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Precarity (also precariousness) is a precarious existence, lacking in predictability, job security, material or psychological welfare. The social class defined by this condition has been termed the precariat.
Léonce Crenier, a Catholic monk who had previously been active as an anarcho-communist, may have established the English usage. In 1952 the term was documented by Dorothy Day, writing for the Catholic Worker Movement:
True poverty is rare ... Nowadays communities are good, I am sure, but they are mistaken about poverty. They accept, admit on principle, poverty, but everything must be good and strong, buildings must be fireproof, Precarity is rejected everywhere, and precarity is an essential element of poverty. That has been forgotten. Here we want precarity in everything except the church. ... Precarity enables us to help very much the poor. When a community is always building, and enlarging, and embellishing, which is good in itself, there is nothing left over for the poor. We have no right to do this as long as there are slums and breadlines somewhere.— Anonymous Martinican priest, as quoted by Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, May 1952
It is a term of everyday usage as Precariedad, Precariedade, Précarité, or Precarietà in a number of European countries, where it refers to the widespread condition of temporary, flexible, contingent, casual, intermittent work in postindustrial societies.
While contingent labor has been a constant of capitalist societies since the industrial revolution, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued that the flexible labor force has now moved from the peripheral position it had under Fordism to a core position in the process of capitalist accumulation under Post-Fordism, which is thought to be increasingly based on the casualized efforts of affective, creative, immaterial labor.
For philosopher Judith Butler, all human life is precarious, as all lives can be 'expunged at will or by accident' and precariousness is ineradicably part of human nature. Precariousness is living socially and recognising that one's life is always in the hands of and dependent upon the other.
Precarity, on the other hand, describes a few different conditions that pertain to living beings. Anything living can be expunged at will or by accident; and its persistence is in no sense guaranteed. As a result, social and political institutions are designed in part to minimize conditions of precarity, especially within the nation-state— Judith Butler, Performativity, Precariety and Sexual Politics, Lecture given at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. June 8, 2009
Main article: Precariat
In sociology, precariat refers to the social class formed by people with no job security, or no prospect of regular employment, distinct from the lumpenproletariat. The term is a neologism obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.
The precariat class has been emerging in advanced societies such as Japan, where it includes over 20 million so-called "freeters". The young precariat class in Europe became a serious issue in the early part of the 21st century.
For Butler, while all lives are equally defined by precariousness, some lives are more precarious. In Frames of War, this is illustrated in the political cultures of post-9/11 America: some lives are not grievable because they are not first recognised as living. Social norms and institutions maximise the precariousness of some and minimise that of others.
Around 2000, the word started being used in its English usage by some global justice movement (sometimes identified with antiglobalization) activists (Marches Européennes contre le chômage la précarité et les exclusions - European Marches against unemployment, precarity and social exclusion), and also in EU official reports on social welfare. But it was in the strikes of young part-timers at McDonald's and Pizza Hut in winter 2000, that the first political union network emerged in Europe explicitly devoted to fighting precarity: Stop Précarité, with links to AC!, CGT, SUD, CNT, Trotskyists and other elements of the French radical left.
February 29 is the feast day of San Precario, the patron saint of precarious workers, who – together with his feast day – was created by the Chainworkers at the Milanese space Reload where the 2004 EuroMayDay was organised with others, including the Critical Mass group. The Milan Critical Mass already had its own patron saint, "Santa Graziella" (Graziella is the brand name of a popular Italian folding bicycle).
San Precario was originally conceived as a male saint.[incomplete short citation] The saint's first public appearance was at a Sunday supermarket opening on February 29, 2004:
A statue was carried in the streets, preceded by assorted clergy including a cardinal reciting prayers over a loudspeaker, and followed by pious people.
ChainWorkers then performed a hoax during the 2005 Milan Fashion Week, creating a fictive stylist, Serpica Naro, whose name was an anagram of "San Precario". According to the groups, the name functions like a multiple user name or myth such as Luther Blissett and quote the Wu Ming collective in giving theoretical coherence, although it is mostly seen as a détournement of the Catholic concept of patron saints.