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Working class -- a definition

Yes, there is a clearcut difference between working and middle class. If you don't understand class differences perhaps it's because you don't want to.
There are two ways to define working class:

1. The most significant is how much money you make. One definition I've read is that a household is working class if its yearly gross income is below $30,000. Obviously income has a tremendous influence on how you live and the quality of your life. Working class people make so little money that they can't save much and have no security. Middle class people may, and often do, CHOOSE not to save money, but they could if they wanted to. Working class people have an income so low that they always have to worry about money, and cannot afford what most Americans consider a reasonable lifestyle. Working class people make less than a "living" wage, a wage on which you can support a family. They are being exploited by the middle and upper classes, who use working class people to do their shit work, to produce cheap goods and services so the middle and upper classes can keep their lifestyle.

2. A less significant but important definition is based on the kind of work you do. Working class people do work that is routine, boring and does not require advanced training or much thought. They are supervised by a middle class person and have very little control over their work, and therefore high stress. They have no job security and are frequently laid off. They are less likely than middle class workers to have health insurance. As they get older they tend to wear out sooner and find it increasingly difficult to stay employed, because employers don't want them. Working class people are expendable.

There is nothing mysterious about either definition, and people who don't get the distinction don't want to, because they benefit from middle class privilege and understanding class differences would make them uncomfortable.

Middle class people are the enemy.

homepage: homepage: http://www.portlandwriters.com

Yes, I Fit Both 26.Aug.2003 23:42

Da

These points are how I've always understood "working class" -- and yes, I fit both. There is nothing mysterious about my position as a "shit worker," my extremely low income, my lack of health insurance and job security, and my expendability. Yet, there are some people who have argued with me that I'm not "working class" because I come from a middle class background and have a college education, despite the fact that I don't reap any rewards from that background, and am struggling to survive. Is there something I'm missing?

re: "middle class are the enemy" 26.Aug.2003 23:57

nan

So, what about all the disillusioned middle class, who may make a "lot" of money, but realize that spending it will not bring them happyness; who are doing all they can to help create an Anarchist society? Who are not going to lay around being called "enemy" by people who are not actually (or can't because of economic problems) doing anything to change society?

To say that all middle class are the enemy of lower class, is like saying "all white people are the enemy of black people". Being "classist" to the point where you are blinded by your anger will not help any.

Anyway, what are you going to do, kill all middle and upper class people? Or will you open your mind and let them into the better society of tomorrow if they are willing to help create it?

dear George 27.Aug.2003 00:06

mom

I posted to your comments on the thread that you jumped from --"middle class activism and its negative effects"
i have no idea how to repeat or copy what i wrote there to this space so I ask you to read it please as it is too late to retype---
"Da" is an example... .

No you're not missing anything 27.Aug.2003 00:08

George Bender

I also have a college education, although I come from a working class family. My BA is in sociology. The only middle class job that could get me was manager trainee, which I was temperamentally unsuited for. So I spent many years doing office work and other working class shit jobs at low pay, often struggling to survive. Now I'm retired and live on $561 a month in Social Security plus food stamps and the Oregon Health Plan. Which is the reward you can look forward to.

By the time I got my BA in 1971 there was a large surplus of liberal arts BAs and a deficit of jobs for us. Employers decided they wanted people with business or technical BAs. Now even a technical BA, such as computer programming, might not get you a "good" job. In short, college is no longer a sure ticket to the middle class. I'm not sure what is.

Over the last 30 years working class wages have declined, while the middle class held its ground financially and the upper class made out like bandits. There is no natural law that requires this to be the case, it's just the way the rules have been written. "You know the masters make the rules, for the wise men, and the fools...." -- Bob Dylan

We could organize and make different rules. This is what progressive politics should be about. Support living wages and the safety net. Focus on state politics. Put pressure on the Democrats from their left.


Middle class anarchists 27.Aug.2003 00:43

George Bender

Is that a joke?

I was an antiwar activist in the late 60s. More recently I've been an environmental activist for the last 10 years and have worked on health care issues for almost 4 years. I'm a registered Green.

