Why are we called the Precarity Office?

Impacts, traps and challenges of a complex term and its relationship to migration

I. Precarious literally means unsure, uncertain, difficult, delicate. As a political term it refers to living and working conditions without any guarantees: for example the precarious residential status of migrants and refugees, or the precariousness of everyday life for single mothers. Since the early 1980s the term has been used more and more in relation to labour. Precarious work refers to all possible forms of insecure, non-guaranteed, flexible exploitation: from illegalised, seasonal and temporary employment to homework, flex- and temp-work, to subcontractors, freelancers, or so called self-employed persons.

II. Precarisation at work means a growing transformation from guaranteed, permanent employment to less well paid and more insecure jobs. […].

Precarisation describes moreover the crisis of established institutions, which represented for that short period the framework of (false) certainties. It is an analytical term for a process and hints at a new quality of societal labour. Labour and social life, production and reproduction cannot be separated anymore, and this leads to a more comprehensive definition of precarisation: the uncertainty of all circumstances in the material and immaterial conditions of life of living labour under contemporary capitalism. For example: wage level and working conditions are connected with a distribution of tasks, which is determined by gender and ethnic roles; residence status determines access to the labour market or to medical care. The whole ensemble of social relations seems to be on the move.

III. Precariat, an allusion to proletariat, meanwhile is used as a combative self-description in order to emphasise the subjective and utopian moments of precarisation. Through the mass refusal of gender roles, of factory work, and of the command of labour over life, precarisation has, in fact, a double face: it is possible to speak indeed of a kind of flexibilisation from below. Precarisation is not simply an invention of the command centres of capital: it is also a reaction to the insurgency and new mobility of living labour, and in this sense it can be understood as the attempt to recapture manifold struggles and refusals in order to establish new conditions of exploitation of labour and valorisation of capital.

Source: The Frassanito Network in MUTE: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/precarious-precarisation-precariat