The Theory of a Working Class: a Re-Appreciation of Ralf Dahrendorf

  • Jonathan Lepie


Competing social theories defining “working class” can be tested against the reality of trade union membership. Only Dahrendorf’s is a good match. He follows Marx and Weber by requiring the economic need to work, but additionally requires that such work be in jobs lacking authority, jobs at the bottom of the workplace hierarchy in which one takes orders from those above, but has no one below to give orders to. This definition can be used to predict working class behaviors other than forming unions including the general lack of support for revolutionary change and a classless society while still giving support for issues of social justice. Support for underdogs is evident among union members because membership fosters the recognition of one’s own underdog role. The importance of unions’ role in social justice generally is evident in the relationship between union strength and income equality.


Unions Catholicism Marxism Labor history Worker empowerment Income equality 



I wish to thank my wife, June McMahon, for her assistance and encouragement. Kathleen Sheldon, Nick Builder, and Sheila O’Rourke provided invaluable feedback and critiques. As always, I am grateful for the comments and editorial assistance of former newspaperman and colleague Robert Dudnick.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by either of the authors. There were no individual participants in this study and, thus, informed consent does not apply to this study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Lepie
    • 1
  1. 1.Culver CityUSA

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