A steady rise in what is called ‘non-regular employment’ is the most notable change in Japanese working life since at least the 1980s. Such workers accounted for nearly 40% of all employees by 2015. This paper focuses on the results of the turn to non-regular employment and identifies its distinctive aspects in the context of a long history of various forms of precarious employment. A historical perspective shows that newer forms of second-tier status, including some that can be termed ‘non-regular regular’ employment, have come to overlay continuing older ones. Important new elements include not only a far greater absolute and relative number of non-regular workers but also their far greater presence in the service sector. In addition, today’s non-regular workers differ in social characteristics such as age, education, and gender. The relative decline of social movements is a notable impediment in seeking reform, while the move away from seeing gender as a natural axis of differentiation offers some potential for addressing the issue.
This article introduces the present Special Theme on the global reception and appropriation of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1963). It aims to interrogate Thompson’s legacy and potential vitality at a moment of renewed social and intellectual upheavals. It emphasizes the need for an interdisciplinary and global reflection on Thompson’s work and impact for understanding how class, nation, and “the people” as subjects of historical inquiry have been repeatedly recast since the 1960s. Examining the course of Thompson’s ideas in Japan and West Germany, South Africa and Argentina, as well as Czechoslovakia and Poland, each of the following five articles in the Special Theme is situated in specific and different locations in the global historiographical matrix. Read as a whole, they show how national historiographies have been products of local processes of state and class formation on the one hand, and transnational transfers of intellectual and historiographical ideas, on the other. They highlight the remarkable ability of Thompsonian social history to inspire new lives in varying national contexts shaped by different formations of race, class, and state.
These four articles revisit crucial concepts in the work of E.P. Thompson and the debates that follow him. Each looks forward to contemporary and future scholarship, and the real and potential relationship between historiography and social movements on the left. They reopen debates on moral economy, disputing how much of the working-class past is usable in the present. Particularly given the transformed nature of the state since the period of social transition in early modern England, this question seems urgent: can (arguably) backward-looking claims of traditional rights continue to serve to guide working-class resistance movements, given that they must invoke the powers of the modern state? Can ideas of class drawn from a period in which men were understood as workers and citizens, and women were not, be made useful in a different moment? Are there class formations possible under capitalism other than the bourgeois-proletarian antagonism to which we are accustomed? Do these challenges require a thorough rethinking of the relationship between such basic categories as law and political economy, class and gender? More recent social movements—indigenous, anticolonial, antiracist, feminist, and anti-war—might not have been recognized or countenanced by Thompson as “working class,” but might they be useful in conversation with the Thompsonian legacy of class analysis? Together, these papers push the boundaries of our inheritance from Thompson, and suggest ways in which new social and political contexts—new states, new movements, and a drastically changed global economy—can reanimate the political force of Thompson's work.