Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Feast of San Precario

Feb. 29 is the day of San Precario, the patron saint of precarious workers.

Precarity is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting a person's material and/or psychological welfare. Specifically, it is applied to the condition of intermittent, insecure  or under employment and the resultant precarious existence. The social class defined by this condition has been termed the precariat.

Precarity is a general term to describe how large parts of the population are being subjected to flexible exploitation (low pay, high blackmailability, intermittent income, etc.), and existential precariousness (high risk because of low incomes, program 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 working class society in a wider sense, but particularly youth, women, and immigrants.

Precarity is a term of everyday usage as Precariedad, Precariedade, Précarité, or Precarietà in a number of European countries, where it refers to the widespread, nearly ubiquitous in the United States, condition of temporary, flexible, contingent, casual, intermittent work in our Western postindustrial societies, brought about by the loss of labor union  strength and representation that have strengthened the hand of management and the arbitrary power of employers since the late 1970s.

In sociology, Precariat refers to working class people with no job security, or no prospect of regular employment, distinct from the lumpenproletariat. The term is a recent neologism obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.

The precariat class has been emerging in advanced societies such as Japan, where it now includes over 20 million people.  The young precariat class in Europe became a serious issue in the early part of the 21st century, while oddly, although nearly all subprofessional workers in the United States lack any semblance of secure employment due to the "at will" format of employment coupled with minimal government regulation of arbitrary firing of employees by managers, most workers seem to accept the fact that they are constantly blackmailed by their employers to act against their own best interests.

In the United States the precariat class workers even lose their health insurance if they become unemployed, subject to a temporary "opportunity" (revealingly called "COBRA") to retain coverage at a vastly increased price over the premium paid through the former employer, and for some reason the workers in the United States accept that as sensible and resolutely reject all attempts to provide them, at least, some semblance of independence from the employers' demands on them in form of health insurance that can't be dictated, or simply terminated, by the employers.

In spite of the exceptionally precarious position of non-professional workers in the United States and in the United Kingdom (not quite as abysmal as in the U.S.) most of the actual reaction is taking place in the European Union nations, perhaps because it is seen as a province of the governments in those countries to protect workers from arbitrary exploitation by the wealthier and aristocratic classes, who generally are the employers.

As a side-note; Walmart- the largest U.S. retailer, recently sold its German operation because under German laws it could not compel German workers to conform to some of the regulations which its employees (called "associates") in the U.S. are required to accept without complaint.  Complaining is a serious breach of etiquette at Walmart, almost on par with telling a coworker how much your hourly wage is...

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