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;
- 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.