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

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Combining detailed case studies with lucid analysis, Andrew Ross 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-comparing the creative industry policies of the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union and 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

With admirable timing, this volume examines a global workplace infrastructure that's as shaky as the economy would indicate. Taking a hard line against exploitation of workers in a variety of roles worldwide, Ross looks closely at workers on the verge, and those putting them there. In the chapter "China's Next Cultural Revolution?", he warns that "Beijing's rulers have nothing to worry about" so long as "the creative sector behaves like other industries... They can be groomed and promoted... to absorb foreign investment and foreign ideas, to exploit low production costs...." He tackles the Western world with the same nonplussed tone, as when discussing corporate PR tactics to deny ties to labor abuses by promoting social good, naming names like Nike, Reebok and the Gap. He also hits higher education, where much of the workplace is shaped, noting that it's "all too easy to conclude that the global university, as it takes shape, will emulate some of the conduct of multinational corporations." Rejecting the widely influential, free marketeer notion of a worldwide "playing field," Ross leaves no room for easy answers (or an "alternative, and equally snappy, image" to answer Thomas Friedman's or Richard Florida's). Though far from uplifting, this is a bold, pointed look at reality as it is, a far more valuable commodity.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Publisher
"Though Ross favors ironic twists on cliches like Nice Work If You Can Get It, he might also have titled the book Working Absurd. And though he would probably resist the high handed aspect of the public intellectual, he has fleshed out the precarious and inequitable terms of contemporary labor, meeting people where they are."

-The Chronicle Review

“This excellent and, in places, brilliant book should be read by anyone interested in a timely and astute analysis of the malaise of life and work in neoliberal postmodern society. . . . Highly recommended.”

“According to Ross, job insecurity became commonplace long before the current financial debacle. As economies shifted from industry to information, the benefits and securities of the Keynesian era quietly gave way to a workforce of temps, freelancers, adjuncts, and migrants. Ross finds that city fathers are more interested in Olympic bids and stadium projects than in sustainable employment, while corporations spend more on ‘social responsibility’ public-relations campaigns than on addressing worker complaints, and activists are too focussed on narrow concerns to find common cause with natural allies.”
-The New Yorker

“Illuminating. . . . Who knows what will be on the table when the damage of the global crisis is told? At the very least, one may hope for a return to security, sensible financial regulation, and a renewed interest in economic equity. Other worlds are possible, and with luck thinkers like Ross can point the way to imagining them more fully.”

“With admirable timing, [Ross] examines a global workplace infrastructure that’s as shaky as the economy would indicate. . . . Though far from uplifting, this is a bold, pointed look at reality as it is, a far more valuable commodity.”
-Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Economic liberalization, [Ross] demonstrates, has opened up a frenetic global traffic in jobs and migrants, uprooting people in a manner both useful and troubling to the managers of capital. In short, more people are available to exploit, but they are also harder to control. . . . A thorough and thoughtful study of global professional insecurity.”
-The Times Literary Supplement

Nice Work If You Can Get It, insists that the combination of transnational capitalism and globalization has eliminated stability and security from the lives of working people.”-The New Leader

"Nice Work provides insight into a sea change in labor markets and work lives that has occurred over the past forty years. It is an intelligent work that raises thought-provoking questions about contingent labor."-Steven T. Sheehan,Enterprise and Society

“What is compelling about Ross’s analysis of precarity is recognition that the ‘movement’ of these part-time workers is loaded with a host of internal contradictions. The concept of precarity has been deployed by academics and organized labor to describe the ‘condition of social and economic insecurity associated with post-Fordist employment and neoliberal governance (p. 34). […] As Ross asks: ‘Even if this concept is theoretically plausible, does it make sense to imagine cross-class coalitions of the precarious capable of developing a unity of consciousness and action on an international scale?’ (p. 6). Indeed, this remains a pertinent question considering the debates emerging as a result of the international Occupy phenomenon.”-Critical Sociology

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Andrew Ross is Professor of American Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including No-Collar, Fast Boat to China, No Respect, Strange Weather, and, from NYU Press, Anti-Americanism and Real Love.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vii

Introduction 1

I Creative Workers And Rent-Seeking

1 The Mercurial Career of Creative Industries Policymaking in the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States 15

2 China's Next Cultural Revolution? 53

3 The Olympic Goose That Lays the Golden Egg 77

II Sustainability and the Ground Staff

4 Teamsters, Turtles, and Tainted Toys 105

5 Learning from San Ysidro 131

III Instruments of Knowledge Capitalism

6 The Copyfight over Intellectual Property 161

7 The Rise of the Global University 189

Conclusion: Maps and Charters 207

Notes 215

References 219

Index 245

About the Author 264

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