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GTI Forum

A Call for Dignity and Solidarity

Azfar Khan

Among the many benefits of a universal basic income, the one that has, perhaps, been the least touted is the restoring of personal dignity, enabling freedom from control and the reawakening of a solidaristic culture. In one of his earlier papers, Guy Standing had expressed a vision that “the ideal to which societies should move towards is a set of circumstances in which more and more people can pursue their own sense of occupation, blending a variety of activities, formal and informal. To move in that direction, combating controls that characterize labor is a necessary part of the process.”1 The true political sense of UBI lies in its recognition of power relationships that oversee social and economic life. The power relationships that characterize extant working conditions exercise various degrees of control over different occupational categories and, hence, hinder the realization of necessary freedoms.

Freedom is a fundamental human right, and freedom from controls determines people’s sense of security and induces a consciousness of opportunities and shapes behavioral adaptation. UBI is, perhaps, the only measure in modern times that has considered guaranteeing the material well-being of entire populations. Working people trapped in a world of controls where they are forced to sign “service contracts” (which the late David Graeber called “shit contracts”) can most effectively break the chains when they have a choice between a “job” and “work” made possible by an unconditional grant from the state. And that brings dignity to work.

If UBI provides, or enhances, social solidarity—which evidence suggests it does, as confirmed in the pilot projects conducted in India, Finland, Canada, and Iran—that challenges the prevailing “modes of controls” and then indeed would be a blessing for those socially excluded and those made insecure in the pursuit of the neoliberal agenda. That is why it promotes the idea of effective resistance to controls through a collective agency of some sort where one can count on the support of strong collective and individual “voice.”

A secure life is synonymous with dignity, and the advancing of “autonomy” through UBI and the fundamental control over self and one’s labor can also augur a subversive agenda, where we may begin to envisage change and not merely adapt to the dictates of globalization, labor flexibility, libertarianism, and privatization of social policy that shape our lives presently.

1. Guy Standing, Modes of Control: A Labour-Status Approach to Decent Work, Socio-Economic Security Paper no. 4 (Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2000).

Azfar Khan
Azfar Khan served with the International Labour Organization (ILO) for over two decades. He has written widely on social and labor issues.

Cite as Azfar Khan, "A Call for Dignity and Solidarity," contribution to GTI Forum "Universal Basic Income: Has the Time Come?," Great Transition Initiative (November 2020),

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