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Globalisation’s Legacy? A recent Panorama programme (BBC 2014f) highlighted an increasingly common phenomenon – families that are working but still cannot afford basic amenities, or even proper food. Across the world, there is the emergence of a new type of working class family, who remain in poverty even when both partners are working. What are the reasons for this development? Globalisation has been a force since increasingly sophisticated telecommunications technology and the Internet have made communication instantaneous and flexible. While foreign trade has existed for centuries, it is only relatively recently that labour markets have been truly generalised across the world (Ravenhill 2011, p313-357). One factor is improving educational standards across the world, which means that an increasing array of jobs can be outsourced internationally, often at a far lower cost, due to the differences created by international currency exchange.
Even personal assistant services can now be outsourced across the globe (Coleman 2014). Increasingly sophisticated tax avoidance measures also mean that multinationals increasingly do not contribute to the state in the regions in which they operate, which means that working people are left with fewer sources of support for essential services such as health. Due to increased ability of people to find work abroad, especially from Europe, working people at home also have to compete against immigrants who will sometimes accept much lower wages. A world marketplace is thereby created in which certain groups have very little bargaining power even at a collective level. The new global underclass affected by this is a fragmented and disparate phenomenon, but even so certain trends can be discerned.
The people most affected are those that have taken the places of the traditional working class, such as call centre workers. Even in the UK, the advent of zero-hours contracts, the increasing prevalence and opportunity for self-employment, and the expansion of part-time work have had a negative effect on workers at the lower end of the wage bracket, as such work is often precarious and does not have the benefits often associated with more traditional employment arrangements. Is there a remedy? Some theorists claim that the right way to consider the phenomenon is through seeing the world economic system as having a sort of agency itself. According to ‘world system/long cycle’ theories, the actions of the global political economy are seen as ‘forcing the hand of all those acting in its context’
(Van der Pijl 2013, p28). Let us hope that it has an answer. BBC, 2014f. Panorama: Workers on the Breadline. Broadcast on 6th October 2014. Available at:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04l6x1k/panorama-workers-on-the-breadline [Accessed on 9th November 2014] Channel 4, Rich getting richer -poor getting poorer i Coleman, A., 2014.
‘How to set up a home-based virtual assistant business’. The Guardian, 7th November 2014
small-business [Accessed on 9th November 2014] Ravenhill, J., 2011. Global Political Economy. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Van der Pijl, Kees., 2013. ‘Theories’ in From Classical to Global Political Economy. Available at:
https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=091theories&site=12 [Accessed on 9th November 2014] Image: NOAA – California Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA