Pre­pare for the pre­cari­ats

CityPress - - Voices - Dion Chang voices@city­

In 2011, Guy Stand­ing wrote a book called The Pre­cariat: The New Dan­ger­ous Class. The book in­tro­duces a new emerg­ing so­cial class, which he calls “the pre­cari­ats”. The term is de­rived by merg­ing two words – ‘pre­car­i­ous’ with ‘pro­le­tariat’.

The pro­le­tariat refers to the work­ing class and/or the wage earn­ers, and pre­car­i­ous (in this case) refers to “the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple around the world liv­ing and work­ing pre­car­i­ously, usu­ally in a se­ries of short-term jobs, with­out re­course to sta­ble oc­cu­pa­tional identities or ca­reers, sta­ble so­cial pro­tec­tion or pro­tec­tive reg­u­la­tions rel­e­vant to them. They in­clude mi­grants, but also lo­cals.”

Stand­ing warns that this new and fast-grow­ing class of peo­ple could pro­duce another layer of in­sta­bil­ity in a world that is al­ready fac­ing rapid change. Buffered by a blur of new tech­nolo­gies that are fast de­stroy­ing peo­ple’s jobs, as well as a slug­gish global econ­omy, you have a per­fect “pre­car­i­ous” storm brew­ing. Add to that rapidly shift­ing so­cial norms and it is easy to see why many peo­ple are ter­ri­fied and con­fused by this new world or­der.

Every­thing, from pol­i­tics to busi­ness to the so­cio­cul­tural land­scape, is shift­ing. Peo­ple do not like change, and change on this scale is more than un­set­tling.

Stand­ing writes that the pre­cari­ats “are in­creas­ingly frus­trated and dan­ger­ous be­cause they have no voice, and hence they are vul­ner­a­ble to the siren calls of ex­treme political par­ties”.

In 2016, this warn­ing has be­come prophetic. In US pol­i­tics, Don­ald Trump is the man­i­fes­ta­tion of this warn­ing. In Europe, most lead­ers face a ris­ing right-wing political voice that is buoyed by an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion and xeno­pho­bic rhetoric, as 8 mil­lion dis­placed Syr­ian refugees scram­ble for a safe haven. Here in South Africa, we see the rise of the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fighters as Julius Malema res­onates more and more with a frus­trated and dis­en­fran­chised peo­ple. We have joined the tribe: we, too, are the pre­cari­ats.

I read with in­ter­est a Time mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle that tracked the rise of Trump. The writer pointed out that vot­ers to­day no longer wanted to hear a politi­cian say, “I feel your pain.” They would pre­fer to lis­ten to some­one who can “mir­ror my mood”.

In busi­ness, re­tail­ers and brands have had to learn to adapt to a sim­i­lar con­sumer mind-set. They have had to be­come trans­par­ent as well as walk the talk. Eco cre­den­tials and cor­po­rate so­cial in­vest­ment poli­cies can no longer be trot­ted out as a badge of hon­our or a mar­ket­ing cam­paign: those val­ues are now con­sid­ered fun­da­men­tal, and if they can­not mir­ror the value sys­tems of their cus­tomers, they can­not ex­pect any brand loy­alty in re­turn.

The same ap­plies to the re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion of a work­force, specif­i­cally for young mil­len­ni­als. A cor­po­rate also needs to walk the talk and show com­mit­ment to a set of core val­ues. If not, it is re­flected in the quick turnover of staff.

A blink­ered ob­ses­sion with the bot­tom line is no longer what makes that com­pany great: cre­at­ing pos­i­tive change does. This is play­ing out in the US, where large cor­po­ra­tions are push­ing back against pro­posed “re­li­gious free­dom bills”, which in essence give in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses with moral ob­jec­tions le­gal cover to deny ser­vices to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. Af­ter a sim­i­lar bill was passed last year in In­di­ana, jobs were re­lo­cated to another state, con­fer­ences were can­celled, as were sport­ing events and film shoots. In­di­anapo­lis lost an es­ti­mated $60 mil­lion (R865 mil­lion) in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

Political strate­gist Doug Hat­t­away says that “more and more busi­nesses these days are be­com­ing value driven, rather than sales driven”.

The spillover into the political arena is a nat­u­ral and log­i­cal one. Dur­ing a Mid­west pri­mary in the US, a voter was asked why he was sup­port­ing as con­tro­ver­sial a fig­ure as Trump. His an­swer was telling. He said that he was well aware that the man was flawed, but it was time to try some­thing dif­fer­ent. Dis­trust of the tra­di­tional political ma­chin­ery of Washington was so great that tak­ing a risk on an im­per­fect can­di­date was bet­ter than be­ing fed the same old plat­i­tudes, such as “I feel your pain.” Trump is skilled at “mir­ror­ing the mood” – as is Malema. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see who best “mir­rors the mood” of South Africa, where we are open to try­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. We are the pre­cari­ats, and we are lis­ten­ing.

Chang is a trend an­a­lyst and the founder of Flux Trends

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