A new report of the UN’s International Labour Office with interesting figures about social developments between 2000 and 2018
Article (with 2 Tables) by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 25 February 2020, www.thecommunists.net
Note of the Editorial Board: We recommend to view the two tables in the appendix as a pdf (see below).
The latest issue of the “World Employment Social Outlook”, published by the UN’s International Labour Office, contains some interesting material which demonstrates the changes in the international working class. 
Our movement has always stressed that the focus of global capitalist production, and therefore of the international proletariat, has shifted during the past half century from the old imperialist metropolises (i.e., North America, Western Europe and Japan) to the semi-colonial countries in the South as well as to new imperialist powers like China. As we have elaborated in several RCIT books and pamphlets, this process is one of the most fundamental changes in recent history which has important consequences for the revolutionary strategy. These changes must be reflected in the politics of the international workers organizations and, most importantly, in the building of a new Revolutionary World Party which should have its focus in the South and the East (and not in Western Europe and North America). 
In this article we do not intend to repeat this analysis and the resulting consequences for Marxists in party building work. We rather limit ourselves to summarize the latest developments and to highlight their most important features.
Before doing so we have to explain briefly the limitations of the ILO’s statistics. It should surprise nobody that the ILO studies about the global labor force are not based on a Marxist definition of classes and layers in general and of the working class in particular. Hence, these studies just differentiate between “employers”, “wage and salaried employees”, “own-account workers” and “contributing family workers”. At this point we have to use these categories as approximations to the Marxist class categories while being at the same time aware that there are important limitations in this.
Very broadly speaking one can indentify “employers” with all types of capitalists (small, medium and big), “wage and salaried employees” with the working class, and “own-account workers” as well as “contributing family workers” with peasants and the urban petty-bourgeoisie.
What are the most important limitations of these bourgeois categories from a Marxist point of view?
First, the category “wage and salaried employees” includes not only workers. A minority of wage earners is not part of the working class, but belongs to the salaried middle layers (supervisory personnel, police, lower-grade manager etc.).  We have estimated in an extensive analysis that, in the imperialist countries, the number of wage earners – making up to 90% of the total working population – can be divided into two, with approximately 2/3 working class while 1/3 are middle layer.  In the poorer countries, the salaried middle classes are much smaller.
Second, the proletariat in the poorer countries is larger in size than the numbers in the official ILO statistics would appear to indicate. A considerable proportion of the workers in these countries are formally counted not as wage laborers, but as formally self-employed, due to the large informal sector. However, in fact, they are part of the working class. 
As a result of these necessary corrections, the actual shift of the proletariat towards the semi-colonial and emerging imperialist countries is even bigger than official statistics indicate. As we demonstrated other works on this issue, about ¾ of the international working class is located outside the old imperialist countries in North America, Western Europe and Japan.
There are also other problematic categories used by ILO (as well as other international bourgeois agencies). In most studies of the global economy bourgeois analysts differentiate the countries in “Low-Income Countries”, “Lower-Middle-Income Countries”, “Upper-Middle-Income Countries” and “High-Income Countries”. Such categories ignore the class character of these countries, i.e. if they are imperialist or semi-colonial countries. In other words, they ignore the relationship of capitalist exploitation between such countries. 
Broadly speaking, once could say that the category of “High-Income Countries” equals imperialist countries while the other categories include both advanced, industrialized capitalist semi-colonies as well as less developed capitalist semi-colonial countries. However, as we show in Table 2, the ILO includes a number of advanced, industrialized semi-colonies in the category of “High-Income Countries” (e.g. Ireland, Portugal, some Eastern European country and Arab countries) and, on the other hand, it includes China – an imperialist Great Power and the most important challenger of the U.S. – in the category of “Upper-Middle-Income Countries”.
These are the most important limitations of the ILO’s analysis which we present below. Nevertheless, these figures are valuable for a Marxist analysis as they are indicative for the developments and changes in the world proletariat.
Let us now briefly summarize the most important conclusions of the ILO’s figures which we have reproduced below in Table 1.
1) It is evident, irrespective of various petty-bourgeois intellectuals announcing the “end of the proletariat”, that the working class is continuing to grow globally. In fact, the share of the “wage and salaried employees” among the global labor force increased from 45.7% (2000) to 52.0% (2018), i.e. it constitutes for the first time a majority of the global labor force. In absolute figures this means that out of a global labor force of 3305.3 million people, 1718.8 millions are wage labourers.
2) While the share of the “wage and salaried employees” among the labor force grew only modestly between 2000 and 2018 in the “High-Income Countries” (as well as in the “Low-Income Countries”), the more developed semi-colonial countries as well as China experienced a dramatic increase in this period. The share of the working class grew in the “Lower-Middle-Income Countries” from 26.2% to 34.5% and in the “Upper-Middle-Income Countries” from 47.7% to 59.2%.
3) If we look to the regional developments we can also recognize some interesting features. The most dramatic growth of the working class in the last two decades took place in Eastern Asia and South-Eastern Asia. Here the share of the workers grew from 43.4% to 56.6% respectively from 36.4% to 51.6%.
