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The working class (or labouring class) comprises those engaged in manual-labour occupations or industrial work, who are remunerated via
waged
waged
or salaried contracts. Working-class occupations (see also "
Designation of workers by collar color Collar color is a set of terms denoting groups of working individuals based on the colors of their Collar (clothing), collars worn at work. These can commonly reflect one's occupation within a broad class, or sometimes gender; at least in the late 2 ...
") include
blue-collar A blue-collar worker is a working class The working class (or labouring class) comprises those engaged in manual-labour occupations or industrial work, who are remunerated via waged or salaried contracts. Working-class occupations (see a ...
jobs, and most pink-collar jobs. Members of the working class rely exclusively upon earnings from
wage labour Wage labour (also wage labor in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Curren ...

wage labour
; thus, according to more inclusive definitions, the category can include almost all of the working population of industrialized economies, as well as those employed in the
urban area An urban area, or built-up area, is a human settlement with a high population density and infrastructure of built environment. Urban areas are created through urbanization and are categorized by urban morphology as city, cities, towns, conurbat ...
s (cities, towns, villages) of non-industrialized economies or in the rural workforce.


Definitions

As with many terms describing
social class A social class is a set of concepts in the social sciences Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those soc ...
, ''working class'' is defined and used in many different ways. The most general definition, used by many
socialists Socialism is a political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and political), power relations between individuals, s ...
, is that the working class includes all those who have (more or less, they do not own e.g. a factory) nothing to sell but their labour. These people used to be referred to as the
proletariat The proletariat (; ) is the social class of wage labor, wage-earners, those members of a society whose only possession of significant economic value is their labour power (their capacity to work). A member of such a class is a proletarian. Marx ...

proletariat
, but that definition has gone out of fashion. In that sense, the working class today includes both white and blue-collar workers, manual and menial workers of all types, excluding only individuals who derive their livelihood from business ownership and the labour of others. The term, which is primarily used to evoke images of laborers suffering "class disadvantage in spite of their individual effort," can also have racial connotations. These racial connotations imply diverse themes of poverty that imply whether one is deserving of aid. When used non-academically in the United States, however, it often refers to a section of society dependent on physical
labour Labour or labor may refer to: * Childbirth Childbirth, also known as labour or delivery, is the ending of pregnancy where one or more babies leaves the uterus by passing through the vagina or by Caesarean section. In 2015, there were about 13 ...
, especially when compensated with an hourly
wage A wage is the distribution from an employer of a ''security'' (expected return or profits derived solely from others) paid to an employee. Like interest is paid out to an investor on his investments, a wage is paid (from company earnings) to t ...

wage
(for certain types of science, as well as journalistic or political analysis). For example, the working class is loosely defined as those without college degrees. Working-class occupations are then categorized into four groups: unskilled labourers, artisans, outworkers, and factory workers. A common alternative, is to define class by income levels. When this approach is used, the working class can be contrasted with a so-called ''
middle class The middle class is a class Class or The Class may refer to: Common uses not otherwise categorized * Class (biology), a taxonomic rank * Class (knowledge representation), a collection of individuals or objects * Class (philosophy), an an ...
'' on the basis of differential terms of access to economic resources,
education Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, value (ethics), values, morals, beliefs, habits, and personal development. Educational methods include teaching, training, storytelling, discussion ...

education
, cultural interests, and other goods and services. The cut-off between working class and middle class here might mean the line where a population has discretionary income, rather than finances for basic needs and essentials (for example, on
fashion Fashion is a form of self-expression and autonomy at a particular period and place and in a specific context, of clothing Clothing (also known as clothes, apparel, and attire) are items worn on the body. Typically, clothing is made of fab ...

fashion
versus merely
nutrition Nutrition is the biochemical and physiological process by which an organism uses food to support its life. It includes ingestion, Absorption (biology), absorption, Assimilation (biology), assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion. ...
and shelter). Some researchers have suggested that working-class status should be defined subjectively as self-identification with the working-class group. This subjective approach allows people, rather than researchers, to define their own "subjective" and "perceived" social class.


