REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso, A worker gathers items for delivery from the warehouse floor at Amazon's distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona

The Wages of Precarity: Labor and Neoliberalism

Instructor: Lygia Sabbag Fares
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

With the rise of neoliberalism came a massive onslaught against labor rights and organized labor. From imprisoning and assassinating labor leaders in Chile, to smashing the miner’s strike in Britain, to mass-firing the air traffic controllers in the U.S., emerging neoliberal regimes made it a priority to curtail worker power, instill more “competitive” work environments, and re-establish, as Alan Greenspan warmly reflected, “the legal right of private employers, previously not fully exercised, to hire and discharge workers…at their own discretion.” In the decades since, worker wages have stagnated, union density has declined, inequality has sharply risen, and new worker systems have emerged—a “platform economy” of on-demand, piece-meal work expressly designed to depreciate worker power and circumvent unionization. How can we understand neoliberalism’s seemingly inveterate hostility to labor? And, what can it teach us: about the condition of contemporary labor, and about neoliberalism as a specific form of capitalism?

In this course, we will explore the situation of labor within neoliberalism–how it differs from previous epochs, how (and why) it changed, and for what systemic reasons. We will begin by examining the Fordist mode of production prevalent in the industrialized West in the mid-20th century and the socioeconomic factors that made it possible. We will then explore the economic and political changes implemented throughout the world in the late 1970s and ‘80s including financialization, lean- and just-in-time production, outsourcing, offshoring and other aspects of globalization. How did such radical changes in production affect workers? How can we understand the rise of flexibilization and current labor precarity in the “platform economy” and beyond? What are the differences across racialized and gendered lines under neoliberalism as a political economic project? How has this radical global transformation differed across geographies of uneven development and neocolonial domination? And finally, what are the prospects and scope for labor power and rights in a landscape defined by labor precarity? Readings will be drawn from works by David Harvey, Ricardo Antunes, Lourdes Benería, Günseli Berik, Maria Sagrario Floro, Ruth Milkman, Luke Elliott-Negri, Kathleen Griesbach and Adam Reich, Adrián Sotelo Valencia, and Alex Rosenblat and Luke Stark, among others.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 13 — May 04, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open