The Fruits of Civilization (24-6) The Working Class

The Working Class

The 19th century witnessed a multiplication of industrial laborers. The catchall term working class belies a diversity of concerns by occupation. Factory workers and miners, though in similar circumstances with regard to their exploitation, had different concerns. Craftsman and artisans of occupations that flourished in the Middle Ages especially suffered as their skills were obsoleted by machinery, while other workers found themselves in demand because their skills succored industrialization. For casual laborers, transport workers, clerks, and others, working life carried on much as it had in earlier times.

(In 1941, American socio-anthropologist Lloyd Warner and American sociologist Paul Lunt identified 6 American social classes: upper (old | new), middle (upper | middle), and lower (upper | lower). The upper crust was divided between old money and nouveau riche (self-acquired rather than inherited). The middle class was bifurcated by income and associated prestige. The working class was split by skill and steadiness in employment.)

What tied all these workers together into an economic class is the hand-to-mouth existence that characterized their lives. They depended upon their wages to survive.

There were some bitter struggles for social and political recognition and dominance among rival groups in the 19th century. A proclivity for divisiveness rather than cooperation among those in the lower strata often retarded the prospects for success of these endeavors.

Every social advance of the middle class was countered by a rearguard reaction from those whose felt their power slipping. Albeit exceptions, employers fought the obligation of decency for those that labored under them.