Marx was wrong, according to some interesting new research. Workers in low-skilled, low paid employment don’t unite to protect their interests.
The belief that members of the “precariat”—the group of workers found in insecure, low-waged employment—are united against their bosses isn’t necessarily true.
What the researchers say: The research showed that workers don’t necessarily unite together with their peers to display group dissatisfaction in the workplace.
“The idea of the existence of a formed and unified ‘precariat’ is increasingly taken for granted,” said the lead author of the report. “Our research suggests that this tends to be over-stated. We also need to consider personal life histories and working trajectories, individual experiences and aspirations, their relationship with their boss, their own sense of pride in their job and their personal circumstances all play a part.
“What we’ve identified is that just because a worker is a part of that particular social group and has negative attitudes towards the workplace doesn’t mean that they are necessarily united with their peers.”
Precariat workers generally fall into three main groups—workers who have lost access to secure or meaningful employment, migrants & ethnic minority workers who have left their home countries and educated members of the group who don’t have access to a career path.
They also differ from one another in terms of their working relationships with managers, social status or meaningful social relationships. For example, while migrant workers often recognize that they are in low-paid UK jobs, their wage still equates to three to four times their salary at home, which gives them a different perspective to many other workers in similar roles.
The team carried out numerous in-depth interviews with cleaners, care workers and farm workers in the south-west of England and also reviewed research data already produced in this arena.
While there were common characteristics within the group, the researchers were unable to find evidence of a clear collective, or a ‘class’ interested in far-right messaging or engaging in populist politics for its own agenda.
So, what? Much of what the researchers found in this study is hardly surprising. The idea of a unified proletariat or “precariat” has been disputed in many studies over the last few years.
The more interesting thing that they found is that, contrary to many pundits, there seems to be no fertile ground just waiting for the next Trump, Erdogan, Orban or Johnson to tap into. That, if anything, is the good news.
By Dr Bob Murray