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Struggling in an insecure, unequal economy
Have you heard of the “precariat”? This term names the experience of employment or under-employment for many, and maybe for you also, in the next decade.
The precariat comprises those who are salaried, but working in conditions of extreme insecurity.
Workers on one-month or three-month contracts; whose year-long contracted jobs with benefits have been reduced to six or nine-months without benefits; those working longer hours for the same pay, in jobs not guaranteed to be funded another year.
Such people could be any of us, working in government offices or as a newspaper columnist or in the university.
No chance of loans or a mortgage; uncertainty regarding whether you can pay school costs, health bills or rent; fear of whistle-blowing corruption mismanagement or ineptitude; undercut collective bargaining power. Demoralisation follows.
Think of all the workers put on the breadline since fossil revenues fell away, the impact on families, and the absolute futility of underfunded social services unable to respond.
From this, expect an oncoming rise of drug and human trafficking, gun crimes, gang and intimate partner violence, and religious fundamentalism, as gutted governments find nations increasingly ungovernable.
But, here, the precariat is lucky because they haven’t been laid off, just underpaid and without job security.
They’ve joined those already making ends meet in the informal economy, in daily-paid jobs, in home-based work, or in the poor conditions of the retail sector—where women predominate.
It’s worse for the young, and worst of all for young women, despite their greater investment in education.
We have yet to see whether managers and bosses will fight for fair salaries for their staff or bow to a logic that exploits those earning the least with pride that they are, at least, still salaried.
It’s a loss-loss scenario and fails the standard of a human-centred economy, for people with stability are much more likely to show vision, investment and leadership in their jobs and community.
And, we can’t legitimately throw entrepreneurial language at these folks, though such tiefhead is all the rage.
Entrepreneurship or self-employment has a long, proud history in the region, as farmers, market vendors, seamstresses, bakers, broom-makers, designers, music producers and others will tell you, but it comes without health or maternity benefits, clear work hours, legal protections, and a strong social safety net, and results in lower lifetime savings.
Cadres of stable jobs, particularly in institutions, are necessary, as insecure workers find it hard to think or live beyond the present and their own bottom line—a major problem in our national culture already.
Such precarity is what would have been considered exploitation in better times, but what you better be grateful for today. Although, the truth is, the rise of precarious work gives rise to a precarious society.
Yet, keep these in mind.
Globally, while the incomes of poor and middle-class have risen incrementally (though precarity is reversing this), the incomes of the wealthiest have risen exponentially under neoliberal capitalism (a term which you should get off Facebook and go google).
The problem isn’t one of lack of money globally or in Trinidad and Tobago.
It’s that wealth is concentrated, or wielded, rather than equitably or responsibly distributed, particularly to workers of all kinds.
In 2002, our budget was almost $50 billion less than today, yet our population is only marginally larger.
Waste, corruption and irresponsible elites have left us in this state. We must learn to follow every dollar. For, workers pay the price.
Third, though corporations, investment and equity firms and banks, rather than governments, rule the global political economy, the state has huge responsibility for managing this moment, through its education, prison reform, border protection, gender, environmental, agricultural, public transport and other policies.
Better governmental management for greater public good is totally possible as anyone familiar with dozens of unimplemented and common sense recommendations made over the past 30 years knows.
Every kind of worker must hold political elites accountable for state failures and suffering that follows.
New movements must thus emerge, for this growing group of workers can organise for greater collective power and decision-making over this increasingly insecure and unequal economy.
Welcome to the precariat for whom the struggle is present and real.
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