Reserve Army of Labour: Explained with examples

When essentials are price tagged and people want not to starve, they started to earn money either by increasing own money or by working under the “owned-man”. These people are referred to as a labour force on which many sectors were depended for productivity. When years passed, needs of such force are not in demand, they were leftover and such situation was named as Reserve Army of Labour by Friedrich Engels which was further elucidated by Karl Marx in his “The communist Manifesto”. This article will provide a brief account of this topic.

It’s not Natural, but Capitalist:

Do you think Unemployment or Under-employment in a country is a natural phenomenon? Is there no background for such circumstance to be analysed? If your answer is ‘yes’, then your assumption is wrong. For instance, if a person is working in an industry for 10 years where the productivity depends on labour initially, with the increase in capital of the owner, the welfare of the labour are neglected and if they have been disposed of work, will that be considered as a natural occurrence. It is then been termed as a reserve army of labour where the word ‘army’ referred to the workers.

Capital can move; Labour cannot:

Do remember, a working-class person was created first which was then followed by giving importance to the capital of the owners. Once labourers are being constructed, they exist in society no matter how the surrounding circumstances undergo changes. This cannot be seen in the case of capital – it is a never-ending altering attribute. For example, if a person is a labour, he continues it to ‘just’ survive for his/her life without dying of hunger. But, the owner in this capitalist economy always tries to maximise their profit by moving the capital from labour to machines and eventually reduce the workforce in their industrial area. This finally produces a reserve army of labour.

Who are those people?

There are many categories of people who are being included in the mass of reserve army of labour and they are pointed below:

  • The really unemployed who are “officially recognised” by society
  • The part-time labourers who are seeking to work full-time
  • The self-employed people, those are doing occasional jobs
  • The labourers who are in a situation to lose their job soon
  • The people those who are not in active population count such as disabled and prisoners.

This usually happens in the capitalistic country where major numbers of workers are pushed into unemployed making their condition of life worse.

What changed things?

It’s the time when industries started to grow fast; it’s the time when agriculture started to produce raw materials for cooperative societies; it’s the time when the flow of people from rural to urban area changed the structure of the society; it’s the time when work-force struggled to find a job that fulfils their basic needs and the reason for all such happenings is “capitalism”. When the capital owners started to use technologies for the production of goods, the use of labours decreased. When the base of earning is lost, all the factors following it in a life of labourers are also lost creating a reserve army of labour.


This condition is already prevalent in the United States on industrial workers; Western Europe on agricultural workers and in many parts of the prime capitalistic countries. When the mind of thought changed from the welfare of the hired man to their greed of enhancing profit, there begins the state of the reserve army of labour.

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