Michael Zweig, Class, Consumerism and Ireland


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To most Irish political and media commentators, the Republic is a capitalist economy without a capitalist class structure. They argue that its citizens are mostly middle class, with a working class rump that exists on the margins. The past fifteen years, in their eyes, has seen an expansion of that middle class, as well as the birth of a ´new´middle class. We have more money to buy more stuff. We go on more foreign holidays. Life is better than before. The good times, even with the caveats, are now. Indeed, it is an analysis that has been embraced by the largest left-wing party in the state. Both the current leader of the Irish Labour party, Eamonn Gilmore, and his predecessor, Pat Rabbitte, have talked of the need to appeal to the ´new´middle class in Ireland.

The term, however, is extremely vague. Nobody in Irish political and media life has offered a working definition of these ´new´middle class people outside of slight mentions of their ability to buy consumer goods and to obtain a mortgage. There is talk of middle class aspirations, of decent education and a better life for their children, but such aspirations are hardly the exclusive perogative of the middle class – they are contained, for example, in the UN´s declaration of human rights. Similarly, the talk of seismic changes in southern Irish society is one concerned with the façade of change, with our different spending habits and the adoption of new, but again unnamed, social values and opinions. Unless there has been a significant change in the power structures within Irish society – the control of government policy and direction, cultural production, education and societal development – then really all that has changed is our consumerist ambitions. In that regard, what we have experienced in the past fifteen years is nothing more than a pay rise and a credit rush. We have more consumers than before, but consumption does not a middle class make. Rather, what we have seen in the South is an expansion of the working class, which constitutes over 60% of work positions.

This essay is in two parts. The first deals with the ideas of class and class analysis as expressed by the American economist and academic, Professor Michael Zweig. The second part looks to popular views of class in the South, and presents a class analysis of southern Irish working life based on the 2006 census. It concludes that in the South, the working class is in the majority, and that its voice and concerns are constantly ignored. Consumer identity is nothing more than a shopping list when compared to our rights as citizens, and it is as consumers, and not as people, that the vested interests in Irish political, economic, and cultural life see us. Not only that, it is as consumers, and not as citizens, that they want us to act.

1. The Working Class Majority

Zweig has written extensively, and with much clarity, on the issue of class and power. In his book, The Working Class Majority, America’s Best Kept Secret (Cornell University Press, 2000), Zweig challenges the view that ‘consumer sovereignty’ – the idea that “consumers rule the economy by expressing their desires for goods and services, which producers scramble to satisfy” – is somehow the great leveller in society; that consumption equals societal power.

The idea that we as consumers can exercise control over government in ways that we cannot do as workers or voters rests again on the idea of consumer sovereignty. But the fact is that consumers are not powerful in their relations with business in the market. Corporations decide what to produce and limit the choices we find in the market. Advertisers manipulate us in ever more sophisticated ways, as advertising uses up ever greater shares of business budgets and creative talent. Even brand names, which give the appearance of promoting competition, actually work to limit competition. (The Working Class Majority, p.50)

Zweig is writing about the American experience, but the argument’s relevance to the South becomes much clearer when applied to that most Irish of ventures, the property market.

Despite having experienced a glut of housing, Ireland has seen the interests of the vast majority of the country decimated by powerful vested interests – landowners, banks, speculators, estate agents, and builders. Where prices should have fallen ,they have risen. Where government should have cried “halt!”, tax-breaks were given. Consumer power is way down on the list of those who have a say in the running of the property market. Not surprisingly, given their lack of influence, the consumer is the one left holding the bill. More wages, less power.

What, then, is the working class? Zweig defines it in the following way.

I define classes in large part based on the power and authority people have at work. The workplace engages people in more than their immediate work, by which they create goods and services. It also engages them in relationships with each other, relationships that are controlled by power. A relative handful of people have great power to organize and direct production, while a much larger number have almost no authority.
[Working class people] are skilled and unskilled, in manufacturing and in services, men and women of all races, nationalities, religions. They drive trucks, write routine computer code, operate machinery, wait tables, sort and deliver the mail, work on assembly lines, stand all day as bank tellers, perform thousands of jobs in every sector of the economy. For all their differences, working class people share a common place in production, where they have relatively little control over the pace or content of their work, and aren’t anybody’s boss. (Majority, p.3)

Working class and middle class, then, are defined more in terms of the amount of power and influence one has over one’s employment, rather then in terms of simple income alone.

