Income Inequality Within the Working Class – Globally and in China


New data from the ILO report confirms the Marxist thesis on the labor aristocracy


By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 13 July 2019,




The International Labour Organization (ILO) has recently published a comprehensive study on the development of global labor income between the years 2004 and 2017. [1] The ILO data confirms that the global labor share – i.e. labor’s share of total income – has declined. The authors report “that, globally, the share of national income going to workers is falling, from 53.7 per cent in 2004 to 51.4 per cent in 2017.” In other words, despite the fact that laborers constitute the huge majority of the global population, they receive barely half of total income!


These findings confirm the thesis of Marxists that the exploitation of the working class has intensified and, as a result, the capitalists have continued to increase their surplus value (reflected in the rise of their share of all income). [2]


The study also reveals that inequality within the working class has increased. [3]Looking at the average pay distribution across countries, it finds that the share going to the middle class (the middle 60 per cent of workers) declined between 2004 and 2017, from 44.8 per cent to 43 per cent. At the same time, the share earned by the top 20 per cent of earners increased, from 51.3 per cent to 53.5 per cent.


This confirms another Marxist thesis that the RCIT has repeatedly emphasized in its extensive research on imperialist capitalism. We have pointed out that the working class is not a homogenous unit but, rather, consists of multiple layers. In contrast to the broad mass of the proletariat – the lower and middle strata – there also exists a top, more privileged layer. Marxists call this uppermost part of the working class the labor aristocracy. This is a layer that consists, primarily, of sections of the better compensated, skilled workers. This section of the proletariat is, in effect, bribed by the bourgeoisie with a better standard of living. In the imperialist countries, this layer constitutes a much larger proportion of the working class than it does among the semi-colonial proletariat. [4]


The financial resources to corrupt the labor aristocracy in the imperialist countries, and thereby undermine working class solidarity, are derived precisely from the extra profits that the monopoly capitalists readily obtain by super-exploiting the working class in the semi-colonial countries as well as those that have migrated to the imperialist metropolises. Monopoly capital uses a portion of these extra profits to enlist the support of sectors of the working class in the metropolitan centers, for it is at home that the capitalists need stability first and foremost. [5]


The labor bureaucracy – along with its direct constituency, the labor aristocracy, play a dominate role in both the trade unions and the reformist parties in the imperialist countries. This explains why these forces play such a conservative and pacifying role and operate as a brake on the class struggle.


We find empirical evidence for this division within the working class in the latest publication of the ILO that we reproduce in the tables below. Let us give a few examples. In the U.S. the lower 3/5 (60%) of the workers earn a combined share of only 29% of the total labor income in 2017. This is less than the income of the top decile (10%), which earns 33.12%!


The figures for Japan and Germany, as the tables below demonstrate, are slightly less drastic but the general tendency remains the same.


The figures for China are also highly revealing. The lower 3/5 of the laborers earn a combined share of less than 28.7% of the total labor income in 2017. On the other hand, the top decile earns 42.62% - more than the combined share of the mass of the proletariat! And, as we can see from the table below, the income share of the lower eight deciles of the laborers has even slightly declined in the years between 2004 and 2017, in contrast to the top two deciles.


These findings of the ILO are not surprising. They confirm what the RCIT has stated in a number of documents. [6] Based on the dramatic rise of China, after the restoration of capitalism in the early 1990s, the “Middle Kingdom” has become an imperialist Great Power. As we have demonstrated in our works, this rise has resulted in China becoming one of the largest capitalist economies, the largest commercial power, a leading country in terms of numbers of multinational corporations as well as of billionaires, etc. Clearly, this rise has provided the Chinese monopoly bourgeoisie with the material resources to bribe the privileged top strata of the working class.


We have no doubt that the Stalinists, Castro-Chavistas and other friends of Beijing will ignore this latest evidence. They will surely continue to parrot unashamed praise for China as a “socialist”, an “anti-imperialist”, or at least a somehow “progressive” state supposedly deserving the support of the international workers movement. Like the hypocritical “Christian” defenders of the Catholic Inquisition in the Middle Age who served the very earthly interests of the corrupt and decadent popes and kings, these “socialists” offer themselves as enthusiastic, social-imperialist servants of the monopoly bourgeoisie of China and Russia.


It is impossible to understand the dynamics of the current world situation without acknowledging the obvious rise of China as an imperialist power, and with that, the related acceleration of Great Power rivalry. Authentic socialists must oppose all Great Powers – the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and the EU - and champion an independent, revolutionary path for the international working class.






Table 1.                China, Share of Labor Income (%), 2004-2017


Deciles                 1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10


2004                       0,47        1,19        2,11        3,32        4,71        6,47        8,91        12,51      18,18      42,12


2017                       0,44        1,11        2,02        3,24        4,62        6,38        8,84        12,49      18,24      42,62




Table 2.                Japan, Share of Labor Income (%), 2004-2017


Deciles                 1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10


2004                       1,07        2,46        3,84        5,30        6,76        8,65        10,96      14,00      18,39      28,56


2017                       1,10        2,53        3,94        5,42        6,89        8,79        11,09      14,13      18,47      27,64




Table 3.                USA, Share of Labor Income (%), 2004-2017


Deciles                 1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10


2004                       1,41        3,07        4,41        5,66        6,95        8,37        10,05      12,33      16,03      31,73


2017                       1,41        3,04        4,28        5,46        6,70        8,12        9,78        12,14      15,95      33,12




Table 4.                Germany, Share of Labor Income (%), 2004-2017


Deciles                 1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10


2004                       1,10        2,77        4,81        6,55        8,30        9,83        11,36      13,27      16,09      25,92


2017                       1,13        2,77        4,68        6,33        7,94        9,46        11,09      13,11      16,18      27,32




[1] See: The Global Labour Income Share and Distribution. Key Findings and The Global Labour Income Share and Distribution. Methodological description. In addition the ILO has issued a comprehensive Excel file with data for all countries. All documents were issued by the Data Production and Analysis Unit, ILO Department of Statistics in July 2019. These documents can be found at and See also ILO: Labour Income Share and Distribution: Just 10 per cent of workers receive nearly half of global pay, 04 July 2019

[2] On the RCIT’s analysis of the intensifying offensive of the ruling class against the background of the decay of capitalism see e.g. Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries (January 2016), Chapter II,

[3] Of course, one has to be aware that the ILO category of “workers” also includes layers which are not part of the working class like e.g. the employed middle layers which formally receive a wage. However, this does not affect the accuracy of the general trend of growing income inequality within the working class as identified by the authors.

[4] See on this e.g. chapter III in Michael Pröbsting: Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today. The Struggle for Proletarian Hegemony in the Liberation Movement in Semi-Colonial and Imperialist Countries in the present Period, RCIT Books, Vienna 2016,

[5] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013,

[6] For the RCIT’s analysis of China as an imperialist Great Power we refers readers to the literature mentioned in the special sub-section on our website: In particular we refer to Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, January 2019,; Michael Pröbsting: The China-India Conflict: Its Causes and Consequences. What are the background and the nature of the tensions between China and India in the Sikkim border region? What should be the tactical conclusions for Socialists and Activists of the Liberation Movements? 18 August 2017, Revolutionary Communism No. 71,; Michael Pröbsting: The China Question and the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, December 2014,; Michael Pröbsting: China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4,