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France : Social classes and « socio-professional categories »

lundi 7 septembre 2009, par Yves

Social classes and « socio-professional categories » :
a jugsaw puzzle for revolutionaries

France is a country of 64 million inhabitants. Among these 64 million roughly 27,8 million people are « active ». This labour force includes :

- 23,7 millions of wage-earners (90 % of the active population divided into 70 % working for the private sector and 20 % for the State),

- 2,3 million of non wage-earners,

83 % of the wage-earners have a full-time job and 17 % a part-time job with short term contracts and temporary work agencies.

1,3 million people live with less than 645 euros. 3,2 million live in very bad conditions : 100 000 in the street, 100 000 in campings and mobil homes, 50 000 in hotels, 41 000 in « dwellings » which are in fact slums.

So in 2008 with 23,7 million of wage-earners, its huge social differences in termes of wages, patrimony, school education, etc., France is a class society, where social relations are organised around Capital and Labour.

If we consider the two basic classes of modern capitalist society we have, according to the official State statistics,

- 7,3 million of white collar workers : public servants, private administrative employees, commerce employees, and people working in the personal services sector. (Plus 1, 1 million of unemployed white collars)

- 6 million of blue collar workers, unqualified or qualified, farm workers, and workers working for craftsmen. (Plus 1,1 million of unemployed blue collar workers). The workers who work for the industry represent 35,6 % of those having a job, 13,9 % work in the building industry and public works ; and 46 % in the tertiary sector. Basically workers produce less than they repair, maintain, deliver and transmit goods.

- and 876 000 of « technicians ».

So at least half of the labour force can be counted inside the working class without hesitation. Obviously these numbers offer only a very rough estimate as statisticians think in terms of « socioprofessional categories », a concept which does not coincide with the social classes. It’s quite obvious that somebody classified as a worker in the State statistics will never be a « hidden » capitalist, but it’s also quite obvious that a portion of the members of the capitalist class are hidden under the « executive » label. And I will not enter here in a theoretical discussion about productive and unproductive labour, according to the role played in the production of surplus value.

First, because I’m not qualified about sophisticated marxist concepts, and second because I think social classes are moving not static realities. In other words, a manual worker can very well be a productor of surplus value, refuse to identify himself with the working class, identify himself with his government and State (see « Workers dignity and racism in France and in the US », p. XX) and consider he is or will be part of the « middle classes ». So our problem is not so much a statistical one (who can be labelled as a proletarian and who can’t, and how many proletarians can we count on for the Revolution), than the difficulty to analyse correctly the political meaning of the strikes, social movements, social upheavals or « revolutions » which regularly happen on this planet.

As opposed to this proletarian majority, the capitalists, the owners of the main means of production, represent a small minority of the French population.

- Obviously statisticians don’t count the members of the bourgeoisie, but we know that there are around 150 000 French bosses who hire more than 10 workers. To these numbers we can add the managers, executive officers and a fraction of the executives of the private and public sector, who receive a wage and don’t own factories, banks, supermarkets or large real estates of farming estates. The size of the wage-earning bourgeoisie can be (very roughly) deduced from the fact that 40 000 people who receive stock options in France. So let’s say the core of the capitalist class does not represent more than 190 000 persons.

Then you have a small minority of 642 000 farmers (landowners) which represent a very small part of the French population but are quite vital to the economy. French agricultural exports represent 2/3 of those of US agricultural exports. France is the first European agricultural producer and the second exportator of agricultural products in the world.

The shop keepers (692 000), craftsmen (665 000) and professionals (lawyers, private doctors, etc .) (345 000) represent 1,7 million people.

I kept for the end what sociologists call the « middle classes » and what I prefer to call the « new petty bourgeoisie » or the « wage-earning petty bourgeoisie ».

A good part of these people are in the immaterial production sector (wage-earners in the arts, information, education and entertainment sectors) or have a position of command in the industry : foremen, supervisors, engineers and executives. In all, they represent 9,4 million people, that is 34 % of the labour force.

According to the statisticians, the « executives and superior intellectual professions » regroup the engineers, executives, journalists, wage-earners in the arts, information, entertainment sectors, secondary school and university teachers. The « intermediary professions » regroup the technicians, foremen, supervisors, primary school teachers, half of the nurses and all sorts of jobs like social workers, and administrative jobs in the public and private sector, so it’s quite difficult to make class differenciations among these 9,4 million people !

A good indication of the gap between the working class and these socalled middle classes is given by the amount of the patrimony of each socioprofessional category. This patrimony is a safety belt, very often it correponds to the ownership of a flat or a house. And it’s rather interesting to note that the patrimony of the cadres supérieurs (executives who have important responsibilities) is 20 times bigger (200 500 euros, the price of an 70 m2 apartment in a Parisian suburb or a small town) than the patrimony of the unqualified workers (9 600 euros).

Nevertheless, we can certainly count as partisans of the capitalist status quo, around a third of them :

- the executives of the public service (373 000)

- the administrative and commercial executives of the private sector (749 000)

- the engineers and technical executives of the private sector (698 000)

- the foremen and supervisors (541 000)

- and the cops and militaries (486 000)

That is a minimum of 2,8 million people whose position of command in the private or public sector, or role in the forces of repression, put them in a potentially anti-working class position.

Then you will have to decide in which class you put the teachers (1,5 million), the people working in the information, arts and entertainment sectors (203 000), the « intermediary professions » of the health and social work sectors (964 000) or the « intermediary professions » of the public service (437 000) and « intermediary professions » of the private sector administrative and commercial sector (1,6 million). And, last but not least, the priests, ministers, rabbis and imams (20 000) !!!

It can be the subject of endless debates….

- Yves-

This article can be read with the following ones

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France/USA : Workers dignity and racism. About Michele Lamont’s book " The Dignity of Working Men" (2000) : ?article1324

France : how does racism functions on a daily basis at work (Orly and Roissy airports : 1979-1983) : ?article1323

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