What does the “working middle class” mean to which the PSOE appeals so much and why does it use it?

“I am going to leave my skin to defend the working middle class of our country”. It was one of the phrases pronounced by the President of the Government, Pedro Sanchez, at the state of the nation debate held last July. The appeals to this concept, that of “working middle class”, have been constant since the Government and the PSOE in recent times. It is in the messages and in the political arguments and there are hardly any appearances without mentioning it. But, what exactly does it mean and why are the Executive and the Socialists making an effort to transmit it?

To understand some of the reasons that lead to this, it is necessary to dwell on studies such as those of the Sociological Research Center (CIS). According to the last barometer, from July this year, when asked “what social class would you say you belong to?”, 48.2% defined themselves as middle-middle. Medium-low was considered 13.3% and worker/worker 10.3%.

After the elections in Andalusia, with the worst results in the history of the PSOE, a campaign called “Govern to transform and protect the middle and working class” was launched. The goal was transmit the measures of the Executive. Some socialist voices then pointed out that there was a widespread feeling among citizens that measures were only being taken for the most disadvantaged classes, so it was necessary to open the focus.

“The middle class exists as a majority reality. But it is not something that one can define on the basis of classical sociological criteria. It is a majority effect that is built in a society that is not articulated on the basis of social classes,” he considers Emmanuel Rodriguezsociologist and historian, author of a recent book entitled The middle class effect (Dream Traffickers, 2022).

“The middle class exists as a majority reality. But it is not something that can be defined on the basis of classical sociological criteria”, points out Emmanuel Rodríguez

For Rodríguez, classes were historically almost total facts before in other societies. But in societies this is no longer the case due to factors such as the extension of education, real estate or the penetration of the State with mechanisms such as public employment. “The middle class exists in that sense, when people say they are middle class they are not kidding themselves. He means that he is outside the old conflict between old and poor. That’s real,” she states.

According to the political scientist Arantxa Tiradoauthor (together with Ricardo Romero, Deny) from the book The working class does not go to paradise (Akal, 2016), the term middle class is incorrect from a Marxist theoretical perspective. “The middle class concept is more of a sociological concept where a subdivision of society is made based on income and other cultural and self-protective elements,” he says.

“Middle class has always been used in politics as a way to make people identify with a term that is not in the polarization between class and low or high. It cannot be denied that although there is so much propaganda to make the working class invisible Many people still identify with that term. Since they cannot deny a whole process of impoverishment of the working class that has lost rights, income and purchasing power, they have to put what is worker to broaden the spectrum,” he adds.

George Lake, professor of Political Theory at the Carlos III University, considers that “from a sociological point of view, the working middle class means nothing.” “But, of course, one would have to ask if sociological categories describe reality or simply construct it,” he says.

From Tirado’s point of view, there are many people “deceived” with that “aspirational sense”. And he considers that “it is significant that the PSOE does it, with worker in its initials”. “Delves into this logic of transversality, of diluting the ideological and looking for market niches”, he highlights.

Confrontation with the PP?

Authors like the teacher Antonio Antón, Professor of Sociology at the Complutense University of Madrid, frame the “rhetorical turn” of the PSOE in a confrontation with the PP. “It is about assessing the function of this discourse: trying to appropriate the representativeness of the citizen majority and reduce that of the Popular Party, which would only defend the interests of that oligarchic minority as opposed to the socialist defense of the broad social majorities,” he recently explained. in an article published in this medium.

“What Sánchez is trying to do is appeal to a desire rather than a social reality. That desire has to do with the fact that there is a majority self-description as middle class, rather than as a worker. What he is trying to do is create a political subject, rather than describe an existing one, that is the task of political communication, to create realities. More so in a context where it has lost part of its social base and has to recover it,” argues Lago.

“What Sánchez is trying to do is appeal to a desire rather than a social reality,” says Professor Jorge Lago

The Carlos III professor considers that the framework of the first Podemos is being revealed here. That is to say, “trying to build a majority subject faced with a supposed elite that would represent the PP“. “Sánchez is also talking about Feijóo representing business interests, building an adversary, a polarity,” he adds. A kind of “up and down” from other times but that would generate “a kind of majority subject that is where the majority of society registers against the PP”.

More critical is Tirado, who also recalls that this terminology was also used in the beginnings of Ciudadanos, with Albert Rivera at the helm. “We are in a historical moment where the entire labor and worker culture is diluted, references are lost, the left seeks economic policies that are indistinguishable from the right,” he considers.

In addition, he wonders what people mean by being middle class. “In that concept Ayuso or Rivera put from those who earn less than 1,000 euros a month to those who earn more than 130,000 a year. That is the trick of using the middle class, that you can enter very wide salary ranges,” says Tirado.

“I think they use it because It is an all-encompassing concept.. Most of the people are located there. It is an attempt to understand all of society,” Rodríguez points out for his part. The sociologist considers that “all politics is always aimed at the middle class” although there are nuances. And he also frames the use in a “terminological dispute over the middle class with the PP”. Both are considered middle class parties despite the fact that the Socialists may have voters among the working classes.

The results of this new socialist strategy and how the rhetoric takes hold, which also includes different acts on the street, will be seen soon. “Politics builds identities. Whether it will work or not will determine whether it is well done or not. In politics the effects of speeches they are measured by their electoral successes, not by their adaptation to the academic discourse”, considers Lago. Others, such as Tirado point out that the influence of the PSOE in sectors of the working class is very strong. “There I think that in that sector it squeaks a bit”, warns the political scientist.


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