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The Precariat and the Future of Work

Guy Standing:

On March 23-24, the New Zealand Labour Party convened a conference based on its Future of Work Commission. It came at a propitious time, in that the world of labour and work is undergoing momentous changes. The stark fact that New Zealand will have to face, just as every rich industrialised country is facing, is that the twentieth century income distribution system has broken down irretrievably.

The old system involved roughly stable shares of income going to capital (mainly in profits) and to labour (mainly in wages). Since the 1980s, all over the world the share going to labour has been shrinking, and within the labour share wage differentials have widened, so that those near the bottom have been experiencing declining real incomes. This story is fairly familiar now. But what is less appreciated is the changing character of the inequality and the implications for class stratification.

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