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Precarity (also precariousness) is a precarious existence, lacking in predictability, job security, material or psychological welfare. The social class defined by this condition has been termed the precariat.
Léonce Crenier, a Catholic monk who had previously been active as an anarcho-communist, may have established the English usage. In 1952 the term was documented by Dorothy Day, writing for the Catholic Worker Movement:
True poverty is rare ... Nowadays communities are good, I am sure, but they are mistaken about poverty. They accept, admit on principle, poverty, but everything must be good and strong, buildings must be fireproof, Precarity is rejected everywhere, and precarity is an essential element of poverty. That has been forgotten. Here we want precarity in everything except the church. ... Precarity enables us to help very much the poor. When a community is always building, and enlarging, and embellishing, which is good in itself, there is nothing left over for the poor. We have no right to do this as long as there are slums and breadlines somewhere.— Anonymous Martinican priest, as quoted by Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, May 1952
It is a term of everyday usage as Precariedad, Precariedade, Précarité, or Precarietà in a number of European countries, where it refers to the widespread condition of temporary, flexible, contingent, casual, intermittent work in postindustrial societies, brought about by the neoliberal labor market reforms that have strengthened management and weakened the bargaining power of employees since the late 1970s.
Precarity is a general term to describe how large parts of the population are being subjected to flexible exploitation or flexploitation (low pay, high blackmailability, intermittent income, etc.), and existential precariousness (high risk of social exclusion because of low incomes, welfare cuts, high cost of living, etc.) The condition of precarity is said to affect all of service sector labor in a narrow sense, and the whole of society in a wider sense, but particularly youth, women, and immigrants.
While contingent labor has been a constant of capitalist societies since the industrial revolution, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued that the flexible labor force has now moved from the peripheral position it had under Fordism to a core position in the process of capitalist accumulation under Post-Fordism, which is thought to be increasingly based on the casualized efforts of affective, creative, immaterial labor. There is scattered empirical evidence in support of this thesis, such as the growing share of non-standard employment on the overall labor force, particularly on new hires. For example, in Western Europe, between a quarter and a third of the labor force now works under temporary and/or part-time contracts, with peaks in UK, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.
More problematic is that precarity seems to conflate two categories of workers that are at opposite ends of labor market segmentation in postindustrial economies: pink collars working in retail and low-end services (cleaners, janitors, etc.) under constrictive but standardized employment norms; and young talent temping for cheap in the information economy of big cities around the world: the creative class of strongly individualistic workers illustrated by managerial literature.[original research?]
It also remains to be seen whether the insider–outsider division that economists observe in European labor markets means that the young, precarious, non-voting, and non-owning outsiders have fundamentally conflicting aims with respect to older insiders, who tend to work full-time, long-term contracts, enjoy relatively high pension benefits and who command a disproportionate weight in European public opinion and political debate.[original research?]
Around 2000, the word started being used in its English usage by some global justice movement (sometimes identified with antiglobalization) activists (Marches Européennes contre le chômage la précarité et les exclusions - European Marches against unemployment, precarity and social exclusion), and also in EU official reports on social welfare. But it was in the strikes of young part-timers at McDonald's and Pizza Hut in winter 2000, that the first political union network emerged in Europe explicitly devoted to fighting precarity: Stop Précarité, with links to AC!, CGT, SUD, CNT, Trotskyists and other elements of the French radical left.
In 2001 the Italian collectives and networks identifying with the global justice movement, as they were preparing for the Genoa counter-summit just months away, inaugurated in Milan a new kind of first of May, MAYDAY, spelling it like the international call for rescue, and explicitly centering it on the street representation of the so-called "precarious generation." It employed carnival-like techniques of agitation (allegorical wagons, media subvertising, colorful actions etc.) in imitation of gay prides and love parades of the 1990s. Italian activists meant it as a revival of the Wobblies’ traditions of May Day, and consequently as a break with traditional union representation and social-democratic compromise that had allowed precarity and social insecurity to spread unchecked to reach critical levels in all of Europe, thus repeating the experience of UK and US economies with a few years' lag.
