Precarity. You Live It, But Do You Know What It IS?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Precarious work is a term used to describe non-standard
employment which is poorly paid, insecure, unprotected,
and cannot support a household. In recent decades there has
been a dramatic increase in precarious work due to such factors
as: globalization, the shift from the manufacturing sector
to the service sector, and the spread of information technology.
These changes have created a new economy which
demands ‘flexibility’ in the workplace and, as a result, caused
the decline of the standard employment relationship and a
dramatic increase in precarious work. An important aspect of
precarious work is its gendered nature, as women are continuously
over-represented in this type of work.
Precarious work is frequently associated with the following
types of employment: part-time employment, self-employment,
fixed-term work, temporary work, on-call work, homeworkers,
and telecommuting. All of these forms of employment
are related in that they depart from the standard employment
relationship (full-time, continuous work with one employer)
Each form of precarious work may offer its own challenges but
they all share the same disadvantages: low wages, few benefits,
lack of collective representation, and little to no job security.
There are four dimensions when determining if employment
is precarious in nature:
1. The degree of certainty of continuing employment;
2. Control over the labor process, which is linked to the
presence, or absence, of trade unions and professional
associations and relates to control over working conditions,
wages, and the pace of work;
3. The degree of regulatory protection; and
4. Income level.
I. Precarious—literally means unsure, uncertain, difficult,
delicate. As a political term it refers to living and
working conditions without any guarantees: for example
the precarious residence permission of migrants and
refugees, or the precarious everyday life as a single mother.
Since the early 80s the term has been used more and more
in relation to labor. Precarious work refers to all possible
shapes of unsure, not guaranteed, flexible exploitation—
from illegalized, seasonal and temporary employment to
homework, flex- and temp-work to subcontractors, freelancers
or so called self employed persons.
II. Precarization at work—means an increasing
change of previously guaranteed permanent employment
conditions into mainly worse paid, uncertain jobs. On a
historical and global scale precarious work represents not
an exception, but the rule. What was a generalized myth
was the short period of ‘full’ (95%) employment during the
“welfare” state in the U.S. and Western Europe after WWII.
Yet,for those in the ‘Global South,’ and Southern immigrants
in the North, precarious working conditions have
always been the norm. Precarization describes moreover
the ‘crisis’ of established institutions, which have represented
for that same short period, the framework of (false) certainties.
It is an analytical term for a process, which hints to
a new quality of societal labor. Labor and social life, production
and reproduction cannot be separated anymore,
and this leads to a more comprehensive definition of precarization:
the uncertainty of all circumstances in the material
and immaterial conditions of life of living labor under
contemporary capitalism. For example: wage level and
working conditions are connected with a distribution of
tasks, which is determined by gender and ethnic roles; the
residence status determines the access to the labor market
or to medical care. The whole ensemble of social relationships
seems to be on the move.
III. Precariat—is an allusion to proletariat—meanwhile is
used as an offensive self-description in order to emphasize the
subjective and utopian moments of precarization. Through the
mass refusal of gender roles, of factory work and of the command
of labor over life, precarization has really a double face: it is possible
to speak of a kind of flexibilization from below. Precarization
does not represent a simple invention of the command centers of
capital: it is also a reaction to the insurgency and new mobility
behaviors of living labor, and in so far it can be understood as the
attempt to recapture manifold struggles and refusals in order to
establish new conditions of exploitation of labor and valorization
of capital. Precarization thus symbolizes a contested field: a field
in which the attempt to start a new cycle of exploitation also meets
desires and subjective behaviors which express the refusal of the
old, the so called fordist regime of labor and the search for another,
better—we can even say flexible life. However, we think that
precariat as a new term of struggle runs in an old trap if it aims at
a quick unification and creation of a dominant social actor. Precariat
gets even into a farce, if the radical left tries to legitimize itself
as main force in its representation because of the increasing
involvement of leftist activists in precarious labor and life conditions.
But the main point is that taking into account the hierarchies
which shape the composition of the contemporary living
labor (from illegalized migrant janitors to temporary computerfreaks),
the strong diversity of social movement and respective
demands and desires, nobody should simplify precarization into
a new identity. We are confronted here with the problem of imagining
a process of political subjectivation in which different subject
positions can cooperate in the production of a new common
ground of struggle without sacrificing the peculiarity of demands
which arise from the very composition of living labor.

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