We can understand the economic, political, and cultural role of each class if we see it in terms of its relationships to the others, in the textures of social power. This way – with power laid bare – the abstractions of class come to life. (Majority, p.4)

This leads Zweig to the following definition of middle class – that is, middle class in terms of cultural and political power, rather than in terms of SUVs and chilled white wine.

What is the middle class in the middle of? If we answer this question in terms of power instead of income, we see that the middle class is in between the two great social forces in modern society, the working class and the capitalist class. These two classes are connected at work, in the production of goods and services. But they have sharply opposing interests, in production and in politics. The middle class is caught in the middle of these conflicting roles and interests. In the context of the sharp conflicts that arise between labor and capital, the middle class is caught in the crossfire. (Majority, p.20)

For Zweig, the middle class is comprised of small business owners, supervisors, and professional people. “Small business owners” writes Zweig, “are caught in the middle. They share with working people a common vulnerability to market forces dominated by large corporations, but they share with those same big businesses an interest in keeping the power of working people to a minimum.” With regard to supervisors and managers, “this person is the company’s front line of management, there to make sure the work gets done, responsible for pushing the workforce to perform.” On the last section of the middle class, the professionals, Zweig has this to say:

A third section of the middle class is made up of… professional people such as doctors, lawyers, college professors and accountants. These people tend to have considerable authority and flexibility in their jobs, whether they are self-employed or work in a corporate department. They often put in long hours, and they do their work in accordance with rules that guide their actions. But on the whole they function within professional associations that exert considerable influence in setting the rules and standards to which the members of the profession are subject. In this way, the discipline professionals face is not the same at that experienced by workers. (Majority, p.23-4)

So. If you’re not a professional, if you are not part of management, and if you do not run a small business, in workplace terms you’re part of the working class. This is because power within one’s workplace is what matters. Finally, this power is reflected in the wider society, as the interests of those classes with the power to influence policy gain dominance over those who do not.

Power relationships in the South have not changed in the past ten years just because incomes have risen. This is mainly because ALL incomes have risen. The working class are not better off when compared to their contemporaries in the middle class, who’ve also benefited from the prosperity. They are only better off when compared to the ghosts of the past. Their position within the workplace and within society remains the same.

Upward Mobility

Zweig asks, “why has the working class disappeared from public view?” His main point has to do with the almost complete dominance of middle class culture in all aspects of media, popular culture, and political discourse – the effect of which has been to push working class identity to the margins. His argument holds a relevance to the situation in Ireland, where a similar predominance of middle class “values” exists.

Even though the middle class is only about thirty-six percent of the workforce, almost every aspect of politics and popular culture, with help from the media, reinforces the idea that “middle class” is typical and usual status of Americans. Four strands of thinking have combined to promote the idea that we’re all middle class and to dissolve working class identity: 1) idea about upward mobility, 2) the promotion of consumerism, 3) the politics and ideology of the Cold War, and 4) media coverage of class and economic issues. (Majority, p.39)

“Upward mobility” needs no introduction to Ireland. It forms the basis of every positive analysis of Ireland in the past ten years, with the focus firmly on the growth in real incomes and living standards. The emphasis on wages and material possessions is one that resonates with American ideas surrounding mobility as well.

One common understanding of upward mobility is raising family income. Since working class families now earn much higher incomes than they did fifty or a hundred years ago, who can question the reality of upward mobility and the good life workers have under capitalism? This argument is often made in terms of lifestyle: almost everyone lives a “middle class lifestyle” now (except the rich and the poor), so most people, including workers, must be middle class.
… But an increase in personal possessions doesn’t catapult workers into the middle class. The lifestyles of the middle class have also improved dramatically – to say nothing about the capitalists. It makes no sense to compare the workers of today with the middle class of 1945. (Majority, p.40)

Zweig states that class structure is not a rigid caste system, and it is wrong to confuse one with the other. There is a limited form of mobility, and individuals can “get on” through hard work, honest living, and some luck as well. However, Zweig argues that not everyone can move up or improve themselves, because there has to be something for them to move up into. In other words, the amount of social mobility is bookmarked by the demands of the economy.

