The book is by Howard Botwinick and is entitled Persistent Inequalities: Wage Disparity Under Capitalist Competition. I have not read that book (though I probably should and maybe I will). Instead I respond to a lengthy review by Kim Moody, published in Against the Current. The principle inquiry of the book is to explain the persistent inequality in the wages of women and minorities when compared to white males.
Mr. Moody is a very capable economist who regards Mr. Botwinick's book (first published in 1993, and newly reprinted) highly. The latter is a recently retired economics professor at SUNY Cortland. Both claim to offer a Marxist perspective on their topic.
One common Marxist prediction is that industries will tend to be dominated by monopolies. Counter-intuitively (but correctly) Mr. Moody argues that monopolies will tend to pay higher wages, since as monopolies they can raise prices to cover the difference. But that doesn't appear to be happening. Retail, for example, is dominated by two behemoths: Amazon and Walmart. But they're in such intense competition with each other (and with smaller companies in the same space) that they're forced to lower prices--which means they have to reduce their labor costs.
(Some of my Trotskyist friends may confuse monopoly with monopsony. The former is when there is only one seller who monopolizes the market. The latter is when there is only one buyer, such as in a company town. Folks can only work for that company, or not at all, in which case the company can keep wages arbitrarily low. Mr. Moody does not consider the company town, monopsony phenomenon.)
A possible reason warehouse employees (at Amazon or Walmart) are paid less than auto workers is because Amazon and Walmart are in competition with each other, and not with General Motors. Therefore the wages at GM don't correlate with those at Walmart. This is a "persistent inequality."
Another possible reason for the wage differential is differences in productivity. If auto workers are more productive than warehouse employees, then of course they should be paid more. But Mr. Moody cites some statistics that warehouse productivity has increased faster than auto assembly productivity. (I'm not sure why that's relevant. The issue isn't about changes in productivity, but rather comparing existing values.)
The assumption is that auto assemblers and warehouse workers are comparably skilled, and therefore in a fair world should be payed equally. So I've never worked in either an auto plant or in a warehouse. I'll suppose that warehouse work is something similar to the people at Walmart who restock the shelves (or go around and shop for people who've ordered their groceries by phone). And I'll assume that autoworkers do jobs similar to what I see in a TV clip, where they're installing dashboards into SUVs.
The auto worker is using expensive equipment to do very precise work. The dash has to fit within a millimeter. A mistake can ruin a $40,000 vehicle. This has got to be a high stress job that requires continuous concentration. You can't tell me this is at the same skill level as the restocker at Walmart. The auto worker deserves her higher wage!
This, I think, is the fundamental flaw in the argument. Workplace skills can't be classed into a few boxes, e.g., people with a high school diploma. There is instead a huge variation within that category, and it depends not only on training but also very much on personality. The autoworker must be a more careful and conscientious person than the warehouse worker. The Marxist notion that we're all interchangeable proletons is wrong.
There lurks a deeper economic truth here. As Adam Smith pointed out, wealth derives from specialization. Using Smith's example, a skilled craftsman who makes pins might manufacture a couple dozen in a day. But if the labor is divided so that one person cuts the metal, and another sharpens the point, and yet a third fashions the pinhead, etc., then production increases thousand-fold.
This works only if there is a market for thousands of pins. Therefore large markets foster specialization, which makes everybody within that market richer. In our day markets are global, which means jobs are very, very specialized. Which implies that there are no large groups of people with similar skills. Individual talents and predispositions become very important.
Nevertheless, our Marxist friends carry on and locate three key dynamics accounting for "wage differentials among workers with similar skills." The first is "The ongoing processes of capitalist competition and technical change that create different conditions of production..." This describes the comparison between Walmart and autoworkers.
Second: "The continuing regeneration of a reserve army of unemployed workers." The very word "army" illustrates the error. There is no "army" of unemployed autoworkers. The people who can do that job have bespoke skills that are not readily transferable. The laid-off workers from the Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant may or may not have the skill set necessary to assume jobs in South Carolina's much newer BMW plant.
Mr. Moody cites large numbers of men who have withdrawn from the labor force as being part of this "army." But this seems unlikely--most of those people are on disability, or have various mental/substance abuse problems that render them unsuitable for auto manufacturing (or warehouse work).
Finally, there is "the uneven efforts of workers to raise wages." This represents unionization, and Mr. Moody suggests that workers who are more militant (i.e., willing to sabotage their workplace) will on average receive higher wages. Count me skeptical.
So how do Misters Moody and Botwinick explain gender and racial differences in employment?
The origins of racism and sexism precede the development of industrial capitalism in patriarchy and slavery, but it is the rise of capitalist competition that provides the new and changing unequal forms of wage labor that workers compete to fill.In this model, capitalism "creates" low-wage employment just so it has a place to dispose of women and minorities. The implication (as I understand it) is that if there were no more sexism and racism then low-wage work would no longer exist. This is not credible.
Women, by Mr. Botwinick's theory, are simply another set of proletons that need to be accommodated in the workplace. Of course they're not: women are obviously and significantly different from men in both physical and psychological respects. Men and women have had different job descriptions since time immemorial--as the words hunter and gatherer suggest. Robert Gordon says that (prior to the industrial era) men's work was dirty and dangerous, while women's work was unending drudgery. It is only latter-day feminists who implausibly insist that gender differences should be radically abolished. That will never happen.
Indeed, the modern workplace seems to favor women, what with its emphasis on customer service and care. Machines disproportionately displace men by doing the backbreaking, muscular labor for them. Mr. Moody illustrates the problem, mentioning the "growing numbers of prime-age males, in particular, who have dropped out of the work force."
There is no cause to think that women are being needlessly relegated to low-wage work as surplus proletons. The "persistent inequality" doesn't exist--at least not for that reason.
Mr. Moody's article, and likely also Mr. Botwinick's book, are worth the read. But the thesis is unconvincing.