- The Lived Realities of Precarity and Post-Industrialism
The "precariat," writes Richard Seymour, is a "particular kind of popu-list interpolation which operates on a real, critical antagonism in today's capitalism."1 But it is not a class, he continues. His was not the first missive of a concept popularized by Guy Standing in his 2011 book, The Precariat, and later A Precariat Charter in 2014.2 The term has indeed become a placeholder for the framework of contemporary class relations and often a stand-in for proletariat in the advanced stages of capitalism – and, much like the multitude of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire, understood by some as a new dangerous class struggling to achieve consciousness of its importance in the [End Page 247] world economy.3 Post-industrialism, as a concept, has been similarly invoked to characterize shifts in the configuration of capitalism and class, albeit through radically divergent interpretations by conservatives and Marxists alike. The texts investigated here explore the geography of post-industrialism and precarity through the prisms of labour, employment relations, and urban development. Together they mobilize these respective conceptual models to offer critical reflections on the contemporary experiences of work and help to ground these ideas in actual social relations.
Stephanie Procyk, Wayne Lewchuk, and John Shields assemble a collection of chapters covering the breadth of precarious employment in their edited book, Precarious Employment: Causes, Consequences and Remedies. Based on a joint university-community initiative led by United Way Toronto and York Region and McMaster University, the book showcases findings from the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (pepso) project. The editors begin by unpacking the origins of precarity as a lived reality from a workplace and community dimension. For agencies associated with pepso, the growth of precarious employment has generated new forms of inequality, impacting both mental and physical health outcomes. As the study suggests, employment insecurity has been expanding with the erosion of the standard employment relations (ser) regime that defined much of the post–World War II era, at least for a considerable segment of the workforce. Even information technology giants like Apple have dismissed assumptions of lifelong employment, embracing precarity as a norm rather than a labour-market anomaly among an otherwise privileged workforce. But precarity is also experienced differently, as Yogendra Skakya and Stephanie Premji demonstrate in their chapter on racialized immigrant women.4
Through the telling of powerful vignettes, Skakya and Premji show how employment uncertainty takes the shape of material and social deprivation, exposure to physical and psychological hazards, and the challenges of acquiring affordable child care. In some of these cases live-in caregivers are treated as servants by their employers, routinely underpaid and exploited by middle-class families who depend on a foreign-worker stream. What these and other authors in the collection point out is that the Live-In Caregiver Program (lcp) itself is a symptom of the absence of a universal national childcare program in Canada. Theirs is an intersectional analysis of precarious work, one that highlights how this particular system of employment generates varied outcomes premised on social position and identity. [End Page 248]
Aaraón Díaz Mendiburo, André Lyn, Janet McLaughlin, Biljana Vasilevska, and Don Wells take this further, exploring the impacts of repeated separation among foreign workers, specifically those employed through Canada's Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (sawp).5 A precarious employment regime by definition, the sawp has for decades enabled agricultural producers to reduce labour costs by sourcing workers from the Global South. Less explored in the existing literature are the consequences of prolonged estrangement from family and home – another feature of precarity. The families of migrants are required to shoulder the social reproductive costs by such means as caring for injured workers...