PRECARITY AND YOUTH

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

COLLAPSE!

Text calling for debate on Employment Collapse

The sole purpose of these lines is to launch and stimulate debate on “the fracturing of employment”.

We start out from the need for an appropriate diagnosis of the nature of the economic crisis that has fuelled the employment collapse, as well as social and political collapse, in the European context. Both the policies applied and the possible solutions depend on the relevance of this diagnosis. Therefore, the labour dynamic has a central role to play in creating this diagnosis. The trend towards wage stagnation or wage growth below that of productivity lie among the nuclear causes of the crisis; but also among its effects.

Wage drift explains the crisis (although it is not the only factor, of course); it lies at the heart of four fundamental imbalances: the growth of private credit, the concentration of income and wealth, asymmetries in the balance of payments and the appropriation of economic policies by elites and oligarchies.

The line of argument offered by those in power (academic, economic, political and media) emphasises the increase in the labour costs of peripheral economies, which are decisive in the deterioration of their competitive position, the worsening of trade deficits and the growth in external borrowing.

These are two radically opposed approaches to the crisis. The economic policies implemented since 2008 have completely ignored the first of the diagnoses. The policies of “internal devaluation” and labour reforms are recognised in the second. These policies, apart from this diagnosis being mistaken, worsen the structural problems that lie at the heart of the crisis: wage stagnation and increase in inequality.

This is the loop in which the policies undertaken by governments and the EU Troika have locked us into and which have given rise to a vicious circle that has prolonged the crisis.

But it is possible that, in this context, economies will recover in terms of Gross Domestic Product. The question is whether this recovery will take place upon fragile, unstable and unsustainable foundations. Not only that. This process may be less visible but it has a greater scope: the capitalism that emerges from the crisis is undergoing deep restructuring. The policies applied in the years of crisis, as well as being mistaken and unfair, would also be creating the systemic conditions for a new capitalism. Understanding this depth charge is crucial in order to distinguish the post-crisis scenarios and the strategies of the various actors involved.

There is a need for another policy as well as for another diagnosis. Moving towards “another policy” requires first halting what are termed “austerity policies”. But the question does not lie in putting a brake on “austericide” (the politicians responsible that have proposed this, as far as the situation allows, will soften some of the measures that have characterised it); this is the sine qua non but it is totally insufficient for this other policy.

On rejecting austerity policies, it is necessary to set about formulating alternatives i.e. to lay the foundations for their economic viability (not only the need for them). The cornerstones of this debate are: aims, resources, instruments and time periods, given that everything depends on social and political intervention in the end anyway.

We cannot go into the analysis of each of these aspects here, but we can pose some questions to this regard that we feel should form part of the reflection: What is the significance and the implications of placing employment, wages and equity at the heart of another political policy? What role can and must be played by the public sector? Where can the necessary resources to fund employment and wage policies be found? What changes would need to be introduced in the European Union’s institutional architecture, policies and priorities? Can a major incomes agreement be considered with the aim of boosting employment? What structural measures would be necessary to produce such a shift in economic policy? What production and business model would need to be promoted?

 

Youth and precariousness. An everlasting relationship?

In this analysis that aims to serve as a basis for the debate, we need to study the situation of young people in depth and with greater detail.

It is evident that within the process devaluing labour relations that is increasingly occurring in current capitalism, youngsters have been one of the social groups to have been most penalised. But to what is this greater impact on the young population due? Is it relevant, different from other crises? Will their situation improve once economic growth returns?

The rise of “the precarious individual” has stirred up major controversy in the academic world. Some authors tell us that there is now a new social subject (a new class that remains unaware of itself) within the new capitalism. Others simply say that the “precarious individual” is a new “format” within the traditional proletariat, that the essence of the work-capital confict has remained the same ever since the existence of capitalism.

This debate (the precarious individual vs. the proletariat) leads us to ask ourselves a crucial methodological question: should young people be a subject for differentiated analysis within the crisis in the job market?

 

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SOCIAL COLLAPSE

Cuts in social protection and other adjustment measures signify a reshaping of the traditional welfare state (without forgetting between-country disparities) and mark an obvious retrograde step for citizen welfare. Many of these changes restrict access and facilitate the private sector’s entry into the management and provision of assets and services that previously enjoyed an eminently public and universal nature. This complex transformation process combines a series of measures aimed at commodification, privatisation and dismantling. While financial assistance and bailouts benefiting a small power nucleus continue, the new social policies widen the social divide still further and signify the collapse of a social model committed to justice and equity.

LABOUR COLLAPSE

The crisis in employment is a reality in Europe, a problem that even extends beyond its borders. Market access opportunities have decreased and the employment conditions and rights that previously guaranteed a job have deteriorated. This is the new situation for a growing proportion of Europe’s young people who, should nothing change, will have to make do with long periods of unemployment interspersed with precarious jobs. Increasingly, this entrenchment expands from youth to adult age and prevents not only economic empowerment and independence but also the possibility of planning for the mid- and long-term future, which ultimately means living from hand to mouth as a prisoner of uncertainty.

POLITICAL COLLAPSE

The inability of public institutions to solve the problems affecting citizens, combined with the effects of the crisis (greater inequality, increase in poverty etc.), foster discontent with politics at many levels of society. This crisis in the legitimacy of the European political model has given rise to contradictory processes. On the one hand, there is the danger of reduced participation by citizens in political life or the emergence of right-wing populism to fill the void left by the traditional political powers. On the other, there is a process of repolitisation of a part of society in search of new ways to participate politically, as demonstrated by the Indignant and Occupy movements. In both cases, the leading part played by Europe’s young people has been evident.

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