Post 246.

Have you heard of the ‘precariat’? This term names the experience of employment or under-employment for many, and maybe for you also, in the next decade.

The precariat comprises those who are salaried, but working in conditions of extreme insecurity. Workers on one month or three month contracts, whose year-long contracted jobs with benefits have been reduced to six or nine-months without benefits, those working longer hours for the same pay, in jobs not guaranteed to be funded another year. Such people could be any of us, working in government offices or as a newspaper columnist or in the university. No chance of loans or a mortgage; uncertainty regarding whether you can pay school costs, health bills or rent; fear of whistle-blowing corruption, mismanagement or ineptitude; undercut collective bargaining power; and demoralization follow.

Think of all the workers on the breadline since fossil revenues fell away, the impact on families, and the absolute futility of underfunded social services unable to respond. From this, expect an oncoming rise of drug and human trafficking, gun crimes, gang and intimate partner violence, and religious fundamentalism as gutted governments find nations increasingly ungovernable.

But, here, the precariat is lucky because they haven’t been laid off, just underpaid and without job security. They’ve joined those already making ends meet in the informal economy, in daily-paid jobs, in home-based work, or in the poor conditions of the retail sector – where women predominate. It’s worse for the young, and worst of all for young women, despite their greater investment in education. We have yet to see whether managers and bosses will fight for fair salaries for their staff or bow to a logic that exploits those earning the least with pride that they are, at least, still salaried. It’s a loss-loss scenario and fails the standard of a human-centred economy, for people with stability are much more likely to show vision, investment and leadership in their jobs and community.

And, we can’t legitimately throw entrepreneurial language at these folks, though such tiefhead is all the rage. Entrepreneurship or self-employment has a long, proud history in the region, as farmers, market vendors, seamstresses, bakers, broom-makers, designers, music producers and others will tell you, but it comes without health or maternity benefits, clear work hours, legal protections, and a strong social safety net, and results in lower lifetime savings.

Cadres of stable jobs, particularly in institutions, are necessary, as insecure workers find it hard to think or live beyond the present and their own bottom line – a major problem in our national culture already. Such precarity is what would have been considered exploitation in better times, but what you better be grateful for today. Although, the truth is, the rise of precarious work gives rise to a precarious society.

Yet, keep these in mind.

Globally, while the incomes of poor and middle-class have risen incrementally (though precarity is reversing this), the incomes of the wealthiest have risen exponentially under neoliberal capitalism (a term which you should get off Facebook and go google). The problem isn’t one of lack of money globally or in Trinidad and Tobago.

It’s that wealth is concentrated or wielded rather than equitably or responsibly distributed, particularly to workers of all kinds. In 2002, our budget was almost 50 billion less than today, yet our population is only marginally larger. Waste, corruption and irresponsible elites have left us in this state. We must learn to follow every dollar. For, workers pay the price.

Third, though corporations, investment and equity firms, and banks, rather than governments, rule the global political economy, the state has huge responsibility for managing this moment, through its education, prison reform, border protection, gender, environmental, agricultural, public transport and other policies.

Better governmental management for greater public good is totally possible as anyone familiar with dozens of unimplemented and common sense recommendations made over the past thirty years knows. Every kind of worker must hold political elites accountable for state failures and suffering that follows.

New movements must thus emerge, for this growing group of workers can organize for greater collective power and decision-making over this increasingly insecure and unequal economy.

Welcome to the precariat for whom the struggle is present and real.

 

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Post 224.

Sixty-two people own as much wealth as three billion people in our world today.

This is a figure so difficult to comprehend, it’s like the fact that 1 300 000 earths can fit in the sun or that 1000 of our suns can fit in the star Betelgeuse. The vastness is as difficult to wrap your head around as statistics indicating that poor nutrition causes approximately 3 million child deaths each year. Or, that between 250,000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within a year of losing their sight.

Unlike the universe’s big numbers, our own world’s big numbers have direct impact on us, and we should be paying them the most attention.

We are currently experiencing two intersecting crises: an economic crisis and an ecological crisis. Their nexus suggests that even if we are to eventually get out of this bust moment and back into the boom part of the cycle, our growth model will only inevitably bring declining returns, precisely because of its unsustainability. We know this already from irreversible impacts of this model on our ozone, climate and environment.

We can wait for the petrodollars to rise again, and to resort to decades-old, energy-czar logic of downstream industries, and import dependence, but we will nonetheless be burdening our children with ecological costs which we do not currently measure or properly value. And, we will likely to be worse off in relation to drinkable public water, agriculture and affordable food, marine ecologies and waste management the next time around.

Look at Venezuela where the public service has shut down, and where they have had the country shift its clocks forward in a surreal move to create more daytime hours because of, among other reasons, the havoc wrecked by drought on their hydroelectric power. Venezuela’s economy, its government, malls and schools are waiting on rain.

Part of our problem is our measurements and our model. And, if there was ever a time for us to set a new course, these two current crises suggest it is now. First, we have to establish a different, less obsolete conception of what ‘development’ means, and go on to use and develop different measures that instead focus on well-being, equality and happiness across areas ranging from jobs to health, housing, civic engagement and the environment.

If you think this is idealistic or irrelevant, put yourself in the position of the thousands of workers that will lose their jobs this year and ask yourself whether marking our economic recovery by investment, debt and GDP alone will account for the unfair distribution of that recovery and its rewards when they finally trickle down across the country. Indeed, post-GDP economic analyses, which are premised on the idea of a more human economy, are part of a global conversation long happening, with which we in Trinidad and Tobago should be more engaged. But, which state economist or planner is having that conversation here?

Like any citizen looking at the state’s corruption and wastage of money as documented in the latest Auditor General’s report or any mother who finds it hard to be able to take her child anywhere that is garbage-free, ecologically protected and safe from crime, or any worker with a job watching others around me lose theirs, it’s not hard to observe a toxic global economy that is exacerbating suffering, inequalities and biodiversity destruction. And, such suffering counts, if we count it.

Our problem is not just the price of oil. It’s not this one ‘guava season’ in which the poorest are going to bear the biggest burden while we avoid the dignity of even looking them in the eye.

It’s that waste, corruption, tax avoidance, ineffective regulation, and exploitative human and natural resource use are secure in the model on which we rely. It’s that people will rob and riot to express their bewilderment, anger and desperation when informal, low waged, nonunionised, insecure, irregular and illegal work is no longer enough to survive.

The challenge seems astronomical, but sixty-two as wealthy as three billion is not right. These current crises make an alternative world a necessity for which we must fight, or pay with our lives.

See Oxfam

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-03/are-62-people-as-wealthy-as-bottom-50-per-cent-oxfam/7114666