Why ‘Middle Class’ Drives Me Bonkers

By Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue

Here’s a perfectly decent chart showing how the value created by increasingly productive Pennsylvania workers ‘trickles up’ to the top. Fine, then comes the claim that the ‘middle class’ is shrinking because workers aren’t getting a fair share.

What drives me nuts is that the same people are called ‘middle class’ and, indirectly, also ‘working class.’  Why do we need to be in two classes? The first is entirely arbitrary and, as the chart shows, only has to do with income levels. The second is about your relation to production, and not owning any means of production, ‘be your payment high or low’ (Marx).

Here’s the rub. The use of ‘middle class’ can be heard to be dismissive of those workers in greatest need. We need unity between both groups, those in greatest need and those more recently pushed down. ‘Working class’ is a fine inclusive term for that. Let’s brush aside the disdain from those who think themselves our ‘betters’ and take more pride in who we are.

Bob Dylan, for goodness sake, even uses the word ‘proletariat’ in his last album, another fine Latin word for ‘people of no property.’ But I’ll settle for ‘working class’ for now.

2 thoughts on “Why ‘Middle Class’ Drives Me Bonkers”

  1. Well here goes… I am willing to fight as I can for the working class and vote with the working class and give money to efforts to strive for the unions and collective bargaining say in the Wisconsin recall effort to help steer it to get Democrats in and Republicans out. I like picketing and I don’t mind having an occasional rock or finger thrown my way while doing that. I like picketing in the cold and in the rain. Is standing for peace anything like working class picketing?

    But somehow I act and feel like an outsider, a slightly rich/affluent outsider but not a Wall Street loving filthy rich one although some of my fellow college classmates are at least tangentially connected with that end of things. (I am still in occasional contact with them. One classmates son has returned to the country home after ten or so years as a quant on Wall Street.) I think part of my being an outsider is because I am somewhat different in my behavior, but my background is different. Not necessarily better but different. It has a slightly different code to follow also.

    I worked one eight week summer stint in a semi rural New Jersey 3M roofing granules plant sweeping granules back into the crushing bins and filling fuel truck sized tankers with the resulting fine powder. But I don’t think I was particularly adept at doing that. I went back to college when the summer was over. I gained a certain respected the people who could really do that kind of work, but I wasn’t that cut out for it myself.

    My mother ran a store in Princeton N.J. for a good number of years to help fund Cesar Chavez’ farm workers organizing effort in California. She was originally of German Milwaukee beer baron extract. She was not union and she was raised as an internationalist Republican with a between the wars anti Hitler outlook. There was a long time servant in her childhood household.

    I was educated in a private Quaker middle and high school. I have three university degrees.
    I talk with a different vocabulary often. I like to think in relatively abstract terms of physical science. I hardly know any popular music that isn’t connected with classical music or perhaps in a few slightly crossover jazz concept pieces. I read the New York Times even though I realize a lot of it is biased. I try to be alert to that but I follow Paul Krugman anyhow. I’m not a member of any union and my academic tenure is unlike belonging to a union or workers based organization. It gives me real cultural mismatch concerns.

    Also I have focused less on benefits and wages than many working class people I know.

    I like to wander off from the crowd and explore on my own driving on my own even when the event is manifestly organized with a collective view, such as last fall’s D.C. march.

    I have sympathies and ties outside the county and perhaps even the country.

    I certainly don’t talk like workers although I try not to begrudge them. I don’t drink because I don’t like my driving afterword, but I don’t mind if and when others drink. And what the heck are drugs anyhow?

    So as I face the political necessity and perhaps even hopefully the reality of equating working class with middle class I do so with the possibility of making mistakes, having disasters, and erasing from memory (what else?) part of my reality.

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