Sure some middle class people can try to do the right thing about classism, but I'll believe it when I see it. What I am seeing, even in middle class activists, is total denial about classism and its effects. If you don't understand what the problem is, and how you profit from it, you're not going to do anything about it.

Also, guilt is a very poor motivator. People function politically mainly out of self interest. It's in the self interest of working-class people to get better wages, and to preserve and extend the safety net -- welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, unemployment, etc. So we have to organize ourselves into a voting block and take what we want from the middle and upper classes. They're not going to give it to us out of their nonexistant good will.

Anger is good. It is the best motivator of all. If you're not angry you just don't get it.

An example 27.Aug.2003 01:45

Da

Mom said on the other thread:

"your distinctions are too tight ---
think of it this way, a single person making $30,000 can live pretty darn well.
a family of four making $30,000 is just making it -- in fact they likely get some assistance - reduced fee lunches etc.
a household with more than four persons, say mom, dad, grampa, and two kids is going to struggle like crazy on $30,000. Affordable housing is 30% of your income or less, try finding a house big enough for this family on $750 dollars a month or less!
and there are lots of people who take low paying jobs,but certainly are not "working class." They have an education, they have family that can bail them out or pay for the big ticket items that they can't currently afford...
people take the jobs they can get.
a middle manager may or may not have privilege.
they may in fact have few choices about money or time since as salaried employees they are expected to give themselves to the company free after 40 hrs. "Middle class" is a classist term. There are owners and workers.
Those in the middle sometimes live in the illusion that they are necessary or that they too may be owners some day. But then, working class people can harbor the same illusions.
Unless you have money to pay the rent when you are not working, you have a pretty good chance of being in the working class. ( by the way, working class people can blow their money too ---
I think your lines are too tightly drawn"



I'm still not sure about some of the generalization people make about what it means to be working class, or even middle class, which is why George's tighter definition is more powerful. It simply includes a lot more people, perhaps closer to the real amount of people who are suffering because of capitalism. The problem I have is that because of my background people make assumptions that my family can "bail me out" or that I've "chosen" to work a shitty job. This simply isn't the case. I am being held hostage. I have no choice.

I think the real problem is that no one wants to admit that they are working class, or they have been socially conditioned to believe that they are not working class, but middle class. For example, a non-political friend of mine was working full-time at $8.00, yet he consider himself middle class. I questioned him about this, and he seemed unable to see himself at the bottom of the system despite his financial struggles. The working class, for him, was strickly reserved for other people. He could never be a part of it.

You spoiled your own commentary 27.Aug.2003 08:11

Mother

I am not sure what the point of your essay is, but I was right with you until the last line. You sabotage yourself by using a black and white fallacy. Most people can think in abstractions. Your last line is no better than Bush's "yer either with us, or yer with the terrists." How can I be employed one day and be your enemy, then loose my job the next and be your ally? Come on. Did you really think this through?

There is definitely a dollar line that makes a huge difference in quality of life. So what does this have to do with drawing a political line? I have a family of 4 and our total income has bounced back and forth over that line several times. It is not subtle. There is a huge difference in quality of life when you don't have to plan a budget to go to a movie or eat out at a cheap restaurant. In Portland, with a family of 4, that line is more like $40,000.

George is right on 27.Aug.2003 09:22

open mind

But I would exclude from the working class people with low incomes and/or working class jobs who can be bailed out financially at anytime by family members whenever there is a job loss, illness, etc., whose families have equipped them with the skills, knowledge, credentials, contacts, etc. to gain access into the middle class, whose rents and other major expenses are covered by family members, and/or those who will inherit money and/or property from family members. For REAL working class people, these things are inaccessible.

One can also make the argument that middle class activists and the groups/organizations they form have been nothing more than an IMPEDIMENT to the advancement of the working class. The way in which most progressive organizations are structured mimick the very class structure they purport to trying to abolish. They tend to be hierarchical with people from the higher classes in the most visible, higher status positions, while working class people are usually relegated to the menial administrative and manual chores, even in groups which claim to be nonhierarchical.

