The so-called fourth industrial revolution (aka the gig economy) was supposed to result in a shiny new future in which a new class of youthful digital entrepreneurs generated prosperous jobs for all. In reality, the digital economy created a climate of fear and insecurity at the bottom of the British labour market that tipped the vote in favour of leaving the European Union according to Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union.
Giving evidence to MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, Roache said that Britain is “hurtling towards casualisation of labour and society has a price to pay” as the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” has seen workers’ rights undermined:
“For some years, workers have felt that their lot is getting worse and worse and worse, and with this drive towards casualisation they feel even more disenfranchised. They feel like you as politicians don’t understand their challenges, you don’t look like them, sound like them or have the same life experiences as them. So they look for someone to blame. They think: ‘If [immigrants] weren’t over here, my employer would treat me well like they used to; I’d be able to get to the doctors tomorrow, not next week; my child wouldn’t be in a class of 40’.”
Although the headline unemployment figure has fallen in recent months, too many of the jobs that have been created are part-time, zero-hours or in low paid self-employment carrying out freelance work. In these circumstances, Roache complained:
“How can you begin to plan your life? How can you know that you’ll have enough work to put a meal on the table for your kids, to pay the bills, let alone to save for a mortgage or get a roof over your own heads?”
Some of these complaints are also echoed in former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s recent Newsnight report for from Ebbw Vale, where a rustbelt economy coupled to the misallocation of European funding helped produce a 62 percent vote in favour of Brexit.
If – as is widely predicted – the UK economy suffers as a result of Brexit, the MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee together with pro-EU politicians like Clegg may regret waiting until after the Brexit result to find out just how bad things have become for hundreds of thousands of households in Britain’s rustbelt communities.