Job security

assurance that an individual is likely to retain employment, with relatively low chance of becoming unemployed

Job security is the probability that an individual will keep his or her job; a job with a high level of job security is such that a person with the job would have a small chance of becoming unemployed.


  • The necessity -from a technical point of view - for control and, consequently, for domination, can be overcome without too much difficulty in small and medium-sized enterprises; it cannot be overcome in large enterprises except by effecting changes which are all the more difficult to implement since they affect both the enterprise's hierarchical staffing structure and its technical (and spatial) organization. William F. Whyte provides a number of examples to show that organizations can be modified so that workers enjoy their work, espouse the aims of the enterprise and mobilize the reserves of productivity and skill they usually keep to themselves. The success of this kind of reorganization necessarily presupposes, first, a relationship of mutual confidence between management and organized labour, second, recognition of the workers' ability to organize themselves, take the initiative and participate in decision-making, and third, financial involvement of the workers in the results of their labour. Sooner or later, however, this policy of 'participation' or co-management - of which the Scanlon Plan was one of the best example; and one in advance of the 'quality circles' of thirty years later -meets with the following difficulty: for job security to be guaranteed, the volume of sales must increase at the same rate as the productivity of labour. A duly motivated workforce, however, can achieve staggering increases in: productivity (increases of 20 per cent per annum over a period of several years in the examples cited by Whyte). The volume of sales, however, cannot continue to increase at such a rate. The point inevitably comes when management decides to reduce the workforce in order to reduce costs, thus regaining sole ownership of the enterprise's decision-making power. The 'partnership' of labour and capital is thus destroyed at one fell swoop; the workers realize their co-operation with the management has been a swindle; and antagonistic class relations are re-established.
  • A system of co-operation between workers and management cannot survive, therefore, unless management effectively guarantees its employees job security, by which I mean employment for life. It is on this condition alone that there can be social integration on the Japanese model within the enterprise. Yet large Japanese firms are only able to guarantee their employees jobs for life by subcontracting out the manufacturing and services which they, as parent companies, have no vital interest in undertaking themselves, to a vast network of satellite companies. These subcontracting enterprises cushion the parent company from fluctuations in economic conditions: they employ and dismiss their workers according to changes in demand, and the fact that their employees often have no union or social protection whatsoever means this can be accomplished with great speed. Job security in the parent companies is matched by unstable employment and social insecurity throughout the rest of the economy. Employment for life and social integration are privileges reserved for an elite (about 25 per cent of Japanese employees in 1987, a figure which is decreasing markedly as older workers are encouraged to retire early and are not replaced). They are only compatible with economic rationality within the framework of a dual society. This social division (or 'dualization') has been the . dominant characteristic of all the industrialized societies since the mid seventies.
  • The image of the enterprise as a place where employees can achieve personal fulfilment is therefore an essentially ideological invention. It conceals the real transformations that have taken place, namely that enterprises are replacing labour by machines, producing more and better with a decreasing percentage of the workforce previously employed, and offering privileges to a chosen elite of workers, which are accompanied by unemployment, precarious employment, de-skilling and lack of job security for the majority. The advance of technology has thus resulted in the segmentation and disintegration of the working class. An elite has been won over to collaboration with capital in the name of work ethic; the great mass of workers have become marginalized or lost their job security and serve as a reserve army for industry which wishes to be able to adjust its workforce rapidly according to fluctuations in demand.
  • Enterprises are adopting a strategy of flexible response on two levels simultaneously: the firm's stable core of employees must be functionally flexible; the peripheral workforce, for its part, must be numerically flexible. In other words, 'around a core of stable workers with a wide range of skills, there is a fluctuating, peripheral workforce with a more restricted range of more basic skills, who are dependent on the chance play of economic forces. The stable core must accept occupational mobility, both in the short term (changing their positions and acquiring new skills) and in the long term (retraining and modifyig their career plans), in exchange for job security. Their skills are essentially company skills provided, enhanced and perfected by the firm by means of a process of continuous in-house training. The firm therefore relies heavily on the employees it has trained, and vice versa.
  • This revaluation of the image of the worker rests, on the part of the employers, on a rational calculation: it is not only a question of winning. the loyalty of an elite of workers they cannot do without and integrating them into the enterprise; it also means cutting this elite off from its class of origin and from class organizations, by giving it a different social identity and a different sense of social worth. In a society cut in two ('dualized'), this elite necessarily belongs to the world of 'the fighters and winners' who deserve a different status from the work-shy masses. The members of this elite of workers will therefore be encouraged to form their own independent trade unions and their own forms of social insurance, co-financed by the enterprises in which they work. At the same time, the employers will have limited the ability of this elite to bargain or fight trade-union struggles, by isolating it and stressing its privileges: its members have been chosen from among a very large number of applicants; they enjoy job security, a steady income and the kind of