Red Alert

The Precariat

Posted by on February 4th, 2012

The term “precariat”, although not new, has become more visible in recent months as a result of a book, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, by Guy Standing, Professor of Economic Security at the University of Bath.

Standing asserts that the precariat are a newly emerging social class, in part created by globlaised trends towards creating a flexible workforce that has resulted in a growing number of people across the world living and working precariously, usually in a series of short-term jobs, without recourse to stable occupational identities, stable social protection or protective regulations relevant to them.

This is not just a matter of having insecure employment, of being in jobs of limited duration and with minimal labour protection, although all this is widespread. It is being in a status that offers no sense of career, no sense of secure occupational identity and few, if any, entitlements to the state and enterprise benefits that several generations of those who saw themselves as belonging to the industrial proletariat or the salariat had come to expect as their due……….

So, according to Standing the social ladder of today looks something like this:

  • Elite: the absurdly rich global citizens, the transnational capitalist class, global power elite, fewer than the 1%;
  • Salariat: those still in stable, full-time employment, pensions, paid holidays, employer-provided benefits often subsidised by the state;
  • Proficians: or “professional technicians”, those who have skills they can market as professional consultants, freelancers, etc and who might actually enjoy moving around, from job to job;
  • Working class: as in the traditional working class for whom the welfare state and employment law was built but whose ranks have been decimated;
  • Precariat
  • Unemployed and Socially marginalised

Standing describes the precariat as “primitive rebels” – people who know what they are against, but are not sure what they are for.  But, nevertheless, a class in the making, approaching a consciousness of common vulnerability and therefore the “new dangerous class”.

The precariat is not a class-for-itself, partly because it is at war with itself. One group in it may blame another for its vulnerability and indignity. A temporary low-wage worker may be induced to see the ‘welfare scrounger’ as obtaining more, unfairly and at his or her expense. A long-term resident of a low-income urban area will easily be led to see incoming migrants as taking better jobs and leaping to head the queue for benefits. Tensions within the precariat are setting people against each other, preventing them from recognising that the social and economic structure is producing their common set of vulnerabilities.

Ring any bells?

This video will give you a good idea of Standing’s thesis and then you can decide if the book is worth reading.  I think it is.


22 Responses to “The Precariat”

  1. Frontrower says:

    Not sure that I appreciate being labelled by politicians and academics – I am me, I have my opinions, problems, opportunities and successes that are unique to me. To lump me in with thousands of others and pretend I need the same treatment as the rest is, frankly, insulting.

    How about Labour start thinking about how people can be helped, not just talking about “the working class”, “the beneficiaries”, and this new “precariat”.

  2. Darien Fenton says:

    @frontrower ; read the book. Solutions are suggested.

  3. Spud says:

    Thanks Darien, good to know! :-D
    And ya know the guy is clean, he works at a bath! :-D :-D :-D !

  4. “Ring any bells?”

    Yeah, it’s Marx’s lumpenproletariat given a new, gimmicky name.

  5. ghostwhowalksnz says:

    Frontrower, of course you special and have opinions. problems and opportunities that are unique to you.
    Didnt your Mother tell you that!

  6. That is quite insightful. I wonder if the precariat will define themselves by setting new community driven values. Topple the giants by shopping locally etc- bit boring as opposed to all out class warfare.

  7. former Labour supporter says:

    Dear Darien,
    Thank you for your non-committal reference to the thoughts of another, and the time and effort your staffer went to in drafting this post.

    After careful consideration we find your post rather hypocritical and unoriginal. I believe some dear old fellow in the tradition once spoke of the “reserve army” of labour, and, elsewhere, of history repeating itself, as it were, twice: first as tragedy then as farce. Unfortunately the position outlined does not sit comfortably with regard to your party’s history on labour rights—there is something deeply farcical in the party that has perhaps done the most in this country to date to encourage transnational capital and the positivistic hubris of globalization tentatively posturing with a sanitized bourgeois reinvention of Marxist class analysis.

    We encourage you to continue working on your party cohesion, policy positions, and public image.

    Yours Sincerely,
    The Voting Public

  8. Darien Fenton says:

    @flv it is a book review. I try to read widely don’t you?

  9. @Monique Watson : Every progressive political movement has been built on the anger, needs and aspirations of the emerging major class. The question today is whether that class is the precariat.
    @Danyl Mclauchlan : True – that’s why Standing describes the precariat as the “new” dangerous class. Doesn’t mean that it isn’t time to restate the problem in 21st century terms.

  10. Andrea says:

    Standing’s is a European view of the world – class and categories. Divide and conquer. He follows Charles Handy in offering this view of what is happening to people. That can be a severe limitation in thinking – ‘us’ and ‘other’.

    There are other ways to think, other options to construct and customise for the local situation – and it would be most useful if people with access to resources started to do so.

    The ingredients for transformation might not be found among academics, either. Listen/read if you wish. Then, please, remember to fall out of love with overseas solutions before you start crafting an offering for this country. We are still struggling to fight free of the toxic drivel from the Chicago School.

