The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, Bloomsbury Academic, London, UK, 2011; 208 pp: 9781849663519, 19.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
As a result of global restructuring, the number of workers employed in the informal economy has steadily increased over recent decades. In this important book, Guy Standing discusses the emergence of what he calls the 'precariat'. One key demand of neoliberal economics in the 1970s was that 'countries should increase labour market flexibility, which came to mean an agenda for transferring risks and insecurity onto workers and their families. The result has been the creation of a global 'precariat', consisting of many millions around the world without an anchor of stability' (p. 1). The precariat performs highly casualised labour, and its situation is more insecure than is the situation of other workers. The precariat are different from traditional workers, including the working poor, in that they lack a 'secure work-based identity'. In contrast to the traditional industrial working class, there is a lack of collective pride, dignity and identity. On the basis of these differences with traditional workers, Standing understands the precariat as a new, separate class. He argues that 'we may claim that the precariat is a class-in-the-making, if not yet a class-for-itself' (p. 7). Economically, it is the attack on the public sector that furthers the growth of the precariat more than anything else. The outsourcing and privatisation of services has led to an increase in precarious, insecure jobs. 'Globally, the public sector is being turned into a zone of the precariat' (p. 51). And here, it is especially women (pp. 60-3) as well as young people (pp. 65-7), who are affected by these developments, and who swell the precariat in disproportionately large numbers. High youth unemployment across Europe, for example, provides a pool of people willing to join the precariat, with any job being considered better than having no job at all (p. 77).
This is undoubtedly a significant book, highlighting the plight of an increasing number of people in the global economy. Importantly, it does away with the myth that precarious labour is mainly to be found in the Global South, in less developed countries. In reality, it is increasingly a common form of employment also in industrialised countries, as what was once considered to be atypical labour becomes more and more the norm. Being part of globalisation, the emergence of...