new working class
new working classa stratum within the WORKING CLASS that is seen as distinguished from the ‘traditional’ working class, firstly, by the fact that its members work as technicians in new forms of technologically based industry, and, secondly, by a greater trade union militancy, directed at issues of power and control rather than purely ‘economistic’ issues.
This use of the term was originated by a French writer, Serge Mallet, in 1963, and was adopted, in different ways, by other French authors, notably Alain Touraine and André Gorz (see Mallet, 1975; Gorz, 1967; Touraine, 1971). The argument in some ways recalls that of Blauner (1964). Both saw recent developments in the application of technology to work as having important consequences, but their conclusions are radically different. Blauner saw modern process industry as producing worker satisfaction and harmonious workplace relations. Mallet argued that, compared with the old working class, the work situation of workers in the new automated industries would inevitably produce demands for workers control which, spreading throughout industry, would lead to a revolution in capitalist production relations. The nature of automated work, together with the need to maximize efficiency and productivity would produce a group of workers who were relatively highly trained, autonomous and highly integrated into the enterprise. These factors of community knowledge and power (all encouraged by management in the interests of the enterprise) would facilitate the growth of confidence and demands ‘to acquire control of the enterprise by and for the workers -and thus to a new political awareness …’ (Mallet, 1975, p. 105).
Mallet's original argument has been criticized and undermined by subsequent empirical studies. Studies of British automated companies by Nichols and Armstrong (1976) and Nichols and Beynon (1977), for example, showed that ‘donkey work’ was still common and that the ‘new working class’ remained a minority even in highly automated plants. These studies also suggested that work organization and management strategies were still successful in dividing workers and preventing the development of political organization. Similarly, in the best known ‘test’ of the ‘new working class’ thesis, Gallie (1978) studied three oil refineries, one in Britain and two in France, finding that technology did not have the effect claimed either by Blauner or by Mallet. Instead, distinct national differences between the work-forces existed, indicating that wider cultural factors were more important than technology, and no significant amount of support for workers’ control was found, either in Britain or France. See also AFFLUENT WORKER, ALIENATION, EMBOURGEOISEMENT.