Challenges for Workers and Unions
Edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay
Chapter 3: ‘Precarization’ and Flexibility in the Labour Process: A Question of Legitimacy and a Major Challenge for Democracy
Beatrice Appay INTRODUCTION In France ‘precarization’ has become a common term and everyone knows what it means nowadays, even if only approximately: increased job insecurity, unemployment, jeopardized social protection. Some argue that the concept is too vague, diffuse, even confusing. Because it has gained in popularity, has it also declined in meaning? Some have sought to invalidate the thesis of precarization by stating that there was ‘nothing new under the sun of capitalism’ and that precarity is of no interest for social scientific analysis due to its lack of novelty, the post-war period having been just a digression in the history of capitalism. One can argue, on the contrary, that the ‘Glorious Thirty Years’ (the 30-year-long postwar boom) are anything but a parenthesis in history: they are the result of social and democratic struggles to build a fairer society based on political and social rights. Precarization is a concept that was built to describe a contemporary trend in the history of so-called ‘advanced’ societies, a trend that is in contradiction to the progress of the social state and democracy. Beyond the academic field, the term has acquired a mobilizing power and an undeniable political force, in particular to question the established idea that economic growth and social progress go hand in hand. In other words, because of the realities it refers to and the societal trends it highlights, the concept of precarization puts into perspective socio-economic and political dynamics that go against the democratic ideals of contemporary societies. What are...
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