessimistic scenario) that Europe will be forced to accept these values, in order to compete with the Asian Far East. The rulers will then say: “Let the citizens take care of their own affairs, and we will take care of the affairs of the state, the development of the economy, and peace on the streets”.

This is short a description of the right-wing authoritarian rule, feared by the author of the interview quoted above. He makes a mistake, however, in his belief that the collapse of the welfare state as we know from Germany and Sweden will inevitably be associated with the end of democracy, and that the increased competition in the sphere of production and services, along with the globalization of the world economy, will lead to the implementation of China’s model or (less drastic) Singapore’s model. It does not have to be that way. The belief in the inevitability of such changes would only be justified if we assumed that in the coming decades the mentality of individuals will not change in any way, that people will ignore the consequences of the current attitude and will continue to behave like ruthless conquerors, for whom material goods are the only reasonable purpose of life, and for whom the fellow man is only a rival on the way to success.

It is not impossible that in our societies different views will prevail, stating that it is necessary to introduce changes to the political system, which will be based on hierarchies of values different than the ones currently in force. Progress will take place, because many people will come to the conclusion that the selfish accumulation of wealth only for themselves and at the cost of oppressing others ultimately leads to societal self-destruction, and that the current consumerist “ethics” really isn’t conducive to economic development but is a threat to social peace. Perhaps it will take many public discussions on this subject, the persuasion of well-known and influential individuals, but it is not necessarily for this way of life to be imposed on the citizens by some authoritarian government. Perhaps the future changes will depend to a greater extent on the changes in the mentality of outstanding individuals, who will have a significant impact on the rest of society, rather than the other way around. We should consider that a purely sociological approach to the above problem is not the most appropriate in this case.

Competition between people in specific areas is not a bad thing, if it does not lead the losers to permanent exclusion. It is something that is socially desirable for the best people to occupy the most important positions, for the best specialists to lead the companies, for the most seasoned politicians to rule the countries, provided that those who lost in the competition will find their place in other professions, will perform other work that will give them income and satisfaction. This can never be achieved through a specific social policy, but can only be the domain of spontaneous human solidarity, which does not assume the intermediation of the bloated bureaucratic apparatus of the state. “Bear ye one another’s burdens” means, in practice, the introduction of such education in schools, not only in educational institutions, but also in the mass media (especially in social media), through which people could develop a new mentality. It would be based on the awareness that in a society the fate of each individual is linked to the fate of all the other individuals, towards whom one cannot be indifferent. The mentality formed during the period of classical capitalism (19th century) and now cultivated in various forms of consumerism is based on the individual’s egoism. According to this mentality, the individual has the right and even the imperative to pursue their own career, their own money, their own pleasure, even at the expense of others. This mentality has almost completely superseded the ideal of the selfless love for the fellow man (neighbour), so characteristic of Christianity, the traces of which can still be found in the ethics of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). The role of various opinion-forming and educational establishments should be to strengthen the citizens’ belief about the need for solidarity and the value of solidarity in normal everyday situations. We usually deal with spontaneous manifestations of human solidarity in the event of natural disasters: floods, earthquakes, fires and epidemics. These are undoubtedly examples of the purest and most beautiful human compassion, but they only take place during exceptional times. Tischner’s call for people to “bear one another’s burdens” does not refer to extraordinary situations, but is rather intended to characterize the everyday attitude of each of us. It is supposed to flow from the sensitivity of our consciences, which are reared precisely for such sensitivity.

Strong and ruthless competition is a form of exploitation of man by man. But this is not the only type of exploitation in contemporary globalized capitalism. Exploitation can also be associated with the process of elimination of small businesses owners (up to 20 employees) by large companies and corporations. These small companies are losing the competition on the market with the large companies, which leads to a reduced range of offered goods and services, followed by a decrease in the number of people employed in the small companies. We live in times of a globalized, worldwide economy, in which large transnational corporations are becoming even larger and even more powerful. They grow through mergers or acquisitions of smaller businesses. Such examples can be found in the food industry, the automotive industry, the IT industry, and they also own large retail chains. The capital of the corporations continues to grow and their outlet markets expand. Thanks to their enormous capital reserves they can invest in virtually any corner of the world. The IT tools developing at a rapid pace facilitate the flow of capital between the remotely managed company branches at any time. They reach consumers with their offer much faster than small entrepreneurs. They also have large budgets for advertising and promotion of their products, which is not the case for small business owners. They have a well-trained personnel, and they efficiently implement innovations in management and new methods in the field of logistics. All of this allows them to lower the prices for their goods and services, thereby eliminating “less efficient” small companies from the market.

