The Precariat | Guy Standing

Summary of: The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class
By: Guy Standing


In ‘The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class’, author Guy Standing explores the emergence of the ‘precariat,’ a growing class of people facing precarious employment situations and living conditions. As neoliberal economic philosophy and globalization gained prominence, a new structure of social classes has emerged. The precariat, at the bottom of this hierarchy, consists of workers in temporary, low-paying, and insecure jobs. This expanding class is characterized by their lack of labor protection, national and occupational identity, and their struggle with anger, anomie, anxiety, and alienation. The summary delves into the changing global economy, wage inequalities, gender disparities, migrant experiences, and the technological impact on this unstable class.

The Rise of Neoliberalism

The 1980s marked the onset of neoliberalism, an economic philosophy that advocates for a marketplace takeover of all aspects of life, prioritizing competition and adamantly opposing labor unions and state regulations. World leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher implemented it by deregulating markets. Neoliberalism seeks to expand globally, increase low-paid workers, and reshape society into new classes. Consequently, these workers, nicknamed the precariat, live with uncertainty, debt, and humiliation.

The Social Strata and Its Struggles

The world is dominated by the rich elite and the salariat, followed by the proficians and the former working class. At the bottom are the precariats who cannot build careers and work temporary jobs for survival. The precariat lacks labor protection, and their insecure status deprives them of national and occupational identity. The lack of job security in the contemporary economy renders even the most proficient of skills obsolescent, leaving individuals to struggle to maintain their status in society.

The Suffering of the Precariat

The precariat, individuals lacking job security and income predictability, experience four emotions – anger, anomie, anxiety, and alienation. Their anger stems from a lack of future prospects. Anxiety arises from living on the fringes of society with little financial stability. Feelings of alienation result from the belief that they work only for others. Anomie comes from being viewed as commodities, rather than people. The precariat’s lives hold little value and receive minimal empathy. This group lacks the opportunity to specialize or professionalize, forced instead to take available work.

The Impact of Globalization on the Precariat

Globalization has led to a significant shift in the capital-labor ratio by inducing the entry of 1.5 billion workers to the market, causing a loss in bargaining leverage for existing workers. The growth spurt post globalization was led by the precariat, which is characterized by short-termism that refrains from thinking long term. China’s massive investment has led to the creation of industrial parks that rely on and sequester hundreds and thousands of unskilled rural workers. The harsh living and working conditions of the precariat workforce has created a central reality of disposability for their lives. The rise of neoliberal economists has caused a shift in employer behavior, encouraging them to contract temporary workers to work longer hours for lower wages and eventually replace existing full-time workers. This glut of temporary workers provides a disincentive to offer benefits or healthcare to full-timers and has played a significant role in increasing underemployment.

Women in Precarious Work

Despite holding an increasing number of jobs worldwide, women still face inequality in pay and working conditions compared to men. Developing countries, such as China, rely on the labor of young female workers in the precariat, who work short-term contracts and often have no job security. Part-time work, such as assembly, sewing, and checkout clerking, do not represent a step up for women’s work status and they are paid a quarter less than men. The rise of the precariat also features a trend of men shifting to insecure, low-paid work once done by women. The global economy’s 24/7 nature has blurred the lines between work and life, leading to a devaluation of moral reciprocities. Despite this, government policies and employment surveys often neglect to include sex services workers. The labor market now offers less skilled heavy manufacturing work and more service work. The Great Recession brought greater male than female unemployment.

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