Politics of Precarity: Can the Urban Worker Strategy address Precarious Employment for All?

Nicole Cohen and Greig de Peuter (2013) “The Politics of Precarity: Can the Urban Worker Strategy Address Precarious Employment For All?”, Briarpatch, November/December.

If you’re among those who regularly shell out the equivalent of office rent at coffee shops to get a bit of work done, it’s easy to imagine a typical scene at The Common, a café in Toronto’s west end. Located in MP Andrew Cash’s Davenport riding, The Common was an apt venue for the NDP politico’s launch of his Urban Worker Strategy campaign in May. Working in a flexible labour market brings challenges bigger than snagging a spot to plug in your laptop, which is why Cash is presenting a more comprehensive response.

Cash’s approach – working through the state to secure a better deal for precarious workers – is at odds with neoliberalism’s preferred qualities: high self-reliance and low expectations from employers and the state. The Urban Worker campaign zooms in on policy, a mostly invisible yet materially significant social frame that enables or constrains our livelihoods.

This fall, Cash will move his Urban Worker Strategy from The Common café to the House of Commons, where he’ll pitch it as a private member’s bill. The bill proposes a sweeping suite of overdue federal policies that respond to the plight of temps, freelancers, interns, part-timers and other flexworkers who flit from gig to gig, shift to shift, contract to contract, with no guarantee of income or future work, let alone access to benefits or pensions. Says Cash, “Today’s reality of work has fundamentally changed, yet our policies remain stuck in the past.”

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Image credit: Coco Riot