from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Representation of a worker by the Communist International in 1927

The worker is an industrial worker who does his work predominantly with physical wage labor .


The word worker is a noun agentis from the term work . Above all, a social status is associated with the worker , which distinguishes him from the employee or civil servant ( social class ). This social differentiation between workers, employees or civil servants also exists in other cultures ( English worker , blue collar worker for workers, English clerk , white collar worker for white collar workers). The distinction between blue-collar and white-collar workers is (e) based on formal, functional and socio-cultural characteristics. One of the central themes of the debate is the possible leveling of workers and employees ( convergence ) in the course of rationalization . Formally , collective agreements in Germany ensured that workers received a subsequent weekly or monthly wage and white-collar workers a monthly wage, often in advance. Workers had a notice period of four weeks to the end of the month, employees were considered better protected with six weeks to the end of the quarter. Functionally , white-collar workers took on mainly intellectual activities, while workers did physical work. Social insurance carriers for workers were the state insurance institutions , for white-collar workers the federal insurance company for white-collar workers . The latter differentiation was only abolished in January 2005. The activities of employees were considered to be “more complex, their success less easily measurable and therefore more difficult to control directly”. How much responsibility a worker has, varies greatly in individual cases and has gone so far at Toyota since the 1980s that every worker on the assembly line is called upon to stop all production in case of doubt, which in other companies would lead to immediate termination.


Women workers in a bottle warehouse in Frankfurt / Main on 1918
Workers on the radio tower in Koenigs Wusterhausen (November 1930)
Industrial worker in the Böhlen combine (May 1952)

In the Iliad around 800 BC, Homer connoted work in the sense of agricultural and craft activity positively, because it was considered a prerequisite for prosperity and social prestige . As mining slaves there were from the 5th century BC In the silver mines of Laureion (today's Lavrio ), miners, processing and ironworkers, who for the most part consisted of unfree workers.

The Roman Empire kept the great mass of workers as slaves . Services by slaves were considered to be rent ( Latin locatio conductio rei ), while those carried out by freelancers were considered a service contract ( Latin locatio conductio operarum ). The compulsory worker ( Latin locator ) had no legal capacity and was considered a thing . However, the social and legal position of the slave has not remained the same at all times of the development of Roman law. On the old Roman farm, the unfree servant lived in close communion with the free housemates; he shared the work with them and ate the same bread with them. It was only with the emergence of large plantations , factories and mines from the High Republican era that the mass of slaves lost any personal relationship with their masters and made the unfree worker a mere unit of account in large-scale enterprises . One can assume that the Romans had a need for slaves as early as 348 BC at the time of the second Carthaginian-Roman treaty , which increased rapidly over the course of 100 years in connection with the territorial expansion.

Luke already recognized the scarcity of workers in the New Testament : "The harvest is great, but the workers are few" ( Lk 10.2  EU ). “In the same house, however, stay, eat and drink what is given to you; for a worker is worth his wages. You should not go from one house to another ”( Lk 10.7  EU ).

Around 1025, Bishop Adalbero of Laon divided society into the three classes ( Latin ordines ) of warriors ( Latin bellatores ), prayers ( Latin oratores ) and workers ( Latin laboratores ). The word “work” as a designation for physical work did not appear until around 1200 to compete with “work” or “work” (“hant-werc” for craft). Hartmann von Aue spoke in the Iwein around 1200 that “your work brings you no more than wages than hunger, thirst and pain”. The preacher Berthold von Regensburg mentioned the worker as a general term for the first time in his sermons, edited around 1275. The word miners has been recorded as "aribaiter" since 1370, workers in general since 1439. When the poet Hans Rosenplüt wrote “Von den mussiggengern vnd Arbeiter” around 1450, whereby the “worker sweats and sweats”, the term worker was already well established. When the first typical worker of the Middle Ages are considered agricultural workers ( Latin ruricola seem ) as a tenant ( land lease ) or vassal ( feudalism ) and construction workers or miners . Households employed as domestics servants and maids or servants . Slavery or serfdom was still widespread among workers. The Saxon servants 'and servants' ordinances of the 15th century indicated that there was already a rural labor shortage at this time. The mountain order in the Lower Austrian Lands of 1553 stipulated that “every worker should be paid a wage when he has the opportunity to work ”.

