Book Review for The Precariat
The book of the British sociologist Guy Standing titled The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class examines one of the most painful issues of today: the ubiquitous spread of a new class. On the one hand, this new class plays an exceptionally important role in the production of both tangible and intangible values, while on the other, it is deprived of the majority of social and political rights and guarantees. Precariat grows steadily numerically and includes more and more countries and forms of social life. The task to understand the worries and problems of this new dangerous class and to find possible solutions are among the main ones today. Thus, the paper reviews Standing's book and analyzes his ideas in order to understand the main problems of society better, from the aging of the population and the growth of the number of migrants to the feminization of the labor market and the gloomy prospects of the youth.
The word precariat appeared from uniting the notions precarious and proletariat. Marxists considered the proletariat as the working class that was exploited as its representatives worked hard in awful working conditions for low pay (Trappen, 2014). However, they managed to survive during industrialization because computerized automation had not appeared at that time, their income was reliable, and society was more community-oriented. Nowadays, the situation is much different as the labor has become the commodity that is used for employers benefit. Thus, they increasingly transfer factories to the countries with the cheaper workforce and hire migrants who can be paid less. Moreover, a widespread computerization and automation of production as well as the new labor policies, such as Obamacare, that favor part part-time workers over full-time contribute to the problem (Caroll, 2013). As a result, the life of the working class is now more precarious nowadays since there is no job security or income stability. The proletariat of the past did not have to cope with these things.
Standings Thoughts and Ideas Revealed in the Book
The economic pyramid has changed significantly throughout history. In his book, Standing claims that a very small number of extremely rich people, or the elite, is at the top of the economic pyramid. People, who work full-time, have a stable job and who are well-paid, are known as the salariat and they are found below the elite (Standing, 2011). A small group of people who have strong and unique skills, which makes them mobile, are known as proficians, and they are on par with the salariat. A reducing number of manual employees, or the core, who have been previously known as the working class, is below the proficians. Finally, at the very bottom of this pyramid exists the increasing number of unemployed people, or the precariat (Standing, 2011). They are considered to be a misfit of society.
The proletariat prompted the rise of the precariat. This happened when neoliberalism, the fundamental principles of which were privatization, the reduction of government spending, and so on, reappeared as an economic theory in the 20th century and it was used by Friedman and Pinot (Thorsen & Lie, n.d.). Standing (2011) claims that the chase for flexible labor relations has become the main reason of the spread of this new class worldwide. The governmental institutions advocated firing workers in order to boost employment, while corporations continued this practice by hiring part-time workers instead in order to be profitable. This also helped employers to force their employees, who work full-time, to make concessions. Standing (2011) provides the example of the US Hyatt Hotels housekeepers who have worked full-time and who have been forced to clean the same number of rooms during 8 hours of their working day as their part-time mates who worked for 12 hours. Thus, with the growing trend for part-time employment increased employee exploitation and the precariat.
The transfer to the part-time employment is a trend that is commonly observed around the world. Standing (2011) gives a good example of Japan where a common practice is to work for one employer for the whole life. Such employees are named salarymen and they belong to the salariat. However, since the 1980s, their share has reduced significantly as they have been replaced by the youth who already no longer wish to work at the same place for their whole life (Nahrebeski & Kimball, n.d.). More pressure was put on the salarymen who stayed, so they became more stressed, which made them closer to the precariat instead of the salariat that had stable employment (Standing, 2011). As a result, the number of suicides because of the work stress increased dramatically in the world.
The significant spread of agencies that provide temporary labor has aggravated the precarious nature of current employment because it is now hard to understand which firm is responsible for the worker. Moreover, in the 1990s and early 2000s, people tried to prevent their precariatization by falling in debts and leaving beyond means, but during the economic downturn in the late 2000s and early 2010s, they joined the precariat (Standing, 2011). In general, each demographic group, such as men, women, the elderly, the youth, and migrants cannot be protected from becoming the precariat. In current economic society, all of them compete with each other due to the small number of jobs. Thus, Standing has described each group in his book.
During the history of humankind, males have always dominated in society. Men supported their families financially, while women raised children. However, after WWII, when women increasingly started participating in employment, everything changed (Standing, 2011). Family wages became individual one and the higher salaries of men in comparison to those of women became illegal now. Thus, jobs became more feminized, transferring more to the service market, where mens power was not required, and becoming more flexible, which was more convenient for women. Standing (2011) claims that men have lost their advantages, and with the Recession, they have also experienced mancession. Thus, men are the ones who have lost the biggest number of jobs, so now 1 in 6 men aged 25-55 is unemployed in the USA (Wessel, 2014). Consequently, men also increasingly join the precariat.