work and possibilities of promotion that are envied by all. And above all they owe their status to the fact that they are, professionally, the most capable; economically, the most productive; and, individually, the most hard-working. Insofar as it corresponds in large part to the ideal of the sovereign, multi-skilled worker of the utopia of work, the employers' discourse and the strategy concealed within it, have brought about the most serious crisis in the history of the trade-union movement. If, as is the case in West Germany, trade-union organization derives its strength from its roots in the ranks of the skilled workers, the threat exists that it will rapidly degenerate into neo-corporatism. If, on the other hand, trade unionism is particularly strong among semi-skilled workers - as is the case in Italy where until recently there was practically no foreign workforce and where semi-skilled workers owe their job security to their trade-union organization -then the unions find themselves in the dangerous position of having strong support among a declining category of workers and weak backing from the two categories which are in rapid expansion: the mass of temporary workers, which is expanding but difficult to organize, the unemployed and 'odd jobbers'; and the new elite of 'reprofessionalized' workers, characterized by a marked tendency to defend their own specific interests by forming company unions or small craft unions.
  • The ideology of work and the ethics of effort therefore become cover for ultra-competitive egoism and careerism: the best succeed, the others have only themselves to blame; hard work should be encouraged and rewarded, which therefore means we should not subsidize the unemployed, the poor and all the other 'layabouts'. This ideology (which in Europe finds its most overt expression in Thatcherism) is strictly rational, as far as capitalism is concerned: the aim to motivate a workforce which cannot easily be replaced (for the moment, at least) and control it ideologically for want of a means of controlling it physically. In order to do this, it must preserve the work-force's adherence to the work ethic, destroy the relations of solidarity that could bind it to the less fortunate, and persuade it that by doing as much work as possible it will best serve the collective interest as well as its own private interests. It will thus be necessary to conceal the fact that. there is an increasing structural glut of workers and an increasing structural shortage of secure, full-time jobs; in short, that the economy no longer needs everyone to work - and will do so less and less. And that; as a consequence, the 'society of work' is obsolete: work can no longer serve as the basis for social integration. But, to conceal these facts it is necessary to find alternative explanations for the rise in unemployment" and the decrease in job security. It will thus be asserted that casual labourers and the unemployed are not serious about looking for work; do not possess adequate skills, are encouraged to be idle by over~ generous dole payments and so on. And, it will be added, these people are all paid far too much for the little they are able to do, with the result that the economy, which is groaning under the weight of these excessive burdens, is no longer buoyant enough to create a growing number of jobs. And the conclusion will be reached that, 'To end unemployment, we have to work more.'
  • At the very point when a privileged fraction of the working class seems to be in a position to acquire multiple skills, to achieve workplace autonomy and continually widen their capacities for action - all of which are things that were ideals of the worker self-management currents within the labour movement - the meaning of this ideal is thus radically altered by the conditions in which it seems destined to be fulfilled. It is not the working class which is achieving these possibilities of self-organization and increasing technological power; it is a small core of privileged workers who are integrated into new-style enterprises at the expense of a mass of people who are marginalized and whose job security is destroyed -people shunted from one form of occasional, unrewarding and uninteresting employment to another, who are often reduced to competing for the privilege of selling personal services (including shoe-shining and house-cleaning) to those who retain a secure income.
  • Virtually every modern industrial nation has faced issues of job security, whether they have faced these issues realistically or unrealistically, successfully or unsuccessfully. In some countries— France, Germany, India, and South Africa, for example— job security laws make it difficult and costly for a private employer to fire anyone. Labor unions try to have job security policies in many industries and in many countries around the world. Teachers’ unions in the United States are so successful at this that it can easily cost a school district tens of thousands of dollars— or more than a hundred thousand in some places— to fire just one teacher, even if that teacher is grossly incompetent.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, 4th ed. (2010), Ch. 10 Controlled Labor Market
  • The obvious purpose of job security laws is to reduce unemployment but that is very different from saying that this is their actual effect. Countries with such laws typically do not have lower unemployment rates, but instead have higher unemployment rates, than countries without widespread job protection laws. In France, which has some of Europe’s strongest job security.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, 4th ed. (2010), Ch. 10 Controlled Labor Market
  • The very thing that makes a modern industrial society so efficient and so effective in raising living standards— the constant quest for newer and better ways of getting work done and more goods produced— makes it impossible to keep on having the same workers doing the same jobs in the same way.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, 4th ed. (2010), Ch. 10 Controlled Labor Market
  • The connection between job security laws and unemployment has been understood by some officials but apparently not by much of the public, including the educated public. When France tried to deal with its high youth unemployment rate of 23 percent by easing its stringent job security laws for people on their first job, students at the Sorbonne and other French universities rioted in Paris and other cities across the country in 2006.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, 4th ed. (2010), Ch. 10 Controlled Labor Market

See also

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