Chapter 4: Inequality, Class and the ‘Precariat’
4. Inequality, class and the ‘precariat’ INTRODUCTION Any market society generates patterns of inequality, which can be displayed in class terms and tensions that offer the avenue for a reaction or ‘double movement’. Halperin (2004) rightly argued that Polanyi underplayed the role of class conflict and the forces from below, rather than from the top. He associated the strength of financial capital with war and civil repression, and argued that class conflict only characterized the final fall of the market economy (GT, p. 219). He cannot have meant that literally because class conflict characterized the whole period of disembeddedness. But the collapse of the last period of market society surely reflected a breakdown in the class compromises and rejection of dominance by a financial elite. Although the old political parties of progress had acceded to that dominance, new groups emerged to oppose it. Something similar is likely in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The old social democratic and labour parties have surrendered their legitimacy as representatives of progress and egalitarianism. In and out of office, throughout the era of globalization, they rushed to embrace the elite and financial capital. In the mid-twentieth century, the main class compromise was based on negotiation between representatives of productive capital and the employed working class, in which financial capital was marginalized. This was historically specific. The puzzle before us is what form of class alliance will emerge next. In the industrial citizenship era, the working class was misled into thinking that employment...
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