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Debates on 'precarity'

Below, scroll down some, is an excerpt of discussions around euromayday and the upcoming April 1st mobilisations for Freedom of Movement -- and precarity. Obviously, I've an interest in how the debates around precariousness unfold.

On the one hand, euromayday has been heavily inflected by attempts to come up with a common orientation, and 'precarity' has for some time been working its way toward assuming the status of this common orientation. For its most enthusiastic proponents, the coupling of euromayday and precarity has been a way to lobby around the European constitution for the codification of rights. Alex Fotis (Chainworkers) and Greenpepper have been quite explicit about this lobbyist aspect and wanting to position ‘precarity’ as a "one multiple and federated fight". (Notice the 'one' that precedes 'multiple'?)

For reasons which are not really clear to me, Greenpepper have continued to prioritise the publication of discussions on precarity which (whatever else is happening) don't confront the statist assumptions of either a recourse to 'rights' (as strategy) or (more disturbingly) the assumption that 'precariousness' should be seen as the search for security, the latter which apparently reigned during the Golden Age of Fordism. (I say prioritise, because they seem determined to not let critiques of such understandings trouble what they profess to be "Provocations". Yes, they want a discussion, responses, involvement, but only if it conforms with the underlying aim of finding a common, overarching programme; a way to re-figure the idea of the 'unity of the working class' so as to represent it within the terrain of the state, basically.)

On the other hand, the noborder networks are critical of the euromayday propositions because having worked on the issue of migration (as something other than a convenient preamble to elevating a 'left wing alternative' to the European consititution), they are perfectly aware that orienting a movement around the assumption of the state as saviour is not only utopian (in the sense that it ignores and idealises what has actually been happening with the European-wide harmonisation of migration controls) but dangerous (in the sense that it willfully forgets the critique of the state as a racialised, biopolitical entity and tries to rejuventate what is, basically, social democratic -- if not liberal-democratic -- political approaches).

So, on the other hand, there is a second call for a European Day of Action around freedom of movement.

This is an excerpt from the callout: "When we talk about the European constitutional process we think first of all of its material dimension, that is of the way the integration process has taken place concretely in the last years. A European citizenship is in the making, and we must focus our analysis on the way the borders of this citizenship are constructed and managed, both in their external and in their internal dimension. Detention center for migrants have played and continue to play a key role in this process. Although they have taken different shapes in different countries, they are actually European institutions, within a unified framework which promoted even an externalization process of camps beyond the « external » borders of the EU - from the Balkan to Libya and Marocco."

Thankfully, the paper from the Frassanito-Network isn’t evading a discussion of the traps of the motif of 'precarity', even though they want to continue using it. But nevetheless, importantly acknowledging that there is a tension between a 'precariousness from below' (of which migration has been a part of) and 'precarisation from above'. The responses from some others (also appended) are interesting to read too.

But what is particularly interesting in all of this is that these debates parallel (exactly) the debates over 'globalisation' -- those who wanted to position 'globalisation' as a bad thing (and hence the need for regulation, etc) confronted by those who said, 'Hey, globalisation is, among other things, migration; the globalisation of labour. The forms you talk about (the WTO, the various summits, etc) are responses to this, attempts to manage what was always preceded by movements.' Then, as now, the debate wasn’t so much about those who were ‘pro-globalisation’ versus those who were against; but about social democrats versus autonomists, libertarian communists, anarchists, those who didn’t accept the distinction of 'benevolent state' / 'bad capital'. But what this easy return to statism as assumption tells me is that many of those who shifted to the various motifs of 'counter-globalisation', 'globalisation from below', etc really only did so because it became more fashionable, not because they understood what was at stake.

