Another have been struggling with this for centuries. In

Another
critique in Standing’s historical outline of the development of the precariat
is the claim that it is ‘new’. Standing seems to be of the opinion that the
precariat is distinct and new in its experience of precarity. Insecurity,
unemployment and precariousness are hardly new conditions. The working classes
have been struggling with this for centuries. In 1982 a dock worker recounted “Dock
laboring is at all times a precarious and uncertain mode of existence”
(Seymour, 2012). The agrarian proletariat of early modern England were just as
vulnerable to fluctuating demand for labour. As old as capitalism, such
insecurity has always charecterised substantial margins of the economy. A
number of scholars regard the Fordist security and union protectionism of the
industrial era as the historic exception, not precarity (Frase, 2013).                   

Across
academia, there has been controversy surrounding the reconceptualisation of
Precarity from a condition to a class. Martin Jorgensen (2015) provides an
interesting argument against the precariat being a distinct new social class.

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He argues that the precariat and precarity are understood to have a
performative component and as an everyday phenomenon. He states that the term
Precarity is used as a mode for analysing economy and for rethinking
heterogeneous identities and group formations under neoliberal capitalism. It
is not understood as constituting a class, but drawing on experiences from
political activist perspectives. Precarity becomes a point of departure for
creating a common space for social struggles and for producing new political
subjectivities. In response to commentators claiming that precariousness is a
social condition or performative component, Standing states that ‘a social
condition does not act, it does not have human agency’ (Standing, 2014).

One
of the key pieces of literature opposing Standing presents a critique of
Standing’s conceptualisation of the precariat on two principle grounds. Erik
Wright (2016) rationalises that the precariat is neither a class in terms of
the differentiation of class interests for workers, or in terms of the unity of
interests across its segments. First, it is argued that, the material interests
of the precariat and the working class are not sufficiently opposed to each other
for them to constitute two distinct classes. Secondly, he argues that across
the various segments of the precariat, the optimal strategies for securing a
livelihood are not sufficiently unified for the precariat as a whole to
constitute a class. He writes that people in a class should share broadly
similar optimal strategies for securing a livelihood. Standing identifies the
three main sub-categories of the precariat as being; people who have been marginalized
from the working class, migrants and ethnic minorities, and well educated,
potentially former ‘salariat’ workers. Wright argues that in the case of the
precariat, the different segments identified by Standing have sharply different
strategies of survival and advancement and therefore cannot constitute a class.

For
the claim that the Precariat is class with distinct features and material
interests to be legitimate, it would seem sensible to assume there must be
other groups with opposing features and material interests. Standing’s analysis
contrasts the precariat and the ‘salariat’, defined through privileges such as
secure employment, sick leave and pension schemes, often employed by the
government. This distinction between precariat and salariat has met heavy
criticism (Jørgensen, 2016; Allen,
2014). It could be argued
that Standing is presenting an exaggerated, or even fictitious image of the
privileged ‘salariat’ in order to establish a space for a new ‘class’ with
different interests, namely the precariat. The crude distinction between
precarious and non-precarious workers should be disputed. Many workers will
have part-time or fixed term temporary work at one point in their lives and
permanent contracts at others. In the 2008 economic recession, there were
severe cuts to public services, highlighting the fact that all workers can find
themselves in a more or less precarious position (Choonara, 2011). The
broadening base of the precariat is one of the primary flaws in Standing’s
claim that the precariat is a distinct class. If one can belong to both groups,
the precariat and salariat it can be argued that neither are a distinct social
class. Precarity is affecting people of all classes, but those that perform
precarious labour do not constitute a class.

In
conclusion, there is considerable validity in the criticisms of Standing’s work
by those influenced by Marxism. Standings analysis of the precariat as a class
is theoretically flawed from a Marxist perspective, which Standing refers to.

Furthermore, precariousness is a condition that exerts effects right up the
chain of class strata, with people defined by Standing as being in the
‘salariat’ and ‘proletariat’ both able to experience precarious labour. If one
can belong to both groups; precariat and salariat, it can be argued that neither
are a distinct social class. Despite this the concept should not be dismissed.

It clearly denotes something important; precarity is rising and is affecting a
huge number of people. Precarious labour and social precarity are misunderstood
if boxed into an ’emerging class’ thesis. Treating the precariat as a class
obscures more than it clarifies.