Since the working class includes both white collar and blue collar people, the fact that the son of a steelworker is now a bank teller says nothing about the disappearance of the working class through upward mobility. Some may believe that standing behind a bank counter is a “better” job than standing in front of an oxygen furnace (although it pays about half as much). But such occupational mobility is not mainly the result of the hard work and good character of the person who has gotten the better job. Rather, it comes from the structural changes in the economy that have shrunk the steel industry and opened up the financial sector…
The same workings of the economy contribute to the fact that some children of the working class have made it into the professional and managerial middle class. These occupations have grown somewhat in relation to the overall labour force, so it would not be possible for all the people who are currently middle class to have been born that way. No amount of hard work and good character could have made as many working class kids upwardly mobile if the “higher class” jobs had not been created by economic changes that had nothing to do with individual strivings. (Majority, p.43)

In other words, classes are here to stay, as long as we have a capitalist economy, and we should organise our politics accordingly. This is because the class system is built into the very fabric of a capitalist economy. Social mobility is also limited by the fact that the majority of middle class positions stay within the middle class itself. There is upward movement, but it is not in any way the defining principle. The son of a postman might end up becoming a doctor, but the son of a doctor is far more likely to achieve that goal. The idea that more wages and arbitrary advancement – for the children of working class parents anyway – is an improvement on robust social benefits provided by a functional social democracy, needs to be challenged by any social democratic party worthy of its name. And the popularity of more wages and arbitrary advancement as a worthy alternative to representative party politics, is tackled by Zweig under the headings of consumerism and the media.


The rise of consumerism as an identity was consolidated in the years after the Second World War. ‘As leisure time increased’ writes Zweig, ‘the consumer boom flourished, and “keeping up with the Jones” seemed to become the very purpose of life.’ He argues that ‘the consumption patterns of the middle class [have been] taken up as a model and presented through advertising, films, television, the internet, and other popular entertainment. This middle class, middle-income standard of living is close enough to what the working class can afford, especially with all the encouragement to go ever more deeply into debt, to serve well as a magnet and as a source of ready comparison. (p.47) This trend has continued, and ‘consumption still holds our attention as people try to find fulfilment and identity beyond work.’ More wages in an alienated workplace has led people to buy more stuff in an attempt to find meaning through possessions.

Zweig’s argument, though, is not only with the façade of consumerism, but also with the effect this façade has had on popular ideas around state services and privatisation. He argues that the outward appearance generated by a consumerist identity gives the impression that the working class and the middle class are, essentially, the same.

The improved living standards the working class has achieved over the past century has brought a wide array of consumer goods. The middle class and the better-paid, unionised working class experience a rough equality: most own a house, a car or two, a stereo system; they both go to the movies and take paid vacations. For many people, the fact that the money to buy these things has come from very different work environments with different degrees of power makes no difference. And the fact that the middle class family will tend to have a bigger house, a fancier car, and a longer vacation seems a minor point against the argument that the working class, through consumption, is essentially the same as the middle class. (Majority, p.47)

‘Once again’ argues Zweig, ‘class differences at work and in the political arena are eclipsed, lost from view in the glitter of lifestyle.’ The underlying power structures of a capitalist economy are not changed by façade, however much advertising may tell us otherwise. In this change in identity, from one defined by workplace to one defined by consumerism, ‘we have lost something vital.’

A steady consistent representation of workers as consumers undermines working class identity and weakens solidarity, to the disadvantage of workers everywhere. Ironically, the weaker working class are in their confrontations with employers and with the capitalist class in the larger society, the less will workers be able to improve their wages and so their status as consumers. (Majority, p.49)

Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the demands for the privatisation of public services. In Ireland we’re watching the privatisation of the health service, and pensions, in the name of consumer choice. Again, this is a myth. The working class is stretched, credit-wise, to keep up the consumer façade. This cannot translate into health and pensions. It can happen, and does happen, however, for the genuine middle class.

