The Precariat: Brief Introduction

The precariat is now a vast global workforce whose transitory and tenuous relationship with their employers makes most of them liable for termination or furlough at any time. But still they keep on working for they are likely to have the only jobs they can get.

This will be the first book that lays out the incredible range of the precariat as well as a detailed report on the cinematic record of their work and lives.

They are migrant workers, child laborers, temps of all kinds, food industry workers, retail clerks, day laborers, farmers, seasonal workers, “illegal” immigrants, the army of house cleaners, nanny, and domestic servants, tech workers, adjunct professors, convict labor, and even androids.

They are, by and large, unorganized, underemployed, and often undocumented, not to mention barely tolerated in some countries as guest workers. There is almost a one-to-one correlation between the shrinking unionized share of any country’s workforce and the corresponding expansion of the precariat.

The leading chronicler of the precariart, Guy Standing, former director of the Socio-Economic Security Programme of the United Nation’s International Labour Organization, also defines them by what they do not have: their jobs do not have any opportunities for advancement and lack “health and safety regulations, training, and stable income.” They have no collective representation before their employer and no access to any job protection. (See Standing’s Work after Globalization, 2009.)

Not surprisingly the precariat are especially difficult to organize, but some new forms of collective leadership and action have emerged, using strategy and tactics reminiscent of Occupy Movement activists or even new Latino organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who, like the Civil Rights Movement, are led by labor organizers both traditional and maverick, community leaders, and activists across the progressive political spectrum operating in the streets, in workplaces, in the media, and in cyberspace.

As the precariat finds itself more and more concentrated in urban configurations—whether it be in a cleaning service in an American city or building skyscrapers in a global megalopolis such as Dubai or making Mardi Gras beads in a Chinese factory city or scavenging in a Guatemalan city dump—filmmakers turn towards both traditional documentary and on-line innovative forms to present their vision of cultures in crisis. Even politically conscious video game-makers have added their work to the mix.

In any era before the present we would say that no city could exist without a working class. Now we would argue that no megalopolis could exist without such precariat-intensive zones as airport complexes, tech corridors, immigrant districts, favelas, shopping (mega) malls, corporate estates, EPZs (Export Processing Zones), container ports, street markets, and even garbage cities.

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