Editorial from the September 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
Over the past couple of decades (especially since 1979) many commentators have argued that the working class is a “dying" class. The general argument goes along these lines: "manufacturing is in terminal decline and being superseded by the service sector of the economy. The result is an occupational shift that now sees the majority of people working in white-collar as opposed to blue collar jobs.
This process of “de-industrialisation", they argue, means that because the majority of people now work in offices they are no longer working class but "middle class". These people predominantly "feel" middle class, identify with their bosses and are living proof that capitalism has changed for the "better".
The corollary of this, is that there cannot be a socialist revolution because capitalism has sorted itself out. Society is becoming increasingly more affluent and we now live in a "property-owning, share-buying democracy". John Major believes that this provides the basis to his vision of a “classless society".
Socialists oppose this superficial analysis.
All that’s happened is that the nature of wage-slavery has changed. Instead of standing on a production line it is now common practice to sit in front of a VDU.
Although many workers have gained from this occupational shift and have done reasonably well out of the “affluent" eighties, another phenomenon has occurred — the underclass.
We are all very familiar with the statistics that show the poorest section of our society has become poorer in real terms since 1979. With high unemployment, welfare cuts and regressive taxation policies, the not-so-fortunate of society have become a mass of low-skilled, low-waged, desperate people. This has lead to even reactionary commentators regarding this as a potentially volatile situation.
It is the task of socialists to arm themselves with a view of class which is correct and up-to-date. The idea of the "middle classes" should be knocked on the head.
If you have to work for a living because you do not own the means of production, you are a member of the working class. This includes teachers, doctors and lawyers. Far from becoming “ middle class” the vast majority of the population who make all wealth under capitalism, remain working class by definition and will continue to be whilst the wages/salary and profit system exists.
Talking about the “middle class” merely divides the working class and weakens our class analysis. We should oppose it at all costs.