As the belated entrants to the labor market, females more willingly take low paid positions than males. Moreover, the possibility of becoming pregnant and thus leaving job has made women take part-time jobs, which is beneficial for employers. However, there is some inherent precariousness of such jobs (Standing, 2011). Thus, these jobs are characterized by the rapid discontinuation of income stream, the absence of adequate savings, and lack of time. In The Precariat, Standing emphasizes on the stronger burden that women currently face (Standing, 2011). Not only do women have raise children, cook, and clean now, but they also to work and bring additional salary that is currently frequently necessary. Being torn between family and work, they often fear to lose the latter, thus becoming the bag lady (Standing, 2011). Moreover, this situation only becomes worse.
The elderly are also potential precariat. Earlier, making savings for their whole life and relying on Social Security, elderly citizens could expect a comfortable retirement, but due to significant social security disbursement, which was made to raise the standards of living for the poor and inflation, the situation changed dramatically (Standing, 2011). Now, the elderly people have to work instead of enjoying their retirement. Moreover, because of their savings and pensions, they agree to work part-time and at lower pay, thus migrating to the precariat world (Standing, 2011). Finally, being more experienced, they take away the jobs from younger generations.
The youth have always been in the precarious condition on the job market as they are forced to prove their knowledge and worth. However, the current extreme competition from more skilled elderly makes them live with parents even in their 30s and delay creating their own families (Standing, 2011). Moreover, the author emphasizes on the commercialization of education that has become too expensive. However, after graduation, job prospects often remain unfulfilled. Thus, for example, more than 1 million students in China remain unemployed each year after graduation (Standing, 2011). Consequently, in order to gain experience, useful for potential highly-paid jobs, the youth increasingly enter low-paid internships that rarely provide some benefits. Standing (2011) defines internships as a menace for the youth that is close to or that already belongs to the precariat. Thus, the youth is one of the most vulnerable groups, joining this new class from the very beginning of their working life.
The precariat also consists of migrants that are its main cause and victim at the same time. A migrant is described as a resident alien not as a citizen, which makes them a second class that is easier to take advantage of (Standing, 2011). Asylum seekers are at the bottom of the migrant's pyramid since they do not have any rights. The migrants without appropriate legal document but who have only human rights are above asylum seekers. However, those who have been granted temporary residence, but whose life is restricted by visa and law, are above them. These groups can only work illegally and constantly fearing of being deported, which is a great example of the precariat's insecurity (Standing, 2011). The two lower migrant groups are the most vulnerable ones as they are paid illegally low and placed in dangerous conditions since they cannot protest or quit. Moreover, they are demonized by politicians who seek the support of their constituents (Standing, 2011). Therefore, they are exploited twice - by economy and by politics.
In his book, Standing emphasizes on the necessity of the precariat having the right and power to decide or influence something a voice. However, it is hard for them to have this voice because it is nefariously defined; the only common thing between the people of the precariat class is their financial status. Nevertheless, when finding this voice, they must insist on fair and clear wages without the government's interference and with the adherence to workers rights. Additionally, according to Standing (2011), it is necessary to rethink the definition of work. Thus, it should not involve only labor in the workplace but also the unpaid work at home. Finally, Standing (2011) stresses the need for a worldwide basic income that would be provided on a regular basis to meet the minimal living level. Therefore, these solutions will help the precariat to receive some power and the chance to rise to the higher level of the economic pyramid or even to destroy such a notion at all.
In his book, Guy Standing claims that it is wrong to accuse the migrants and machines of being the main reason of people losing their jobs today and in the future. They are only a small part of the much more serious problem. Standing indicates that the precariat appears in the failing situation because of the simple human greed. People suffer from this because the business owners want to get as much as possible from the lowest paid workers and because of the outsourced jobs overseas. Thus, greedy people (not the machines) contribute to the awful life of this new class. Finally, the precariat is superseded. They should work harder without an ability to relearn or retool quickly because of the inappropriate education and they should invent their own jobs because of the poor chances to receive already existing decent jobs while not having a voice, which is very scary.
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