4) Latin America & Caribbean is a region with a traditionally large proletariat. This reflects the fact that while these countries are semi-colonies, they experienced a relatively long process of industrialization as they succeeded in gaining independence of colonial powers earlier than most other countries of the South. However, the growth of the share of the “wage and salaried employees” was relatively modest: from 60.0% (2000) to 63.1% (2018).
5) The Middle East (which includes the regional groups North Africa, Arab States and Western Asia) experienced a rapid growth of the working class in the past two decades. Today, it is the semi-colonial region with the highest share of workers (apart from Eastern Europe). In 2018 the share of the “wage and salaried employees” in this region is 81.2% (Arab States), 64.2% (Western Asia) and 63.9% (North Africa). These social and economic changes constitute an important background for the fact that this region has been the one which experienced the most revolutionary class struggles since 2011.
6) As we have emphasized in the past, Asia has become the focus of the international working class. More than half of the global working class (862.7 millions) live in Eastern Asia, South-Eastern Asia and South Asia alone. If we add Western Asia, this make even 910.9 millions.
We conclude this article by emphasizing once more that the RCIT considers it as crucial for revolutionaries to pay particular attention to the working class in the South and the East, i.e. outside of the old imperialist states in Western Europe, North America and Japan. The huge weight of the Southern proletariat must be reflected not only in their massive participation in international workers’ organizations, but also in the leaderships of these forces. And questions of particular importance for the Southern working class – their super-exploitation, their national liberation struggles against imperialism, etc. – must play a central role in the organizations’ propagandistic and practical work. 
The Global Working Class and Popular Masses, 2000 and 2018 Wage and salaried Own-account Contributing Employment Wage Laborers
Employment workers family workers (in Millions) (in Millions)
(Share) (Share) (Share)
2000 2018 2000 2018 2000 2018 2018 2018
World 45.7 52.0 35.1 34.1 16.4 10.7 3305.3 1718.8
Low-Income Countries 15.8 18.8 50.5 50.9 32.2 28.6 300.2 56.4
Income Countries 26.2 34.5 52.2 49.5 19.6 13.3 1142.1 394.0
Income Countries 47.7 59.2 31.3 28.3 18.0 9.2 1267.1 750.1
High-Income Countr. 84.4 87.2 9.6 8.6 2.1 0.9 595.9 519.6
Northern Africa 57.0 63.9 18.1 19.4 15.1 9.8 65.7 42.0
Arab States 73.2 81.2 16.6 12.7 5.8 2.6 52.7 42.8
Sub-Saharan Africa 19.6 22.6 50.8 51.4 27.4 23.4 385.6 87.1
Latin America &
Caribbean 60.0 63.1 28.4 28.3 7.2 4.3 289.0 182.4
Eastern Asia 43.4 56.6 32.9 29.3 21.1 11.2 891.2 504.4
& Pacific 36.4 51.6 38.9 32.3 22.1 12.9 336.8 173.8
Southern Asia 20.3 26.5 59.5 57.7 19.2 13.9 696.1 184.5
Western Asia 51.5 64.2 29.1 23.3 15.6 8.8 71.5 48.2
& Western Europe 83.3 84.8 9.9 10.0 2.0 0.9 203.5 172.6
Eastern Europe 83.9 88.1 12.0 8.9 2.6 1.1 136.0 119.8
Northern America 91.6 92.8 3.3 2.7 5.0 4.4 177.1 164.3
Hong Kong, China
Korea, Republic of
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Papua New Guinea
Central African Republic
Korea, Democratic People’s
 ILO: World Employment Social Outlook, Trends 2019, Geneva 2019
 The most comprehensive elaboration of the RCIT’s analysis of the changes in the world proletariat and the resulting consequences for the revolutionary strategy can be seen in 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, 2013, http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/ as well as in 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, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/bookunited-front/.
 In contrast to the revisionist theories of the CWI, IMT as well as the Morenoites, Marxists do not regard members of the repressive state apparatus as parts of the working class. Trotsky was very clear on this issue: „The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker. Of late years these policemen have had to do much more fighting with revolutionary workers than with Nazi students. Such training does not fail to leave its effects. And above all: every policeman knows that though governments may change, the police remain.“ (Leon Trotsky: What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, January 1932, http://marxists.architexturez.net/archive/trotsky/germany/1932-ger/next01.htm#s1)
 Markus Lehner: Arbeiterklasse und Revolution. Thesen zum marxistischen Klassenbegriff, in: Revolutionärer Marxismus Nr. 28 (1999)
 See on this e.g. Jauch, Herbert: Globalisation and Labour, Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI), Prepared for the Regional Labour Symposium, Windhoek, 6.12.2005, p. 8
 For a detailed discussion of these issues see e.g. the following RCIT books by Michael Pröbsting (in addition to the above mentioned The Great Robbery of the South): 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, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/; Greece: A Modern Semi-Colony. The Contradictory Development of Greek Capitalism, Its Failed Attempts to Become a Minor Imperialist Power, and Its Present Situation as an Advanced Semi-Colonial Country with Some Specific Features, RCIT Books, Vienna 2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/greece-semi-colony/.
 See on this Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT): The Revolutionary Communist Manifesto, published in 2012, pp. 28-30; online on the RCIT website at www.thecommunists.net/rcit-manifesto
 ILO: World Employment Social Outlook, Trends 2019, Geneva 2019, pp. 84-115