The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Rise of the Temporary Workforce

Jun 9, 2014

In a horrible job market, hiring in one sector has been booming: temporary jobs. There are now about three million temp jobs throughout the economy, almost twice as many as there were in 2009.

Behind this hiring boom are big companies that now outsource millions of jobs, ones previously considered “permanent,” to temp agencies, including Walmart, Amazon, Nissan, and BMW. Today, one in five manual laborers who move and pack merchandise is a temp, as is one in six assemblers, who often work in auto plants. Almost 40 percent of all temp jobs are now in traditional manufacturing industries.

The system of temp work has a number of advantages for these companies. It provides them with a workforce that is both “cheap” and “flexible,” workers that can be paid the very least and who can be terminated for any reason. The system also insulates companies from having to pay for health care, workers’ compensation claims, or unemployment taxes.

It provides companies with a workforce that is expected to accept the most dangerous and unhealthy working conditions and most inhuman schedules. Just to keep their jobs, they are forced to endure hours of unpaid waiting and face fees that can depress their pay below the minimum wage. Many temp workers cycle between being unemployed and barely employed.

Of the three million temps who are working at any time, there are many times more temps out of a job. And because of their low wages and irregular employment, many of these temps can be found crowded into tiny apartments or ramshackle houses in neighborhoods known as “temp towns” that dot the entire country.

Together with the growing ranks of those who are completely jobless or work part-time but want full time work, temps make up what Karl Marx called “the reserve army of the unemployed.” This reserve army is an increasingly vast part of the workforce that lives so precariously, the capitalists are able to use them to help drive down the wages of what is left of the permanent workforce. The bosses can force permanent workers to accept worse everything . . . or be replaced by someone sent from a temporary agency.

The growth of the temporary workforce is part of the historic decline in working and living conditions that is taking the working class back to a situation comparable to centuries past. This increasingly horrible wage slavery further enriches the capitalist class.