What is the balance of the profits and losses resulting from the activity of the business giants? By eliminating smaller companies (buying them out, or forcing them into bankruptcy through fierce competition), they are gaining a greater market for their goods and services. They sell more, earn more, invest more, but they create disproportionately few new jobs. They reduce their fixed costs, mainly by limiting employment, as the costs of personnel account for the lion’s share of all fixed costs. And they are able to employ fewer people because the standardization and automation (including the robotization) of production does not require many people. Additionally, companies and large corporations are trying to limit or even eliminate so-called internal competition. It occurs when in a particular market the same manufacturer offers two or more products with the same or very similar usage characteristics. For example, two cars of the same class, with similar parameters and a similar price, several drinks with a very similar taste, and, for example with the same alcohol content. In such a situation the company has to spend twice (or more) as much money on advertising and the promotion of its products than it would in the case of advertising and promotion of a single “flagship” product. This money is not well spent, because the sales are not doubled (are not multiplied). The customer in fact has the choice of two (or more) products that meet their needs in the same or similar way. If they choose one, then they will not choose the other. These products are mutually exclusive. Therefore, it is in the interest of large corporations to decrease rather than increase the diversity of the offer. This in turn leads to the narrowing of all the offers on the market. Through their increasingly limited offer the large corporations in a certain way force the customer to dress, eat, live and travel in a “standard” way. Additionally the intensive advertising unifies our tastes. “Extremely favourable” promotions encourage us to buy one kind of pants and two types of winter jackets. The activity of the business giants, once they manage to eliminate their smaller competitors, leads to a narrowing of the markets (global reduction in the diversification of goods and services) and thereby forcing the clients to agree to the social unification of their needs (preferences, tastes, habits). Of course, such “unification” decreases rather than increases the chances for the creation of small businesses. They will not be able to compete with large companies when it comes to mass product, but they could win by entering market niches. A more choosy customer will not be satisfied by the products offered by the giants, because it is not affordable for them to stoop to the “whims” of niche customers. This provides a space for small businesses and for potential employees, who could possibly demonstrate their unique abilities and skills. This could apply, for example, to sophisticated handicrafts. The big companies are not interested in such small-volume “retailers” due to the developed standards of production.

Small companies can thrive even in the shadow of the giants, provided that the state implements certain policies. What is needed are financial preferences (e.g. cheaper loans, tax breaks) from the state, so that small companies can successfully launch their activities with the obtained funding. What is also needed are bureaucratic facilities from the state administration and the local governments, as well as a friendly social climate. Small businesses require many forms of support in order to be able to hire new employees (including disabled persons). This is not possible in all areas. It is hard to imagine that a small company could build a prototype of a modern car, but small tailor shops can produce sophisticated and not necessarily expensive clothing for those who do not want to dress like the majority of people. Small enterprises can create highly differentiated products, offer many highly specialized services that would hire people with a variety of talents and skills. This is a way to not only prevent the unification of the market, but above all to ensure a significant reduction of unemployment, especially among those who Dahrendorf described as “permanently unemployed”. It would also significantly limit the specific type of exploitation, as the difference between the stronger and the weaker people in terms of their ability to perform useful work for the society would be significantly reduced. In this case exploitation consists in oppression or elimination. In order to save small companies we need a solidary state.