So while it has become no longer quite so fashionable to talk about 'anti-globalisation', the events of Genoa, the end of the cycle of anti-summit protests, Sept 11 and the 'war against terrorism' have reinscribed the assumptions of social and liberal democracy. Coupled with Negri’s more persistent attachment to 'absolute democracy', 'basic income', 'global citizenship', those democrats now imagine themselves to be at the cutting edge of radicalism. It might be that they are indeed socdems and liberals, but I think that in many ways this is as a result of panic, a subterranean desire to return to the apparent security of the general measure.

Anyway, I'm not really sure the pluralist-synthetic compulsions of this (which is part of the below): "to bring the different subjects into an intensified exchange, on a social as well on a political level; - to mediate contradictions and even concurrences within the respective realities; - and to pick out comprehensive questions as common themes" really addresses the issue of homegenisation in any meaningful way. It just gives a tighter rendition of political forms as commensurate with, well, the market, exchange, money as the general equivalent. And here I was thinking that 'precarity' was being sold as an anti-capitalist strategy... :)

-- begin excerpt --

Precarious, Precarization, Precariat? Impacts, traps and challenges of a complex term and its relationship to migration

I. Precarious literally means unsure, uncertain, difficult, delicate . As political term it refers to living and working conditions without any guarantees: for example the precarious residence permission of migrants and refugees, or the precarious everyday life as a single mother. Better known was the term Since the early 80s the term has been used more and more in relation to labor. Precarious work refers to all possible shapes of unsure, not guaranteed, flexible exploitation: from illegalized, seasonal and temporary employment to homework, flex- and temp-work to subcontractors, freelancers or so called self employed persons.

II. Precarization at work means an increasing change of previously guaranteed permanent employment conditions into mainly worse paid, uncertain jobs. On a historical and global scale precarious work represents not an exception. In fact was the idea of a generalization of so called guaranteed working conditions a myth of a short period, the one of the so called welfare state. In the global South, in eastern Europe as well as for the main part of women and migrants in the north all together the big majority of global population precarious working conditions were and are the norm. Precarization describes moreover the crisis of established institutions, which have represented for that short period the framework of (false) certainties. It is an analytical term for a process, which hints to a new quality of societal labor. Labor and social life, production and reproduction cannot be separated anymore, and this leads to a more comprehensive definition of precarization: the uncertainty of all circumstances in the material and immaterial conditions of life of living labor under contemporary capitalism. For example: wage level and working conditions are connected with a distribution of tasks, which is determined by gender and ethnic roles; the residence status determines the access to the labor market or to medical care. The whole ensemble of social relationships seems to be on the move.

III. Precariat an allusion to proletariat meanwhile is used as an offensive self-description in order to emphasize the subjective and utopian moments of precarization. Through the mass refusal of gender roles, of factory work and of the command of labor over life, precarization has really a double face: it is possible to speak indeed of a kind of flexibilisation from below. Precarization does not represent a simple invention of the command centers of capital: it is also a reaction to the insurgency and new mobility behaviors of living labor, and in so far it can be understood as the attempt to recapture manifold struggles and refusals in order to establish new conditions of exploitation of labor and valorization of capital. Precarization thus symbolizes a contested field: a field in which the attempt to start a new cycle of exploitation also meets desires and subjective behaviors which express the refusal of the old, so called fordist regime of labor and the search for another, better, we can even say flexible life. However, we think that precariat as a new term of struggle runs in an old trap if it aims at a quick unification and creation of a dominant social actor. Precariat gets even into a farce, if the radical left tries to legitimize itself as main force in its representation because of the increasing involvement of leftist activists in precarious labor and life conditions. But the main point is that taking into account the hierarchies which shape the composition of the contemporary living labor (from illegalized migrant janitors to temporary computerfreaks), the strong diversity of social movement and respective demands and desires, nobody should simplify precarization into a new identity. We are confronted here with the problem of imagining a process of political subjectivation in which different subject positions can cooperate in the production of a new common ground of struggle without sacrificing the peculiarity of demands which arise from the very composition of living labor. In these conditions, we think that precarization as complex and contested process - can offer a frame,

- to bring the different subjects into an intensified exchange, on a social as well on a political level; - to mediate contradictions and even concurrences within the respective realities; - and to pick out comprehensive questions as common themes.