History and growth

In
feudal Feudalism, also known as the feudal system, was the combination of the legal, economic, military, and cultural customs that flourished in Medieval Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society ...
Europe, the working class as such did not exist in large numbers. Instead, most people were part of the labouring class, a group made up of different professions, trades and occupations. A lawyer, craftsman and peasant were all considered to be part of the same
social unit The term "level of analysis" is used in the social science Social science is the branch A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant ...
, a
third estate Image:Cleric-Knight-Workman.jpg, 250px, A 13th-century French representation of the tripartite social order of the Middle Ages – ''Oratores'' ("those who pray"), ''Bellatores'' ("those who fight"), and ''Laboratores'' ("those who work"). The esta ...
of people who were neither
aristocrats Aristocracy ( grc-gre, ἀριστοκρατία , from 'excellent', and , 'rule') is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case of its bro ...
nor church officials. Similar hierarchies existed outside Europe in other
pre-industrial societies Pre-industrial society refers to social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing process ...
. The social position of these labouring classes was viewed as ordained by
natural law Natural law ( la, ius naturale, ''lex naturalis'') is a system of law based on a close observation of human nature Human nature is a concept that denotes the fundamental disposition A disposition is a quality of character, a habit A habit (or ...
and common religious belief. This social position was contested, particularly by peasants, for example during the
German Peasants' War The German Peasants' War, Great Peasants' War or Great Peasants' Revolt (german: Deutscher Bauernkrieg) was a widespread popular revolt in some German-speaking areas in Central Europe Central Europe is the central region of Europe. Central ...
. In the late 18th century, under the influence of the
Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * Age of Enlightenment, period in Western intellectual history from the late 17th to late 18th century, centered in France but also encompassing: ** Midlands Enlightenment ...
, European society was in a state of change, and this change could not be reconciled with the idea of a changeless god-created social order. Wealthy members of these societies created ideologies which blamed many of the problems of working-class people on their morals and ethics (i.e. excessive consumption of alcohol, perceived laziness and inability to save money). In ''
The Making of the English Working Class ''The Making of the English Working Class'' is a work of English social history Social history, often called the new social history, is a field of history History (from Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investiga ...
'', E. P. Thompson argues that the English working class was present at its own creation, and seeks to describe the transformation of pre-modern labouring classes into a modern, politically self-conscious, working class. Starting around 1917, a number of countries became ruled ostensibly in the interests of the working class (see
Soviet working class The Soviet working class was, according to Marxist–Leninist theory, supposed to be the Soviet Union The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a that spanned during its existence from 1922 to 19 ...
). Some historians have noted that a key change in these Soviet-style societies has been a massive a new type of
proletarianization In Marxism Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that uses a Economic materialism, materialist interpretation of historical development, better known as historical materialism, to understand Social class, class relations and social conf ...
, often effected by the administratively achieved forced displacement of peasants and rural workers. Since then, four major industrial states have turned towards semi-market-based governance (
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...

China
,
Laos , national_anthem = "Pheng Xat Lao "Pheng Sat Lāo" () is the national anthem A national anthem is a song that officially symbolizes a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often r ...

Laos
,
Vietnam Vietnam ( vi, Việt Nam, ), officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,, group="n" is a country in Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, also spelled South East Asia and South-East Asia, and also known as Southeastern Asia or SEA, is the ...

Vietnam
,
Cuba Cuba ( , ), officially the Republic of Cuba ( es, República de Cuba, links=no ), is a country comprising the island of Cuba, as well as Isla de la Juventud Isla de la Juventud (; en, Isle of Youth) is the second-largest Cuban islan ...

Cuba
), and one state has turned inwards into an increasing cycle of poverty and brutalization (
North Korea North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. It borders China and Russia to the north, at the Yalu River, Yalu (Amnok) and Tu ...

North Korea
). Other states of this sort have collapsed (such as the
Soviet Union The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a that spanned during its existence from 1922 to 1991. It was nominally a of multiple national ; in practice and were highly until its final years. The ...
). Since 1960, large-scale proletarianization and
enclosure Enclosure or Inclosure is a term, used in English landownership, that refers to the appropriation of "waste" or "common land Common land is land owned by a person or collectively by a number of persons, over which other persons have certai ...

enclosure
of commons has occurred in the
third world The term "Third World" arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO or the Warsaw Pact. The United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Western European nations and their allies represented the "First Wor ...

third world
, generating new working classes. Additionally, countries such as
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi Hindi (Devanagari: , हिंदी, ISO 15919, ISO: ), or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi (Devanagari: , ISO 15919, ISO: ), is an Indo-Aryan language spoken chiefly in Hindi Belt, ...

