The issue of gender-based inequality in pay was a prominent theme at this year’s Democratic National Convention. Numerous speakers called for “equal pay for equal work” (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2016/07/25/elizabeth_warren_at_dnc_when_we_turn_on_each_other_we_cant_unite_to_fight_back_against_a_rigged_system.html), and the final Democratic Party platform ratified by the Convention stated, “We will fight to secure equal pay for women” (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=117717).
Here in Massachusetts, pay equality has even taken a big step forward at the legislative level. On August 1, the Republican Governor, Charlie Baker, signed into law a bill requiring that “men and women be paid equally for comparable work” (http://boston.cbslocal.com/2016/08/01/massachusetts-equal-pay-comparable-work-baker-bill/).
All of this is of course an incredibly welcome development. Socialists have historically been and should continue to be involved in the fight against gender discrimination and inequality in wages in all sectors of the economy. Sexist inequality is unjust and in fact damaging to the interests of all working class people.
However, an anti-capitalist and intersectional approach to gender pay inequality requires ultimately taking the question a few additional steps further.
For instance, while the often-cited statistic -- that women in the US earn approximately 78% of what men earn -- is certainly outrageous, it is also the case that both Black men and women, and both Hispanic men and women, earn less than both White men and women (http://www.aauw.org/2015/07/21/black-women-pay-gap/).
Black men earn 75%, and Black women earn 64%, of what White men earn; while Hispanic men earn 86%, and Hispanic women earn 69%, of what White women earn (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0882775.html).
Moreover, it is ultimately necessary to talk about wage inequality as a function of class inequality. While winning an equivalent $10/hr wage for both men and women working full time at Wal-Mart is an important first step, it is simply insufficient for the conversation to end there. We also have to talk about the fact that the men and women working for $10/hr at Wal-Mart earn less than 1% of what top Wal-Mart executives earn (http://www1.salary.com/Rosalind-G-Brewer-Salary-Bonus-Stock-Options-for-Wal-Mart-Stores-Inc.html).
As socialists, our end goal is not simply to secure an equivalent rate by which the labor of both the men and women in a given workplace or industry is exploited by their employer.
We should therefore strive to bring to the fore the fact that the “work” of all members of the working class is systematically undervalued against that of the upper and ruling class within the context of capitalist society.
For instance, the current female President of Harvard University, who makes close to $1 million a year, exerts the same (if not less) magnitude of labor in a given year as the largely-female clerical workforce at Harvard who earn an average of 5% of what the President makes (http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/5/16/administrator-salaries-990-2012/).
Or take the single richest individual in Massachusetts (who happens to be a woman), Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments, who has a net worth of $14 billion (http://www.masslive.com/business-news/index.ssf/2016/05/how_much_is_the_wealthiest_person_in_mas.html). Abigail inherited control of the financial corporate giant from her grandfather.
Now, if one wants to truly talk about “equal pay for comparable work,” there is no way that Abigail has done a comparable magnitude of work as, say, a male or female born into poverty who has had to work their entire life in order to survive and today has a (median) net worth of $45,000 (http://money.cnn.com/2014/06/11/news/economy/middle-class-wealth/); in other words, 0.000003% of Abigail’s net worth.