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Old 03-27-2018, 01:08 PM
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Why "working class"?

I have a white-collar professional job but I go to work every day. Where did the term "working class" come from?
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Old 03-27-2018, 01:25 PM
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It's a leftover from pre-industrial days, when there was the ruling class (the wealthy) and the working class who lived paycheck to paycheck. There was no middle class.
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Old 03-27-2018, 01:29 PM
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It meant that all the other classes were non-working.
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Old 03-27-2018, 01:31 PM
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Sure there were middle class people, but they were only in the low single digit percentage of the population. Historically "middle class" has meant the servant-keeping class, probably roughly equivalent to a mix between upper-middle and lower-upper class today (even if a lot of those people today do not actually have full-time or nearly-full-time servants, their being largely supplanted by appliances and service personnel.)
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Old 03-27-2018, 02:43 PM
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In societies where owning land meant everything, the working class were the people with no assets other than their labor. They literally lived from payday to payday, and had nothing permanent to show for their labor.

The middle class, such as it was, were people like shopkeepers, and tradesmen whose "asset" was that they were skilled members of a guild.
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Old 03-27-2018, 04:52 PM
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Also when mechanization was a lot less than today, work meant "work" - swinging a sledgehammer or shoveling stuff, not sitting at a desk or writing stuff and shuffling papers.
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Old 03-27-2018, 05:00 PM
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there used to be mainly blue collar and white collar jobs. Now some people talk about pink collar jobs which are mostly women - nursing, teaching, child care, etc.
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Old 03-27-2018, 05:01 PM
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I have a white-collar professional job but I go to work every day. Where did the term "working class" come from?
Whether or not a white-collar person works depends how the word "work" is defined. When you define work as something physically demanding, something that causes calluses, blisters, aches, and pains, then office work isn't "real work".

Of course, physicists would also describe it as a very small amount of work. W = F x D.

There's a bit of "what you do isn't real work" to "working class". There's also an underlying feeling that some people know how things work (can make repairs, etc.) and some people don't.

Old joke: how many WASPs does it take to change a lightbulb. Two. One to mix the martinis and one to call the electrician.

I'm pretty sure the WASP thing is completely outdated, but I don't know what the current designation would be.
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Old 03-27-2018, 05:06 PM
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Or another way to think of it:

Aristocracy: wealth based on land.
Middle Class: wealth based on capital.
Working Class: wealth based on labor.

This is why Marx called the capitalist ruling class "the bourgeoisie" or middle class. They weren't aristocrats in the feudal sense, they were industrialists and bankers. Of course there is the distinction between the haute bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie. A shopkeeper or lawyer is petit bourgeoisie, but still middle class because they aren't proletarian.
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Old 03-27-2018, 05:32 PM
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I have a white-collar professional job but I go to work every day. Where did the term "working class" come from?
The way it is generally used today, working class generally means people who are employed for wages, usually by doing physical labor of some kind. This includes blue-collar and pink-collar jobs, tradesmen, and many service jobs. But the term can have a variety of meanings.
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Old 03-27-2018, 05:59 PM
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Etymonline says "Working class is from 1789 as a noun, 1839 as an adjective. "
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Old 03-27-2018, 07:15 PM
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I thought that "working class" meant "wage earner" to include white collar as well as blue collar. No?
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Old 03-27-2018, 07:41 PM
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I thought that "working class" meant "wage earner" to include white collar as well as blue collar. No?
No. Working class is generally trades or manual labor
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Old 03-27-2018, 08:29 PM
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I thought that "working class" meant "wage earner" to include white collar as well as blue collar. No?
Also, although not entirely so, white-collar jobs tend to be salaried rather than wage earners.

Last edited by Colibri; 03-27-2018 at 08:29 PM.
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Old 03-27-2018, 11:18 PM
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The term dates back to the mid-eighteenth century, when it referred to people who were employed for wages, who were mostly people engaged in unskilled or semi-skilled manual or industrial work. Other people who, in our terms, also survived by their own labour - like, say, schoolmasters or clergymen - were seen at the time as being in a different situation. They held an office, which carried with it a right to emoluments and also a duty to perform certain services, but the office they possessed was seen as an asset, so they were considered to live off the income from their possessions, rather than simply by selling their labour or the product of their labour for whatever it would fetch.

A subtle distinction, you may think. But, socially, a very important one at the time, and for a considerable time afterwards.
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Old 03-28-2018, 12:09 AM
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The term dates back to the mid-eighteenth century, when it referred to people who were employed for wages, who were mostly people engaged in unskilled or semi-skilled manual or industrial work. Other people who, in our terms, also survived by their own labour - like, say, schoolmasters or clergymen - were seen at the time as being in a different situation. They held an office, which carried with it a right to emoluments and also a duty to perform certain services, but the office they possessed was seen as an asset, so they were considered to live off the income from their possessions, rather than simply by selling their labour or the product of their labour for whatever it would fetch.

