Everyday Struggle: Understanding Precarious Work and Life through Workers' Testimonies, Class Analysis and the Imaginary of Neoliberal Capitalism
This paper focuses on testimonies of precarious workers regarding their everyday, precarious life and survival strategies: what workers think, feel, how they get by and how they resist. The paper analyses precarious work as an intentional consequence of the neoliberal policies which attained global dominance in the 1980s and 1990s. Precarious work – involving part time, casual, and short-term, flexible or zero hour contracts – is a mainstay of neoliberal capitalism. It goes hand-in-hand with the decomposition of the welfare state and the global ‘neoliberal’ attack on the working class. For workers, precarious life is a calamitous admixture of calculation and desperation. On the one hand, work is the product of ever more fine-grained calculations by employers about marginal costs and benefits freed of any other considerations or obligations. On the other hand, the social life that precarious work engenders is marked by anxiety, insecurity, unknowable time horizons and struggle.
The paper draws from ongoing ethnographic research with local (Auckland, New Zealand) workers and activists, and links with an internationalist class analysis that contextualises everyday struggles and precarious life. New Zealand is an important site for such research. It was an early adopter of neoliberal economic policies in the mid-1980s, and these have been entrenched and expanded upon by every successive government, regardless of whether they are socially liberal or socially conservative. Indeed, such is the level unanimity in support of neoliberal policy settings between parliamentary parties and successive governments that New Zealand enforced a form of austerity in the context of sustained budget surpluses in the decade prior to the Great Financial Crisis (2007-2008).