Prayers to San Precario

One of the really spot-on things to come over the past decade from the European left, and Mayday protesters in particular, was their focus on ‘precarity’ – the trend of work to move from big corporations towards agencies, and freelancers, and short-term contracts. Acclaimed by many, with some justification*, as liberating workers from grey Fordist hierarchies, it is now leaving them high and dry without any security. Which, of course, was totally predictable – but it’s noteworthy that people did predict it, and devote their energies to campaigning around it**.
It’s a safe bet that precarious work – ranging from short-term contracts, through various degrees of informality, through to the outright illegal – is going to continue expanding across the economy in the next couple of years. There’s a strong argument that this is good and progressive, with informal work providing at least some safety net for the unemployed. Even the Wall Street Journal has been describing the informal economy as “one of the last safe havens in a darkening financial climate“.
Considerably more interesting, though, are the stories being collected by Robert Neuwirth. Neuwrith is one of desperately few people with a genuinely global outlook, and responsible for the excellent squatter city blog (and book). He’s now turning his attention to the informal economy.
Maybe it’s taking things to far to talk about informal work as being the poor’s best response to the collapse of capitalism, and to ask governments to find ways of accommodating the legally grey. Still, I prefer it to the usual assumption that the world’s poor should grow up to be obedient salarymen, and I have no doubt that Neuwrith will come out with a more nuanced version at some time in the future.
* I write all this as somebody self-employed, with minimal job security and few fallback plans, earning considerably less than I did when fully employed. I wouldn’t want it any other way, however tough things get through this recesssion. On the other hand, I can be relatively relaxed about all this because being a skilled worker my options are somewhat more appealing.
** Yes, this is me saying nice things about Hardt and Negri. Pay attention, it doesn’t happen often

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