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Nice Work If You Can Get It

Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times

Andrew Ross
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Nice Work If You Can Get It
    Book Description:

    2009 Choice Outstanding Academic TitleIs job insecurity the new norm? With fewer and fewer people working in steady, long-term positions for one employer, has the dream of a secure job with full benefits and a decent salary become just that - a dream?In Nice Work If You Can Get It, Andrew Ross surveys the new topography of the global workplace and finds an emerging pattern of labor instability and uneven development on a massive scale. Combining detailed case studies with lucid analysis and graphic prose, he looks at what the new landscape of contingent employment means for workers across national, class, and racial lines - from the emerging creative class of high-wage professionals to the multitudes of temporary, migrant, or low-wage workers. Developing the idea of precarious livelihoods to describe this new world of work and life, Ross explores what it means in developed nations - comparing the creative industry policies of the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union, as well as developing countries - by examining the quickfire transformation of China's labor market. He also responds to the challenge of sustainability, assessing the promise of green jobs through restorative alliances between labor advocates and environmentalists.Ross argues that regardless of one's views on labor rights, globalization, and quality of life, this new precarious and indefinite life,and and the pitfalls and opportunities that accompany it is likely here to stay and must be addressed in a systematic way. A more equitable kind of knowledge society emerges in these pages - less skewed toward flexploitation and the speculative beneficiaries of intellectual property, and more in tune with ideals and practices that are fair, just, and renewable.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7739-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    THE NEED TO make a living has always set people in motion—off the land, into the towns and cities, over the seas. Most have been fleeing oppressive forms of work—chattel slavery, serfdom, indenture, guild dependence, patriarchal servitude, routine wage labor— in search of a more free and humane life. Employers have had little choice but to follow them or try to restrict their mobility to select population centers in hopes of capturing their labor (Moulier Boutang 1998, 2001). In the modern era, mass migration to cities and manufacturing zones was and still is a monumental geographical process, disrupting...


    • 1 The Mercurial Career of Creative Industries Policymaking in the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States
      (pp. 15-52)

      TRADE DEREGULATION HAS brought down barriers to the movement of capital and jobs, but it has not freed up movement of people in pursuit of a better livelihood. The upshot is that work is allowed to circulate around the globe with impunity, but workers themselves are not—in fact, many are criminalized if they cross borders (Bacon 2008). The higher up the skills curve, the less strictly this rule applies, if only because it has not proven so easy to separate skills from employees. Nonetheless, corporate strategies loosely known as “knowledge transfer” have been devised to migrate brainpower from the...

    • 2 China’s Next Cultural Revolution?
      (pp. 53-76)

      NEWLY INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRI ES in the global South have not been slow to try out the creative industries policy model. Some of the more advanced ones are fast losing their manufacturing-sector jobs to mainland China and Southeast Asia, and they need higher-skill services to add value to their economies. But such is the heady economic growth of the PRC itself that its Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policymakers are already competing in the creativity stakes, hoping to drive the national economy toward the most prized IP fruit at the top of the value chain by maximizing its monopoly on the extensive...

    • 3 The Olympic Goose That Lays the Golden Egg
      (pp. 77-102)

      CI POLICYMAKING CANNOT survive without a regular intake of statistics, and so it was only a matter of time before Chinese officialdom’s own addiction to issuing numbers came up with the goods. In January 2007, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Statistics announced that the cultural and creative industries accounted for 10.2 percent of the city’s 2005 GDP, while figures for the first eleven months of 2006 showed an 18.7 percent growth over a year earlier, outpacing all other sectors in the municipality’s roaring economy. A few months earlier, at the Shanghai International Creative Industry Expo, it was announced that China...


    • 4 Teamsters, Turtles, and Tainted Toys
      (pp. 105-130)

      NO ONE WHO toils in an offshore manufacturing facility needs to be reminded of the risks to life and limb that free trade delivers daily to their workplace. Thanks to the efforts of the anti-sweatshop movement, public consciousness has been on a slow but sure learning curve about these hazards. As long as the appalling conditions of low-wage offshore workers do not pose an immediate threat to consumers, however, they can always be glossed over as matters for the individual conscience to process. This is less the case when it comes to the compromised safety of thousands of products on...

    • 5 Learning from San Ysidro
      (pp. 131-158)

      THE MIGRATION OF people in search of a subsistence livelihood is an abiding feature of world history. In modern times, the dispossession of peasant land is one of the chief factors that has set populations in motion, and in the era of neoliberal free trade, these patterns of displacement have intensified as migrants from developing countries make the trip to the global North, across borders and oceans in ever-increasing numbers. One of the triggers for this movement is the arrival of foreign capital in their home lands and the exposure of their livelihoods to unfair global competition. Livable incomes can...


    • 6 The Copyfight over Intellectual Property
      (pp. 161-188)

      POLICIES LIKE THOSE I discussed in the first three chapters—appealing to creative industries or mega-events—are aimed at place-based development. On the face of it, they promise to anchor good jobs and retain investments that would otherwise be globe hopping. The evidence suggests, however, that the distribution of benefits from these policies is far from evenhanded. This chapter will survey the efforts of elites to use intellectual property (IP) legislation to further direct and control the globe-hopping traffic of jobs, knowledge, and trade. A goodly portion of these efforts result in a flagrantly unequal property grab, and so the...

    • 7 The Rise of the Global University
      (pp. 189-206)

      THIS LAST CHAPTER of this book concerns the work sector to which its author contributes on a daily basis. Higher education has not been immune to the impact of economic globalization. Indeed, its institutions are now on the brink of channeling some of the most dynamic, and therefore destabilizing, tendencies of neoliberal marketization. On the domestic front, the stable professional securities of a teaching career have rapidly eroded, while competition in the global market for higher education has intensified, sparking an explosive rise in cross-border traffic among students, teachers, and investment capital.

      In the medieval universities of Europe, academics were...

  8. Conclusion: Maps and Charters
    (pp. 207-214)

    THANKS TO THE bestselling reach of journalist Thomas Friedman’s bookThe World Is Flat,the concept of the flat world is now established in the public mind as a spatial picture of the new global landscape of work. In that book and elsewhere, Friedman has depicted globalization as a free-forall where advanced technologies and trade liberalization are leveling all the competitive advantages once attached to geographic location. No one, he concludes, can depend on their address to guarantee anything like a secure livelihood (Friedman 2005). An alternative view—which insists that location is still all-important—is offered by Richard Florida,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 215-218)
  10. References
    (pp. 219-244)
  11. Index
    (pp. 245-263)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 264-264)