Given the different types of white collar workers that have emerged since the end of the nineteenth century (the high level, highly educated wage earner; the low level, moderately educated wage earner; and the independent professional entrepreneur), the question arises: What is the real class position and class identity of this stratum, and where do nurses, as white collar professionals, fit? This becomes a significant issue as one attempts to grapple with the divergent views and actions exhibited by white collar workers. For example, controlling for race, union membership, religion, age, family income, region, and gender, 47 percent of "upper" white collar workers (professionals and managers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics categories) voted Republican in the 1988 election. In comparison, only 27 percent of the "lower" white collar workers (clerical, secretarial, and sales workers) voted Republican in the same election ( Halle and Romo, 1991). Using such U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifications to evaluate voting data and, ultimately, worker attitudes obscures the segmentation within groups of workers. Nurses, for example, call themselves professionals, yet some are high-level managers, some are mid-level managers, and some are simply direct care providers. In which Census Bureau category should they be placed?
This chapter addresses this question by clarifying that each occupation actually comprises different class positions, which cross-cut the boundaries of white collar, blue collar, and U.S. Bureau of Labor categorizations. Delineating these class positions provides a better understanding of the varied class identities and actions in evidence today.
There are three general positions on this issue: (1) those who argue all white collar workers are subject to common processes of proletarianization (such as deskilling and loss of autonomy) and thus identify with the working class ( Braverman, 1974; Derber, 1982; Mallet, 1975; Gorz, 1972); (2) those who argue