The Precariat | Guy Standing

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


In ‘The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class’, Guy Standing uncovers the emerging global social stratum known as the precariat, characterized by precarious living conditions and lack of job security. The book delves into the origins, growth, and impact of neoliberal economic policies, the shift to labor market flexibility, and globalization on this new class. Standing presents a panoramic view of the lives of the precariat, describing their struggles with anger, alienation, anxiety, and anomie. As worldwide inequalities widen, the rise of the precariat contributes to the destabilization of societies. By examining aspects like the plight of migrant workers, women, and young individuals, we gain insight into the development of this fragile and dispossessed class.

Neoliberalism’s Impact

The rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s brought about the belief that the market should infiltrate every aspect of society, resulting in deregulation and the suppression of labor unions and state control. Neoliberals aim to do business globally without restriction, which has led to an increase in low-wage, rootless workers, known as the precariat. This new social class lives in uncertainty and debt, lacking reliable career prospects or home bases. The expansion of globalization has created new stratifications, where denizens replace citizens, and precariousness replaces stability.

The Five Social Classes

The world is divided into five social classes according to author Guy Standing. The elite class owns unimaginable wealth, followed by the salariat which comprises of professionals with secure jobs. The proficians work as contractors with their proficient skills to shift from firm to firm. The former working class consists of skilled manual workers with reasonably stable lives while the precariat class is at the bottom and work temporary, short-term jobs to survive. The author stresses that qualifications may become obsolete, leaving people in the most vulnerable position. The precariats have no labor protection or occupational identity and struggle to build a career.

The Precariat’s Plight

The precariat, a class of people with no predictable income, suffer from four A’s: anger, anomie, anxiety, and alienation. They have no sense of the future, are alienated from their work, and feel like commodities in a world that shows them little empathy. They cannot specialize in anything and must do whatever work is available. This deprives them of self-respect and self-satisfaction, fueling their anger and anomie. The lack of stability in their lives generates anxiety. The world offers them little human value.

The Impact of Globalization

The influx of cheap labor from countries like China, India, and the former Soviet countries has changed the capital-labor ratio and destabilized the bargaining power of existing workers. This gave rise to the “precariat,” a class defined by short-termism and disposability. China invested in massive industrial parks and sequestered hundreds of thousands of unskilled rural workers who work long hours for low wages. Disposability is a central reality of the precariat, and their low wages force wages down worldwide. Employers now contract with temporary workers to labor longer hours for lower wages, creating a disincentive to hire full-timers or offer benefits, and health care. The growth of part-time jobs has concealed the extent of unemployment and underemployment. This neoliberal economic policy based on competitiveness and individualism has shaped the global market economy and made the precariat a reality.

Women’s Struggle in the Global Precariat

The global precariat is predominantly composed of women working in short-term or no contract jobs, with low pay and poor working conditions. Even in developed countries, women’s wages remain lower than men’s, and they hold a disproportionate share of precarious jobs. The rise of the precariat also means that men are now taking on the low-paid work that women once held. The trend of globalization has destroyed the concept of a “family wage,” leaving many men unemployed due to a lack of skilled heavy manufacturing jobs. Women face even more struggles in the labor market, including the undercounting and exploitation of sex workers. The global economy, focused on financial rewards, has little respect for human physiology, as workers are expected to be available 24/7. Despite the increase in women’s employment globally, there has been little improvement in their working conditions or pay compared to men.

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