Marxism at Work: fighting casualisation

Submitted by AWL on 10 June, 2014 - 3:44

Since 2008, 80% of all newly-created jobs in Britain have been on zero hours contracts, where workers have no guaranteed shifts and have to work to the whims of their employer.

Casualisation and the erosion of job security are particularly big problems on the railway. In July 2013, an RMT report estimated only 10% of Personal Track Safety card holders were employed directly by Network Rail. The remainder are employed through agencies or are considered self employed for the companies purposes.

Casual workers have no job security. They can often be told at a moments notice that they are no longer required. The nature and the conditions of their work can change, and if they object they can be threatened with the sack. Organising to fight for better terms and conditions is an uphill battle as there may be no stable workforce to organise, and workers who stick their head above the parapet can be easily victimised. It is easy to see why employers are so keen on casualisation.

Employers like to justify casualisation by saying it offers flexibility. This is true in a sense — but the flexibility is all one way. Bosses can decide on a moments notice what work will be done and by how many people. The workers have no say about how much or how little they will work. If they refuse shifts when they don't want them they may find themselves "overlooked" when they do. Because workers can be got rid of so easily employers can dictate their terms and conditions without having to be flexible at all.

Friedrich Engels, the Marxist writer who co-authored the Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx, observed in 1891 that as the numbers of the working class increased so did "the insecurity of existence". The bosses' ability to take on and fire workers as they please relies on there being a large, relatively well-educated working class that can perform the jobs required. It also relies on improvements in productivity forcing people out of work, creating what Marx called a "reserve army" of workers.

Marx also observed that capitalism creates situations where work controls the worker, not the other way around. In order to make the most profit a capitalist needs to employ people as productively as possible, only using them for exactly as much as they are needed. Rather than the person performing the task dictating how it should be done the nature of the task dictates how the person performing it must live. "It is not the worker who employs the conditions of work, but rather the reverse, the conditions of work employ the worker."

We should demand an end to outsourcing; direct employment for all, and guaranteed hours.
Disputes like the STM security workers on London Overground, who campaigned for, and won, an end to zero-hours contracts, and the Hovis bakery workers in Wigan whose strikes forced bosses to give guaranteed hours, show that casualisation can be confronted through well-organised industrial action.

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