Thursday, June 03, 2010
MSPs will debate a motion by Labour MSP Bill Butler calling for Robert Owen to feature on Scottish bank-notes in time for the United Nations Year of Co-operatives in 2012.
Socialist Courier is reminded of one of Robert Owen’s claim to fame. Labour vouchers (or labour cheques, labour certificates, labour-time vouchers) are a device suggested to govern demand for goods in “socialism”, much as money does today under capitalism. Originally proposed by Robert Owen in 1820, they were later taken up by Marx in 1875, to deal with the immediate and temporary shortages remaining from capitalism, if socialism had been established at that time.
Robert Owen attempted to rectify "unequal exchange" by establishing a number of producer and consumer co-operatives around the country, linked by labour exchanges. The guiding principle of these labour exchanges was that goods were exchanged according to their value as measured by labour time, with non-circulating labour notes used to facilitate the exchange of goods. In this way, it was believed, there would be equal exchange and no exploitation. However, these co-operatives were short-lived and had difficulty in providing even basic provisions for exchange against labour notes. The problems of valuing goods in terms of labour time meant that errors were made and, inevitably, there were goods undervalued in relation to their market equivalents that were quickly purchased, while there were others that were overvalued and just as rapidly accumulated in the exchanges. Only where the labour exchanges replicated the market valuation were there no such problems. In effect, therefore, market price rapidly exerted its hegemony over labour values.
Owen was first and foremost a capitalist. The factory master was in much the same position as the landed squire. Owen had joined a group of doctors, scientists and writers who were concerned about the conditions of factory (especially child) labour, their concern was to ameliorate such conditions, not to abolish them. As Owen wrote in his autobiography, his chief object at New Lanark was "To discover the means by which the condition of the poor and the working classes could he ameliorated, and with benefit to their employers."
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