The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Working class

The term working class is used to denote a social class. The definition of the term "working class" is controversial, and depends on the politics and period of the person making the definition and on the society being discussed. For example, pre-war British writers often defined class as being at least partly inherited, whereas Americans were more likely to emphasize current income and employment status.


Working for wages

Although some people who can reasonably be considered workers draw salaries, generally the working class works for wages. So defined, they consititute about 80% of the workforce in the United States. Also in the United States, following a slight rise in real wages during the dot com boom of the late 1990s, their income has slipped slightly during the first years of the 21st century. [1]

As defined by Marx

Karl Marx defined the "working class" or proletariat as "those individuals who sell their labor and do not own the means of production" whom he believed to be responsible for creating the wealth of a society (buildings, bridges and furniture, for example, are physically built by members of this class; many new inventions and other "intellectual products" are also created by people who work for wages).

The proletariat are further subdivided by Marxists into the ordinary proletariat and the lumpenproletariat (rag-proletariat), those who are extremely poor and cannot find legal work on a regular basis. These may be prostitutes, beggars, or homeless people.

Criticism of the working class

Some of the more wealthy members of society have blamed many of the problems of working class people on excessive consumption of alcohol, laziness, failure to save money, and more recently satellite television, spectator sports and drugs. In reference to this, Oscar Wilde said "Work is the curse of the drinking classes". This does not necessarily mean that the working class is morally inferior to the wealthier classes. First, it isn't clear whether the working class are really any less hardworking than the wealthier classes, as such a trait is difficult to measure. Indeed, regardless of whether they enjoy it or not, working class people arguably do the most difficult labor, which is the very reason they are called "working class" in the first place. Furthermore, if the working class does show more dysfunctional behavior, this could be the result of the sparse opportunities and constant hardships that they have faced. Such behavior could be a result of socioeconomic conditions as much as those conditions could be a result of dysfunctional behavior; the cause-effect relationship is not well established.

While some view religion as the key to overcoming these problems, Karl Marx spoke of religion as "...the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people" (A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 1844). He argued that it gives "false hope" and encourages passivity among the working class. As a consequence, most (but not all) Marxists oppose organized religion. On the other hand, Christian socialists, who may hold many political views in common with Marxism, actively embrace religion.

Working class people generally have less advantages from the start.

See also

Trade union, Social class, Middle class, Blue collar, White collar, Lower class, Underclass, Illegal immigrant, Minimum wage, Living wage, Wage slavery, Proletariat, Bourgeoisie, Ruling class, Unfree labour, Globalisation

External links

Further reading

Last updated: 06-02-2005 00:28:01
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