A subtle distinction, you may think. But, socially, a very important one at the time, and for a considerable time afterwards.
So a "gentleman" could be a schoolmaster or a clergyman (or an army officer or an MP) but not a shopkeeper or in any other line of business, that would be "trade." What about professionals working for themselves, like solicitors or doctors, would that have been suitable for a gentleman, or was that down a rung on the social ladder?
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Old 03-28-2018, 01:02 AM
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So a "gentleman" could be a schoolmaster or a clergyman (or an army officer or an MP) but not a shopkeeper or in any other line of business, that would be "trade." What about professionals working for themselves, like solicitors or doctors, would that have been suitable for a gentleman, or was that down a rung on the social ladder?
It's a step down. If you consider Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, is a "gentleman's daughter" because her father has a small estate and lives on the income from the estate. But her uncles are, respectively, an attorney in a country town and a merchant in London. These connections are considered (by some characters in the novel) to detract from her status as a gentleman's daughter - even though her merchant uncle is considerably wealthier than her gentleman father.
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Old 03-28-2018, 04:32 AM
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Apropos, why is it that in the UK we reserve the term "middle class" for professional and managerial cadres, while in the US it applies much more broadly to artisans who in the UK would be categorised as skilled working class, or C2s?

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Old 03-28-2018, 05:06 AM
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Because 70% of Americans define themselves as middle-class. It's a cultural thing - most Americans won't admit to being poor (at worse, they're temporarily short of cash), and on the other hand, they take pride in being "ordinary folk", and not hoity-toity rich fucks.

I understand it's basically the opposite in the UK. I've often heard Brits use "middle-class" as an insult.
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Old 03-28-2018, 05:30 AM
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I always thought it meant "working poor", as a way to distinguish people with "low-paying" jobs from those with no jobs. Members of the working class can proudly say they "work for a living" but I've heard at least one negative depiction too.

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The working class are the people employed for wages, especially in manual-labour occupations and industrial work. Working-class occupations include blue-collar jobs, some white-collar jobs, and most pink-collar jobs.
Pink collar? A new term that probably didn't need creation. While the term "working class" supposedly includes blue collar jobs, some blue collar jobs pay well or very well, so I'm not entirely sure if it fits.
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Old 03-28-2018, 05:42 AM
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Why "working class"?

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I always thought it meant "working poor", as a way to distinguish people with "low-paying" jobs from those with no jobs. Members of the working class can proudly say they "work for a living" but I've heard at least one negative depiction too.



Pink collar? A new term that probably didn't need creation. While the term "working class" supposedly includes blue collar jobs, some blue collar jobs pay well or very well, so I'm not entirely sure if it fits.


Not a new term. Was coined in the 70s to highlight the discrimination many women faced in employment. Women were slotted into a few major occupations, which tended to be paid less compared to jobs that had similar responsibilities and educational levels. A large focus of the feminist movement in the 70s was to open doors to careers that were culturally closed to women.

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Old 03-28-2018, 06:53 AM
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In English at least, keep in mind that "class" has usually had strong social implications - your class dictated who would and wouldn't associate with you, not just how much money you would make.
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Old 03-28-2018, 06:59 AM
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I always thought it meant "working poor", as a way to distinguish people with "low-paying" jobs from those with no jobs. Members of the working class can proudly say they "work for a living" but I've heard at least one negative depiction too.
Bear in mind that it is British in origin, where 'class' is a social position. Not necessarily, ironically, an employment status. You can be both working class and unemployed.
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Old 03-28-2018, 07:09 AM
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Class and social capital in the UK is predicated on income and assets; it's merely an indicator that lags by a couple of generations.
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Old 03-28-2018, 07:49 AM
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Class and social capital in the UK is predicated on income and assets; it's merely an indicator that lags by a couple of generations.
True, but doesn't negate my previous statement - if your family have been unemployed for three generations, you'd still be tagged 'working class'.
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Old 03-28-2018, 08:32 AM
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if your family have been unemployed for three generations, you'd still be tagged 'working class'.
Or possibly "royalty".
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Old 03-28-2018, 10:27 AM
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In English at least, keep in mind that "class" has usually had strong social implications - your class dictated who would and wouldn't associate with you, not just how much money you would make.
I have to admit that this is exactly what I was thinking. Rightly or wrongly, I would source the term to the UK, where (based on my experience) "class" is more frequently recognized. I also think that the term is used more inclusively in the US, where politicians use the term for both lower and middle class groups. US politicians like to use the term as the opposite of "fat-cat bankers and people who don't deserve their money" when stirring things up.
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Old 03-28-2018, 10:32 AM
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US politicians like to use the term as the opposite of "fat-cat bankers and people who don't deserve their money" when stirring things up.
Aha. So, just as UK politicians use "hard-working people"?
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Old 03-28-2018, 10:41 AM
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Aha. So, just as UK politicians use "hard-working people"?
'Hard working families' is what I always hear, as if the childless don't deserve anything!
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Old 04-03-2018, 03:04 AM
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It's a step down. If you consider Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, is a "gentleman's daughter" because her father has a small estate and lives on the income from the estate. But her uncles are, respectively, an attorney in a country town and a merchant in London. These connections are considered (by some characters in the novel) to detract from her status as a gentleman's daughter - even though her merchant uncle is considerably wealthier than her gentleman father.
Barristers were gentlemen, Attornies and Solictors were not.
Army Officers were gentleme. Naval, depended
A doctor was a gentleman, a surgeon, not so much.