The economist Adam Smith , in his major work The Prosperity of Nations , published in March 1776, put workers and the poor on a level that poverty consists in the reduction of workers to their immediate needs. For him, every modern society from three different social classes existed ( english three great orders ), namely the landowners (source of income: land rent ), capitalists ( profit ) and workers ( wages ). The General Prussian Land Law (APL) of June 1794 stipulated that factory workers do not have the same rights as journeymen (II 8, § 419 APL).

Workers' movements already existed in the Middle Ages, but of particular importance for the emergence of workers' rights during the industrial revolution were the workers' movement in the United States from 1763 onwards, as well as the workers' movement in Germany and the workers' movement in Austria during the industrialization of the early 19th century . They all had the aim of strengthening the rights of the workers, which was done in particular through workers' associations as the predecessors of the trade unions. The German Volksverein, founded by German emigrants and craftsmen in Paris in 1832, was the first workers' association . The world's first trade union was founded by book printers in Belgium in 1842. With the beginning of industrialization, the factory worker established himself. While before the revolution of 1848 there was talk of the “working class” or “handicraft class”, with the revolution the word worker began to establish itself among statisticians or economists as well as among workers' organizations. This was mainly due to the general German workers' brotherhood organized by Stephan Born in June 1848 . The "Workers' Congress" of February 1863, which created the first permanent workers' organization in Germany with the General German Workers' Association (ADAV) founded in May 1863 , marked the "separation of proletarian from bourgeois democracy". According to § 2 of the ADAV statutes “every German worker became a member of the association by simply declaring membership”. In July 1890, a large part of the workforce organized in the "Association of Factory, Agricultural and Industrial Aid Workers in Germany". The beginning of German social policy can be seen in the “Prussian Regulation on the Employment of Young Workers in Factories” of April 1839, which banned child labor under the age of 9 and limited the working hours of young people under 16 to 10 hours a day.

The New Relationship Between Worker and Entrepreneur (1896)

For Karl Marx , the worker has been a central figure in his economic theory since 1844 . He also called the workers proletarians (the working class corresponds to the proletariat ) and in his major work Das Kapital , published in September 1867, differentiated between the terms labor and labor power . Labor has no value or price , but the workers sell their labor power to the capitalists as a commodity whose value is determined by the labor theory . Although the workers receive the consideration for the sale of their labor with their wages , they are the object of exploitation . For Marx, however, workers and capitalists are not only contradicting role constructs of the “capitalist enterprise”, but rather embedded in an overarching class structure. In this regard, they are examined from the point of view of the reproduction of “total social capital”. The basis of his impoverishment theory is the statement: "The worker becomes poorer, the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and scope". The proletariat becomes impoverished to the extent that the bourgeoisie enriches itself . This is followed by alienated work , because “work is external to the worker, that is, does not belong to his essence…. His work is therefore not voluntary, but forced, forced labor ”.

The Brothers Grimm understood by the worker ( Latin operarius ) in the German dictionary from 1854 both the day laborer and the craftsman . In 1873 a weekly paper for all working classes, “Der Arbeiterfreund”, appeared in Munich for the first time. It reported on the class struggle in England, the hardship in Paris and the social conditions in Berlin. Up until the end of the 19th century, the division of workers into blue-collar and white-collar workers remained unknown in labor and social law . Those who carried out predominantly intellectual or administrative activities were called "factory officials", "works officials" or "clerks". According to Johann Samuelansch / Johann Gottfried Gruber 1853 ( General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts ) someone received a salary as an employee, the worker received wages. Ernst Jünger wrote the theoretical work Der Arbeiter in 1932 . Rule and form in which he dealt with the figure of the worker as an elementary power that destroys bourgeois society .