Inevitably, those with the "best" educations, who usually come from middle class backgrounds, will assert themselves as the leaders from whom everyone else must take direction. Egos, competitiveness, entitlement, careerism, sexism, classism, racism and other dysfunctions that come from directly from their class make their way into the groups they form, causing a lack of effectiveness. Some progressive groups I have been involved with are virtually indistingushable from corporate America in that regard.

Many middle class anarchists and progressives have expressed openly an unwillingness to work on working class issues, go into working class communities and work with working class people. That's why the vast majority of groups are IDENTITY-focused. It's much less threatening for them to recognize injustices based on race, gender, sexual orientation and other things that cut across all class lines than to confront class injustices, and they're more likely to work closely with other members of the middle class, whose differences may be only superficial (race, sexual orientation, etc) on those issues. Also, it's next to impossible for a group working solely on class issues to receive large grants from foundations (upper middle class people). {And middle class people wonder why there is so much working class resentment directed toward them?}

Only a middle class person who is willing to give up his/her class privilege, such as not feeling entitled to lead a group because of his/her superior education, family connections, and the like, and willing to work for groups that don't have foundation money enabling them to have positions and salaries, and are not just looking for a "foot in the door" can be effective and gain acceptance in working class communities. The power-hungry, career-seeking middle-class professional activist doesn't have a chance.

Mother is Correct 27.Aug.2003 09:46

ranger

A $ cut off to determine whether you are politically correct or not is ridiculous and more than $30,000 for a family income does not even closely make you "middle class". There are many activists who walk the talk who make much more than $30,000 and fully understand classism. This line of thinking is a invalid as the 60's expression "don't trust anyone over 30".

Got Enough Angst Yet? 27.Aug.2003 09:46

Anselmo

Listen. The working class is that vast portion of the global population that derives all or most of its income from SELLING ITS OWN LABOR. It doesn't get its income from clipping coupons or rents or the ownership of the means of production. Pretty straight forward definition used for over 150 years from the time of David Ricardo, Bakunin, Karl Marx, Kautsky, Debs, etc. etc. It is a term derived classically from the persons place in the PRODUCTIVE process. Your class does not fundamentally spring from your position in the Distribution or Consumption process (although your place as a producer certainly can dictate your place as a consumer). OK. Now we're clear. right?

Clear 27.Aug.2003 11:15

Da

Anselmo wrote:
"Listen. The working class is that vast portion of the global population that derives all or most of its income from SELLING ITS OWN LABOR ... It is a term derived classically from the persons place in the PRODUCTIVE process."

That makes more sense. The working class doesn't even know it's the working class anymore.

got class bias? 27.Aug.2003 11:43

open mind

Anselmo

You seem to suggest that any definition of working class that doesn't come from a middle class social theorist (Bakunin, Marx, etc.) is illegitimate. But what working class people get (and most middle class people don't get) is that there are many subtle ways in which people born into the working class are held down and set up by the system to always be dependent upon the selling of their labor no matter what.

For example, one of the roles of a middle class manager or supervisor is to suppress the mobility of the worker and he or she achieves this in a number of ways, such as, promoting only those individuals who come from a middle class background and withholding training opportunities and certain types of tasks requiring more advanced skill from working class employees, refusing to provide references to working class employees desiring to move to higher positions, finding excuses not to give working class employees raises, or making it difficult for the working class employee to gain more knowledge and skill on their own by manipulating working hours.

Conversely, those who are born into the middle class have many options given to them that enable them to break free from wage slavery. Whether or not middle class people choose to exercise these options and free themselves is, for the most part, up to the individual and how brainwashed by the consumer culture he or she is. There is a certain amount of brainwashing that middle class people are subjected to that keeps them entrapped in the work - consume - work - consume cycle but those who have the knowledge and the courage to break that pattern and not spend their money can eventually take what they have and escape wage slavery before they're all used up. Many examples of this are found in communes or other group living type of situations where middle class people either take their inheritances or save enough of their incomes to escape and live off the land. On the other hand, a working class person is locked in a cycle of making just enough to barely pay for living expenses, no matter how many menial jobs they possess, and get to work until they are thrown out of the workforce or can no longer work.

No one can deny this crucial difference between the working and middle classes.