India
have been slowly undergoing social change, expanding the size of the urban working class.


Marxist definition: the proletariat

Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Karl Marx
defined the working class or
proletariat The proletariat (; ) is the social class of wage labor, wage-earners, those members of a society whose only possession of significant economic value is their labour power (their capacity to work). A member of such a class is a proletarian. Marx ...

proletariat
as individuals who sell their
labour power Labour power (in german: Arbeitskraft; in french: force de travail) is a key concept used by Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The t ...
for
wage A wage is the distribution from an employer of a ''security'' (expected return or profits derived solely from others) paid to an employee. Like interest is paid out to an investor on his investments, a wage is paid (from company earnings) to t ...

wage
s and who do not own the
means of production The means of production is a concept that encompasses the social use and ownership Ownership is the state or fact of exclusive right In Anglo-Saxon law Anglo-Saxon law (Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest record ...
. He argued that they were responsible for creating the
wealth Wealth is the abundance of valuable financial asset A financial asset is a non-physical asset whose value is derived from a contractual claim, such as deposit (finance), bank deposits, bond (finance), bonds, and participations in companies' sh ...

wealth
of a society. He asserted that the working class physically build bridges, craft furniture, grow food, and nurse children, but do not own land, or
factories A factory, manufacturing plant or a production plant is an industrial Industrial may also refer to: Industry * Industrial archaeology, the study of the history of the industry * Industrial engineering, engineering dealing with the optimization ...
. A sub-section of the proletariat, the
lumpenproletariat ''Lumpenproletariat'' () refers – primarily in Marxist theory – to the underclass devoid of class consciousness. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels coined the word in the 1840s and used it to refer to the unthinking lower strata of society exp ...
(''rag-proletariat''), are the extremely poor and unemployed, such as
day labourer Day labor (or day labour in American and British English spelling differences, Commonwealth spelling) is work done where the worker is hired and paid one day at a time, with no promise that more work will be available in the future. It is a form of ...
s and
homeless Homelessness is the condition of lacking stable, safe, and adequate housing. People can be categorized as homeless if they are: * living on the streets (primary homelessness); * moving between temporary shelters, including houses of frien ...

homeless
people. Marx considered them to be devoid of class consciousness. In ''
The Communist Manifesto ''The Communist Manifesto'', originally the ''Manifesto of the Communist Party'' (german: Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei), is an 1848 pamphlet by German philosophers Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was ...
'', Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels Friedrich Engels ( ,"Engels"
''
argued that it was the destiny of the working class to displace the
capitalist Capitalism is an economic system An economic system, or economic order, is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, ...

capitalist
system, with the
dictatorship of the proletariat In Marxist philosophy Marxist philosophy or Marxist theory are works in philosophy that are strongly influenced by Karl Marx's Historical materialism, materialist approach to theory, or works written by Marxists. Marxist philosophy may be broadly ...
(the rule of the many, as opposed to the "
dictatorship of the bourgeoisie The capitalist state is the state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newsp ...
"), abolishing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a future
communist Communism (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Repu ...

communist
society in which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." In general, in Marxist terms wage labourers and those dependent on the
welfare state The welfare state is a form of government in which the state (or a well-established network of social institutions) protects and promotes the economic and social well-being of its citizens, based upon the principles of equal opportunity Equal o ...
are working class, and those who live on accumulated capital are not. This broad dichotomy defines the
class struggle Class conflict, also referred to as class struggle and class warfare, is the political tension and economic antagonism that exists in society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, socia ...
. Different groups and individuals may at any given time be on one side or the other. Such contradictions of interests and identity within individuals' lives and within communities can effectively undermine the ability of the working class to act in solidarity to reduce
exploitation Exploitation may refer to: *Exploitation of natural resources *Exploitation of labour *Exploitation fiction *Exploitation film *Exploitation (film), ''Exploitation'' (film), a 2012 film *Sexual slavery and other forms of slavery *Oppression See al ...
, inequality, and the role of
ownership Ownership is the state or fact of exclusive right In Anglo-Saxon law Anglo-Saxon law (Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germ ...
in determining people's life chances, work conditions, and political power.


