Posts Tagged ‘Denizens’

Book of Interest: Guy Standing’s A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens

May 3, 2014

Precariat Cover

I found Standing’s A Precariat Charter (London: Bloomsbury 2014) going through my local branch of Waterstone’s. It’s the sequel to his earlier The Precariat. The precariat is the term he uses for the class of people trapped in low-paid, insecure work, with frequent withdrawals from the job market due to unemployment or the need to look after or raise a family. They are the people trapped on short-term or sero-hours contracts, humiliated by the DWP and its regime of benefit sanctions and endless means tests. They are often overqualified for the menial and low-status jobs they are forced to perform. Thus they include the graduates flipping burgers in the local McDonalds or signing on with the employment agency to do some kind of clerical work. They have been created by the policy of successive governments of creating flexible labour markets. They include large numbers of women and also immigrants and asylum seekers, who find themselves excluded from more secure jobs.

Standing calls them ‘the precariat’ because of their precarious employment position, which also excludes them from enjoying full citizenship. As well as Neoliberalism, he also criticises the Social Democratic parties for their exclusive concentration on securing rights for the labour – meaning primarily male breadwinners in secure employment – while ignoring other kinds of work.

He describes the way the Neoliberal capitalism of the late 20th and early 21st century invaded and overturned the automatic link between residence in a country and citizenship. On pp. 2-3 he writes

It fell to T.H. Marshall (1950) writing after the Second World War, to define citizenship in its modern form as ‘a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community’. To be a citizen meant having ‘an absolute right to a certain standard of civilisation which is conditional only on the discharge of the general duties of citizenship.’ While Marshall’s later conception of the ‘duties of citizenship’ included a duty to labour, with which this book takes issue, he recognised the tension between rights and capitalism, noting that ‘in the twentieth century, citizenship and the capitalist class system have been at war.’ Citizenship imposed modifications on the capitalist class system, since social rights ‘imply an invasion of contract by status, the subordination of market price for social justice, the replacement of the free bargain by the declaration of rights’.

That was roughly correct in the ‘re-embedded’ phase of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation ((1944) 2001), the period of social-democrat supremacy between 1944 and 1970s. In the subsequent ‘disembedded’ phase, contract has invaded status, and social justice has been subordinated to the market price.

On pp. 8-9 he further describes the way residents in nations across the world have been stripped over their rights as citizens.

Until the 1980s, the conventional view was that over the long run, in a democratic society, residence and citizenship should coincide (Brubaker 1989. This would not be true today. Many residing in a country never obtain citizenship or the rights attached to it; others who have resided since birth, lose rights that supposedly go with citizenship.

Many denizens not only have limited rights but also lack the ‘the right to have rights’. Asylum seekers denied refugee status are an example; migrants who cannot practise the occupation for which they are qualified are another. Often, they do not have the means or the procedural avenues to contest their marginal status. Many lack the capacity to claim or enforce rights, or fear that the act of asserting a claim right would have a high probability of retributive consequences or disastrous costs. Others have no avenues at all for pursuing nominal rights.

… There a six ways by which people can become denizens. They can be blocked from attaining rights, by laws, regulations or non-accountable actions of state bureaucracies. The costs of maintaining rights can be raised. They can lose rights due to a change in status, as employee, resident or whatever. They can be deprived of rights by proper legal process,. They can lose rights de facto, without due process, even though they may not lose them in a de jure (legal) sense. And they can lose them by not conforming to moralistic norms, by having a lifestyle or set of values that puts them outside the range of protection.

He mentions the way people can be stripped of their rights through being convicted as criminals. This is an important point. While I have absolutely no objection whatsoever to crims in prison losing their right to vote as part of their punishment, in America the process has gone much further than that. In some states, if you have committed a crime, you automatically lose your right to vote in perpetuity, even after you have served your sentence and been released as a free man or woman. He summarises the situation thus

In sum, denizenship can arise not just from migration but also from an unbundling of rights that removes some or all of the rights nominally attached to formal citizenships. The neo-liberalism that crystallized in the globalization era has generated a ‘tiered membership’ model of society. Worst of all, the unbundling of rights has gone with a class-based restructuring of rights. This is the ground on which the precariat must make its stand. (p. 10.)

In discussing the varieties of the precariat, he describes deprived members of the working classes, who may because of their lack of opportunities or education become attracted to Fascistic ideologies that blame others for their misfortune, and demand that other groups have their benefits cut, even when they themselves need them. IN my opinion, this describes a certain type of Tory voter – the working class Conservatives on whom Johnny Speight based in the famous Fascist git, Alf Garnett. He goes on to explain why the precariat is a dangerous class:

The precariat is dangerous for another related reason, because it is still at war with itself. If populist demagoguery had its way, the first variety [the dispossessed working class] would turn vicious towards the second [migrants and asylum seekers], as has been happening in Greece, Hungary and Italy. It is also dangerous because as predicted in The Precariat, the combination of anxiety, alienation, anomie and anger can be expected to lead to more days of riot and protest. And it is dangerous because stress, economic insecurity and frustration can lead and are leading to social illnesses, including drug-taking, petty crime, domestic violence and suicide.

Finally, the precariat is dangerous because it is confronted by a strident divisive state. Many in it feel commodified, treated as objects to be coerced to labour, penalized for not labouring, exhorted by politicians to do more. Nobody should be surprised if they react anomically. But since the precariat is emotionally detached from the labour it is expected to do, it is less inclined to imagine that jobs are the road to happiness or that job creation is a sign of social progress. The precariat pins its hopes and aspirations elsewhere. Quite soon, it will echo a slogan of 1968: ‘Ca Suffit!’ p. 32).

As well as the chapter describing the emergence of the precariat, and the social and economic forces that have created and exploit it, he presents a charter for improving their conditions in Chapter 5. This includes the following articles

Article 1: Redefine work as productive and reproductive activity (basically, it isn’t just work outside, but also inside the home).

Article 2: Reform labour statistics.

Article 3: Make recruitment practices brief encounters.

Article 4: Regulate flexible labour.

Article 5: Promote associational freedom. (This means developing new forms of unions and work associations that are able to act for the precariat).

Articles 6-10: Reconstruct occupational communities.

Articles 11-15: Stop class-based migration policy. (This, presumably, means ending the double standards that allow the massively wealth to go wherever they want, while excluding the poor, who may desperately need sanctuary or the job opportunities available in the countries to which they wish to migrate).

Article 16: Ensure due process for all.

Article 17: Remove poverty traps and precarity traps.

Article 18: Make a bonfire of benefit assessment tests. (Yaay!)

Article 19: Stop demonizing the disabled. (Also Yaay!)

Article 20: Stop workfare now! (Definitely yaaay!)

Article 21: Regulate payday loans and student loans.

Article 22: Institute a right to financial knowledge and advice.

Article 23: Decommodify education.

Article 24: Make a bonfire of subsidies (in other words, stop state support for over-paid exploiters and slave masters like IDS).

Article 25: Move towards a universal basic income.

Article 26: Share capital via sovereign wealth funds.

Article 27: Revive the Commons.

Article 28: Revive deliberative democracy.

Article 29: Re-marginalize charities.

This effectively means stemming the various Neoliberal polices that have led to the emergence of this new class of the dispossessed, as well as democratic deficit in which parliament has been side-lined in favour of a presidential style of politics, and social and economic policies formulated by think tanks and corporations.

I haven’t read the book yet, and intend to write a fuller review when I do so. I have, however, glanced at some of it, particular the attack on workfare, and have been impressed by Standing’s analysis and arguments.

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