Precarious work is everywhere 

Precarious work is everywhere 

I’ve just finished reading Isabell Lorey’s State of Insecurity: the Government of the Precarious – a theory heavy but thought provoking book on capitalism and the politics of work.

Her basic argument is that precariousness is part of the modern economy and working life, bolstered by government policy around welfare and pensions which intensifies that sense of precariousness. It’s not just migrant workers on the one hand or young workers on the other, that are in a state of precarious work; but they and everyone in and out of work have insecure and precarious work, now that short term contracts, temping, zero hours, portfolio careers and the like have become the norm.
Drawing on Foucault’s idea of ‘governmentality’ she suggest this isn’t simply imposed on people from external forces (the state, the market, business etc) but that people govern their own behaviour and conduct in light of this precariousness. Hence in a workplace, solidarity – if it ever existed – has been replaced by people developing their reputation and personal brand so as to compete with others for promotions in insecure jobs. The cultivation of this way of conducting yourself in public, where you are always in some ways working, is even stronger amongst freelancers, whether they chose the freelance option or not. For them, the division between work and leisure breaks down.
Finally, though, she sees – again following Foucault, this time his idea that power always creates resistance – that precariousness is not all bad: it creates problems but also the possibility of alternatives. She draws attention to movements of precarious workers who are identifying what they have in common and creating networks and movements to support themselves, with some reference to EuroMayday.
The book is heavy on theory and light on practical detail, but this sense of a new movement, of new possibilities emerging, reminds me of the Freelancers Union in the United States, which has of thousands of freelancers in membership. With their lovely little tag line ‘a union of the unaffiliated’ they have a good description of the network which on the hand praises the possibility of new and freer work whilst at the same recognising the drawbacks of freelancing.

Freelancers Union believes all workers should have the freedom to build meaningful, connected, and independent lives – backed by a system of mutual and public support.

Nearly one in three working Americans is an independent worker. That’s 53 million people – and growing. We’re lawyers and nannies. We’re graphic designers and temps. We’re the future of the economy.
Freelancers Union serves the needs of this growing independent sector. We’re bringing freelancers together to build smarter solutions to health care, retirement, wage security, and other broken systems. We call it New Mutualism. You can call it the future.

We’re helping the diverse self-employed community build a powerful voice – in politics and in markets. We connect freelancers to group-rate benefit.