The term “working class” is used in a wide variety of ways, some of which are controversial. Some people view the term as a pejorative insult, for example, while others adopt is as a symbol of personal pride. The precise definitions of the term tend to be a bit nebulous, thanks to shifting ideas about labor, politics, and socioeconomic class.
Essentially, members of the working class work in unskilled or semiskilled professions for wages that are typically low. Typically, the work environments are distinguished by very rigid schedules with penalties for workers who run late or slack on the job, and they are often organized in a very hierarchical way, with a clear delineation between workers, managers, and employers. The term also includes dependent family members of someone working in such an industry.
Some examples of traditional working class jobs include factory work and basic agricultural work. In both of these industries, people receive basic and simple training for their jobs, although in some cases they may have addition qualifications, and the labor is often very physical, repetitive, and grueling. Many people associate things like heavy, functional clothing with people in this class, leading to the slang term “blue collar,” in a reference to shirts worn by factory workers to conceal grease stains.
Some people consider all members of the working class to be part of the proletariat, a socioeconomic class defined by Karl Marx. According to Marx, the proletariat consisted of individuals who sold their labor power in exchange for wages without ownership or control of the means of production. Others reject this definition.
Some people associate this class with decreased access to education and a general lack of learning and refinement. Others with a more prideful attitude about the working class might use members of this class to illustrate a society's core members, suggesting that without the hard work of laborers, society would collapse. Discussions of social mobility often include this class as well, with people arguing that in the best of societies, people can start out as laborers and end up as factory owners.
Many people associate the labor movement with the working class, perhaps because these ordinary people were among the first to agitate for labor rights and increased worker protections. People who are interested in labor politics may choose to spend time among this class so that they can understand the complex issues involved.