The Precariat: the New Dangerous Class
8 February 2012
As observers warn the European debt crisis could lead to a global depression, and as recent Australian employment data falls well short of forecasts, the arrival in Australia of economist Professor Guy Standing could not be timelier.
In a Sydney Ideas talk at the University of Sydney on 9 February he will describe how millions of people - including many Australians - are entering an emerging class called the precariat: a blend of the words 'precarious' and 'proletariat'.
The precariat consists of a growing number of people around the world who live in social and economic insecurity, without occupational identities, drifting in and out of jobs and constantly worried about their incomes, housing and much else.
"The precariat do excessive labour, including taking on several jobs at the same time or doing more unacknowledged 'work for labour' necessary to find or maintain a job," says Standing. "The precariat life includes futile rounds of training, networking, dealing with bureaucracy and handling financial affairs."
In his Sydney Ideas talk, Standing, Professor of Economic Security at the University of Bath, will describe the precariat as those who feel their lives and identities are disjointed, who cannot build careers or incorporate leisure into their lives in sustainable, meaningful ways. Youth, women, those with disabilities and migrants are most affected, but almost everybody is at risk.
The financial crisis, austerity packages and the extension of labour market flexibility into all parts of the workforce mean that even the 'salariat', including professionals with above average incomes, "is under fierce attack and shrinking," he says.
In his latest book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, Standing argues that although the precariat is a disparate group, its members are united in fears and insecurities. "Unless the cries from the precariat are heard, the stirrings that have been heard and seen in the streets and squares of Greece, Spain, England and elsewhere will only be the harbinger of much more anger and upheaval," he warns.
Progressive politicians and thinkers must listen to the precariat, who otherwise could prove easily seduced by a new era of populist and authoritarian politics around the world.
"Chronically insecure people easily lose their altruism, tolerance and respect for non-conformity. If they have no alternative on offer, they can be led to attribute their plight to strangers in their midst," he says.
However, Standing sees an alternative progressive agenda emerging in the European and Arab protest movements, which he says are partly a response to the frustrated aspirations of an educated younger generation joining the ranks of the precariat. The Sydney Ideas talk The Precariart: The New Dangerous Class, is co-presented with the Department of Government and International Relations, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
About the speaker:
Professor Standing was previously Director of the International Labour Organisation's Socio-Economic Security Program. He has written books on labour market policy, structural adjustment and social protection.
Besides The Precariat, which has been endorsed by Noam Chomsky, who has described it as 'very important', these include Work after Globalization: Building Occupational Citizenship (2009) and Beyond the New Paternalism (2002). He is a founder and co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) and is currently involved in unconditional cash transfer pilot schemes in India.
When: 6pm, Thursday 9 February
Where: Law School LT 101, Level 1, Sydney Law School, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney
Cost: This event is free and open to all, with no ticket or booking required. Seating is unreserved; entry is on a first come, first served basis.
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