labour aristocracy

labour aristocracy

a group (or groups) within the WORKING CLASS in Victorian Britain, seen as holding a privileged position, either economically or socially, or both.

Most of the writings on the labour aristocracy concentrate on whether such a category of workers actually existed, and if so, what were its essential features and its role in segmenting the working class in Victorian Britain.

Several writers (e.g. Crossick, 1978; Hobsbawm, 1968) have identified a fraction of the working class, roughly those identified with the apprenticed trades, who were separate in several ways from both other segments of the working class and the middle class. This distinctiveness included high stable earnings, a low rate of marriage into other class groups, distinctive non-work and leisure pastimes and social values, and a strong belief in trade unionism and in voluntary cooperative action.

One criticism of this, however, is that it does not consider fully the politics of the workplace or the process whereby the labour aristocracy was created. This question has been addressed by several further studies (Foster, 1974; Stedman Jones, 1975; Gray, 1975). One question concerns the political role of the labour aristocracy. Foster claims the labour aristocracy greatly weakened working-class opposition to capitalism, identifying them as a conduit for the transmission of ‘bourgeois values’. Gray introduces a sophisticated notion of HEGEMONY, acknowledging a labour aristocracy with some level of autonomy, but recognizing that any ensuing struggles must remain locked within a framework of subordination.

The labour aristocracy can be usefully conceived as a temporary product of a particular phase of the development of British capitalism. From the mid-19th-century onwards, their experience had more in common with the rest of the working class than as an autonomous grouping.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Weak politicians pandering for votes have created a labour aristocracy for which different laws apply when it comes to work terms and conditions.
labour aristocracy, forming an alliance with the bourgeoisie through
An exclusionary labour aristocracy emerged, further deepening patronage networks within the public sector.
Lenin wrote (1920) (11) how labour aristocracy (12) is inimical to the working class struggle:
The attempt of the Labour aristocracy to unseat their elected leader is the biggest piece of nonsense to come out of these weeks.
If Jim Stanford is correct that public sector workers are not a labour aristocracy, then it won't much affect public sector wages anyway.
Thus, the character of the speech was one of challenge to the Labour aristocracy rather than comfort, whilst simultaneously providing hope for a doubtful future.
I used to mark her down as New Labour aristocracy in a privileged ministerial post.
"Rigid labor laws create a two-tier system, with a privileged labour aristocracy on the one hand and a vast mass of unorganized workers with few rights on the other.
(14) Drawing primarily on the work of Hobsbawm, British historians have argued that the labour aristocracy was characterised by the skilled workers' level and regularity of earnings; their good prospects of social security; superior conditions of work and favourable treatment by foremen and masters; close relations with the social strata above them and separation from those immediately below; better general conditions of living; and good prospects for social advancement compared to the rest of the workforce.
But while the case for a redirection of state funds is strong, the question arises as to whether a potential 'labour aristocracy' will enjoy affluence at a time of ongoing job cuts and misery for the unskilled, unemployed masses.