Opening our doors to the new reserve army of labour

Tonight at 8pm the Anti-Cuts grid will be discussing underemployment, temporary workers and unpaid interns. Come join us! Here’s five reasons we need to get talking about precarious work.

Precarity is a cross-class issue
Short-term contract, uncontracted, informal, cash-in-hand, unpaid, temporary and agency workers are all precarious workers. Precarity is what unites secretaries and security guards, cleaners and MP’s assistants. It challenges the binary of employed and unemployed and cannot neatly be contained within conventional social class divisions.

Precarity is a contemporary issue
The number of unpaid, underpaid and temporary positions is expanding. This due not only to the flexibility of labour demanded by the logic of late capitalism, but is also a product of the ongoing financial crisis, and will only be exacerbated by the proposed coalition cuts. Organisations are restructuring: unpaid labour is not occasional, helpful and optional but is becoming integral to the labour system. We cannot allow the ideology of the Big Society to excuse the further exploitation of individuals, through the transformation of paid positions into volunteer roles.

Precarity is a London issue
Obviously, this city is not the only home of short-contract or informal work. But London is the mecca of unpaid internships: it is the hub of Britain’s government, charity, arts and media sectors, all industries that systematically subsist upon the exploitation of unpaid labour.

Precarity is a feminist issue
The world of agency work is increasingly gendered. Temporary office workers are overwhelmingly female, frequently working in environments where the only men are bosses. Temping agencies co-opt the language of women’s strength and empowerment in order to enrol them in positions of insecurity: temporary work is ‘flexible’, temporary work is ‘free’, temporary work is about your choice as a worker-consumer. Yet this freedom is freedom from sick pay, maternity leave, regular hours or guaranteed wages.

Precarity is a societal issue
Unpaid labour does not merely exploit the individual: it harms all current and prospective workers. It undermines paid employees: hours will increase, wages reduce and conditions worsen: if you won’t do it, there’s someone willing to do it for free. The experience of unpaid labour is inculcating a new generation into a culture of obedience, a fresh cohort of workers who have begun their working lives denied all labour rights, oblivious to their employers’ obligations, without even an expectation of minimum wage. If today’s interns one day become bosses we know what they’ll expect.

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