Yes Da 27.Aug.2003 14:25

Jack Reed

The main historical question today is the potential to re-buiild a genuine and independent working class consciousness in the wake of the collapse of Stalinism (not to be confused with Marxism - which was the opposite of those Stalinist confusers). Tough to really get that perspective from most Indymedia postings, although sometimes you can see folks struggling in that direction. You want straight shooting working class consciousness go to the wsws.org website - whether its for a movie review or a news item or a histroical piece or an election campaign. That's what keeps me sane and able to argue matters independently of these identity politics folks that can't even figure out what class they are from. I don't necessarily blame folks for that, especially the youth. Its hard for somebody to get their bearings if the frame of reference for any fundamental question (is there really a working class? can the democratic party be progressive?, or whatever) springs from bourgeois ideological assumptions. End of sermon.

Observation 27.Aug.2003 16:08

Marty

I think that one of the biggest barriers that progressives face is the tendency to fight among ourselves instead of seeking the kind of unity that might actually enable us to change things. Countless arguments about who is working class or middle class, who is more oppressed, which theory is more correct than some other theory, what labels to put on ourselves and others, etc., etc., ad nauseum, may make us feel better momentarily or give us some sense of one-up-personship, but they do nothing to really challenge the power structure and the status quo. Imagine how powerful we could be if we stopped all the useless infighting and arguing ,and started working together to address the real problems that perhaps we can all agree on: corporate greed, war, racism, injustice, eroding civil liberties, and the ruling class that perpetuate the system. That's the real "enemy"- not each other.

thats the most bullshit definition 27.Aug.2003 18:48

Randy

I am a Union tradesman and make 65,000 a year and have very advanced training and a degree, so I am not working class, give me a break.

part of the problem, Marty 27.Aug.2003 23:13

open mind

"Imagine how powerful we could be if we stopped all the useless infighting and arguing ,and started working together to address the real problems that perhaps we can all agree on: corporate greed, war, racism, injustice, eroding civil liberties, and the ruling class that perpetuate the system."

Part of the problem is people like you (and I presume you're middle class) who can't stop dictating which issues should be of concern to oppressed working class people. Your plea for returning to the issues that "we can all agree on" illustrate my point perfectly. According to your statement, everything BUT class oppression should be top priority for working class people.

Try imagining how powerful we could be if you stopped all the useless infighting and arguing, pulled your head out of your tucus and realized that a society divided into classes, or more acurately, castes, is at the root of all corporate greed, war, racism, injustice, eroding civil liberties and the very existence of a ruling class? But alas, petit bourgeoise liberals don't want to imagine a society that isn't divided up into classes/castes. They like where they are too much.

*****

By the way why are definitions of the working class only valid if they come from 19th century middle class social theorists like Marx, not from the working class themselves?

*****

An interesting working class website:  http://www.openlyclassist.org.uk/contain.html. Unfortunately wsws.org is very hostile to AIDS dissidents and too trusting of the medical/pharmaceutical/government establishment's lies that AIDS drugs "save lives". They're so duped, they believe that anyone questions or debunks the set of lies made up by corrupt petit bourgeoise AIDS researchers and spread by the corporate media is a right-wing bigoted extremist out to exterminate all AIDS patients. When an organization is that duped by the corporate media, they're no longer radical in my book.


Stupid Mind, Not Open 28.Aug.2003 07:17

DeRon

Hey, Open Mind! I am living with AIDS. I take all the "mainstream" anti and retro virals. The cocktails have kept me alive and pretty healthy for ten years. You are denouncing a website (wsws) that has printed a couple of articles that simply acknowlege that these drugs work and should be made available for free. My. My. My. You are a real asshole!!!! And anyway, we're talking here about the development of the working class. So, you are a provacator as well.

Relevance 28.Aug.2003 10:23

open mind

So taking corporate AIDS drugs makes you open minded? LOL

By the way, genius, I was merely commenting on another poster's recommendation to visit wsws.org and why I don't like them. As far as I am concerned, AIDS IS relevant to the discussion, especially since working class people, rather than the upper classes, are specifically being targeted for these fradulent tests and being used as unsuspecting test subjects for these toxic drugs.

