19 April 2015

Ordinary working people and the working class

The term ordinary working people is better understood than working class.

Often in political discussion there is a slippage between the terms “working class” and “ordinary working people.” The distinction is important for social theory. In Marxist terminology the former refers to those who have surplus value pumped out of them because they make things, while the latter are people who simply sell their labour power in order to live (e.g. the call-centre workers, lorry drivers, etc). The word “ordinary” is added to exclude those whom Karl Renner called the Dienstklasse, persons who sell their labour power in exchange for high privilege, e.g. judges, and are thus economically and politically attached to, and advantaged in, the existing political order.

In political campaigning, if not in social analysis, the term (ordinary) working people does well enough. The point remains today, as it did a couple of decades ago, that a majority of ordinary working people have an economic and political interest in transcending (abolishing, going beyond) the existing structures of capitalism, and are yet frustrated in understanding that fact or, even if they do, being unable to do anything to effectively bring about change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, but once again we have this elision between "the working class" and "working people". The former was, in Marxist terms, intended to mean manual industrial labour. This perception/definition was later amplified to include, as you say, "those who live by selling their labour power" - as made evident in Clause Four (late of this parish) whose target population includes all "workers by hand or by brain" - which is capable of including bank managers, boardroom executives and so-called Human Resources staff (whom I am currently battling in several Trade Union cases at this so-called University). In his writings and speeches, Tony Benn was also forever making this elision, and it is one of the reasons why socialism and the Left have lost focus. To a certain extent we are still mired in an outdated perception of the workforce and its everyday experience - how many, I wonder, in the private sector would exchange their present employer for some of the arrogant little Hitlers running some of our public bodies? The Left must move on and adapt, or it is doomed to a downward spiral of long-term decline.