The 2010-15 UK coalition government claimed to have created 1.7 million new jobs but some feel the subject of what goes on inside the workplace isn't reflected in public debate. Economics Editor of Channel 4 news, Paul Mason believes the true politics of work in modern Britain “barely gets a look in”.
He contends today's working environment isn't delineated by skill but by status. The workforce has become tiered in such a way that a subsection of highly skilled and salaried workers experience a blurring of work and leisure time, whereas a larger proportion of the workforce are forced to adhere to strict times and targets, such as the cleaner or carer flitting between part time jobs and frequently taking on the work of more than one person if no cover has been found.
Common to both groups is the notion of 'precarity'. Mason makes the point that if you want to fly a plane then you can pay your own training by forming a single person “company” that provides a service to an airline, bypassing rules which apply to contracted workers. At the other end of the spectrum he takes the example of a maid working in London, on a zero hours contract, guaranteed only £24 a week. The maid comments that fifty percent of new cleaners leave within two weeks because of the stress. Those who stay are, she says, “in a constant state of motion and seemingly exhausted and agitated at the same time”.
Mason claims that“at no point since the regularisation of employment law in the 1840s has the power imbalance been so pronounced.” Sluggish wages are part of the story. In addition, for a lot of people work means bullying, random and unappealable decisions, and sometimes even sexual harassment and casual racism.
Mason maintains the hidden impact of the emergent 'precarity' is a hollowing out of what labour means. The status of work is devalued as many emerging jobs have no security, pension or prospect of career progression.
Paul Mason sees unions size, strength and relevance declining, in what he terms “fragmented industries” and a limited, if non existent discussion of the work world. Under these circumstances, Justice For cleaners are a group swimming against the tide it would seem.