How Many Kinds of Workers Are There?
The most common words in Spanish that refer to a worker are obrero, trabajador, jornalero and labrador. Each has a certain sphere of usage that in many cases is not shared by the other. They all have feminine forms as well: obrera, trabajadora, jornalera and labradora.
The most generic word is trabajador. It is the word most used to refer to artisans, craftsmen or workmen. It is also the most common word used to express the Marxist concept of the proletariat; however, I have also seen, in Chinese translations of Marx and Lenin, the word obrero used as well (see below).
The word obrero is used to refer to skilled or semi-skilled workers, such as factory workers. The Spanish translation of the famous slogan of the International Soviet was often rendered using obrero: Obreros de todo el mundo, ¡uníos! (Workers of the World, Unite!)
It is easy for English speakers to say, mistakenly, unión for a labor union but the proper word is sindicato -- a word which in Spanish has no overtones of criminality.
When one wants to say that someone is a good worker, one says: Es buen trabajador or trabajadora.
The word jornalero refers to a day laborer, as in a handy man or hired hand.
The word labrador only is used to refer to farm or agricultural labor.
In addition, there are other words that one may encounter. In the US, the word bracero is used to refer to farm labor. The word ganapán is used in Spain to refer to someone who, as the word suggests earns his or her bread.
Here are some examples, with translations:
Los obreros salieron huelga ayer. The workers went on strike yesterday.
Mi tío fue jefe del sindicato de carpinteros. My uncle was boss of the carpenter’s union.
Juana es muy trabajadora. Juana is a good worker.
Los jornaleros cobran por día. The day laborers charge by the day.
En la granja hay muchos labradores. There are a lot of workers on the farm.
- The author’s more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.
This post is part of the series: Spanish Usage
The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Above”
- Using “Actual” and “Actually” in Spanish
- A Problem Preposition: The Ways “About” is Expressed in Spanish
- The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb “to Agree”
- Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say “Again”
- Expressing the Many Meanings of After
- Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say “Ahead”
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Anyone” and “Anybody”
- Using “Anyway…” in Spanish
- Let’s Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
- What Do You Use for “Around” in Spanish
- The Spanish Verbs Meaning “to Ask” are Many!
- Beware of False Cognates! How to Express “Attend,” “Assist,” and “Help”
- Are You “Cool” or “Cold”? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
- The Difference Between “Why” and “Because” in Spanish
- The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of “Before”: How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Don’t Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of “Behind” in Spanish
- Get the Low Down on the Preposition “Below” and Say it Right in Spanish!
- Understand Saying “Help” in Spanish
- Translating “Beside” & “Besides” into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
- Not all Meanings of “But” Are Equal!
- Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition “By” in Spanish
- What Can the English Word “Can” Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Corner”
- The Word “Country” in Spanish
- The Various Meanings of “Outweigh” in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
- Expressing the Idea of “Ownership” in Spanish
- How to Express “Time & Distance” in Spanish
- Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with… In Spanish, You Probably Need “Tratar”
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Having Fun”
- Even a Word Like “Even” Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
- Don’t Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express “to fail”
- Do You Mean “Fair” Weather, a “Fair” Game or a “Fair” Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
- Love, Desire and Wanting – Spanish Style!
- Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing… and More
- You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say “Fear” in Spanish!
- Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word “Find”
- Discover the Various Meanings of “Middle” and How to Say Them in Spanish
- Not All Spanish Words Meaning “Worker” Are Created Equal