If you're taking them, chances are you are following doctors orders without question. But open minded people who question things have either stopped taking them or never started taking them in the first place. Here is a website for open minded people (if you dare):

 http://groups.msn.com/aidsmythexposed/general.msnw
 http://www.aliveandwell.org

Lastly, I don't let people insult me without responding just because they have a medical condition. A sick jerk is still a jerk.

Relevance 28.Aug.2003 11:22

open mind

Of course AIDS is relevant to this discussion. If you can recall, genius, I replied to another person's recommendation of wsws.org, stating that I don't feel anyone who blindly accepts the medical/governmental/pharmaceutical cartel's lies and propaganda about AIDS is radical. Moreover, I'll take the liberty of pointing out the fact that working class people are routinely used as experimental subjects, without their knowledge or consent, for experimental toxic AIDS drugs.

If telling the truth is provocative, then I'll gladly accept that label.

Here is a site for open minded people:  http://groups.msn.com/aidsmythexposed/general.msnw

"Open Mind" 28.Aug.2003 12:28

Marty

Wow, you're making lots of assumptions there. Actually, my partner, child, and I live on my $29,000 salary. I don't know if I'm middle class or not, and I'm not sure I care. I'd just like to see people focusing on the REAL problems.

Me too 28.Aug.2003 12:44

open mind

I'd also like to see people focus on real issues...class issues.

Open Mind is right on 28.Aug.2003 22:06

GRINGO STARS

I disagree with Anselmo's definition of who is working class. By Anselmo's definition, doctors and lawyers are working class, because they are selling their labor. CEOs are paid for their "labor," and they do not own the means of their production. A salary or wage does not alone make you working class.

to: open mind 28.Aug.2003 22:48

mom

i checked out some of the links you posted. I found the 'openly classist' site interesting but I also have question for you, why do working class people focus so strongly on the middle class and not on the ruling class?
is it because the middle class is more accessible to them?
it seems to me that the ruling class works hard to pit the middle and working class people against each other,--- surely the gap between ruling and middle is much greater economically and according to privilege than the gap between middle and working class -- i must be missing something...
i am interested in your response.

to Mom 29.Aug.2003 07:49

open mind

I read one of their publications titled "The Enemy is Middle Class" by Andy Anderson and it seems to be their contention that the middle class IS the ruling class. I'll admit that It all sounded far fetched to me at first, but it was pointed out that jounalists, editors, bankers, landlords, businessmen, managers, attorneys, judges, lobbyists, scientists, doctors, elected officials from mayors up to the president, cabinet level people, high ranking military officials, education administrators, prison administrators, top level bureaucrats, etc. all who wield enormous amounts of power over the rest of us, come from the middle class. Most would tend to come from the upper middle class but still they are middle class. They grew up in middle class neighborhoods, attended middle class schools, colleges and universities, and ended up in these professions.

Why they have targeted this group is for the simple fact that this is the class that willingly and blatantly oppresses the working class each and every day by the decisions they make and the actions that they take. Most of them hold the same beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices about working class people and have internalized the notion that the working class should be controlled by them. Middle class people who are not in these professions still can influence family members and people in their communities but most just choose to go along. If they are innocent bystanders merely taking orders from some mysterious, sinister Ruling Class, then it should be obvious that they have a choice not to take these orders. But the maintaintaining some sort of caste system is in their best interest because, after all, somebody has to clean the toilets, pick up the garbage, change the bed pans, make the clothing, and pick the crops.

I've heard the argument that all the working class has to do is fight back and take away their power. True, however, in so many ways the people in all of the professions mentioned above have made that next to impossible. They control the media and have brainwashed, or more accurately, made the working class feel so powerless that many give up fighting. They control the working class's access to education and do their best to keep most working class kids ignorant. They control access to decent, liveable homes. As managers, they pit workers against one another and use the dollar, or lack thereof, and the threat of homelessness as a weapon of control. As judges and prosecutors they keep working class people locked in the criminal justice system. As scientists and doctors they use working class people as experimental subjects. I could go on and on and on, but imagine what life would be like for working class people if all this control and subjugation by these folks didn't exist.

