Is Class Relevant Today

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Is class still relevant in Australia? To facilitate this question, the readings of Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, Max Weber, Helen Marshall, R.W. Connell and T.H. Irving will be considered.

Connell & Irving (1992) identify ‘class structure’ in Australia with the ‘ruling class’ owning property/business, and the ‘working class’ in the way of labourers whom ‘act together in resistance to the capitalists’. This is relevant today in Australia with the privileged having majority of the power and wealth. Moreover, exploitation of the ‘working class’ continue to maintain less power within the workplace & less wealth. Connell & Irving offer an uncomplicated view of class structure, (1992: p 40):

‘Class’ at least is a term with a definite, classic meaning, referring to a particular type of society. When we talk about the “class structure” in Australia, we are saying that the facts of power, privilege and poverty in this country have a definite pattern, one that is familiar over much of the world.

Helen Marshall (2005) reveals a simplistic view on what classes are and the inequalities existing within; Marshall. Part 2, (2005: p1 & p6).

(p1) Broadly speaking, class is about economic and social inequality… (p6) We have a tendency for groups of advanced people to congregate together, and groups of disadvantaged people to congregate so that inequalities persist from generation to generation.

Marshall (2005) identifies that “financial inequality” is not the solitary cause of “social inequality”, but it is often related. She suggests education plays a significant role in ‘class stratification’. Marshall (2005: p1), Part 2:

Table 1: CHANGES IN INCOME DISTRIBUTION 1968-69 TO 1999-2000

% of Total IncomeTop Income% of Total IncomeTop Income

1024.8No limit26.3No limit

(Source: edited from Marshall (2005: p2), Lecture 4 Part 1)

Marshall (2005) shows us that income inequality in Australia has increased during the last thirty years. It shows that the bottom half of income earners receive less and the top half more of the income distribution. However, Marshall hypothesises that people can move between the classes with hard work and the right mindset.

Marx (1959) divides class structure into three categories, these being the ‘worker, the capitalist and the rentier’. With each category living in similar milieu; sending their children to similar schools, they are therefore taking ownership of their class; therefore, Marx suggests movement between classes is difficult. Marx (1959: p16).

Fredrick Engels (1950) gives an example of the labourer’s exploitation with the worker selling their labour power for wages and the capitalist exploiting it, therefore undoubtedly dividing classes. Cited in Engels, (1950: p13):

… [H]er ability to create three times the amount of money at which her labour is valued in terms of a wage. She has repaid the cost of her production in less than 3 hours and yet works another 5 or more hours for her employer –for which she is paid nothing.


Weber divides societies into three class categories, property, commerce, and social position. This has been modified to give the reader an insight to Weber’s class stratification (1968: pp 302-303), which is relevant in Australia today:

Table 2: Status Groups & Classes;

Property Class
Positively privileged property classes are typically rentiers, receiving income from: a)Men.
d)Installations – factories and equipment.
f)Creditors – of livestock, grain or money.
Negatively privileged property classes are typically:
a)The unfree.
b)The declassed.
d)The paupers....
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