Rather than respond directly today to the comments posted on my blog yesterday, I should like first to complicate my account somewhat by adding some additional facts.
The response of capital to the various so-called liberation movements has been complex, as one might expect. Let me offer just two examples to indicate this complexity. In the later 19th century, employers sought to hold down wages by making a devil’s bargain with their white workers. In return for refusing to hire black workers, employers were able to resist the endless pressure to raise the wages of their white workers. In these cases, capital was opposed to the homogenization of the workforce. However, in the 20th century employers embraced the demand by women to enter the workforce because it made it possible for them to reduce the wages of male workers, who no longer required wages that would enable them to support a family. The so-called “family wage” presupposed that the man in the family was the breadwinner while the woman stayed home, raised the children, cooked the food, and cleaned the house. The statistics from 2021 are suggestive and quite characteristic of the current American situation. In 2021, median household income in America was $70,784 a year, or $1416 a week for 50 weeks of full employment. But the median weekly wage for the same period of time was $1104 for men and $929 for women. Obviously most households depended on the wages of two workers. In general, it has been in the interest of capital to support the elimination of the privileges enjoyed by white men because by increasing the available labor supply capital can keep wages lower.
One of the principal things Marx got wrong about the development of capitalism was his expectation that the hierarchical structure of skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled workers would gradually be replaced by a more uniform mass of semiskilled machine operators. He believed that this would facilitate the development of class consciousness among the workers, leading them to form powerful collectives in opposition to the ever more unified capital. In fact, what developed was a seemingly permanent pyramidal hierarchy of wages and salaries, with those in the upper reaches of the pyramid being paid salaries and benefits that were forever out of the reach of the majority of workers below. On the books of a corporation, the worker who cleans the toilets and the president who sits in the corner office on the top floor are both employees and the compensation of each is listed as a cost to the corporation. But the reality is of course quite different.
Half a century ago or more Samuel Bowles and Herb Gintis wrote a lovely little paper in which they constructed a mathematical model of an economy exhibiting what they called “relative exploitation,” in which capital exploited labor and higher paid labor exploited lower paid labor. That is indeed the situation that the American economy now exhibits and I confess that I do not now see how solidarity can be achieved in the face of that persistent structure of relative exploitation. The Occupy movement with its emphasis on a contrast between the 1% and everyone else was an imaginative effort in that direction, whatever its limitations may have been.
Well, I will stop here for the moment and await comments and reactions to these observations.