Tidsskriftet Kulturstudier
Tidsskriftet Kulturstudier

Tidsskriftet

Hvad var arbejderklassen? Hvem var arbejderne? Hvorfor var de på alles læber for halvtreds og hundrede år siden, og findes de overhovedet i dag? I artiklen diskuteres brydningerne fra 1850 til 2000 i debatten om arbejdere, deres politiske og ideologiske indflydelse og det konkrete arbejdsliv, de levede. Hvordan så verden ud på værkstedsgulvet? Betragtede man sig som en klasse? Ønskede man at overskride det kapitalistiske samfund? Artiklen veksler mellem at se på arbejderne i deres brogede arbejdsverden og i et overordnet, statsligt, strategisk perspektiv. Hermed fremkommer et komplekst billede af brydninger, modstand og alliancer både arbejdere imellem og i forhold til det øvrige samfund, som artiklen forsøger at forstå i en større, sammenhængende kontekst. På denne baggrund går artiklen også i kritisk dialog med den eksisterende forskning på feltet.

English summary

The worker between practice and ideology: 1850–2000

Labour culture and the labour movement have previously been prominent fields of research. On the one hand, this had to do with the profound societal influence of the labour movement; on the other hand, it had to do with the fact that many scholars regarded a self-conscious labour class as a means to balance capitalism’s negative aspects, if not simply to overcome them. Based upon this background, the author argues that the common worker has hitherto not been satisfactorily understood as a subject of cultural history. Using detailed investigations amongst workers on the workshop floor at Denmark’s largest enterprise in the period from 1850 to 2000, the author emphasises how complex and diverse the everyday working life of industrialism actually was – and hence, also the relations between workers as well as employers and society as a whole. This bottom-up analysis is linked to a top-down perspective; here, the author argues that, as seen from the overall perspective of the state, the labour population – with varying intensity – played a very strong strategic role from around 1870 to 1990. Simply stated, consideration for the well-being of the labour population was understood as a precondition for societal cohesion.

In theoretical terms, the author draws upon the structural state-form and life-mode analysis, where the idea of a ‘wage-earner’ life-mode is understood in its reciprocal relationship to the capitalist mode of production and, hence, not as a potential means to overcome capitalism. With this background, the labour movement’s alleged objective to overcome capitalism – whether through revolution or long-term reforms – is instead analysed as an effectual means in the movement’s struggles. The argument is as follows: the threat of societal transformation, which occurred over a number of decades – not least of all during the Cold War’s polarisation of capitalism and communism – led to significant attention being paid to workers’ claims of improving life conditions. Accordingly, the changed world order that followed the end of the Cold War is seen as a main reason for why concepts such as ‘worker’ or ‘labourer’ are infrequently used today, and for why the labour movement has experienced a severe debilitation in recent years.