Labour and Freedom
What is freedom under capitalism? Where is the dividing line between consent and coercion? WorkFREE investigates these questions by creating counterfactual conditions in which poor workers at the exploitative margins of the global economy have what the philosopher Karl Widerquist calls ‘the power to say no’. What will change with an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI)? And what could that tell us about how a UBI could change the world of work?
Dignity and Work
The lives of waste pickers in India are characterised by the compounding stigma of belonging to low castes, of being poor and of being supposedly ‘unclean’. How then is dignity understood and how is a positive image of ‘self’ maintained? WorkFREE aims to explore how respect and (self-)esteem are constructed and navigated in the lives, relationships and language of workers whose livelihoods are emblematic of work in ‘indecent’ conditions. How does a Universal Basic Income’s (UBI) claim of providing security, dignity and economic citizenship hold up with those involved in such work? How might collective organisation foster dignity and agency?
The two key words central to WorkFREE’s approach are 'needs' and 'relationality'. We believe that human beings have needs, that life itself has needs. These are different to wants and desires, which are more superficial and ephemeral. Needs are fundamental, essential and arguably universal. WorkFREE asks those it works with 'What are your needs? How are they not currently being satisfied? What would it look like if they were? And how can we get there?' We will be exploring the extent to which UBI+ increases people’s power to meet their needs.
Rather than taking a traditional, top-down, approach to community work, WorkFREE emphasises dialogue, connection and collaboration. We believe that solutions to people’s problems are better generated collectively and from a place of hope rather than fear. Our understanding is that participants within community organising processes need to feel safe and respected for imaginative and potentially transformative solutions to emerge. The ‘+’ component of our work seeks to create the conditions for this emergence. Our hypothesis is that doing so will increase the positive benefits deriving from the cash component of the UBI+.
Climate Change and a Just Transition
We will only be able to meet human needs in ways that take us beyond the ongoing ecological crisis if the transition to more sustainable societies is rooted in social justice. By adopting an alternative ontology of development, which prioritises human needs satisfaction over aggregate economic growth, WorkFREE seeks to explore empirically how we can improve human wellbeing while reducing unnecessary material throughput. In particular, it asks how a UBI+ could create opportunities to satisfy human needs in non-material ways, and so remain compatible with planetary boundaries.
How will the economic security and time afforded by UBI translate into new opportunities to redress gender inequalities? Will the additional focus on needs and relationality within WorkFREE combine to facilitate political space for communities to reassess and address the inequalities within them? Will the claims of enhanced freedom and dignity provide space for women to reimagine and assert power and agency? Our research will explore the impacts of UBI+ specifically on women’s lives and on the gendered inequalities that structure them.