Organizing The Precariat: Who Are They? What Are Their Demands?

The precariat are the new proletariat. The writings of Karl Marx still apply to them as a subjugated class whose labor is extracted to create wealth for the already-wealthy. The big difference between them, the precarious proletariat, and the regular proletariat is that the financial situations and access to labor opportunities of the precariat are insecure. Whereas the labor of the proletariat is simply exploited for as little compensation as possible, they have jobs, their jobs suck, but at the end of the month they can safely assume they will still have the basics to survive.

The precariat hold two symbolic positions in our society. One is as a warning sign of the impacts of growing inequality, the second is as a demographic with immense revolutionary potential.

Where Did The Precariat Come From?

The Precariat

The rise of the precariat, according to the author of several books on the phenomena, is attributable to a population increase which has increased the labor market by billions of people, and the opening of international markets along with the expansion of intellectual property rights. These factors together ensure that wealth continues to concentrate into fewer hands and that competition in the labor market gains intensity.

These impacts are visible in the growth of the so-called sharing economy where poor economic situations have pushed people into jobs with little-to-no benefits or protections. The unpaid internship as a barrier to entry in several industries exemplifies this insecurity.    

Standing identifies three factions of the precariat: atavists, nostalgics, and progressives.

The atavists are the children of the American working class of yonder times. They grew up with parents working well-paying jobs without college degrees. The word atavist means the reappearance of a genetic trait after several generations of absence. In this case it refers to ancestral lines who won the right to a reasonable standard of living with struggle and unionism, then enjoyed these benefits throughout the 1900’s before political and economic attacks on labor threw the newest generation back into precarity.

The second faction of precarians, nostalgics, includes immigrants, minorities, gypsies, and refugees. Standing uses the word nostalgia in defining them to illustrate that they are people without a sense of home in the land they occupy. Beyond economic fluctuations this group experiences insecurity because of prejudice and the lack of legal recourse that comes with being poor and foreign.

Progressive youth are the third faction he identifies. These are generally college educated people who grew up wanting to make a difference’ in the world. They got a college education because they were told that the world would open to them. They would be able to do work with meaning and make a comfortable living. This was wrong, now they have weak opportunities in the labor market and a ton of debt.  

The Prognosis

Anyone interested in having a pleasant future on the planet needs to think about building power. To build power you need to mobilize people, and to mobilize people you need to have a message that talks to them. So to mobilize the precariat we first need to know what they want. I personally know a lot of people who fit into the final category. Indebted, college educated people who planned on entering a labor market that had changed fundamentally from when they were told about it. They are offered unpaid internships, low-paying jobs, and web applications which let them meet financial shortfalls by trading more of their time to perform menial tasks and make money for the application developers.

To reach the Progressive faction, I imagine, you would campaign on student debt forgiveness. I know significantly less about the other two factions. I imagine the Ativists would respond to labor protections and minimum wage increases. And I imagine the Nostalgic faction of immigrants and refugees would respond to expanded social services and immigration reform. However, that is the great, and terrible, things about this type of power building. You never know until you have asked. To find out what the Atavists, Nostalgics, and Progressives would mobilize under would require a massive listening project across the country. Fortunately, this is not a difficult task to undertake if you have the man-hours and qualitative research experts. Unfortunately, I do not have access to that… yet.


If you would be interested in helping find out what these groups want then message me and we can talk. Thanks for reading.     

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