Berlin - Charité building (July 1980)

After the Second World War , so-called worker-and-peasant states developed in Eastern Europe from 1945 through the influence of the Soviet Union , in which, according to Leninist and Marxist-Leninist views, the working class (in class alliance with the working peasants ) expropriated over them The capitalist class ruled. The GDR , too, has officially designated itself as a workers 'and peasants' state since 1952, it propagated itself as the “first German socialist state of workers and peasants”, in which the working class with the peasant class “holds the lead” and with the “shift the intelligence and the craftsmen "is allied. The SED was characterized at the same time as the Workers' Party . The workers' uprising of June 17, 1953 is one of the key events in German history . The GDR placed the working class in the foreground of its political agitation, the constitution of the GDR of October 7, 1974 stipulated in Article 1: "The German Democratic Republic is a socialist state of workers and peasants."

Until the reform of the Works Constitution Act in July 2001, a legal distinction was still made in Germany between blue-collar workers and salaried employees; Section 5 (1) BetrVG now subsumes both under the umbrella term “employee”.


Miners, 1952

Depending on the branch of industry, a distinction is made between agricultural workers ( agriculture ), miners ( mining ) or industrial workers ( industry ). There are also workers in the service sector , such as stage workers (such as stage painters ) in the theater , janitors or cleaners in organizations or companies . Depending on the formal nature of the job, there are foremen or unskilled workers . While Foreman as a deputy from the master ( polishing are used), auxiliary workers are assigned to work easier or einfachster Art. With regard to vocational training , the skilled workers are to be distinguished from the unskilled workers . Migrant workers have to go to work far away from where they live. There is also in terms of job content , work or working guest workers , home workers , short-time workers , temporary workers , social workers or temporary workers .


Percentage of blue-collar workers in the total number of white-collar workers and blue-collar workers in Germany 1962–2003

In the statistics, employed persons include all persons who, as employees ( blue-collar workers, employees , trainees , civil servants , marginal employees , soldiers ) or as self-employed or helping family members , carry out an economic activity. All wage earners are considered to be workers, regardless of the wage payment and payroll accounting period and qualifications . They mainly work in commercial and manual professions.

The figure shows how the number of blue-collar workers continuously decreased and the number of salaried employees increased from 1962 to 2003. This evaluation is based on the number of insured persons of the state insurance institutions and the BfA (without taking into account the number of civil servants). The statistics of the employed “according to position in the profession” showed in 1991 a proportion of blue-collar workers of 38.9% (salaried 44.9%), since then this proportion has tended to decrease to 36.1% (1995), 34.2 % (2000), 31.3% (2004), 27.4% (2008), 25.8% (2012) and 19.3% (2016). The share of white-collar workers rose to the same extent, most recently to 64.8% (2016). This upheaval is largely the result of the decline in manufacturing jobs and the expansion of the service sector.


The employment relationships of blue-collar and white-collar workers still differ today in terms of the work content . Workers mainly deal with physical work, but increasingly also take on control tasks (monitoring machines or entire systems ) as part of job enrichment . This also includes robots - controlled by workers - which in many cases can completely take over the tasks of workers. Worldwide there is an equalization of the rights of workers and employees, which results in an improvement in workers' rights. The traditional separation between blue-collar and white-collar workers has increasingly been dissolved in the past few years, because uniform wage agreements have also replaced the previous collective agreements for blue-collar and white-collar workers.


In Switzerland in 1877 an Appenzell Ausserrhoder teacher described the everyday life of school-age children to a National Council commission as follows: “Pupils [had to] go to school from 8 am to 11:30 am and also work 16 to 18 hours in the finishing department ..., that is from 4 in the morning to 7 ½ and from 1 in the morning to 2 or 3 in the morning, so that these children did not go to bed on the summer nights, but looked for a bit of sleep in the open. ”In the same year, the factory law brought them first measures for worker protection. From 1907, the weekly newspaper Der Freie Schweizer Arbeiter ( The Free Swiss Worker ) was published in Bern and reported on the working class. The Federal Factory Workers Protection Act of 1911 is considered a milestone in Swiss social policy .

In Austria there has been a chamber for workers and employees since 1920 , which represents the interests of workers. In July 2018, workers and salaried employees were equated in terms of the duration of sick leave and the reasons for the employee's inability to work. From January 2021, the notice periods and dates that (currently) only apply to white-collar workers will also apply to blue-collar workers.


