Condition Experienced By Workers Today Cultural Studies Essay

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This assignment aims at analyzing the claim made by Melissa Gregg which states that the condition experienced by workers today "is to be invested in work as and when required but without the reciprocal assurance from employers that commitment will be rewarded. Such a scenario risks losing the goodwill of employees permanently" (2011: 165). It also aims at evaluating this claim, exploring how the rise of precarity might transform labour and management practices.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution began the quest to fathom the dynamics of the worker in order to bring in efficiency and boost productivity.

The fordist theory prevailed for a significant period of time propounding the scientific management concept wherein the worker was assumed to be a unit of production, having to follow the set pattern laid down by the organization. Due to its shortcomings, a number of theorists emerged where the emphasis then shifted to the realisation of the worker as being endowed with emotional and intelligent faculties which could be put to use in the creation of an efficient system of production.

The workers were protected by the trade unions since the beginning of the 20th Century that swept across the western nations. These Trade Unions ensured that workers were taken care of, and that organizations were thus responsible for the welfare of the worker. This led to tremendous complacency and inefficiency especially in the public sector and consequent confrontations between managements and Trade Unions.

This paper attempts to analyse the evolution of the Precariat and its implications that are transforming labour and management practices across the world.

2. Discussion and Analysis.

The writer begins the analysis by examining the factors responsible for the evolution of Precarity particularly in Post fordist capitalism.

Fordism was the typical method and process in the growth of the industrialisation of developing countries as it focused upon effectiveness of mass production, whereas post-Fordism is characteristically applied to modern times as the old approach has become less proficient in the face of innovative technological advancements.

The essential principles of Fordism were the establishment of a huge processing plant marked by inflexibility in a process supervised by a bureaucratic and hierarchical management system. A semi-skilled work force was engaged for highly specialized albeit monotonous tasks. The dominant social and political constituent of Fordism was that it concentrated on protecting the national market, while keeping jobs confined to its borders , and selling the products to its own citizens.

Post-Fordism refers to the era of technological advancements that comprise transformation of the mechanics of production. The key feature of post-Fordism lies in the recognition of the fact that large-scale, bureaucratic organization is not majorly relevant, and, in fact, hampers the process. The post-Fordist model has resulted in the reorganization of the management system with greater flexibility, leaner labour forces and specialization in an entire company. Whilst the mentality of Fordism was entirely focused on mass consumption, and labour as units of production, Post-Fordism deals with consumer choice and segmentation of the marketplace. Post-Fordism is concerned with reorganizing the work force itself in order to do away with the conventional blue collar class that could be allotted to contracted employees. There is a higher stress on personal consumer preferences and individuality rather than considering the consumer force as a collective homogenized entity. Another crucial difference amid Fordism and post-Fordism lies in the fact that the latter scrutinises the economy in worldwide terms, avoiding the national interests a fact that is in contrast with the Fordist approach post World War II.

Juxtaposed against this backdrop detailing the evolution of thought processes for production efficiency lies the emergence of the Trade Union movement to protect the worker , who , being an important asset to the organisation , the worth was constantly undermined and exploitation was the norm.

In order to safeguard the worker ,for almost a century and half, the workers of Britain struggled to build Trade Unions Trade Unions came into existence long before any political party of workers did. Their history is an astounding record of heroic workers who battled the laws prohibiting the existence of the Unions, who defied imprisonment, victimisation and persecution, deportation, in order to empower their Unions. Generations endeavoured incessantly, in great strikes, political struggles, massive demonstrations, until to-day where millions of workers are organised trade unionists.

The advent of trade unionism concerned itself with the particular needs of specific occupations-miners, carpenters, engineers, and so forth and thus existed on a much narrower basis than it is today. There existed a trade union for each craft or trade. With the growth of industry, transportation and communications, these miniscule unions got organised as National Trade Unions.

These trade unions ensured that workers got a fair and good compensation, better working conditions and more important, job security.

