A recent review, for THE, of Ilana Gershon’s troubling Down and Out in the New Economy. It’s one of two books on labour relations in the United States I’ve reviewed of late – the other coming soon – and believe me, some of the material is shocking. Those of us subject to European labour regulations have no idea how lucky we have been (up till now, at least). Here’s the first couple of paragraphs:
‘Imagine a world without stable or secure jobs. A world where job seekers are told to embrace risk, to be flexible and upbeat, where the engine of the economy is powered by passion and lubricated by uncertainty. Such is the world of new-economy employment skilfully documented by Ilana Gershon’s sympathetic and wide ranging study.
For much of the 20th century, employment has been understood in Lockean terms of self-as-property with the worker renting her bodily efforts and skills for a prearranged period of time. Such a metaphor implies boundaries between work and personal life, and squabbles over such boundaries have been codified in labour law. In the new economy, says Gershon, we have come to talk about our jobs in a very different way. Interactions around work – job seeking, hiring, firing and quitting – are structured by a distinctive new metaphor that posits employment as business-to-business relationship. To be a business is to be a bundle of skills, assets and relationships, arriving at a new employer ready to deliver a particular service on a short-term, contractual basis. When we buy a service from a business we do not expect to invest in training or to have a long-term obligation once the service is being delivered. Gershon, a linguistic anthropologist, suggests that the change in metaphor underpins an important and unwelcome change in economic organization….’
You can read the rest on the THE website here