A list of famous people of working class origin. The working class is defined as an economic or social class with limited wealth and an economic necessity to make a living byfor seeking employment. Definitions of the working class varies across time and countries. It includes the labouring class pre-industrialisation.
Walter Reuther (1907 – 1970) Reuther was an influential trade union leader who took on the major car firms and gained recognition for unions. Under his leadership, UAW became a major force, gaining substantial concessions from car companies. For his campaign to win workers rights, he was beaten up by Ford’s men and subject to two assassination attempts. A member of the Socialist Party, after World War Two, he moved his political allegiance to the Democratic Party.
Mother Jones (1837 – 1930) Mary ‘Mother’ Jones was a trade union activist who helped to organise strikes to campaign for better pay and conditions for workers. She was an organiser for “The Knights of Labor” and the American Mine Workers Union. She sought to enforce child labour laws. Referred to as ‘the most dangerous women in America’ she revelled in her cause to liberate the working class of America.
John Clare (1793–1864) English poet and member of the labouring class. Clare’s poetry expressed the sorrows and joys of working in the countryside. He is considered the foremost poet of the labouring classes.
(1897–1960) Bevan was the son of a miner and left school at the age of 13 to work in the mines himself. He became active in local union politics and rose in the Labour Movement to become a key figure of the Party. After the 1945 election, he set up the new National Health Service, which offered universal health care.
Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966) – Sanger was a member of the New York Socialist Party and supported striking workers in the early 1910s. She published her first articles on birth control in a socialist magazine. After the First World War, she concentrated on promoting birth control and allowed her socialist policies to elapse.
Cesar Chavez (1927 – 1993) Chavez was the son of Latino-immigrants and started life working for very low wages as an agricultural labourer. He became am American labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. Chavez sought to create better working conditions for migrant farm workers.
John Lennon (1940 – 1980) Born in Liverpool, England, Lennon was a key member of the Beatles, writing many songs and being a key personality of the band. After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Lennon continued with a highly successful solo career, which included the hit song “Working Class Hero” – “A working-class hero is something to be”.
Paul McCartney (1942 – ) Musician from Liverpool. McCartney wrote many of the Beatles hit singles with John Lennon. After the split of the Beatles, he continued his music career with The Wings and solo.
Anne Kenney ( 1879 – 1953) English working-class suffragette who became a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union. In 1905, with Christabel Pankhurst, she launched a new wave of protest heckling a Liberal Party meeting, which resulted in her imprisonment. This started a new wave of Suffragette activism.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (1989 – ) A Democratic activist, Ocasio-Cortez was elected to the House of Representatives in 2019. At the time of her election, she was working as a barmaid to cover her father’s medical fees. She has become a leading political figure promoting a new wave of socialist policies, such as free universal health care, free education and a progressive “Green New Deal.”
Hannah Mitchell (1872–1956) English Suffragette and socialist. Born to a poor farming family, she moved to Bolton to work in a factory where she became involved in socialist politics and then moved on to the Suffragette movement. A leading working-class member of the Suffragettes.
John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968) American writer who captured the social change experienced in the US around the time of the Great Depression. Famous works include – Of Mice and Men (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and East of Eden (1952).
Harry Leslie Smith (1923 – 28 November 2018) English writer and political activist. The son of an unemployed coal miner, he grew up in poverty in Yorkshire. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War Two. He wrote a book on the Great Depression a
Noam Chomsky (born 1928) American linguist, philosopher, prolific writer and political activist. He was born in NY to working-class Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia. Chomsky is one of leading intellectual figures in US – campaigning on many issues such as against the Iraq War and capitalism and for socialism.
Tenzing Norgay (1914-1986) was a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer. Norgay was born in poverty in Nepal. He received no formal education, but his bright personality and climbing skills led to him being chosen to make the first successful summit of Mount Everest with Edmund Hillary.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) Born in a one-room cabin, Lincoln worked as a farm labourer for several year, but in his spare time, taught himself to read and eventually trained as a lawyer. In early election campaigns, he was presented as “The Rail Splitter candidate” for his history of hard manual labour. Despite many setbacks, he became the 16th President of the US from 1861-1865. He led the Union forces to victory during the American civil war and passed a bill to abolish legal slavery.
Chris Gardner (1954 – ) Gardner was brought up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and for a while pursued a career with the US Navy. He struggled for a while with homelessness while raising his son and working as a trainee stockbroker. He set up his brokerage firm, later selling it in a multi-million-pound deal. He wrote an autobiography of his story – ‘The Pursuit of Happiness.’ (2006)
Michael Caine (1933 – ) English actor. Caine was raised in London, and his hallmark was a strong Cockney accent. He featured in many gritty post-war films such as Zulu (1964) The Italian Job (1969) and Battle of Britain (1969).
Bill Shankly (1913 – 1981) ( – Great Britain, football) Managed Liverpool FC 1959- 1974 leading the club to three First Division championships and one UEFA cup. Shankly was proud of his working-class routes and he instilled in his players a strict regime based on working-class values.
Epictetus (55 – 135 AD) A Greek Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis (present-day Pamukkale, Turkey) He taught a practical philosophy of accepting fate with detachment but striving to lead a better life where possible.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous Working-Class Heroes”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net. Published 8 August 2019.
The Condition of the Working-Class in England
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Famous slaves – People who became well-known despite being kept in slavery. Including Moses, St Patrick, Spartacus and Nat Turner.