Zweig devotes an entire chapter to this topic alone, but in summing up he says that ‘the point is that working people are called to support privatisation with appeals to their identity as consumers. When this identity dominates our stance toward government, the purpose of government shrinks and the political process is trivialized into a question of consumer choice.’ (p.50)

The Media

Representations of class and social issues in the popular media reflect and also help to create the misconceptions that erode our awareness of the working class and promote the idea of the United States as a middle class country. (Majority, p.54)

Zweig, of course, is talking about America, but the same points relate to the Irish media as well. As stated before, representations of the working class in Irish culture and media is something that bloggers, at least, have begun to address. As a body of professionals, the Irish media is, in the main, conservative and right-wing. Its coverage of Irish society is one where the working class arrive only when they have problems. Again, it is a situation in common with American media – admittedly an altogether more right-wing and conservative bunch. Zweig writes that ‘the newspapers may occasionally run a human interest story on the life of a particular family in hard times. But rarely do they attempt any analysis of what these stories tell us beyond the individuals shown.’ This is the ‘falling through the cracks’ approach, where heartbreaking stories are run of people who’ve been left behind by the system, or forgotten altogether. It acknowledges problems, but usually portrays them as human error, rather than as fundamental fault-lines. In Irish media commentary, social problems seem to be linked to government funding. Again, the idea is that it is the mismanagement of funds, rather than the system itself, that’s at fault.

With regard to media itself, Zweig has this to say.

Workers are seen, when they are seen at all, as faces in a crowd or in sound bites, rarely as people with thoughtful things to say about their condition and their country. In the media, the working class is truly the silenced majority. (Majority, p.57)

The working class does exist in the media, but hardly in the most identity-cherishing way. When the majority does arrive, it is as consumers, through surveys of what we’re buying, where we’re going, where we’re living. Zweig’s point that the idea of consumption not as an activity but as an identity is reinforced every evening on the news. And in Ireland, this process has easily taken place over the past ten years, and continues to do so. In America, it’s been going on since the 1950s.

Of course, Irish media is not just journalism. Zweig argues that talking about class issues in terms of class is not the negative experience that the media demand that it should be. ‘On the contrary’ write Zweig, ‘most people have a pretty good sense of who they are and where they stand in the larger society. Class talk can strike a chord among working class people.’

For Zweig, the working class needs to be aware of its position in order to challenge it. The working class needs to be aware that it is not the middle class.

To exercise power, you need to know who you are. You also need to know who your adversary is, the target of the conflict. When the working class disappears into the middle class, workers lose a vital piece of their identity. In political, social, and cultural terms, they don’t know who they are any more. To make matters worse, they lose a sense of the enemy, as the capitalist class vanishes among “the rich”. As the capitalist class disappears from view, the target of struggle disappears, too. (Majority, p.74)

Zweig does not see the rich as the enemy. Writing of the American experience, he says, “real wages haven’t fallen, unions aren’t weaker, multiple wage earners aren’t a necessity in almost every working class household because Sylvester Stallone and Madonna are rich.” For Zweig, “capitalists tend to be rich, yes, but more important is the fact that they are capitalists.”

When the capitalist class disappears, the middle class, and particularly workers, who are thought to be middle class, seem to confront… whom? The rich? It is relatively easy to trivialize and ridicule class politics when it appears to be a knee-jerk attack on the rich. Not least, this is because most people would like to become rich themselves, to live the good life with ease. To attack the rich is to attack what many people hope for in their own futures. It seems to rob people of their aspirations.” (Majority, p.75)

This is why Zweig’s insistence on ‘identifying a working class is not a word game. It is not just a matter of semantics to say that workers are in the working class, not the middle class; it is a question of power.” In the following quote, Zweig is talking about the American experience. Nonetheless, it’s one with some resonance with today’s Ireland.

Since the 1970s, employers have argued continuously that workers get paid too much, that unions put too many restrictions on management (either directly or through their influence in politics), that workers have to give up past gains to help business regain competitiveness. Politicians complain that labour is “a special interest” that threatens the middle class; any talk of the working class and class conflict is considered a ridiculous throwback to outworn dogma. These are all direct attacks on labor by capitalists. It is a class struggle, but only one side seems to know it.

Although most people do not look at social issues in class terms, many business leaders have a keen appreciation of the matter. For twenty-five years they have mounted a deliberate and public attack on working class wages and power. While working and middle class people have been disregarding class, others have been astutely conducting class struggle – on behalf of capitalists. (Majority, p.74)

Zweig’s insistence on a class analysis is that it helps us to see what is happening in the economy – the recent changes in distribution of wealth, for example; analyzing class allows us a better understanding of power within the economy and society; to talk of a working class is to acknowledge the existence and experience of working people, of the dignity of work, and to acknowledge their identity as working people. That identity has, to put it mildly, “suffered eclipse.” “A resurrection of working class social, political, and cultural life” writes Zweig, “proudly defined as such, would contribute to the strengthening again of working people’s sense of dignity, as well as increasing the power and authority of working people in the larger society.”

