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Young workers are among the most vulnerable group in many European countries.  This situationhas  worsened  following  the  economic  crisis  in  2009,since when  the  youth unemployment rate  rose  dramatically,  up  to  49% in certain countries. While Poland and Germany have been two countries that survived the crisis rather well, the situation for young workers is  rather  gloomy.  In  Poland  youth  unemployment  lies  at  24%,  while  existing employment   is   in   most   cases   non-standard.   In   Germany, with a rather low youth unemployment  rate  of  6%,  the  dual  system  nevertheless  has  lost  its  inclusive  power, given that for each apprenticeship there are five applicants (Lehmkuhl 2013) and 44% of the school leavers find themselves in the secondary labour market (pre-vocational programmes) (BMBF 2013).  Those  in  employment  often  suffer  from  atypical  forms  of  employment  like  fixed-term contracts, agency work, low-level part-time employment, or unpaid trainee positions. During their first 10 to 15 years of employment, atypical employment alternates with unemployment, and  this  irrespective  of  the  skills  level  (Albert  et  al. 2010:  41).  Thus, it  seems  that young workers  are  particularly  hit  by  the  flexibilisation  of  labour  and  the  increase  in  precarious employment.

This research project seeks to propose new theoretical insights into the extent in which precarious working and living conditions influence the emergent forms of social, class and political consciousness, individual life strategies and collective civic engagement of young workers in Poland and Germany. Taking as a case example the situation of young precarious workers, the research seeks to advance the relational, historical and interpretive approach to precarity in which the social boundaries of the concept are determined by institutional features of national varieties of capitalism, cultural and political discourses of “normal employment” as well as the practices of social actors. Simultaneously, the project attempts to grasp the commonalities of experiences of young people affected by precarious employment in the context of common ideological features of late capitalist, post-Fordist societies and post-socialist transformations.  In this context, we attempt to grasp the process of formation of dispositions to deal with of instable employment in both countries, the fragmentation of class experiences of the youth, their visions of well-functioning economic order as well as individual and collective attempts to cope and possibly change their situation. At the methodological level, we adapt the national research traditions to international comparative research on precarious workers. This includes the “well organised economy index”  (Juliusz Gardawski), German approaches to studying precarity (e.g. Klaus Dörre) and interpretative research methods developed by Fritz Schuetze (biographical method). The development of a joint methodological tools to understand the situation and strategies of precarious workers can be considered another added value of this study. The empirical basis for the research includes two CAWI nationwide surveys of 500 young precarious workers in Poland and Germany, 120 biographical narrative interviews with precarious employees in both countries and secondary data.

Precarity is thus a relational category dependent on the definition of social normality (Dörre 2010). It is not the same as social exclusion, but a floating situation where access to normality still seems possible.Besides the objective employment conditions, a subjective dimension has to be taken into account (ibid.).We thus understand by precarity the loss of a living-wage,  of  integration  in  social  networks,  and  of  full  social  rights, all of which  is considered  standard  in the  societies  under  study, as well as thesubjective  feeling  of precarityconstituted bya loss of recognition and social integration (Dörre 2007; Dörre et al.2004). In  Germany  and  Poland,  despite  this  rather  significant  increase  in  the  precarious employment of young people, and the gloomyperspectives, there is little protest coming from the  youth,  in  contrast  to  other  European countries (c.f. Grekopoulou 2011 for Greece). Rather  we  observe  that  a  large  part  of  Polish  youth  emigrate  and  thus take an exit option (Meardi 2007), while the German youth stays rather immobile. The civic and political silence and   inactivity   does   not   imply that young Poles and Germans are content with precariousness,  just  the  opposite  is  true:  in  Germany  e.g.  90%  of  those  under  35  perceive insecure  employment  as  a  psychological  burden,  and  87%  think  that  it  complicates  life planning  and  family  planning (IG Metall 2012:  12).  In  Poland,  the  majority  of  temporary employees  (64%)  explained  that  they  took  temporary  jobs  because  of  lack  of  other  options (Eurostat  LFS).  The  absence  of  protest  in  the  face  of  increased  and  detested  precarity creates  a  research  puzzle  and  theoretical  challenge which is central to our study.


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