Professor Guy Standing – he of ‘Precariat’ fame – has written a long article suggesting that in fact the Precariat class may give hope for change. They are the “dangerous class”.
It is a “dangerous class” partly of course to itself – suicide, self harm and drug taking are, unsurprisingly, prevalent. Also a section of them which he describes as Atavists (although, I’m not quite sure why) are those that fall prey to right wing pseudo fascist blandishments. The others are Nostalgics – keeping heads down and working on in the eventual hope of something better. And then there are the Progressives. These are naturally the ones he suggests provide hope.
Unlike the proletariat, which sought labour security, the Progressives in the precariat want a future based on existential security, with a high priority placed on ecology—environmental protection, the “landscape,” and the commons. By contrast, when confronted by a policy choice between environmental degradation and “jobs,” the proletariat, labour unions, and their political representatives have given “jobs” priority.
The precariat is a transformative class partly because, as it is not habituated to stable labour, it is less likely than the proletariat to suffer from false consciousness, a belief that the answer to insecurity is more labour, more jobs. In the twentieth century, mainstream commentators believed that putting more people into jobs and for longer was a progressive strategy—that doing so would provide social integration and offered the best route out of poverty. It was a trap into which many on the left fell.
Do I hear the current government suggesting that a job is the route out of poverty?
As he continues, this turns out to be a demand for Universal Basic Income (UBI) and so indicates why he is so criticised by the lovers of the Job Guarantee. Like Professor Daniel Nettle he considers UBI not as a simple alternative to the Job Guarantee but as philosophically opposed to it:
A transformative politics should promote work that is not resource-depleting and encourage leisure in the ancient Greek sense of scholé, the pursuit of knowledge and meaning, rather than endless consumption. That points to the need to re-conceptualise work, to develop a new politics of time, and to de-commodify education so that it revives its original purpose of preparing young adults for citizenship. Most fundamentally, such a politics must promote a new income distribution system because the reimagining of work depends on it.
I can only agree. After all, before the industrial revolution there were no unemployed. so therefore, in order to make a better society, Universal,
Basic security is a human need and a natural public good, since, unlike a typical commodity, one person’s having it does not deprive others of it. Indeed, if others have security too, that should increase everyone’s security, making it a superior public good.
This is certainly the argument that those of us in favour of a basic income need to actively promote.
It makes the Job Guarantee seem pretty stunted and pedestrian by comparison….