  11. Darien Fenton says:

    @Andrea : Standing’s work rung a bell because I’ve been wrestling with the destruction of good jobs in NZ for some time – as a worker, as a union leader and now. And looking for answers. Try this for a New Zealand construct on what’s happening in non standard work : http://www.nzjournal.org/latest.htm -

  12. former Labour supporter says:

    Andrea,
    It’s increasingly impossible to deny the purely structural class distinction dirempting society as we confront what would necessarily be termed a depression but for the blitzkrieg of dissemblance and repression in normative discourse, and to timorously respect the sentiments of liberal bourgeois subjective experience while seeking political reform inevitably means turning to the impotent and fallacious soft anarchism so prevalent in environmental circles—localism, dreadlocks and dance parties, every-man-his-own-chickens sort of thing. Capitalism will not and cannot morally reform itself, and it was the dancing around this fact in critical theory through the 80s and 90s that allowed Chicago School ideology such dominance. Localization of organization and management have a massive place in the future of our society, but central planning and regulation is absolutely necessary and this needs a sound theoretical basis.

    As for the situation specifics, there’s a growing body of work out there and a greater openness to it in light of the global demonstrations against capitalist expropriation and the immiseration of the broader public—Alvaro Garcia Linera’s ‘La potencia plebeya’ is in the business of being translated by Verso and looks to be comprised of many insightful pieces (some of which could be seen as loosely relevant to our cultural circumstances), Ted Grant’s ‘Selected Works Vol. 2 – The Work of Marxists in the Mass Organizations’ has just been released (being of some possible relevance to the state of the labour party in NZ), Toni Negri on the Grundrisse and his other book on Marx and Keynes are floating around the web in ebook form and remain of great relevance, David Harvey and Richard Wolff have sites up which include courses on Marxist economics, I’m hoping the Uno-Sekine school of Hegelian Marxism will have its major works republished and will gain moment, etc. Ultimately it’s for New Zealand to smith out a New Zealand framework.

    Darien’s to be congratulated for raising the issue, and responding to comments. Labour have to get employment relations and economic regulation spot on, and to do this they need to judge—and, where appropriate, work to alter—the public mood.

  13. Thomas says:

    Sounds like a rehash of Marx. That is, an academic dividing up society into various “classes” of his own invention in order to engender emotion in the reader and, thus, drive a social narrative to the author’s foregone ideological conclusions about the need for forceful social engineering.

    That is to say, I’m not interested in reading it.

  14. Hugo says:

    Thank you for labelling us all Darien.

  15. Joel says:

    Plus one, Thomas.

  16. Darien Fenton says:

    @Thomas and Joel – I’m fine if you don’t want to read it, but I don’t get the social engineering comment. Sounds reactionary.
    @Hugo – I’m not labelling anyone. THIS IS A BOOK REVIEW.
    @and FLV – appreciate your contribution

  17. ghostwhowalksnz says:

    Darien , I all ways wondered what was motivation of the 15% who are ever ready to shine the shoes of the 1%, but get nothing but contempt in return.
    The question seems to be answered by Hugo , FLS and frontrower, they either cant read or that they have been so subservient for so long they become like those dogs who bark at ‘passing cars’.

  18. Mac1 says:

    Thomas, I am sometimes bemused about people’s aversive reaction to ‘social engineering.’ As a former teacher, I was in the business of social engineering, some of it pretty forceful, (to my shame in the days of caning), especially when the social engineering involved questions of behaviour, respect for others, discipline, language, violence, insults, etc.

    Funnily enough, no-one apart from the ‘perps’ really objected; indeed, this was what people wanted.

    Unless, of course, we have at the heart of the matter what kind of social engineering we actually approve of. But let us be absolutely clear about this- the community, teachers, parents, police, courts, newspapers, magazines are about social engineering.

    So, Thomas, what is your problem with social engineering, and of what type?

  19. Quoth the Raven says:

    “I try to read widely don’t you?”

    Given your ideological background reading Guy Standing isn’t particularly a convincing example of you reading widely. Perhaps if you were reading Anthony de Jasay, Jan Lester, or some public choice economics, one might be convinced otherwise :-)

  20. A very thought provoking post thanks Darien

  21. Darien Fenton says:

    @GWW : yep, many of the comments on this post have had the “barking at cars” element to them. Disappointing – we can all pretend everything’s lovely, or we can start to debate the issues.
    @Mac1 : share your bemusement. I had the same question for Thomas.
    @QTR : yep read plenty of that stuff too. Not convincing. Maybe it is to do with my “ideological” background. And proud of it.

  22. Quoth the Raven says:

    yep read plenty of that stuff too.

    That’s rather surprising given that not even many liberals today are reading the work of such excellent philosophers as Jan Lester and economists like Anthony de Jasay, stuck in the past as they are with the likes of Popper, Friedman, and Nozick, and are unfamiliar with those who take public choice and game theoretic approaches to political problems. And the general reluctance of many statists to even acknowledge public choice theory and its implications. Just to allay my skepticism can you give me some examples of recent works you have read?