The Service Proletariat

Start of project: January 2009

With the much-discussed shift from an industrial to a service society, industrial enterprise is no longer the only definitive focal point of intense change in society. In modern economies, tertiary employment also increasingly plays a significant role. To this day, its gain in significance is associated with great hopes. Outside the routine of industrial production, employment in the service sector has been expected to endow work with new meaning and enhance personal autonomy and social advancement. But the expansion of tertiary services has led to the emergence not only of the social category of the knowledge worker who does intelligent and well-paid work in a humane environment. The specialized centers of highly productive knowledge economies today are juxtaposed with the area of routine service work dominated by uninspiring activity, hard physical labor, and low wages. Growth sectors in Germany’s labor market are cleaning, postal services, security logistics, and discount retail stores. The work and lives of employees in these sectors are marked by specific forms of work skills, concepts of workplace authority, and ideas about society that distinguish them both from the traditional working class as well as from salaried employees and knowledge workers. Is this a postindustrial proletariat?

(Last modified March 2014)