Thesis #23

The gig economy is creating a new class — the precariat

The ‘gig economy’ is a term coined to describe a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs. It has become politically controversial because it is seen as either a working environment that gives people flexibility about when they work, or a form of exploitation which provides workers with few benefits and little workplace protection. The term precariat describes these workers and the concept explains why during the post-2007 recession and the ensuing ‘austerity’ regimes of Western governments, economic activity slowed but overall employment increased.

The gig economy evolved long before the Internet went mainstream or the tech giants existed. Historically it’s a creation of neoliberal economic policies which prioritised markets and weakened union power as the process of globalisation integrated China and other low-income countries into the world economy, thereby adding two billion workers to the global labour supply.

Digital technology did not create the precariat, but it facilitated the explosive growth of the gig economy — first by making it possible to have intensive managerial control over off-shored production, and later by making it possible to create digital platforms like Uber, Lyft, Deliveroo, et al that link demand for services with ostensibly self-employed ‘contractors’ who are free to accept or reject commissions.

Further reading

Guy Standing: 8The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class8, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011. Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2yJ9jhr

Guy Standing, “Meet the Precariat”, World Economic Forum, 9 November 2016. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/precariat-global-class-rise-of-populism/

Employment Practices in the Modern Economy, Report of the Independent Review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy commissioned by the UK Prime Minister in October 2016 and chaired by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts. https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/employment-practices-in-the-modern-economy