The history of trade unionism has three distinct tendencies, first , being the breakup of the trades and crafts into simple forms of labour unions resulting in Craft Unions which then paved the way for Trade Unions; secondly, the merging of all combinations to form Local Trade Councils and National Trade Union Congress whereby sectional interests were merged into the common interest of Major Trade Unions, third, the workers movement crystallising into political parties such as Labour Party and Socialist Party signifying the growing consciousness , the working class begun to have of its aims and independent interests. What began in its first phase as an unconscious class struggle progressively emerged as a conscious class struggle.

The Heightened trade union activity led to a great sense of complacency and consequently inefficiency of the work force particularly in the public sector, and with the acceptance of collective bargaining as a enduring procedure being the first principle for action by the working class movement, it consequently accepts capitalism as a stable form of society, by which unions have to accept what the capitalists have to offer.

The advent of Thatcherism in the UK and Reaganism in the US led to massive confrontations between trade unions and managements and the progressive reduction of the powers and authority of trade unions. The decline of trade unions is primarily due to the change from a corporatist to an economy replete with high competition. The dismantling of the corporatist economy itself was a long, drawn-out process, virtually taking half a century.

The Definition and Concept of Precariat

Precarity is a state of existence devoid of predictability or security, affecting material as well as psychological welfare. It is distinctively applied to the condition of irregular or underemployment, resulting in precarious existence. The social class defined due to this condition is termed the Precariat. In many nations the widespread precarious employment is perceived as consequential from a loss of power of trade unions. They experience less potential to regulate large components of the labour market.

On the one hand, it describes an increasing change of previously guaranteed permanent employment conditions into mainly worse paid, uncertain jobs. In this sense, precarity leads to an interminable lack of certainty, the condition of being unable to predict one's fate or having some degree of stability on which to construct a life. On the other hand, precarity supplies the precondition for new forms of creative organisation that seek to accept and exploit the flexibility inherent in networked modes of sociality and production. That the figure of the creative, cognitive, or new media worker has emerged as the figure of the precarious worker par excellence is symptomatic of this ambivalent political positioning. Some commentators have gone as far as to suggest that the collaborative processes and affective relations that characterise artistic work reveal the inner dynamics of the post-Fordist economy.

One key demand of the neo-liberal economics of 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 carries out highly casualised labour. It 'is expected to do labour, as and when required, in conditions largely not of its own choosing' (P.13). The situation of the Precariat is more insecure than the situation of other workers. 'While it must rely on money wages, these are lower and more variable and unpredictable than those of other groups. Income and benefit inequalities are mounting, with the Precariat left further behind and dependent on an enfeebled community system of social support' (P.45).

Precarity, then, does not have its model worker. Neither artist nor migrant, nor hacker nor housewife, there is no precarious Stakhanov. Rather, precarity strays across any number of labour practices, rendering their relations precisely precarious - which is to say, given to no essential connection but perpetually open to temporary and contingent relations. In this sense, precarity is something more than a position in the labour market, since it traverses a spectrum of labour markets and positions within them. Moreover, the at best fleeting connections, alliances and affiliations between otherwise distinct social groupings brings into question much of the current debate around the "multitudes" as somehow constituting a movement of movements. Such a proposition implies a degree of co-ordination and organisation that rarely coalesces at an empirical level beyond the time of the event.

Their work relations differ drastically from traditional workers. 'Many entering the Precariat would not know their employer or how many fellow employees they had or were likely to have in the future. They were also not "middle class", as they did not have a stable or predictable salary or the status and benefits that middle-class people were supposed to possess' (P.6). The Precariat are different from traditional workers including the working poor in that they lack a 'secure work-based identity'. 'Those in the Precariat lack self-esteem and social worth in their work' (P.21). 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 assault on the public sector, which furthers the growth of the Precariat most. The privatisation and outsourcing of services has increased 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 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).

