On Precarity

Over the past few years terms like precarity, precarious labor, and “the precariat” have become popular as activists and scholars have tried to understand and describe the new conditions of working people. As developing countries have integrated into global capitalism and increased competition has forced richer nations to become meaner and leaner the living conditions of workers have become more and more tenuous. In a diverse section of industries capitalists are demanding workers to take part time or temporary jobs. Benefits such as pensions or healthcare are denied and many workers find themselves unemployed for longer periods of time. All this while capitalists have free reign to run around the world looking for the cheapest sources of labor, forcing governments to limit regulations of businesses and cut services to the poor.

Precarity has always been a part of capitalism. Capital has always had a need to develop mechanisms for moving workers to the most profitable industries as older sources of profit run dry. Marx also talked about the need to hold a section of unemployed workers in reserve to keep wages low and to make those who were working disciplined and afraid that they might lose their jobs. This being said, it seems that in the current period capitalism has made turned the need for flexibility into a “cutting edge” principle and thus more workers are being forced into more precarious working patterns, living hand to mouth and barely getting by.

This project exists to explore the changing conditions of labor in the 21st century. We want to use new GIS mapping technology as a way of visualizing how the lives of workers has changed in the face of deindustrialization and the new wave of austerity. We hope our project can raise questions in peoples minds about how much capitalism has actually changed, if it has changed – why and how has it changed; and also what do new labor processes and new conditions for workers mean for anti-capitalist organizing?

 

– Michael Nugent

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