One might say, well, what about the GOOD people in those professions. Yes, there are some exceptions but the rule is to play the game and keep the working class enslaved. The good ones are far too outnumbered to be effective on their own. That's why I think they should get out of their little middle class activist cliques and work along side the working class.

to Mom 29.Aug.2003 09:57

open mind

I read one of their publications titled "The Enemy is Middle Class" by Andy Anderson and it seems to be their contention that the middle class IS the ruling class. I'll admit that It all sounded far fetched to me at first, but it was pointed out that jounalists, editors, bankers, landlords, businessmen, managers, attorneys, judges, lobbyists, scientists, doctors, elected officials from mayors up to the president, cabinet level people, high ranking military officials, education administrators, the clergy, prison administrators, top level bureaucrats, etc. all who wield enormous amounts of power over the rest of us, come from the middle class. Most would tend to come from the upper middle class but still they are middle class. They grew up in middle class neighborhoods, attended middle class schools, colleges and universities, and ended up in these professions.

Why they have targeted this group is for the simple fact that this is the class that willingly and blatantly oppresses the working class each and every day by the decisions they make and the actions that they take. Most of them hold the same beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices about working class people and have internalized the notion that the working class should be controlled by them. Middle class people who are not in these professions still can influence family members and people in their communities but most just choose to go along. If they are innocent bystanders merely taking orders from some mysterious, sinister Ruling Class, then it should be obvious that they have a choice not to take these orders. But the maintaintaining some sort of caste system is in their best interest because, after all, somebody has to clean the toilets, pick up the garbage, change the bed pans, make the clothing, and pick the crops.

I've heard the argument that all the working class has to do is fight back and take away their power. True, however, in so many ways the people in all of the professions mentioned above have made that next to impossible. They control the media and have brainwashed, or more accurately, made the working class feel so powerless that many give up fighting. They control the working class's access to education and do their best to keep most working class kids ignorant. They control access to decent, liveable homes. As managers, they pit workers against one another and use the dollar, or lack thereof, and the threat of homelessness as a weapon of control. Their churches help to brainwash and placate the masses. As judges and prosecutors they keep working class people locked in the criminal justice system. As scientists and doctors they use working class people as experimental subjects. I could go on and on and on, but imagine what life would be like for working class people if all this control and subjugation by these folks didn't exist.

One might say, well, what about the GOOD people in those professions. Yes, there are some exceptions but the rule is to play the game and keep the working class enslaved. The good ones are far too outnumbered to be effective on their own. That's why I think they should get out of their little middle class activist cliques and work along side the working class.

{My apologies in advance for the double-posts. High internet traffic or server problems or something are have been either delaying my posts for hours or losing them altogether}

What's the point of this definition? 29.Aug.2003 10:01

mockum

What is the point of this definition other than to alienate the "middle class?" We definitely live in a class based society, but I don't believe that class separation is based entirely on one's income. A perfect example of this is my sister and her family. She was raised in a poor middle-class family (we received welfare my entire childhood) and went to a private college (thanks to good grades and financial aid). Her husband was raised in a well-off middle-class family, went to a private college and to seminary. They are middle-class. But, they have 7 kids and "live" on a minister's salary. They have no savings and no prospects.

America's classes aren't really that different than India's castes except in America people can through great effort move up the ladder.

The middle-class hate and fear the lower-class because they are afraid that at some time they might become lower-class. The middle-class hate and are jealous of the upper-class. This manifests itself in expensive homes, cars, and extravagant spending. The upper-class don't care about the lower or middle classes. Some of the upper-class (primarily those affliated with the Republican party) see the lower and middle classes as necessary evils who exist only to give more power and wealth to the upper-class.

Im going to have to agree with mockum ... 29.Aug.2003 16:24

just doing what I can...

Thank you George Bender, for fannning the flames of class war.

Correction: Corporate greed, war, racism, injustice, eroding civil liberties are the real enemies.
No matter what "class" you are in, if you support any of these - YOU are the enemy. Labels are bad, materialism sucks, and capitalism is the problem. The government is based on money, which leads to corporate greed, which leads to injustice, war, and the erosion of civil liberties.
Do you see the cycle?


To Mother - my thoughts exactly. Thank you.