Eurozine – Defining the precariat – Guy Standing A class in the making

Eurozine – Defining the precariat – Guy Standing A class in the making.

“Broadly speaking, while the old classes persist in some parts of the world, we can identify seven groups. At the top is an elite, consisting of a tiny number of absurdly rich global citizens lording it over the universe, with their billions of dollars, listed in Forbes as among the great and the good, able to influence governments everywhere and to indulge in munificent philanthropic gestures. Below that elite comes the salariat, still in stable full-time employment, some hoping to move into the elite, the majority just enjoying the trappings of their kind, with their pensions, paid holidays and enterprise benefits, often subsidised by the state. The salariat is concentrated in large corporations, government agencies and public administration, including the civil service.

Alongside the salariat, in more senses than one, is a (so far) smaller group of proficians. This term combines the traditional ideas of “professional” and “technician” but covers those with bundles of skills that they can market, earning high incomes on contract, as consultants or independent own-account workers. The proficians are the equivalent of the yeomen, knights and squires of the Middle Ages. They live with the expectation and desire to move around, without an impulse for long-term, full-time employment in a single enterprise. The “standard employment relationship” is not for them.

Below the proficians, in terms of income, is a shrinking “core” of manual employees, the essence of the old “working class”. The welfare states were built with them in mind, as were the systems of labour regulation. But the battalions of industrial labourers who formed the labour movements have shrivelled and lost their sense of social solidarity.

Underneath those four groups, there is the growing “precariat”, flanked by an army of unemployed and a detached group of socially ill misfits living off the dregs of society. The character of this fragmented class structure is discussed elsewhere.[2] It is the precariat that we want to identify here.

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