2. Class and Ireland

Ask anyone in people in Ireland to define working class, and more than likely an image of poverty will pop into their head. Irish political and popular culture sees working class in terms of unemployment, depression, alcoholism, addiction, and despair. It is a bizarre situation that in the South, working class usually refers to anyone who does not work. The more positive term of middle class is reserved for those who work and buy consumer goods. The terms of reference for class in Irish political and popular culture are those of consumer categories. The one thing that is never discussed in terms of class, however, is the realities of working in a capitalist economy, and nobody is suggesting that the South is anything but a capitalist economy. The ability to buy consumer goods remains the benchmark for one’s position in Irish society, at least in the eyes of political and media commentators.

Consumption, however, has not changed power relations within capitalist economies, rather it has seen the expansion of middle class products into working class life. The idea is far from new. The growth of mass production in the 1910s and 1920s saw a fundamental shift in the way products were sold. Before, the idea was to supply demand. Now, the goal became to create demand, and then supply it. It gave birth to a new form of advertising – ads that traded on desire rather than utility. In 1911, the psychologist Walter Hill Scott wrote that `goods offered as means of gaining social prestige make their appeals to one of the most profound of the human instincts.´ (Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness, McGraw-Hill, 1976, p.35).

According to Stuart Ewen,

A new cultural logic was projected by advertising beyond the strictly pecuniary one of creating the desire to consume. The social perception was one in which people ameliorated the negative condition of social objectification through consumption – material objectification. (Consciousness, p.36)

In 2002 Adam Curtis put forward the thesis that for the past 80 years we have seen the ‘engineering of consent.’ His documentary, The Century of the Self, pinpointed Edward Bernays as the founding father of this new political and marketing process. It focused in on the growth of public relations agencies, and how, by using the theories of Sigmund Freud, these agencies sought to influence public opinion by 1) stimulating desires in order to create artificial demand for disposable products, and 2) tailoring political debate to appeal to the same narrow self-interest on which rampant consumerism depends. The ideas of Edward Bernays gave rise to new forms of marketing that classified people, not in terms of their societal power and influence, but in terms of consumption patterns. The effect of these ideas has been immense.

One small, but vital, effect has been in the area of class analysis. Today, in Ireland, it is an accepted truism that the consumerist classes used by marketing agencies – ‘ABC1s’, ’self actualisers’, ‘esteem seekers’, etc – can also be used to reflect the class divisions of Irish societal power. Indeed, the appeal of David McWilliams’ generation labels is that they resonate with the accepted ideas of consumerist groupings as the true picture of societal influence. With all the talk of breakfast rolls and Mick Jaggers, McWilliams is offering nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation for the Director General of whatever company you care to think of. Societal power is neither approached nor dissected with such a PR template. The expansion of middle class products into working class lives has not led to a similar expansion of middle class political, economic and managerial power into working class lives. The capitalist work structures remain untouched. And in the South, political and economic power remains structured on the workings of its capitalist economy.

It is at best naïve to suggest that Irish consumers are in some way empowered by their credit-fuelled purchases. The real power lies with those who have the ability to influence legislation to suit their economic agenda. In the final analysis, the South remains a capitalist economy, and the inherent power-relations of that type of economy are not changed by the ability of those in working class occupations to consume goods.

In order for working class people to influence government policy, they need, first of all, to see themselves as a vested interest in Irish society, and not such the consumerist cousin of their middle class managers. As Zweig says, ´in cultural affairs, in education, in the media, in politics, working people need to develop their own independent base of power.´ The first step in that process is the recognition that class is not dictated by consumption, but is hotwired into the very structure of capitalism itself. We have forgotten this fact, much to our detriment.

The final word to Zweig.

