De opkomst van het ‘Precariat’

Or precarized proletariat (link to video… do watch the entire thing, it is well worth 10 minutes of your time).

And if you think this is limited to low-incomes, think again:

“Western Europeans and Americans are about to suffer a profound shock. For the past 30 years governments have explained that, while they can no longer protect jobs through traditional forms of state intervention such as subsidies and tariffs, they can expand and reform education to maximise opportunity. If enough people buckle down to acquiring higher-level skills and qualifications, Europeans and Americans will continue to enjoy rising living standards. If they work hard enough, each generation can still do better than its parents. All that is required is to bring schools up to scratch and persuade universities to teach “marketable” skills.

(…)

But the financial meltdown of 2008 and the subsequent squeeze on incomes is slowly revealing an awful truth. As figures out last week from the Office for National Statistics show, real UK wages have not risen since 2005, the longest sustained freeze in living standards since the 1920s. While it has not hit the elite in banking, the freeze affects most of the middle class as much as the working class. This is not a blip, nor the result of educational shortcomings. In the US, which introduced mass higher education long before Britain, the average graduate’s purchasing power has barely risen in 30 years. Just as education failed to deliver social democratic promises of social equality and mobility, so it will fail to deliver neoliberal promises of universal opportunity for betterment.

(…)

We are familiar with the outsourcing of routine white-collar “back office” jobs such as data inputting. But now the middle office is going too. Analysing X-rays, drawing up legal contracts, processing tax returns, researching bank clients, and even designing industrial systems are examples of skilled jobs going offshore. Even teaching is not immune: last year a north London primary school hired mathematicians in India to provide one-to-one tutoring over the internet. Microsoft, Siemens, General Motors and Philips are among big firms that now do at least some of their research in China. The pace will quicken. The export of “knowledge work” requires only the transmission of electronic information, not factories and machinery. Alan Blinder, a former vice-chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has estimated that a quarter of all American service sector jobs could go overseas.

Western neoliberal “flat earthers” (after Thomas Friedman’s book) believed jobs would migrate overseas in an orderly fashion. Some skilled work might eventually leave but, they argued, it would make space for new industries, requiring yet higher skills and paying better wages. Only highly educated westerners would be capable of the necessary originality and adaptability. Developing countries would obligingly wait for us to innovate in new areas before trying to compete.

(…)

It suggests neoliberals made a second, perhaps more important error. They assumed “knowledge work” would always entail the personal autonomy, creativity and job satisfaction to which the middle classes were accustomed. They did not understand that, as the industrial revolution allowed manual work to be routinised, so in the electronic revolution the same fate would overtake many professional jobs. Many “knowledge skills” will go the way of craft skills. They are being chopped up, codified and digitised.

Brown, Lauder and Ashton call this “digital Taylorism”, after Frederick Winslow Taylor who invented “scientific management” to improve industrial efficiency. Call centres, for example, require customers to input a series of numbers, directing you to a worker, possibly in a developing country, who will answer questions from a prescribed package. We are only at the beginning; even teaching is increasingly reduced to short-term, highly specific goals, governed by computerised checklists.

Digital Taylorism makes jobs easier to export but, crucially, changes the nature of much professional work. Aspirant graduates face the prospect not only of lower wages, smaller pensions and less job security than their parents enjoyed but also of less satisfying careers. True, every profession and company will retain a cadre of thinkers and decision-makers at the top – perhaps 10% or 15% of the total – but the mass of employees, whether or not they hold high qualifications, will perform routine functions for modest wages. Only for those with elite qualifications from elite universities (not all in Europe or America) will education deliver the promised rewards.

(…)

Governments will then need to rethink their attitudes to education, inequality and the state’s economic role.”

But they will not, not until they get forced to do it. And even then, I don’t think our power elite can think outside of the neoliberal frame.

Also: (I haven’t read it yet. I’m waiting for the paperback to come out here)

  1. 1

    So what this movie is actually saying is: governments should make sure that the resignation policies are much less flexible? Is that the right interpretation?*

    *I miss some kind of conclusion at the end of the movie plus my English isn’t very well…

  2. 3

    As figures out last week from the Office for National Statistics show, real UK wages have not risen since 2005,

    I say “more propaganda”. Doe ff linken.

  3. 4

    Verontrustend, maar zeker niet verbazingwekkend.

