The Casualisation of Labour

Essay by mommy-dearest May 2005

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Labour 'flexibility' is always a relation of class struggle. Historically, such flexibility has sometimes provided a bargaining weapon against capitalist work-discipline. Since the 1980s, however, labour has been newly flexibilised to intensify its exploitation. Often called casual labour or precarité, this flexploitation imposes insecurity, indignity and greater discipline (Gray, 1995).

As a cutting edge of neoliberalism since the mid-1970s, the British state disorganised and decomposed the industrial working class which had characterized the Fordist-Keynesian era. It imposed that defeat by wielding several weapons -- e.g. decentralisation, privatisation, flexibilisation, criminalisation, etc. Casual labour has become more common, especially in privatised parts of the former 'public' sector, by using subcontractors or employment agencies. Historically, 'labour flexibility' has sometimes provided a bargaining weapon against capitalist work-discipline. Since the 1980s, however, labour was newly flexibilised to intensify its exploitation. This 'flexploitation' strategy seeks to impose a work-type discipline upon us all, thus blurring the distinction between 'employed' and 'unemployed' people.

We are driven to work harder in a state of insecure quasi-employment, often without wages. In parallel, the government promoted a great increase in home ownership, resulting in a 'debt trap' which intensified insecurity and further discouraged worker resistance.

According to the book "Global Trends in Flexible Labour," these developments have increasingly attracted the attention of economists, sociologists and policy analysts. Debate about non-standard employment initially gained prominence in the 1980's, triggered by the idea of the so-called 'flexible firm' (Atkinson and Merger 1986). According to this model, management divides workforce into core and peripheral groups- often regarded as equivalent groups - often regarded as enhanced levels of flexibility in hiring and firing, numbers of hours worked, job demarcations and worker remuneration. The 'flexible firm' was seen as associated with radical changes in the organisation of production, including post-Fordism, flattened managerial hierarchies, team working...



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