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Redefining “working class”

February 19, 2011

In Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky’s days, the government worker at any level was referred to as either a teknocrat or a bureaucrat. The “working man” was usually a peasant, innkeeper or a tradesman. The ruling class were aristocrats who did not work, but lived off the work of others (most often the peasants and working class)

In Lenin & Stalin’s day, the aristocrats were the teknocrats who were the intellectual elites – willing to pay any price to carry out the glorious revolution on behalf of the workers…including starving and shooting the workers if necessary. Viva revolution – or whatever.

30 years ago or so, the working class was generally a guy who did physical work – brick laying, manufacturing, construction. They made their money by their strength and their sweat – not completely inconsistent with Marx’ view

Today, the Democratic party is defining the working class as members of a union, particularly unionized government employees. Apparently the definition of “working class” is now “anyone who doesn’t own the means and results of production”?

Classes are constituted by the relationship of groupings of individuals to the ownership of private property in the means of production. This yields a model of class relations which is basically dichotomous [since some own and others do not, some work and others live off the fruits of those who labour]: all class societies are built around a primary line of division between two antagonistic classes, one dominant and the other subordinate. (Giddens, p. 37).

As a government worker not producing products generating profits but living off those who do, you’re now working class…???

Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated by law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and their mode of acquiring it”. (Vladimir I. Lenin: ‘A Great Beginning: Heroism of the Workers in the Rear: ‘Communist Subbotniks’ in: ‘Collected Works’, Volume 29; Moscow; 1965; p. 421).

Instead, today – “working class” is defined as “a unionized worker”. Convenient circular definition there.

Why does this play on words matter? The defense to the situation in Wisconsin, the use of Obama’s campaign network and DNC resources to effectively “tell taxpayers who voted for something else” to shove off – is that they are defending a working class whose labors produce no profit, and whose salaries are the result of someone else’s labors. A bit of an oxymoron.

It’s a long jump from “working class trying to not get stiffed” to aristocrats who will not share in the burdens of their peasant workers when times get tough. Somehow they’re keeping both feet on the boats..will anyone notice them jump the shark?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 2:04 pm

    the unions in question don’t have to face market realities to the extent the manufacturing/private sector unions do. It puts those unions in opposition with those they claim to serve – what’s weird is they blame Wall Street greed -but for what? The housing market and financial crisis weren’t the only cause of public pensions being unfunded

  2. Ellen D. permalink
    February 20, 2011 7:01 pm

    Those in staunch opposition to Scott Walker’s actions in Wisconsin seem to believe that “collective bargaining” is a RIGHT. Hmm, I don’t remember seeing the right to collective bargaining in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution.

    There may have been a need for unions once upon a time, but now these unions are demanding pay and benefits that are bankrupting states and companies in the process. The liberals blame capitalism for the state of their pensions on banking/Wall Street greed and capitalist greed is responsible for jobs going overseas. I wonder who is going to pay all the public employees, when the reviled private sector disappears.

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