Britain plays happy families

There’s a grim article in today’s Independent on  an ongoing survey into work and relationships in Britain by the Working Families and One Plus One charities, called Happy Homes, Productive Workplaces, whose preliminary findings include

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A culture of “downsizing”, where long working hours and job insecurity have become the norm, is leading to a “vicious cycle” of stress and people losing out on family life….One in four workers “constantly” does more than their contracted hours, with a further one in five doing so “frequently”. Just 7 per cent have the luxury of never doing so. And nearly a third of employees suffer from anxiety or panic attacks due to work stress, while more than half admit to being exhausted and irritable at home.

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The Indie also reports  that this year ‘ stress has become the top cause of long-term sickness absence for the first time across British industry’ and that ‘more than a quarter of employers have noticed an increase in the number of people coming to work ill in the past year, and nearly two-fifths report an increase in mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, among employees.’

To complete the picture,  TUC general secretary Brendan Barber reports that

[stextbox id="alert"]‘Increased job insecurity has made people more wary of asking to shift and reduce their hours, while unpaid overtime is rising again after years of decline. Staff now give away around £29bn a year in unpaid hours at work.’[/stextbox]

The Indie attributes these phenomena to ‘the dire economic climate’ as though it were talking about the weather. But when people have to work longer hours, sometimes for nothing at all, simply in order to be able to keep their jobs, they do so because they don’t have any choice.   And what we are talking about here is enforced precarity or precarisation, and the deliberate and conscious re-disciplining of the workforce to create a situation of permanent insecurity.

For some therefore, the current crisis is an opportunity.   And this phenomenon isn’t limited to Britain, it’s part of  a global assault on wages and working conditions that threatens to permanently transform  the whole idea of work.   Take the conclusions from Business Week on America’s new ‘disposable workers’ in January this year:

[stextbox id="alert"]You know American workers are in bad shape when a low-paying, no-benefits job is considered a sweet deal. Their situation isn’t likely to improve soon; some economists predict it will be years, not months, before employees regain any semblance of bargaining power. That’s because this recession’s unusual ferocity has accelerated trends—including offshoring, automation, the decline of labor unions’ influence, new management techniques, and regulatory changes—that already had been eroding workers’ economic standing.[/stextbox]

And

[stextbox id="alert"]The forecast for the next five to 10 years: more of the same, with paltry pay gains, worsening working conditions, and little job security. Right on up to the C-suite, more jobs will be freelance and temporary, and even seemingly permanent positions will be at greater risk. “When I hear people talk about temp vs. permanent jobs, I laugh,” says Barry Asin, chief analyst at the Los Altos (Calif.) labor-analysis firm Staffing Industry Analysts. “The idea that any job is permanent has been well proven not to be true.“[/stextbox]

The same thing is happening all over Europe and beyond.    But don’t feel too bad. If you are tempted to feel despondent, you can always raise your voice and sing along with George Osborne:

together we will ride out the storm.  And together we will move into the calmer, brighter seas beyond’

But you might do a lot better to join a trade union, get out onto the street and do everything you can to prevent these bastards from getting away with it.