  • General
    • Ernst Jünger : The worker. Rule and form. (1932). Stuttgart 1982 (The worker as a general symbol of modern technology )
    • Jürgen Kocka (ed.): Workers and citizens in the 19th century. Variants of their relationship in a European comparison (= writings of the Historisches Kolleg. Colloquia . Vol. 7), Oldenbourg. Munich 1986, ISBN 978-3-486-52871-8 ( digitized version )
    • Ingrid Kuczynski (Ed.): Keep your head high in spite of everything! Engl. Workers autobiographies d. 19th century Leipzig: Reclam, 1983
    • Wolfgang Ruppert (ed.): The workers. Lifestyles, everyday life and culture from early industrialization to the "economic miracle". Munich 1986.
  • Literature on recent developments

Web links

Wiktionary: Workers  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Nick Kratzer / Sarah Nies, New Performance Policy for Employees , 2009, p. 31 f.
  2. Jürgen Kocka , The Employees in German History 1850-1980 , 1981, p. 7
  3. ^ Sonja A. Sackmann : Toyota Motor Corporation - A case study from a corporate culture perspective . Bertelsmann Foundation , p. 20 of 43 ( PDF online; 323 kB [accessed on March 23, 2014]).
  4. Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto, Slavery and Release in the Greco-Roman World , 2017, p. 110
  5. ^ Heinrich Honsell, Römisches Recht , 2010, p. 144
  6. ^ Paul Jörs, Römisches Recht: Römisches Privatrecht , 1949, p. 66
  7. Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto, Slavery and Release in the Greco-Roman World , 2017, p. 142
  8. Georges Duby, Das Weltbild des Feudalismus , 1981, p. 43 ff.
  9. Hartmann von Aue, Iwein , around 1200, p. 121
  10. Gerhard Köbler , Etymological Legal Dictionary , 1995, p. 24
  11. Oskar Reichmann / Klaus-Peter Wegera (eds.), Early New High German Reading Book , 1988, p. 48
  12. German Legal Dictionary , Volume 1, 1932, Col. 807
  13. ^ Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations , 1776/1993, p. 58
  14. General Land Law for the Prussian States, Volume 3, 1863, p. 300
  15. Gerhard Schildt, The Workers in the 19th and 20th Centuries , 1996, p. 80
  16. Gustav Mayer , The separation of proletarian from bourgeois democracy in Germany (1863-1870) , 1911, p. 1
  17. Volker Häfner, Gabler Volkswirtschafts Lexikon , 1983, p. 510
  18. Karl Marx, Das Kapital , Volume I, 1867/1972, Section 2, Chapter 4, p. 183
  19. ^ Karl Marx, Das Kapital , Volume I, 1867, in: MEW Volume 23, 1970, p. 208
  20. Manfred Stock, Arbeiter, Unternehmer, Professioneller , 2005, p. 351
  21. ^ Karl Marx, Das Kapital , Volume I, 1867, p. 561
  22. ^ Karl Marx, Ökonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte , 1844/1962, p. 564
  23. ^ Brothers Grimm, German Dictionary , Volume I, 1854, Sp. 543
  24. Der Arbeiterfreund: Weekly for all working classes from January 10, 1874
  25. ^ Günter Hartfiel, Salaried Employees and Employees' Unions in Germany , 1961, p. 68
  26. ^ Johann Samuelersch / Johann Gottfried Gruber (ed.), General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts , Section 1, Part 56, 1853, p. 54
  27. Rudi Weidig, Social Structure of the GDR , 1988, p. 4
  28. ^ Gerrick von Hoyningen-Huene, Betriebsverfassungsrecht , 2002, 5th edition, p. 45 ff.
  29. Verlag Dr. Th. Gabler, Gablers Wirtschaftslexikon , Volume 3, 1984, Sp. 2056
  30. Federal Statistical Office, Microcensus, working tables , 2017
  31. Institute for Work and Qualification of the University of Duisburg-Essen from February 16, 2018, Employed persons by position in the job 1991-2016 , p. 2