Class: What Do We Want, How Do We Get It

Class is a concept meant to highlight groups of people in the economy with similar interests and motives. Classes are groups that social activists should regard collectively.


If we think that the only determinant of class differences is ownership relations, we will emphasize capitalists and workers as classes, with variations for small farmers, or unemployed.


The key focus for our thinking will be whether people earn profits off privately owned productive property, or whether they sell their ability to do work for wages for their income. And, indeed, this is what people using class as a guide to practical choices have historically highlighted regarding analysis, vision, and strategy.


If, however, we think that not only property relations but also the distribution of economic responsibilities in the division of labor can create groups with their own shared consciousness and motives, things get more complicated.


If the kind of work that we do can separate us into classes, then between labor and capital we must consider the possibility of there being a third critically important class.


After capitalism, we have to consider that there could be a post capitalist economy that is still class divided.


And this is, indeed, my view. I believe that monopolizing empowering work on the one hand, as compared to doing only rote and obedient work on the other hand, in my view generates another important class division.


In the U.S., roughly two or three percent of the population constitute the capitalist ruling class. In contrast, the bottom 80% of the economic population works for low wages due to lacking any significant bargaining power.


The conditions of the 80%’s labor are entirely beyond their control, and they also have no say over anyone else’s labor. Their work is overwhelmingly rote, obedient, and disempowering. In these respects, while the term has gone out of vogue, they are wage slaves, the working class.


But what about successful doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers, financial officers, movie directors, high level professors, media executives, and so on?


What about, in other words, the people who inhabit the in-between region above rote workers but below capitalists? This is nearly 20% of the population.


Are these highly paid and powerful people workers just like short order cooks, assemblers, and coal miners are workers? Are they just better paid and more powerful, but otherwise in the same class?


I don’t think that that is a sensible way to conceptualize the economy. It seems to me much more useful to view this higher income and more influential group as a third class.


The crucial point, I think, is that this sector of economic actors has a relative monopoly on empowering work which in turn gives its members greater bargaining power and status than workers below.


These folks, and I want to call them the coordinator class, have great say over their own circumstances and over the work conditions and lives of those below.


Members of the coordinator class, that is, due to their position in the division of labor, have much higher incomes than working class people, more status than working class people, and most particularly, more influence than working class people.


Coordinator class members do sell their ability to work, it is true, but they gain their considerable status, power, and income from the positions they occupy in their respective industries…attracting and holding for themselves critically important knowledge, skills, and levers of daily decision making influence.


On average, of course, due to having different positions in the economy, classes tend to have different interests, income, influence, and status, and to also have different tastes, cultural inclinations, and views about one another, as well. They lead different lives, with different opportunities and burdens.


And it isn’t just that we can see this kind of difference between capitalists and workers.


The coordinator class also has its own lifestyles and behavior patterns, its own places to congregate, its own music and movie pref

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