Government is not simply a service provider. It does exercise power towards certain social ends, on behalf of some people, limiting others. In an economy that includes conflicting interests, and where the raw power of the capitalists tends to be far greater than the power workers have, it is not enough simply to say that the government is here to ´level the playing field´ of equal opportunity, and then let the market go. To serve the needs of working people, the government has to take on more than the role of facilitator that characterizes the Third way. It must exercise its power to put limits on capitalists and their property rights, even as it tries to facilitate the opportunity of workers and middle class professionals and small business owners. Only the government can put uniform restrictions on capitalist behaviours, to prohibit destructive forms of competition. This is what the working class needs to address as it contests for power.´ (Majority, p.164)

3. Class analysis of Southern Irish working life

The figures below omit two sections. One is builders and building contractors (17,119). This is because I can’t see how it’s possible to see them as middle class – not in our economy, anyway, not with the power that they have to dictate economic and political policy. I’ve included them in the second pie-chart, but omitted them from the occupation breakdown. The other is the figure for gainfully employed but not stated (165,143). This is because, well, it’s not stated what occupations/positions are involved. They could all be cleaners, or they could all be barristers. Who knows?

I have included farm owners and managers (72,048) in middle class. The figure is hard to break down into owners and managers, and so all of it goes into middle class.

Class is not a rigid caste system. Some cases bleed over; others are hard to equate with one or the other. So, please remember, this is an analysis of national figures. It is macro, not micro. Finally, this is not a breakdown of class in Irish society, but of class occupations and positions among the working population. No national figures are given for the business, or owner, class in Ireland. What figures have been given (for builders and farm owners) have either been incorporated into the middle class table, or highlighted as omitted.

The point here is to show that talk of a disappearing working class belongs with Mark Twain’s obituary. Nor should the fact that the majority of Irish working people find themselves in working class occupations and positions are of any surprise to anyone with even the faintest understanding of how a capitalist economy works. The middle class majority in Ireland is a middle-class myth.




