Precariat Charter

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* Book: Guy Standing. Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens. Bloomsbury, 2014

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"Guy Standing's immensely influential 2011 book introduced the Precariat as an emerging mass class, characterized by inequality and insecurity. Standing outlined the increasingly global nature of the Precariat as a social phenomenon, especially in the light of the social unrest characterized by the Occupy movements. He outlined the political risks they might pose, and at what might be done to diminish inequality and allow such workers to find a more stable labour identity. His concept and his conclusions have been widely taken up by thinkers from Noam Chomsky to Zygmunt Bauman, by political activists and by policy-makers.

This new book takes the debate a stage further, looking in more detail at the kind of progressive politics that might form the vision of a Good Society in which such inequality, and the instability it produces, is reduced.

A Precariat Charter discusses how rights - political, civil, social and economic - have been denied to the Precariat, and argues for the importance of redefining our social contract around notions of associational freedom, agency and the commons."


1. The Precariat

2. How Rights are Denied – Political, Civil and Cultural

3. How Rights are Denied – Economic and Social

4. Occupational Insecurity

5. A Charter for Liberty

6. A Charter for Fraternity

7. A Charter for Equality

8. The Ecological Imperative


John Harris on Guy Standings' Precariat Charter:

"Standing's contention is that the precariat will soon become "we". It is increasing in size and range, and spanning no end of occupational categories, from the fluorescent-jacketed service workers who keep our cities running to ambitious graduates who take "jobs" in the digital world on the basis of bogus self-employment. Over time, these people will find a voice – and, as Standing sees it, the "labourist" political left will then have to radically alter its views not just of political economy, but of what it is to live. "Twentieth century spheres of labour protection … were constructed around the image of the firm, fixed workplaces, and fixed working days and work-weeks that apply only to a minority in today's tertiary online society," he points out.

"While proletarian consciousness is linked to long-term security in a firm, mine, factory or office, the precariat's consciousness is linked to a search for security outside the workplace." This is fundamental: it shreds such sepia-tinted ideas as the "dignity of labour", and the notion – shared by both the old left and its reformist successors – that to toil is to express one's essential humanity. As Standing puts it: "The precariat can accept jobs and labour as instrumental … not as what defines or gives meaning to life. That is so hard for labourists to understand." It certainly is.

For that reason, among others, politics has real problems with the precariat. In the UK, partly thanks to the Labour party's panicked revival of interest in its working-class base, its condition has begun to intrude on national debate: MPs and ministers now at least talk about agency work and zero-hours contracts. But politicians of left and right still tend to think that the more forlorn elements of this new class are essentially there to be kicked around, which they believe plays well with the higher-up social groups who hold the key to electoral success. "The state treats theprecariat as necessary, but a group to be criticised, pitied, demonised, sanctioned or penalised in turn," Standing says: the trick was pioneered by New Labour, and is used on an almost daily basis by the current government.

It is members of the precariat who pinball in and out of the benefits system thanks to short-term working arrangements, and who now form a large part of the demand for food banks. In response, the Westminster consensus insists that they should be subject to regimes that are not just cruel, but dysfunctional. In other words, it doesn't actually matter if so-called welfare-to-work programmes actually help people, or just screw them up: the point is that they visibly punish them in pursuit of a political dividend. In that sense, the precariat is not only at the cutting edge of the economy, but at the receiving end of a postmodern politics that values the manipulation of appearances much more highly than reality.

This is obviously intolerable. Quite soon, Standing reckons, the precariat "will echo a slogan of '68: ça suffit!" Its initial voice, he thinks, will come from "the educated and 'wired' part of the precariat, exploiting the potential of electronic communications", but he claims that we have already felt its anger, in no end of civil disturbances. On this point, he gets carried away, giving far too much credit to the inchoate Occupy spasm of 2011, and projecting on to the English riots of 2011 a political motivation that simply wasn't there.

But the best of what he goes on to advocate in a 27-article charter is inspiring: among other things, an end to the punitive aspects of the modern welfare state, and the creation of new organisations that are rooted outside any single workplace (and might follow the lead of the US's International Workers of the World, or "Wobblies", who were founded "to organise the workers, not the job"). By way of addressing security beyond the workplace, his most compelling suggestion is a basic citizen's income, payable to all, which would increase the bargaining power of people at the low end, and by cutting across the orthodox benefit systems' serial poverty traps, actually increase the incentive to work. This idea has been circulating for at least 40 years, and may take just as long to arrive in mainstream debate. But if it seems outlandish by contemporary standards, that actually only heightens its appeal: the same, after all, was once said of the most basic aspects of the welfare state; and even the weekend." (

Pat Conaty

"On the core crisis of the future of work, austerity and the strategic analysis side, I have been reading Guy Standing’s more recent book, The Precariat Charter. What is fascinating is that he takes a kind of ILO approach to developing the Charter and sets out 29 Articles with specific reforms - a number address the migrant and refugee crisis. Moreover he makes a clear distinction from the ancient Greek concepts of Work versus Labour and Play versus Leisure and he shows the limits and sexist bias of Labourism. Hence the problems social democrats face in responding to this seismic change underway.

His drafting of the Precariat Charter is to me exciting because it is both a defence of human rights and ILO Decent Work but also a creative extension of practices for Future Work. Moreover Henry you will find interesting his communitarian perspective and also his framing of an Associative Democracy perspective for the left which he links to the radical republican ideas of Thomas Paine who was one of the first thinkers to argue for a Universal Basic Income.

He returns again and again to the importance of the Commons, the commons movement and how this has always made a contribution to Social Income. Another analytical category he creatively develops and shows how the destruction of natural commons and the welfare state go hand in glove with the ways capitalist accumulation is totally devastating.

In light of the Bank of England speech to the TUC, the Standing analysis is very root and branch and shows how a progressive alliance can be forged. He also clearly shows how Trade Unions need to change but also where co-ops and other forms of associative and collective democracy are required to Come Together in new ways."