But what is the meaning behind the concept of a “solidary state”? Well, it does not seem possible to be able to talk about a solidary state or a solidary system directly, without the use of metaphors, just like we talk about a welfare state or a liberal state. The state as an institution is not solidary in itself, but can fulfil a supportive role in relation to various forms of human solidarity. It is the people who are to be solidary towards each other – “bear ye one another’s burdens” – but the structures of state power can help them in that. Through the will of the solidary citizens the legislative bodies may be required to create a system of law that will be tailored to their needs, devoid of gaps and ambiguities left for interpretation, which would be stable and independent of the cyclical conditions. The executive branch of government has many fiscal instruments that it could use. Speaking generally, and not going into details, we can say that the liberal view, recommending the minimization of state intervention in the free market economy, does not work. Or at least, has not worked well in the Polish conditions. It is not true that economic growth alone, and the corresponding high annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth, automatically ensures a proportional increase in the number of available jobs. The last few years have shown that the accumulation of profits in companies does not have to be allocated on investment, and especially on investment leading to higher employment. Investment in automation and robotization of production, wherever this can be done, also does not lead to an increase in employment. To the contrary, it leads to the elimination of workers. In the foreseeable future, large, international companies will have a constant tendency to reduce employment (for the above reasons). Only an increase in the number of small companies can reverse these negative trends. Small businesses cannot afford to implement highly advanced automation (in many cases it would even have no use), which can be cheaper and faster replaced by the work of several or even more than a dozen people. Therefore, the role of the state is to weaken, and, if possible, prevent the adverse effects of economic globalization, which is mainly taking place because of the actions of powerful transnational corporations. They conduct their own policies aimed at achieving maximum profits, usually without regard for any social policy, which is ceded to the central government and the local government authorities. That is why one of the most harmful liberal dogmas is the belief that we should combat even moderate state interventionism. The history of recent years in Poland shows that the opposite should be the case. Even though national governments have less and less influence on the global market of goods and services, it is desirable for the national centres of power, and especially those that are democratically elected, to be strengthened rather than weakened, for example for the purposes associated with the labour market and the task of combating structural unemployment. Of course, the institution of the state will not replace the solidarity of individual persons, but it could strengthen that solidarity stemming from the sensitivity of human consciences. The state has the tools and the measures that individuals or small groups of citizens are usually deprived of. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the state should help the citizens in all the problems that they are unable to resolve on their own. One such significant problem, whose resolution requires the assistance of the state, is the issue of the construction of universally accessible housing, especially for young people and poor people. We need cheap home loans, but also economic incentives for investors, encouraging them to build such housing in the shortest time possible. Another issue is the reduction of poverty in large families and the provision of equal educational opportunities for young people from poorer families. The elimination of the defects in the political system, with the help of changes in the constitution, the creation of good law, as well as a more efficient and more competent public administration, gives such a shape to state interventionism that allows for the provision of equal opportunities to the poorest and the most helpless citizens, and at the same time grants some measure of independence to those who are not able to cope on their own in the present circumstances. Therefore, in the proper and broader sense, covering all the citizens, solidarity has an ethical dimension, and in the improper and narrower sense, it also has a political dimension. The role of a good politician is to smoothly navigate both these dimensions.

In conclusion, the proper remedy for the various forms of exploitation that exist in the current economically developed societies is the education of the citizens in order to teach them about the ethical value of solidarity, exercised with the help of state institutions.



  • Ralph Dahrendorf, Nie o takiej śniliśmy Europie [This isn’t the Europe we dreamed of], „Gazeta Wyborcza”, 1–2.06.1996, interview by Jacek Żakowski.
  • Józef Tischner, Etyka Solidarności [The Ethics of Solidarity], Wydawnictwo ZNAK, Kraków 1981, p. 105.


[1] Józef Tischner, Etyka Solidarności [The Ethics of Solidarity], Wydawnictwo ZNAK, Kraków 1981, p. 105.

[2] Ibidem, pp.10–12.

[3] Ibidem, p.15.

[4] Ibidem, p.35.

[5] Ibidem, pp.21–22.

[6] Ibidem, pp.22–23.

[7] Ibidem, p.23.

[8] Ibidem, p.26.

[9] W kręgu filozofii pracy [In the circle of the philosophy of work], op. cit., p. 17.

[10] Tischner, The Ethics of Solidarity, op. cit., pp. 25–26.

[11] Ralph Dahrendorf, Nie o takiej śniliśmy Europie [This isn’t the Europe we dreamed of], „Gazeta Wyborcza”, 1–2.06.1996, interview by Jacek Żakowski.

Informacja o Autorze:

dr hab. Antoni Szwed

jest profesorem Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego w Krakowie. W latach 1983-1995 pracownik Papieskiej Akademii Teologicznej, asystent Ks. Prof. Józefa Tischnera. Od połowy lat 80-tych XX w. zajmuje się myślą Sørena Kierkegaarda. Jest autorem monografii: Między wolnością a prawdą egzystencji. Studium myśli Sørena Kierkegaarda, Rozum wobec chrześcijańskiego Objawienia. Kant. Hegel. Kierkegaard, Fideizm Kalwina i bunt angielskich racjonalistów. Jest także tłumaczem dzieł Kierkegaarda takich, jak: Pojęcie lęku, Wprawki do chrześcijaństwa, Czyny miłości, O chrześcijaństwie, a ostatnio Dzienników (Dzienniki NB – NB 5 oraz Dzienniki...

Inne artykuły tego Autora w kategorii: O Tischnerze

Inne artykuły tego Autora w kategorii: O Solidarności

Skip to content