By 2003, the event had grown exponentially in size, and Catalan global justice activists participated as non-neutral observers. In 2004, activists in Barcelona joined the Mayday efforts, as delegations of French "Intermittents" participated as guests of honor in both Mayday parades. The same year saw the launch of the icon of San Precario, patron saint of the struggle against precarity. The religious imagery proved very popular in Italy and elsewhere, and would colonize the mainstream mediascape in the following years. By virtue of all these developments, Mayday 2004 drew 80,000 young protesters from all over Italy. This attracted attention from other parts of Europe.
In October 2004, libertarian and syndicalist collectives from across Europe gathered at Middlesex University at "Beyond ESF" (a critical reference to the European Social Forum that was being held in London at the same time) in order to give life to a unified European May Day of precarious and migrant workers: EUROMAYDAY, which involved a dozen Western European cities in 2005, and about twenty in 2006, with Milan, Paris, Helsinki, Hamburg, and Sevilla among the most lively nodes. In 2006, the mayday process was launched in Brussels on Good Friday with a few hundred activists from Belgium, France, Italy, and Germany protesting against pro-business lobbies in Europe: "no borders, no precarity: fuck the new inequality!".
The EuroMayDay network has gathered several times across the EU to discuss in its assemblies common actions against precarity and mobilizations against the persecution of immigrants, and particularly the segregation of undocumented migrants in detention centers all over Europe. EuroMayDay demands the full adoption of the EU directive on temporary workers being blocked by the Barroso Commission, as well as a European minimum wage and basic income. Cyber and queer rights are also part of the mayday deliberations and activities.
A core constituency of mayday has been the movement of Intermittents, the French expression to refer to stage hands and showbiz personnel. In 2002–2005, the Intermittents captured the French imagination and filled the press with their inventive rebellious tactics (e.g. they disrupted live TV news programs and the 2004 edition of the Cannes festival) denouncing precarity in the form of cuts to their unemployment benefits (they counterproposed an alternative reform of the system which was so well crafted that put French élites and union leaders in an awkward position).
In the early months of 2006, French youth rejected the CPE, the first-job contract introduced by the government who made it easier to fire workers under age 26. Clashes with the riot police, as it reclaimed Sorbonne from occupying students was the signal that something major was happening, as the university had been the epicenter of social insurgence in 1968. Four decades later, France was again paralyzed by huge student demonstrations and solidarity strikes called by the major French unions, as well as the more militant unions and organizations. With the vast majority of French universities occupied for more than a month, and the whole nation on strike, the Villepin government was forced to withdraw the provision, in a test of force with democracy in the streets that weakened the presidency itself. Le Monde commented that "précarité" was going to be a central issue in the upcoming 2007 presidential elections.
A few months before, France had been rocked by generalized rioting of the French youth of Arab and African descent in its suburban ghettos (cités), who sought to express angst at racial and economic discrimination that they were experiencing from the rest of French society. Although expressions of the same national malaise and social anguish, banlieue rioters and student protesters did not really share tactics and demands. The French explosion of 2006 against precarity was followed a few months later by a lengthy general strike in Denmark to protest against welfare cuts especially discriminatory with respect to young people. All universities were occupied, and the right-wing government was forced to withdraw the provisions that had to do with student subsidies and other welfare benefits for young people, although it retained pension cuts for older employees.
February 29 is the feast day of San Precario, the patron saint of precarious workers, who – together with his feast day – was created by the Chainworkers at the Milanese space Reload where the 2004 EuroMayDay was organised with others, including the Critical Mass group. The Milan Critical Mass already had its own patron saint, "Santa Graziella" (Graziella is the brand name of a popular Italian folding bicycle).
San Precario was originally conceived as a male saint (Romano, 2004). The saint's first public appearance was at a Sunday supermarket opening on February 29, 2004:
A statue was carried in the streets, preceded by assorted clergy including a cardinal reciting prayers over a loudspeaker, and followed by pious people.
The groups claim that the name functions like a multiple user name or myth such as Luther Blissett and quote the Wu Ming collective in giving theoretical coherence, although it is mostly seen as a détournement of the Catholic concept of patron saints.
In sociology, precariat refers to the social class formed by people with no job security, or no prospect of regular employment, distinct from the lumpenproletariat. The term is a neologism obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.
The precariat class has been emerging in advanced societies such as Japan, where it includes over 20 million so-called "freeters." The young precariat class in Europe became a serious issue in the early part of the 21st century.
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