Paul Walsh has recently been writing on the issue of precarity in ELT, usefully collating the main thinkers and ideas in this area (Sennet, Bourdieu, Butler, Beck, Foucault, Bauman, Standing etc). However, it is one of his articles in Open Democracy (containing no such references to academic thought) where he is at his absolute sharpest and most poignant. It really is a call to arms, not just as a community of ELT teachers, but as human beings. It is a must read (see important note at end of article).
In three parts, starting with this counterfactual approach to many claims being made about precarity, we want to add to the discussion started by Paul Walsh. In part two we will be looking at precarity as a trans-historical condition and asking what is particularly new about our current relation with precarity (pushing a more orthodox Marxist philosophical line of argument) and in part three we will be addressing ourselves particularly to the ELT community where many of the larger claims of precarity (dismissed below) do seem to actually hold. We will also be closing the discussion in part three by asking how “precarity” felt in the ELT community can be used as a force for organising ourselves rather than, as it is at present, a force for dividing us.
The first part is indeed very easy for us because it is a video presentation by the author of an important book which challenges many of the widespread views currently held on precarity. Joseph Choonarah, the author, is a leading light of the British Socialist Workers Party. People should not be put off as (whatever your disagreements with vanguardist parties) this organisation has produced such interesting thinkers as Nigel Harris (economist), Terry Eagleton (cultural theorist), Alex Callinicos (expert on post-modern philosophy), Alasdair MacIntyre (revolutionary in the area of ethics) and Roy Bhaskar (giant in the philosophy of science). That said, perhaps Choonarah represents a more orthodox turn of that particular tradition, seeking to defend existing orthodoxies rather than renew ideas.
Without giving away too many spoilers, Choonarah does not dismiss that certain jobs are precarious but provides striking data and analysis which undermines much of the claims of many pursing the idea of precarity as a widespread phenomenon.
The weakness of Choonarah’s overall position, and this reflects the deeply held syndicalism of his particular strand of Marxism, is that the political, the sets of institutional arrangements beyond the workplace, are subordinated to this direct labour-capital relationship. This does not allow him to see how the non-ownership of property and other assets in a regime of capital where asset inflation has purposefully rocketed (it has been engineered), may also be a major source of precarity (the wages in permanent jobs being insufficient to secure a long term home with predictable costs and/or a living pension in retirement).
Indeed, again while he recognises that the subjective experience of precarity is widespread but does not reflect the objective conditions of most work contracts, he dismisses this subjectivity, believing a few strikes won in the workplace will somehow change this subjectivity, without the need to develop sets of minimum political demands about access to affordable housing and guaranteed living pensions for all.
That said, enjoy, he really is an engaging and convincing voice on the subject:
Important Note: There is no equivalence suggested or implied here between the views and politics of Paul Walsh and those of Joseph Choonarah and the political organisation Choonarah belongs to. Moreover, in the comments section Paul makes clear his distaste for such organisations and makes clear his particular perspective on certain manifestations of marxism.