Farm workers – 7,034
Agricultural machinery drives / other farming occupations – 5,555
Fishing and related workers – 1,717
Forestry workers – 1,576
Electricians & electrical maintenance fitters – 25,726
Telephone fitters – 4,124
Cable jointers and lines repairers – 978
Radio, TV and video engineers – 712
Computer engineers (installation/maintenance) – 3,433
Other electrical & electronic trades – 3,402
Toolmakers – 1,369
Metal working production & maintenance fitters – 23,199
Precision instrument makers, goldsmiths, silversmiths… – 1,758
Other machine tool setters & CNC setter-operators – 867
Smiths, forge/metal plate workers & shipwrights – 539
Plumbers, heating/ventilating engineers/related trades – 15,965
Sheet metal workers – 3,152
Welders and steel erectors – 9,028
Motor mechanics, auto electricians, tyre and exhaust fitters – 14,026
Vehicle body repairers, panel beaters & spray painters – 3,616
Moulders & furnace operatives (metal) – 330
electroplaters, galvanisers & colour coaters – 119
Other metal making & treating process operatives – 896
Machine tool operatives (inc. CNC machine tool operatives) – 4,240
Other automatic machine workers, metal polishers, etc 281
Weavers, knitters, warp preparers, bleachers, dyers, finishers – 696
Sewing machinists, menders, darners, embroiderers – 2,702
Coach trimmers, upholsterers, mattress makers – 904
Shoe repairers & other leather makers – 455
Tailors, dressmakers, clothing cutters, milliners, furriers – 851
Other textile, garments & related trades – 427
Tannery production operatives – 128
Spinners, doublers, twisters, winders, reelers – 116
Other textile processing operatives – 1,137
Bakers & flour confectioners – 2,251
Butchers & meat cutters – 5,680
Fishmongers & poultry dressers – 521
Bakery & confectionery process operatives – 867
Tobacco process operatives – 146
Other food & drink (inc. brewing) process operatives – 16,611
Printers, originators, compositors – 3,512
Bookbinders, print finishers, other printing trades – 2,938
Chemical, gas, petroleum process plant operatives – 642
paper, wood and related process plant operatives – 642
Rubber process operatives, moulding machine operatives, tyre builders – 348
Plastics process operatives, moulders, extruders – 2,363
Synthetic fibre, other chemical paper, plastics, related operatives – 919
Cabinet makers – 4,055
Other woodworking trades – 1,051
Glass product, ceramics makers, finishers, other operatives – 2,825
Other craft & related occupations – 2,379
Assemblers. Lineworkers (electrical & electronic goods) – 14,296
Assemblers. Lineworkers (metal goods & other goods) – 11,233
Packers, bottlers, canners, fillers, weighers, graders, sorters – 6,225
Mechanical plant drivers/operatives, crane drivers – 12,632
Fork lift truck drivers – 11,031
Electrical energy, boiler & related plant operatives/attendants – 1,559
woodworking machine operatives – 2,716
Mine (excluding coal) & quarry workers – 2,037
Bricklayers, masons – 15,645
Roofers, slaters, tilers, sheeters, cladders – 6,347
Plasterers – 13,641
Glaziers – 1,156
Floorers, floor coverers, carpet fitters, planners, floor & wall tilers – 2,944
Painters & decorators – 12,652
Scaffolders, riggers, steeplejacks, other construction trades – 6,614
Carpenters & joiners – 37,769
Pipe layers/pipe joiners, related construction workers – 9,788
Rail construction & maintenance workers – 548
Road construction workers, paviors, kerb layers – 8,802
Other building & civil engineering labourers – 37,234
Storekeepers, warehousemen/women,despatch, production control clks – 21,369
Travel & flight attendants – 3,669
Drivers of road goods vehicles – 35,111
Bus conductors & coach drivers – 7,674
Taxi/cab drivers, chauffeurs, couriers – 17,350
Seafarers (merchant navy), barge & boat operatives – 927
Rail engine drivers and other railway line operatives – 1,356
Other transport and machinery operatives n.e.s. – 1,839
Stevedores & dockers – 527
Goods porters – 2,715
Drivers mates – 496
Postal workers & mail sorters – 7,426
Accounts & wages clerks, book-keepers, other financial clerks – 30,538
Cashiers, bank & counter clerks – 27,323
Debt, rent & other cash collectors – 988
Filing, computer, library & other clerks n.e.s. – 77,855
Secretaries, medical, legal, personal assistants, typists, word processor operators – 30,878
Receptionists & receptionist-telephonists – 12,469
Telephone operators, telegraph operators, other office communication system operators- 2,149
Bar staff – 15,727
Buyers and purchasing officers – 2,959
Sales assistants, check-out operators, petrol pump attendants – 93,555
Market/street traders & scrap dealers – 480
Merchandisers, window dressers, floral arrangers, telephone sales – 5,860
Computer operators, data processing operators, other office machine operators – 4,271
Lab technicians – 4,831
Nurses & midwives – 51,145
Medical technicians, dental auxiliaries, dental nurses – 5,543
Nurses’ aids – 9,405
Photographers, camera, sound & video equipment operators – 2,640
Security guards & related occupations – 12,822
Other security & protective service occupations – 1,294
Waiters & waitresses – 15,295
Care assistants & attendants – 33,711
Childminders, nursery nurses & playgroup leaders – 17,342
Educational assistants – 9,512
Hairdressers, barbers, beauticians – 19,112
Housekeepers (domestic & non-domestic) – 5,994
Caretakers p 6,472
Launderers, dry cleaners, pressers – 2,841
Hotel porters & kitchen porters – 8,233
Counterhands & catering assistants – 16,013
Roundsmen/women and van salespersons – 3,348
Local government clerical officers and assistants – 10,221
Prison service officers – 2,537
Police officers (sergeant and below – minus 2,200 for sergeants) – 9,684
Soldiers (minus 33% as estimate for sergeant) – 4,288
Water & sewerage plant attendants – 441
Refuse & salvage collectors – 1,870
Gardeners & groundsmen/women – 9,270
Other plant, machine, process operatives – 9,986
Mates to metal, electrical & related fitters – 1,201
Labourers in engineering & other making/processing industries – 2,459
Window cleaners & car park attendants – 984
Cleaners & domestics – 29,642
Other occupations in sales and services – 985
All other labourers & related workers – 6,959
Railway station workers, supervisors, and guards (-33% for supervisors. est.) – 382
Total 1,125,650


