VARIOUS high-profile union leaders, including Mick Lynch of the RMT rail and transport union and Dave Ward of the CWU communications union have gleefully declared in no uncertain terms that “the working-class is back!”.

They have done this at the many rallies of the newly launched Enough is Enough campaign group, suggesting workers are now fighting back en masse through strikes. But they have also done so because they believe workers are seeking direct and alternative political representation for their interests in the face of Sir Keir Starmer being supine and spineless for not standing up for workers.

They question whether the Labour Party can any longer be seen as the party of labour, that is the party of the working-class and unions as it was founded to be.

The National: Peter Mandelson

This is in stark contrast to the ‘“we’re all middle-class now” jibe of Starmer supporter, arch-Blairite MP and New Labour minister Peter (now Lord) Mandelson (above). Even Tony Blair made the same point. Whatever the political motivations underlying these statements, they do testify to the continuing relevance of class, whether as a subjective social construct or, more importantly, an objective social reality.

Marx and Engels insisted in the Communist Manifesto in 1848 that social class results from the relationship to the means of production, distribution and exchange in terms of who owns, controls and, thus, benefits from this. In feudal times, this led to the peasants and the landlords. In any capitalist industrial society, this leads to the working class and the ruling class.

Workers, as with peasants before them, have no means to exist other than by selling their labour to the capitalists. They do not own land, factories, shops, banks or transport infrastructure. The capitalists depend upon need their labour to staff their businesses. So, class is not about accents, clothes, tastes or even schools. They are, at best, merely expressions of it.

READ MORE: Keir Starmer 'slams door' on independence referendum in 'disastrous' interview

Today, Marx and Engels’s insight is still a valuable one, especially as it confounds Mandelson’s patent nonsense. But it has to be added to in order to understand why all those who need to work to make a living are not workers.

IT is here the often fabled “middle class” fits in – fabled because some think they are necessarily more politically progressive as result of their education and culture than the backward and brutish working class.

As capitalism developed and expanded, capitalists themselves could no longer directly manage all their operations, including those in far-flung places.

Moreover, as the state developed and expanded through the likes of a welfare state, education service (including colleges and universities) and the civil service, a new group of senior administrators and professionals was created.

Together they form the professional-managerial class, which sits in between the working class and the ruling class. What differentiates them from the ruling class is that they do not own the means of production, distribution and exchange.

They are invested in those that do because they are well paid for their labour, allowing them to live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.

In other words, they are insulated from the worst workings of the market by dint of their wages, conditions and job security.

What distinguishes them from the working class is they, unlike workers, control the labour of others while also having autonomy at work from being controlled by others. This means they are powerful people, if still somewhat subservient to a higher master.

This is a necessarily brief sketch because managers and professional can be made redundant, can lose their autonomy and can have precarious incomes – witness the strike by barristers over increases in legal fee work for legal aid or the unrest among junior doctors and health professionals. But none of these developments undermine the central tendency identified.

In numerical terms, the working class will always be the biggest class and the ruling class – even with the addition of the middle class – the smallest.

While Lynch and Ward are correct to talk about workers producing the world’s wealth, they are off centre when they say “the working class is back”. It never went away and is always visible if people care to look. What Lynch and Ward were alluding to, however, was the working class maybe beginning to move from being a “class in itself” – the objective reality – to a “class for itself’ – politically developed enough to fight for its own interests.

Professor Gregor Gall is editor of A New Scotland: Building an Equal, Fair and Sustainable Society (Pluto Press, 2022, priced £14.99)