Our labor. No, wait, our labor power. What in the hell is the difference? This discussion came up recently on an email list I’m on. My friend MK gave an anwer I like, posted here, edited slightly.

“To sell ones ability to work is the essence of working for a time-based wage. Many workers have figured out a way to sell their ability to work without actually working – if you want to learn some tricks on how to do this, I’m sure I and others could help 😉

But I’m only half kidding. The boss, in buying simply my ability to work (as opposed to buying my labor in gallons of sweat or however else you might sell “labor”), buys himself a problem. Because, being human, I’m repulsed by the idea of obeying commands for eight hours in the interests of producing all kinds of value for the owners of my workplace, of which I get a fraction. So, given this inevitable alienating work-life wherever I go, I’m going to find as many ways to do as little work as possible for the most returns I can get. My boss wants the opposite, and we have the fundamental basis of class struggle. But all of this is built on a definite economic relationship: workers have no choice but to sell the only thing they can: their TIME, bosses buy it and develop mechanisms to use that time for efficient production of profit.

Consider how you would respond in two different cases:
1) someone hires you to wash their car. They offer you 50 bucks for a clean car.

2) someone hires you to wash their car. They offer you 20 bucks an hour to wash.

Assuming one had no particular love for the person doing the hiring, how would one respond in each scenario? The answer illuminates the labor vs labor power distinction.”