The Rise of the Precariat

Anonymous student post

Nowadays in the era of globalization companies are under more and more pressure to be as nimble and flexible as possible in order to be able to outmaneuver the competition. Thus in their struggle for relevance governments and employers are flexibilizing the labour markets. This takes form via short term contract based employment. It enables the employers to minimize cost and maximize gain by creating fierce competitive environment where current employees feel pressured to work their best for the prospect of future employment. Also it drives the wages down as companies are more and more looking into outsourcing their skilled labour and production. On top of all that the recent trend in employment, for the first time in history, employers demand that their employees hold higher education that , some 20 years ago, would be reasonably required for a given position. A barista at the local Starbucks probably should not require a graduate college degree in order to serve ones coffee.

As a result the working class, the proletariat, is rapidly shrinking away. And a new social class has emerged. The precariat arises, what was once a part of the now diminishing working class manifests itself as the working nomad. Without the welfare benefits of the working class there is no certainty about tomorrow and no clear established career path, the precariat has way to identify oneself within the current society.

The global economy are rapidly converging, the wages of the developed countries fall and equalize with those of the developing countries. As basic business economy would teach you perceived loss would never be forgotten. In order to ease the transition and prevent a potential upheaval the government offered subsidies for employment, cheap credit and tax subsidies. With the burst of the bubble economy all that has gone away and thus the proletariat is forced to the precariat. As every movement stems from the needs and aspirations of the society we have witnessed such movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring. Where people in the near east countries such Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other take to the streets to voice their concerns. Thus the precariat becomes self aware demanding the attention of the politicians.

So who really is the precariat? While in the developed countries it is the nomad employee with no or limited upward mobility in the developing countries the situation is more grave as the people may be in a situation of downward mobility. If that is not the case that may very well be because they have already sunk so low that there is no lower to go. Thus the precariat at this point is someone in a situation with no resolve. Thus the they need to press for new policies to be implemented to accommodate the new emerging class.

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Social Equality and the Idol of Growth

by Marcel Koníček

I come from the Czech Republic, a country with one of the most equal distributions of wealth in the world. However, even the Czech Republic has recently felt the change in the policies of employment in many parts of the economy that are supposed to raise the competitiveness of the economy on the global markets but which also rob the employees of much of their job security. This change became very tangible after the crash of the US banks in 2008, which started the tsunami of economic crisis that sent all European economies into disarray. Suddenly, the broad group of debt-ridden people whose employment depended on the short-term needs of their employers, beingsuddenly shifted from permanent employment into agency work and short term contracts, living from payday to payday, appeared and it has not disappeared ever since.

This is not a local phenomenon. The changes in the Czech Republic coincide with the systematic worldwide shift that Standing describes in his book The Precariat. In the book he is describing the social group of the same name (which is an allusion to the proletariat), a very broad group of people that are living in constant uncertainty. The growth of this social group is mainly caused by the globalisation of the world economy and the effort of the corporations to cut their costs and keep them competitive with the newly rising economies in Asia (Standing 2011:40-50).

It is possible to assume that being part of the precariat is not something that most people would like to experience. Losing your job security is certainly not a good thing. Still, it is not only the companies that are making this change happen. More and more, it is the policy makers of the countries who contribute to the raising social inequality and job insecurity. They argument with neo-liberal ideas of equality being stifling for the economic growth and job security being a barricade for creating new jobs. They speak about economic growth and statistic measures such as GDP as if it was some kind of pagan idol, a cure-all for all the ailments of the human race. That the only thing that is important in the end is the bottom line.

However, things such as job security and social equality have many merits that are hard to evaluate by simple economic statistics. If somebody does not have to be afraid about the future of his job, he is probably less likely to try abuse the social system. If he lives in a more equal society, it is less likely for him to search for easy-sounding but radical political solutions. In this context, the neo-liberal laissez-faire policies look more like a trade-off that might be or might not be worth it. However, this is only true if their initial assertions are true. Is economic equality really slowing down the economic growth?

According to Lane Kenworthy this might not be so. In his study he is comparing economic equality and growth in many developed countries. He finds that:

“Affluent countries with egalitarian institutions and policies have so far been fairly successful at maintaining relatively high levels of income equality. And that success does not appear to have come at the expense of income growth for the middle class or the poor. There may be a trade-off between earnings equality and job growth, but its magnitude appears to bemodest.” (Kenworthy 2011:32)

If that is so, should the politicians be trying to reverse this shift towards inequality and job insecurity? I believe so. Sadly, it seems that both politicians and businessmen perceive growth and spending cuts as some kind of idol that has to be worshiped despite the consequences. This is in my eyes not a healthy sustainable attitude.

Denizenship and refugeeism

by Shiori Nabeshima

In the sliding-down society, as Anne Allison expressed the Japanese circumstances, once people slip off to the bottom, it is hard to climb up to recover the former situation. It seems that the ‘angle’ is becoming sharper than before to make more people slide down. It means that even though the top or middle and bottom people are all Japanese, the gap between them in terms of equality and rights is widening. Especially temporary or contracted workers are overworked like slaves to support the society. Where are their rights of citizenship? Are they actually regarded as citizens? In Precarious Japan, Allison uses the words denizenship and refugeeism.

Essentially in Britain, the people who are categorized as ‘denizens’ are foreigners who are granted a status similar to resident aliens. Resident aliens have usually rights such as residential, social and economic right, but not electoral rights. It shows that some countries guarantee basic rights to foreigners. Although not all countries give all rights to foreigners, the citizens should have guaranteed all rights by their countries.

Most of people, such as net café nanmin, temp or contracted workers and the working poor which Allison mentioned in her book, are Japanese. Even though they are Japanese, some of them do not have fixed residences, cannot receive security as citizens and are struggling to live on minimum wage. Some of them are paid less than needed to receive welfare, but their welfare applications have been denied.

Right now, their rights are below denizens, such as non-citizens. Therefore Allison introduced the new word “refugeeism”. Refugeeism is as the spread of the nation-state made “belonging to the community into which one is born no longer a matter of course and not belonging no longer a matter of choice”. Being disconnected makes them to be refugees. In the story of Moyai, many precariats were estranged from their family or feel alone because they are precariats. This is led by the notion of winners and losers. Frequently, society rejects those who are in precarious situations. It sometimes makes people join hate groups or cults. As with the experience of Karin Amamiya, the people who are members of hate groups or cults tend to accept precariats. If the others or society accept them, they do not need to join such group.

Japanese society should become more tolerant to those who are precarious and prevent them to fall from the safety net.

Reference

Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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