The neo-liberal state asserts that it favours non-discriminatory labour practices, proclaiming equal opportunity as the quintessence of 'meritocracy'. But it has turned a blind eye to the discriminatory techniques based on electronic surveillance, insurance markets and research in behavioural psychology. The resultant prejudice is more refined but the mechanisms are similar to the crude forms based on age, gender, race, or schooling. The latest twist is genetic profiling. A crucial research done in Singapore reveals that people with a variant of a gene (HTR2A)are liable to be less moody and consequently are more docile workers. Hormones also play a significant role. Research in Japan advocates that people with low levels of the stress hormone cortisol are more likely to accept low current income than those with higher levels, in the hope getting much more later. Then there exists testosterone. High levels reveal a desire to dominate and an increased ability to take risks. For precarious jobs, employers do not fancy workers frustrated by high control but low status. The Singapore research point towards the fact that high testosterone reduces a person's capacity to be a compliant team worker.

The Precariat must be cautious, since the way one lives has an effect on testosterone level. It is on the rise if one lives an exciting life while a docile lifestyle diminishes the level.

The fluctuating earnings characteristic of the precariously employed may generate more serious difficulties and though there exists financial advice, the costs of such services far exceed their earnings. Many are on their own, unable or disinclined to procure the services they need. Some are obliged to spend additional time worrying about and dealing with their financial affairs. While others will react by avoiding work altogether. One UK survey suggested that 9 million adults were 'financially phobic', scared by the perceived complexity of making rational decisions about money management.

The Precariat is tremendously disadvantaged in the increasingly important sphere of legal knowledge. A society of strangers has it s dependence on contracts; binding regulations sneak into every crevice and aspect of life. In order to function satisfactorily in a society that has complex laws and regulations in abundance, one has to be able to access this kind of legal knowledge that is pertinent to oneself. The Precariat have a tremendous disadvantage in this respect while the salaried class have positional advantages which translate into economic advantages. The Precariat is under time stress. It must devote a growing amount of time to work-for-labour, without it offering a reliable road to economic security or an occupational career worthy of the name.

The Global Dimension of the Precariat

Being part of globalisation, the emergence of the Precariat is understood as an international phenomenon directly linked to the increase in workers around the world. 'Before globalisation, the labour markets of economies open to trade and investment had about 1 billion workers and job seekers. By 2000, the labour force of those countries had risen to 1.5 billion. Meanwhile, China, India and the ex-Soviet bloc had entered the global economy, adding 1.5 billion' (P.28). The global economic crisis since 2008 has added yet further to this development with employers abusing the crisis to get rid of full-time employees. The crisis 'gave firms an excuse to rid themselves of "permanent" employees and to welcome more temps' (P.34). Standing outlines well the dynamics of global migration patterns in relation to the growing precariat. 'Migration is growing and changing character in ways that are intensifying insecurities and putting many more into precarious circumstances' (P.93). In China with 200 million migrant workers, migration is also a domestic phenomenon with plenty of further migrant workers in reserve. 'The rural areas still contain 40 per cent of China's labour force - 400 million languishing in dismal conditions, many waiting to be drawn into the Precariat' (P.107). Considering the international division of labour, Chinese migrants 'are having an effect on how labour is being organised and compensated in every part of the world' (P.109). G. Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (London and New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).


Managements have been concerned with efficient productivity and through the years have significantly altered the perception of the work force. The Trade Union activity gave the workers an identity with security but that led to considerable complacency and inefficiency .The subsequent advancement in technology lead to the marginalisation of trade unions and workers.

Managements have, however, been tremendously concerned with the improvement and understanding of labour for optimised productivity resulting in various HR practices to attract and retain highly preferred employees and as such this issue can be examined from two perspectives, viz., Whilst workers protection in terms of wages and job security is essential, it is necessary to guard against complacency and the subsequent inefficiency. The history of Communism and the erstwhile Soviet Union points out that too much of worker protection and absence of focus on the need to make profits can be disastrous. These shortcomings can be rectified with workers becoming aware of organisational focus on profitability and making sustained efforts to improve their knowledge, and thus be wanted in the organisation.

Managements have to sensitize themselves to the Precariat and develop suitable strategies for the effective employment and retention of this class within the organisation.