Nice Work if You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times.

Author:Smith, Nicola
Position:New Capitalism? The Transformation of Work - Book review

Andrew Ross


New Capitalism? The Transformation of Work

Kevin Doogan


Reviewed by Nicola Smith

Since the start of the recent recession thousands of workers have lost their jobs, and as this year progresses many more will continue to face real risks of redundancy. The downturn has led to rising rates of underemployment, and temporary jobs are also on the increase. Work certainly looks and feels much less secure than it was two years ago.

The recession has also exacerbated existing labour market trends. Those with the lowest skills are now even more likely to face unemployment; young people face ever higher risks of worklessness; and older people who lose their jobs are increasingly less likely to find new ones. The gap between male and female employment rates continues to shrink; the most rapid reductions in jobs have been in manufacturing; and part-time employment continues to grow.

But although working people's risk of unemployment has certainly increased over the last two years, has this been part of a longer-term move towards greater job insecurity across developed economies? This contentious question lies at the heart of these two publications.

Andrew Ross outlines the existence of a global 'precariat', describing the 'march of contingency' into sectors including the creative and knowledge-based industries. He talks of an unprecedented scale of labour and capital mobility where new technologies play an integral part in the rise in off-shoring as jobs move around the world. For Ross, it is the 'increasingly small minority' who can now expect any form of job security. His narrative describes the ongoing flight of US manufacturing jobs to the developing world and the creation of a situation where 'no one' can expect fixed patterns of employment as a result of an 'explosion' of atypical work arrangements (a category which Ross takes to include part-time employment) and a reduction in long-term tenure--trends that have been accompanied and supported by a reduction in social welfare and union contracts. Ross holds that growth in corporate-driven globalisation, deregulation, subcontracting and outsourcing has led to work becoming increasingly characterised by long-hours, reduced employee autonomy and declining job security. This is described as a 'flexploitation' that hits both professional knowledge workers and migrant labourers alike.

Ross therefore suggests the need for increased solidarity between the global North and South, arguing that both migrants and 'formal employees in select high-wage and low-wage sectors' increasingly find themselves in a 'precarious work-life environment'. He is keen to encourage 'cross class alliances', which will require organisers to 'understand, and build on, the experience of precarity as a central element of people's...

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