Free wage labor is the form in which laborers are legally free to sell their work and have a voice in how they live outside of it.
The concept is a central one in both MARX’s and WEBER’S accounts. In noncapitalist social formations, workers are induced through political means or violence to give up some of what they produce for others. Under capitalism, this doesn’t happen so much because economic surplus extraction happens purely on an economic level rather than by legal or physical force as well- being free from having too many employers at any given time.
The appearance of free wage labor has many positive features and is a progressive social force. Marx himself recognized that in practice the freedom was often illusory since employers could take advantage when they hired or fired workers depending on how much profit it would bring them. However, this negative aspect can be balanced out if society offers protection against arbitrary dismissals like slavery does under feudalism through laws guaranteeing reasonable compensation for lost wages due to dismissal without cause at least within an industry-wide level.
Proletarian labor, on the other hand, can be in a weak bargaining position because they do not own their means of production.
Free wage labor is not the only form of economic activity. There are those who engage in self-employment, own their means of production, and rely on it as well for livelihood, such as many people from GREAT BRITAIN before factory systems were established, or THIRD WORLD farmers whose practices have been impacted by industrialization but they still practice free trade within certain limits set out by law due to lack market access.
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