In the past two decades’ economic growth has been at record highs, and poverty at record lows, there is more employment capabilities than ever before, however as good as it sounds, something feels wrong. From my personal perspective, I came to United Kingdom, in 2012 as a 19 years old kid with mediocre English skills, 3 moth of job experience as a luggage porter and with biggest ambition of personal independence. My families background well by Lithuanian standards middle class I would say. It is hard to rate yourself by class, because when minimum wage is 300 euros the line between classes is quite blurry and on the good days you are middle class (paydays) and on other days ( days of bills, usually 8th of every month) surviving class. So weekly salary equivalent to months’ salary, sounded like a good deal to me. The main point was that, with this salary which at that point was 6.08 pounds an hour, you are able to pay your rent, go for a beer on the weekends and save around hundred quid every week. For me, parents-money-depended young fellow, it was decision confirming argument. Of course, to explore my view horizons by meeting new people from variety of cultures, Big Ben, double-Decker and famous British sense of humor, excited me not any less, however romantic side of me was not dominant as realistic one. However, after living and working for a few years, you start questioning, is the easier access to consumerism really are inevitable part of better quality of life?
Neoliberalism, capitalism was not the clearest definitions for me before I started my course. You see, in my secondary education back in Lithuania, political science doctrines and ideologies wasn’t explored or explained in depth, only ideologies I was aware of was the evils of Nazism and Communism and especially communism. Well that is quite understandable after being occupied for 60 years you don’t want to infiltrate any of nostalgic thoughts to up incoming youngsters (if there is anything to infiltrate, anyway). However, in a way strong opposition of ideas takes away liability in critical thinking, but that is other matter. First encounter of neoliberal ideology I had was after reading Guy Standings book “The Precariat”. Since blurry understanding of my class, Guy Standing’s description of precariat class was quite intellectually intriguing for me. The class in between. Too proud to be working class and too poor to fit the middle class level. Or as a Guy Standing suggested himself, precariat is not the working class because there is no fixed long-term, stable agreements between employee and employer, moreover worker is not a subject of unionization and any security agreements ( sick pay, holiday pay, etc.) neither the middle class fits the class description, because there is no predictable salary or the status and benefits that middle-class people supposed to possess. (Standing 2011:6) This new class is the consequence of economic growth and political ignorance, but how does it work? Basically neoliberalism is based on maximization of labour market flexibility and before coming to UK practically I didn’t really knew what it means, but my first encounters with recruitment agencies helped me understand what Guy Standing means by precariat. The recruitment agencies work in highly flexible way, you just pop-in, nice receptionist gives you an agreement with basic brackets to fill in, such as name, address, what job you are looking for and how flexible you are and after that, only thing you can do is wait for call or a message. First weeks was OK actually, I think I was lucky, because the work agency had offered 2 week’s work with fixed 8 hour shifts, so it means I am able to make plans at least 1 week forward. However, after 2 weeks my lucky charm had expired and no job was offered for a few days. And again you are forced to live in this limbo of today’s certainty and tomorrows precariousness. The most defying thing that hit me was that even though money you make is more significant than back in my country, you are living by weekly plans with no scheduled future. And only thing you can comfort yourself with, is that getting new iPhone going to take 4 times quicker than back in Lithuania which in the long-run do not mean anything.
Zero-hour contract, temporary labor was imposed as a main reflection of labor markets flexibility, to boost competition and equalize market’s ability to change together with main workforce without knowing or possible ignoring the consequences of society. The consequences of growing inequality, loneliness and emergence of populist movements across the western world. (Monbiot 2016) The picture which never been clear to my eyes, because of lack of consumerism power I had and since that was the only power I was forced to desire. The imaginable power of things, the power of nothing.
By Aurimas Mieliauskas
- Standing, G. 2011, The precariat: the new dangerous class, Bloomsbury Academic, London
- Monbiot, G. 2016, Neoliberalism-the ideology and the root of all our problems, The Guardian.