Horticultural trades – 484
Inspectors, viewers, and lab testers – 2,675
Building managers – 6,351
Architects, town planners, surveyors – 6,819
General managers in large companies – 17,048
Production & works managers 20,686
Company financial managers – 7,006
Marketing managers – 30,287
Purchasing managers – 2,113
Personnel managers – 7,823
Other financial managers – 27,398
Entertainment & sport managers – 3,033
Other managers -10,004
Transport managers – 3,214
Stores and warehousing managers – 7,960
Aircraft officers, traffic planners & controllers – 1,548
Ship & hovercraft officers – 705
Bus & road transport depot inspectors – 460
Garage managers & proprietors – 2,054
Managers & proprietors of butchers – 1,252
Managers and proprietors of shops – 50,124
Importers, exporters, commodity and shipping brokers – 551
Technical & wholesale sale representatives – 17,104
Auctioneers, estimators, valuers, other sales reps – 12,088
Credit controllers – 3,343
Bank & building society managers – 8,624
Barristers & solicitors – 10,003
Chartered & certified management accountants – 27,116
Actuaries, economists, statisticians, management consultants & business analysts – 7,037
Librarians, archivists, curators – 1,688
Legal service & related occupations – 2,241
Underwriters, claims assessors, brokers, investment analysts – 14,302
Personnel, industrial relations, work study officers – 4,708
Computer systems managers – 11,518
software engineers – 11,180
Computer analyst programmers – 18,619
Chemists – 1,938
Biological scientists – 4,882
Physicists – 673
Other natural scientists – 2,529
Civil & mining engineers – 6,858
Mechanical engineers – 3,224
Electrical & electronic engineers – 5,055
Chemical production, planning & quality control engineers – 4,200
Design & development engineers – 1,706
Other engineers & technologists – 2,546
Engineering technicians – 1,878
Electrical & electronic technicians – 2,901
Architectural, town planning, building, civil engineering technicians – 3,078
Other scientific technicians – 6,905
Draught persons – 2,497
Building inspectors & quantity surveyors – 3,203
Marine, insurance & other surveyors – 74
Medical practitioners – 10,105
Pharmacists, pharmacologists, ophthalmic & dispensing opticians – 3,729
Dental practitioners – 1,715
Veterinarians – 1,685
Medical radiographers – 1,203
Physiotherapists & chiropodists – 2,569
Occupational & speech therapists, psychotherapists, other therapists – 5,346
Other health associate professionals – 620
Psychologists, other social/behavioural scientists – 2,614
social workers & probation officers – 5,213
Matrons, house-parents, welfare, community, youth workers – 9,867
Clergy – 3,902
Authors, writers, journalists – 6,096
Artists, commercial/industrial artists, graphic/clothing designers – 9,277
Actors, musicians, entertainers, stage managers, producers, directors – 6,165
Professional athletes & sports officials – 4,734
Information officers, career advisors, vocational guidance specialists – 2,089
vocational, industrial trainers, driving instructors – 7,723
Inspectors of factories, trading standards, other statutory inspectors – 790
Other associate professional & technical occupations – 3,133
Hotel & accommodation managers – 7,836
Restaurant & catering managers – 10,991
Publicans, innkeepers, club managers – 8,518
Travel agency managers – 2,156
Chefs & cooks – 21,966
Administrators of schools and colleges – 955
University, RTC & higher education teachers – 10,973
Secondary & vocational education teachers – 30,124
Primary & nursery education teachers – 31,578
Other teaching professionals – 7,268
Senior managers in national government – 775
Local government officers – 1,841
General administrators in national government – 8,459
Civil Service Executive officers – 5,422
Judges – 197
Environmental health workers, occupational hygienists & safety officers – 3,658
Civil Service administrative officers & assistants – 20,795
Fire service officers – 1,856
Senior police and prison officers – 432
Commissioned officers in armed forces – 1009
Police sergeants (estimate) – 2,200
Army sergeants (estimate) – 2,144
Undertakers, bookmakers, personal service workers – 5,099
Farm owners and managers – 72,048
Railway supervisors (estimate) – 191

Total – 760,379

Download a PDF version of this article.

Photo courtesy of Donncha O’Caoimh. Originally posted as Trust in the Street on his In Photos Blog.


7 Responses

  1. Thriftcriminal

    February 26, 2008 2:08 pm

    This resonates strongly with me. My handle is chosen not to represent myself as a tight git, but as a fundamental rejection of the consumer society in which I exist but hold no sway. An excellent start to your new venture lads.

  2. KevanB

    February 26, 2008 9:25 pm

    Interesting way of looking at the world. Thank you for the effort you obviously put into it. Not sure I totally agree with you but certainly food for thought. Good luck with the new venture.

  3. KK

    February 27, 2008 10:14 am

    Really enjoyed this article. I thought the use of Zweig’s approach was really interesting. I would like to know more though about how the specific Irish situation, differs from that in the US. Yes, we are subject to much of the same consumerism, and many of the same corporations, but there are key differences. Do you know of any article/ authors who have discussed these, in terms of the class debate you outline so elegantly?