RESERVE ARMY OF LABOUR
In Marxian analysis, reserve army of labour is that segment of the labour force which is held in reserve, to be called into the work force when need arises.
If there were no reserve labour it might be difficult for new businesses to open or for temporary or emergency projects to be undertaken in the economy.
In addition labour shortage would create upward pressure on wages and increase union power.
This reserve army of labour of course needs to be doing something during the period it is held in reserve, so it may be on welfare or working in the household.
The term 'reserve army of labour' has been useful for understanding women's relationship to the work force.
Women were pulled into the workforce during World War II and then pushed out when the men returned.
During the economic boom of the 1960-70's women entered the work force in large numbers and there is fear that they will be the first fired during recession. (Although this appears not to have happened in the 1990's recession.)
Women, young people and the elderly may all be thought of as reserve army of labour since they have traditionally stayed out of the labour force.
According to Marx, "Relative surplus-population is the pivot upon which the law of demand and supply of labour works."
Reserve army of labour is refers basically to the unemployed in capitalist society. Reserve army of labour is synonymous with "industrial reserve army" or "relative surplus population", except that the unemployed can be defined as those actually looking for work and that the relative surplus population also includes people unable to work.
The use of the word "army" in "Reserve army of labour" refers to the workers being conscripted and regimented in the workplace in a hierarchy, under the command or authority of the owners of capital.
The "Reserve Army of Labor" and the "Natural Rate of
Unemployment": Can Marx, Kalecki,... Pollin Review of Radical Political
Economics.1998; 30: 1-13
Disabled people, the reserve army of labour and welfare reform
Disposable workers: today's reserve army of labor