    Kijk naar de postbode: ooit een respectabel vak, nu langzaamaan vervangen door loopjongens en -meisjes. “Werk” is niet meer zaligmakend. Zelfs moeilijk te vinden, voor velen. De “Arbeid macht Frei”-mentaliteit loopt op zijn laatste beentjes.

    Ik geloof dat we over moeten naar een basisloon voor iedereen, ongeacht werkwilligheid, willen we niet de helft van onze bevolking zien creperen op termijn.

  4. 5

    We are familiar with the outsourcing of routine white-collar “back office” jobs such as data inputting. But now the middle office is going too. Analysing X-rays, drawing up legal contracts, processing tax returns, researching bank clients, and even designing industrial systems are examples of skilled jobs going offshore. Even teaching is not immune: last year a north London primary school hired mathematicians in India to provide one-to-one tutoring over the internet. Microsoft, Siemens, General Motors and Philips are among big firms that now do at least some of their research in China. The pace will quicken. The export of “knowledge work” requires only the transmission of electronic information, not factories and machinery. Alan Blinder, a former vice-chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has estimated that a quarter of all American service sector jobs could go overseas.

    I hate to say i ‘told you so’ but:

    I told you so.

  5. 6

    Vreemd dat ze globalisering als oorzaak van het ontstaan van het precariaat noemen. Maak daar maar het ongebreidelde vrije markt denken van.

  6. 8

    Ik heb mijn FT-artikel al gelezen deze maand.

    Maar het is Mervyn King (BOE) die zegt bij een toespraak dat als de inflatie in de UK dit jaar even hoog blijft als in eind 2010 (namelijk 4%) dan zal in 2012 het gemiddelde reële loon op het niveau zijn van 2005. Dat is *heel iets anders* dan wat onze nepprofessor hier rondkakelt.

  7. 10

    @Spelt; terug naar Marx.

    Wat geeft de fabrieksbaas de mogelijkheid om een hongerloontje te betalen? Dat er voor iedere arbeider die bereid is te werken nog honderd (of duizend) anderen zijn die het werk ook willen doen.

    Dat drijft de prijs omlaag. Immers, net als de prijs omlaag gaat wanneer er een overschot aan sinaasappelen is of aardappelen, zo geldt dat ook voor arbeiders en de arbeid die ze aanbieden.

    Door de open grenzen in Europa is er een overschot aan arbeiders. Poolse werksters komen naar Londen en die zijn best bereid om hetzelfde werk te doen voor 6 euro per uur en ‘flexibele’ uren. Ze moeten wel, want in hun thuisland is helemaal geen werk en ook geen sociale voorziening om op terug te vallen.

    Wat betekent dat voor een Londense meid die op haar 17e op de arbeidsmarkt terecht komt? Of een vrouw die op haar 36e in een scheiding terecht komt? Die moet daarmee concurreren.

    Dat is dus waar de globalisering om de hoek komt kijken. De markt raakt oververzadigd aan aanbieders.

    En dit geldt dus voor alle arbeidsplaatsen (behalve een kaste van job-hoppende managers en politici die een hoop geld opstrijken om dit allemaal te laten gebeuren).

    De overheid doet zelf hier grif aan mee. Minder ambtenaren betekent niet dat de overheid minder werk het uit te besteden. De overheid blijft gewoon doorgroeien. Alleen: het werk dat ze voorheen liet verrichten door personeelsleden met in ijzer beklonken arbeidsrechten, besteedt ze nu uit aan uitzendbureaus. De helft van de personeelskosten gaat dus direct naar de moderne koppelbazen, die je ijskoud na drie-en-een half jaar op straat zetten.

    Pensioenopbouw? Vergeet het maar.

    Als je vraagt waar de massa-immigratie ooit om begonnen is: zelfde laken een pak. Industrieën, zoals tekstielfabrieken, konden door het stijgende opleidingsniveau te weinig mensen vinden die het werk wilden doen voor de lonen die zij aanboden, en moesten dus steeds meer aan arbeidskosten gaan betalen. Maar door die stijgende loonkosten wordt de concurrentiepositie onhoudbaar. Dus had men een reservoir van arbeiders nodig om de lonen naar beneden te drukken. Michiel verdwijnt in de WAO en daar krijg je Ali voor terug die voor 60% van de kosten werkt. Snappie?