Monday, 26 September 2011

An Age of Precarity


Last Friday was spent at Warwick University at the second seminar in an ESCR-funded series on young workers and precarious employment.

I hope to make a contribution to the next seminar (16th March - Manchester University) as this focuses on the trade union responses to the issue and overlaps with a national GFTU project.

Details of the seminar series can be seen at If you can make any of the remaining seminars you should as the issues raised are central to the future role of trade unions in the UK (and internationally) from a generic perspective, not just that of precarious work and young workers, although this is of course a serious cause for concern.

What was particularly striking during the seminar was a central sociological, economic and cultural disjuncture occuring across the EU. Put simply, whilst economic imperatives are forcing though changes to labour markets and as a consequence destabilising the likelihood of young workers gaining secure, long-term employment, cultural and societal norms prevail which are in antipathy to modern trends.

A basic example of this arises from an event I attended way back during the last dock workers' dispute (95-98). The dispute became a very nasty business. Not just because workers were sacked in defence on the maintenance of secure employment, but also because of the poor treatment of the dockers by their own union, the TGWU.

The event was a strikers' fund rally in Manchester run by a dockers' wives support group. At the rally one of the sacked dock workers stated simply that he acommodate the employer's demand of moving to a contract based on flexibility of employment if his bank, gas supplier, food shop etc., would accept flexibility in the way he paid his bills.

Although a basic story for me it illustrates the dilemma of workers (particularly, although not exclusively) caught in a trap of the EU's neoliberal policy reform of employment supply (e.g. flexicurity) and its clash with dominant, prevailing cultural assumptions about the way in which people's lives are lived.

This is a central dichotomy that features as part of the seminar series and one of the truly worrying aspects is the extent to which the dichotomy becomes 'resolved' in that precarious work is normalised as an mainstream expectation of young workers.

Clearly this process has to be resisted and so the next two seminars are of particular interest as it explores the range of responses to the predicament.

I welcome comments, questions etc about this item.

In Solidarity


1 comment:

Wilf said...

Language is of course political and nothing highlights the contradiction more than the EU's insistence on trying to develop policies based on flexicurity which is to put in nicely a contradiction in terms