Informal working class

The informal working class is a sociological term coined by class of over a billion predominantly young urban people who are in no way formally connected to the
global economy Global means of or referring to a globe A globe is a spherical of , of some other , or of the . Globes serve purposes similar to s, but unlike maps, they do not distort the surface that they portray except to scale it down. A model globe of Ear ...
and who try to survive primarily in
slum A slum is a highly populated urban Urban means "related to a city". In that sense, the term may refer to: * Urban area, geographical area distinct from rural areas * Urban culture, the culture of towns and cities. Urban may also refer to: Ge ...

slum
s. According to Davis, this class no longer corresponds to the concepts of a class, from Marx,
Max Weber Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (; ; 21 April 186414 June 1920) was a German Sociology, sociologist, historian, jurist, and political economy, political economist regarded as among the most important theorists of the development of Modernity, modern ...

Max Weber
or the theory of modernization. Thereafter, this class developed worldwide from the 1960s, especially in the southern hemisphere. In contrast to previous notions of a class of the lumpen proletariat or the notions of a “slum of hope” from the 1920s and 1930s, members of this class are given hardly any chances of attaining membership of the formal economic structures.


See also

*
Apprentice An apprenticeship is a system for training a new generation of practitioners of a trade Trade involves the transfer of goods from one person or entity to another, often in exchange for money. Economists refer to a system A system is a ...

Apprentice
*
Blue collar A blue-collar worker is a working class The working class (or labouring class) comprises those engaged in manual-labour occupations or industrial work, who are remunerated via waged or salaried contracts. Working-class occupations (see a ...
*
Embourgeoisement thesisEmbourgeoisement is the theory that posits the migration of individuals into the bourgeoisie Bourgeoisie (; ) is a polysemous French term that can mean: * a sociologically defined social class, especially in contemporary times, referring to ...
*
False consciousness False consciousness is a term used by some to describe ways in which material, ideological An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world ...
*
Globalization Globalization, or globalisation (Commonwealth English The use of the English language English is a of the , originally spoken by the inhabitants of . It is named after the , one of the ancient that migrated from , a peninsu ...

Globalization
* Industrial novel *
Labour movement The labour movement or labor movement consists of two main wings: the trade union movement (British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is a l ...
*
Living wage A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs. This is not the same as a subsistence wage, which refers to a biological minimum. Needs are defined to include food, housing, and other essential need ...
*
Minimum wage A minimum wage is the lowest remuneration Remuneration is the pay or other financial compensationFinancial compensation refers to the act of providing a person with money Image:National-Debt-Gillray.jpeg, In a 1786 James Gillray caricature, ...
*
Proletarian literatureProletarian literature refers here to the literature created by working-class writers mainly for the class-conscious proletariat. Though the ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' states that because it "is essentially an intended device of revolution", it ...
* Proletarian novel *
Reserve army of labourReserve army of labour is a concept in Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφο ...
*
Social mobility Social mobility is the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between Social stratification, social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to one's current social location ...
*
Trade union A trade union (or a labor union in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native ...
*
Vocational education Vocational education is education Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, value (ethics), values, morals, beliefs, habits, and personal development. Educational methods include teach ...
*
Wage slavery Wage slavery is a term used to describe a situation where a person's entire livelihood A person's livelihood (derived from ''life-lode'', "way of life"; cf. Old German, OG ''lib-leit'') refers to their "means of securing the basic necessities (food ...
*
Working-class culture Working-class culture is a range of culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, Social norm, customs, c ...
Working classes in different countries * Working class in Italy * Working class in Luxembourg * Working class in the UK *
Working class in the United States In the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states ...


References


Footnotes


Bibliography

* * * * * * * *


Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links


The Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University

International Labor and Working-Class History Journal

Images of the working class between 1840 and 1945
from the McCord Museum's online collection
BBC Archive collection of TV & Radio programmes about Working Class Britain

Caring too much. That's the curse of the working classes
David Graeber David Rolfe Graeber (; February 12, 1961September 2, 2020) was an American anthropologist and anarchist activist. His influential work in economic anthropology, particularly his books '' Debt: The First 5000 Years'' (2011) and '' Bullshit Jobs' ...

David Graeber
for ''
The Guardian ''The Guardian'' is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as ''The Manchester Guardian'', and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers ''The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sun ...

The Guardian
.'' March 2014.
US millennials feel more working class than any other generation
''The Guardian.'' March 2016. {{DEFAULTSORT:Working Class Marxist theory Social classes Socialism fi:Työväenluokka