This survives in the UK, with some professions being seen as "Middle Class", regarless of the background of the person involved, Military officers, Doctors, clergy, Advocates/Barristers, higher civil services etc. While very rich businessman would only be middle class if they were born to middle class parents; Alan Sugar is a Billionaire, but he is still working class.
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Old 04-03-2018, 03:05 AM
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Because 70% of Americans define themselves as middle-class. It's a cultural thing - most Americans won't admit to being poor (at worse, they're temporarily short of cash), and on the other hand, they take pride in being "ordinary folk", and not hoity-toity rich fucks.

I understand it's basically the opposite in the UK. I've often heard Brits use "middle-class" as an insult.
Brits will deny it until they turn hoarse, but the are the most class conscious people on the fucking planet. And the whole thing makes little sense.
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Old 04-03-2018, 04:58 AM
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Brits will deny it until they turn hoarse, but the are the most class conscious people on the fucking planet. And the whole thing makes little sense.
You might think so, but from where I sit, in Middle England, I don't see it. "Upper Class" is usually followed by "twit" as a mild insult to anyone who thinks they are somehow 'better' than the speaker. "Aristocracy" is confined to the Royals and a few of the old aristocracy who have managed to hold onto their wealth. "Middle Class" is so loosely defined as to be meaningless but would probably contain anyone with a professional qualification. I do agree that the whole thing makes little sense. Margaret Thatcher wrote in 1992 that: Class is a communist concept. It groups people as bundles, and sets them against each other.

As a long-time follower of this forum, I do get the impression that Americans are more hung up on class than we are. I suspect that most people here would use different labels: Street people, Chavs, toffs, and everyone else.
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Old 04-06-2018, 08:33 AM
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The way it is generally used today, working class generally means people who are employed for wages
I think usage varies so widely it can be really tricky to decode it. I have noticed that in a lot of cases "working class" is basically being used as a summary tag for "the people at the bottom" which years ago meant people who did manual labor, but these days means people who are dependent on social security and short-term jobs. It's amusing that left-wing sources talk about "the working class" as those who can't get work while the right-wing sources bang on about "the working poor" meaning that specific subset of the "working class" they theoretically don't hold in contempt

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I do get the impression that Americans are more hung up on class than we are.
I'm not sure about that, but I would agree that as a sweeping generalization the US is very hung up about class and race, no matter that the citizenry will also deny that until they turn hoarse.
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Old 04-06-2018, 09:06 AM
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I'm not sure about that, but I would agree that as a sweeping generalization the US is very hung up about class and race, no matter that the citizenry will also deny that until they turn hoarse.
Race, absolutely, but class, not as much. No American would consider a millionaire working class, no matter the circumstances of his birth.3
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Old 04-06-2018, 09:20 AM
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Race, absolutely, but class, not as much. No American would consider a millionaire working class, no matter the circumstances of his birth.3
Except politicians trying to justify their own wage increases or tax cuts for the moderately wealthy.
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Old 04-06-2018, 09:30 AM
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Except politicians trying to justify their own wage increases or tax cuts for the moderately wealthy.
Even they'd call them "middle class".

But I'm talking about people like Steve Jobs or Bill Clinton. Brits might consider them working class, but Americans generally don't.
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Old 04-06-2018, 10:19 AM
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Even they'd call them "middle class".

But I'm talking about people like Steve Jobs or Bill Clinton. Brits might consider them working class, but Americans generally don't.
But that also has to do with their lifestyle and occupation - no one in the US would have considered Bill Clinton working class when he was the governor of Arkansas earning about $35K , which was not a high salary even in 1990.

And I think part of the reason that Brits and Americans use the term differently is because Americans focus more on money than Brits do. I'm going to leave the Bill Clinton types out of this, because they are examples of the exception - but Americans as a rule, conflate the concepts of class and income, so that a 65 year old high school dropout who earns $50K a year is put in the same group as a 22 year old college graduate who earns $50K a year even though they may have nothing in common other than their income.

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Old 04-06-2018, 01:14 PM
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Even they'd call them "middle class".

But I'm talking about people like Steve Jobs or Bill Clinton. Brits might consider them working class, but Americans generally don't.
Clinton probably would be thought off as middle class, as said certain professions are Middle class regardless of backgrounds and law is one of them.
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Old 04-06-2018, 01:24 PM
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Clinton probably would be thought off as middle class, as said certain professions are Middle class regardless of backgrounds and law is one of them.
He dines with movies stars, Nobel winners and foreign royalty. For Americans, that makes him upper class.
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Old 04-06-2018, 02:26 PM
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Clinton probably would be thought off as middle class, as said certain professions are Middle class regardless of backgrounds and law is one of them.
Law is definitely an upper class profession, depending on which firm and what sort of law. There is a whole class of old professional services firms (law, accounting, consulting, banking) called "white shoe" firms - Deloitte, McKinsey, Morgan Stanley, Sullivan & Cromwell, so on and so forth.
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