In the last twenty years we have seen the generalization of precarious working conditions, flexible schedules and broken jobs, on call and on terms less interesting. This transformation of work and jobs corresponds to the employers' desire to bring workers to their knees and restore their profits by strengthening wage exploitation. The current economic crisis will further worsen the precariousness of employment and the flexibility of the workforce..
A precarious crisis
The current job losses are the biggest for at least 1982, and probably since 1929. Indeed, layoffs are massive: 600 000 per month in the USA, 60 000 per month in Canada, while job creation almost exclusively concerns part-time jobs with precarious status. As unemployment statistics do not differentiate between part-time and full-time employment, the situation, calculated in terms of hours worked rather than in terms of jobs, is much worse. The current crisis is therefore hurting workers, that are increasingly seen as a commodity.
Because it has to be said: the Keynesian "social contract" is well and truly over. In the age of just-in-time management, the worker must be available when the capital demands it and needs it, and must be unemployed during dead periods, in order to reduce losses linked to "inactivity" and "under-productivity" of employees. The advantages of this management method are obvious for the bosses: by reducing the workforce during quiet times, we maximize the productivity and return on investment of employees who continue to work, and we create a pool of precarious workers who will be ready to accept less favorable conditions when the recovery takes hold. Even better, with constant decreases in employer contributions to unemployment insurance, the burden of helping the unemployed is increasingly being made to bear on workers.
Conversely, the disadvantages are glaring for workers: they only work in the busiest periods, whose pace and workload are increased. In the dead periods, workers must either accept employment elsewhere on similar or worse terms, or live on the 55% of their already too low salary while waiting for the resumption of activities.
The proliferation of employment agencies, on-call stations, temporary and flexible that we have seen since 20 years however corresponds to a period of relative economic growth. So, although real wages and social benefits have at best stagnated and at worst declined since 1988, the Canadian economy still grew by more than 40% during the same period. Like what "growth" is not everyone's.
… have a color and a genre
Insecurity is also at work through immigration laws which put immigrant workers in a situation of overecarity : precariousness in the workplace, precariousness of the stay, precariousness in housing conditions with difficulties in signing a lease, and to cope with rent levels. The state produces undocumented migrants to satisfy employers in sectors such as agriculture, hospitality and textiles. The bosses thus have a means of pressure on the workforce which can divide the workers between "native" and "foreign".
It is also no surprise that we find that the majority of precarious workers are … workers ! Women are largely over-represented in unwanted part-time jobs, in on-call and temporary jobs, in lower paid jobs in general. Even if, thanks to the action of feminist and trade union movements, women have greatly improved their conditions in the 50 last years, the path is still strewn with pitfalls. If women are more precarious than men, this is because the patriarchal system still has a hold on our society. The precariousness of jobs held by women has the effect of sending them back to the home, childcare and household chores.
The precarious labor market transformations are the response of capitalism and the state to important structural problems: maintaining profit margins in a context of falling profit rates is the real engine of precariousness. The workers' response to their new living conditions is inseparable from a more general struggle against the state and capitalism that traditional trade unionism cannot deliver. Its weakening and inability to cope with precariousness requires new means of struggle which will take into account the new reality of workers.. But in this area, everything remains to be invented.