The role of race and gender in the labour market

The role of race and gender in the labour market

Next reading group session of the ‘Work in the 21st century’ series, will focus on the role of race and gender in the (Dutch/Western) labour market.
It follows up on last reading group session on ‘precarity and immigration’. You are welcome to attend and brainstorm about the topic of next session two weeks later (June 20th). Of course, it is recommended to come prepared, and do your homework before the gathering. The session will start with short presentations, summarizing the articles below, after which we’ll have an open discussion.


1. “The Function of Labour Immigration in Western European Capitalism” by Professor Stephen Castles and Godula Kosack (19 pages). Download it here.
2.  Short subchapter of R. Tong’s book “Feminist Thought” (9 pages) Download it here.
3. “The Economics of Racism” by Michael Reich (6 pages). Download it here.
4. “Marxist theory of racism and inequality” by Peter Bohmer, (9 pages) Read it here.

Why these texts?

1. “The Function of Labour Immigration in Western European Capitalism”, Castles & Kosack
Castles & Kosack seem to have been influential writers on immigration in western europe (especially their book from 1973). This article is written from a very, very marxist perspective: it starts with a short introduction of what folks like Marx, Engels and Lenin thought of capitalism, and the need of an ‘Industrial Reserve Army’ of workers, then claims immigrants have become to fulfill this function of the Reserve Army for historical reasons. What’s the connection with race and racism? They say: “the employment of immigrant workers has an important socio-political function for capitalism: by creating a split between immigrant and indigenous workers along national and racial lines and offering better conditions and status to indigenous workers, it is possible to give large sections of the working class the consciousness of a labour aristocracy.” And it also describes some more specific developments in specific countries (Germany, Britain, not much about the Netherlands). It gives you some interesting historical context, and facts, even if you’d reject any marxist notion completely. As this article of Jan Rath (2001) states, Castles and Kosack presented a somewhat “reductionist and economic-determinist vision of reality”, and Castles eleven years later came out with a more “balanced view, from which it seems he had taken account of some of the criticisms of his standard work with Kosack”. (See Rath, page 10+11, for some critiques on Castles & Kosack).

2. Subchapter of “Feminist Thought” by R.Tong.
The key concept is that women are oppressed through two systems: capitalism and patriarchy. Through the fact of unsocialized domestic work (i.e.domestic unpaid work considered as strictly women’s work) women are in the position (and often in need) to work “double shifts” (in household and in the market). In that constellation, the women’s work outside their own home is de facto “the secondary job”, which – among other factors – produces the gender pay gap, taking into consideration the women’s socially assumed attachment to the household and care providing work, as well as their biological role in the reproduction process. The reasons of such women’s position in the market are not only of economic nature; in the reading of statistics (especially considering the western societies) there are also “patriarchal” explanations, arguing that women are underpaid (for the same performance on the same positions with the same working time as men in some developed countries) simply because they are women. There’s an ever going debate on the relations and proportions in which those two aspects of women’s oppression (capitalism and patriarchy) interact, and this article is not going to offer any definite solution.

3. “The Economics of Racism” by Michael Reich
The text is short but gives an overview of the class analysis of racism within the society in general and the labormarket in particular: “Racism is viewed as rooted in the economic system and not in “exogenously determined” attitudes…Today, by transferring white resentment toward blacks and away from capitalism, racism continues to serve the needs of the capitalist system.”

Read more…

In choosing the homework, the reading group presenters of next session came upon other interesting texts related to race&gender that didn’t make it to the selection of ‘obligatory’ homework, but still seem worth reading if you have time. Here they are:

  • Economist Robin Hahnel writes three pages in his book “The ABC’s of political economy”, providing a pretty easy summary of a theoretical argument why capitalism and market competition stimulates discrimination in the labour market, instead of reducing it. I found the pages on a website here (start reading from “FREE ENTERPRISE REDUCES ECONOMIC DISTRIMINATION – NOT”)
  • The text I already mentioned from Rath provides some interesting analysis of dutch ethnic minorities studies in which he argues that “despite the great production in terms of numbers, the theoretical performance is rather poor. Minorities researchers only work within the ethnicity paradigm while ignoring and even rejecting the Marxist class paradigm [contrary to many academics from other countries].” Text 10/11 discuss Castles and critiques on Castles & Kosack.
  • An interesting short excerpt from a text of David Harvey: “In the late 1960s the French government was subsidising the import of Maghrebian labour, the Germans were bringing in the Turks, the Swedes were bringing in the Yugoslavs, the British were drawing upon their empire. So a pro-immigration policy emerged which was one attempt to deal with the labour problem.”
  • Also from 1973 (seems like a year lots of people wroteon the topic), short article and easy to read: By David Reich and others, “Dual Labor Markets: A Theory of Labor Market Segmentation“. It’s a short article about the “persistent divisions among American workers: divisions by race, sex, educational credentials, industry grouping, and so forth […] Orthodox theory assumes that profit- maximizing employers evaluate workers in terms of their individual characteristics and predicts that labor market differences among groups will decline over time because of competitive mechanisms (K. Arrow). But by most measures, the labor market differences among groups have not been disappearing. […] In this paper, we summarize an emerging radical theory of labor market segmentation; […]. The theory argues that political and economic forces within American capitalism have given rise to and per- petuated segmented labor markets, and that it is incorrect to view the sources of segmented markets as exogenous to the economic system.” It includes some anecdotes like “during the steel strike of 1919, one of the critical points in U.S. history, some 30,000 to 40,000 blacks were im- ported as strikebreakers in a matter of a few weeks”.
  • For statistic fans, there’s also a very light 2010 article (useful mainly because of basic statistics, I’d say) commenting the gender pay gap in the Netherlands and Dutch women’s approach to labour from the liberal American woman’s point of view. Read it here.

383 thoughts on “The role of race and gender in the labour market

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