We are thinking of process which bases on the autonomy of the various struggles, which fosters the communication between the struggles, which invents new forms of cooperation and which opens new fields.

IV. Particularly because migrants experience all mentioned forms of depreciation and precarization of nowadays work, and particularly because mobility is their answer through and against the borders and identities, they show in their subjective conditions all the main characteristics which shape modern labor as a whole: in their subject position a common ground of the existence of social labor today finds a peculiar expression. To talk about migrants labor means to talk about a general tendency of labor to mobility, to diversity, to deep changes, which is already affecting although with different degrees of intensity all workers. Because of the possible extension of these conditions we speak of a political centrality of migrants work. The position of migrants represents the social anticipation of a political option to struggle against the general development of labor as it will be extended to the whole society and the whole life of all people. At the same time, we are aware that migrant labor as well as precarious labor doesnt represent an homogeneous subject: the process of subjectivation we were talking about is a process which must go through migrant labor itself, and which can be fostered by an increasing communication with other struggles and with the demands of other sections of contemporary living labor.

attached responses:

Some comments on the text about precarity and migration.

I think that the texts should refer (at least briefly) also to the issue of social security and the tendency to conceive it in terms analogous to civil security. In my view, this leads to a social securization which - together with the precarization of work condition - completes the framework to understand precarity as a life condition. In other words, social security is more and more framed according to the model of civil liability and damages reclaiming (law of tort, in common law systems): social security implemented through (individual) rights claimed in courts (the clear example is the USA model where you ask for damages in every situation: from compensation in case of a lung cancer to compensation if you are born with disabilities. But in Europe we see similar tendencies).

This model has several implication with regard to migration: - first of all, it is a tendency analogous to the privatization of border control. Also in this second case the model is a civil responsibility model. This is clear with legal institutions such as carrier liability for transporting illegal migrants, but also in the case of employers conceived as private agents of border management: institutions like the contratto di soggiorno/ contract of stay contain clauses for the refunding of repatriation expenses and other similar clauses. In other words, civil responsibility is a key instrument in the process of governmental management of borders which shed light on the connection between border securization and social securization .

- Second. The migrant condition is paradigmatic for what Ive called social securization. A clear example is the recent EU directive on the deregulation of social services which introduces the country of origin principle. This means that an enterprise is subject to the law of the country where it is legally registered (instead of the country where it supplies the service). But this also means that a worker brings with him/her the social security system of the country where the enterprise is registered. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon (a frequent case regards workers of the maritime transportation sector), but the Bolkestein directive is not limited to the labour regulation: it extends the principle to the whole social services system. This is perfectly consistent with the model highlighted in the previous paragraph, and it leads to important consequences for migrant labour if we consider it together with the process of EU expansion. .

- in political terms all this requires that we further specify the movements claims and analysis. Of course this is only my view, but I try to bring up some example. A) When we talk about flex-security (a concept which I find a bit unclear and, although we do not use it within the frassanito network, in Italy is very fashionable) we need to further specify the concept with regard to the work mobility. B) social cooperation is not a given achievement of the supposed community of precariat. The other side of precarization is an xtreme fragmentation and atomization of the social claims. Social cooperation is a form of political struggle and, at the some time, a battlefield to be conquered against tendencies which lead to a reverse direction. This is true also in the case of transnational networks of migrants solidarity (which are not naturally given but are conquered and constructed). In my view, it is important to underline it in order to reclaim the political meaning of transnational spaces of cooperation. C) As it is underlined by the ambivalence of the civil responsibility model with regard to claims implemented trough the instrument of (individual) rights, we do not have ready made models (in other words, ready made alternatives to corporative models of claiming). Alternatives need to be continually re-discovered and re-defined.

next attached:

dear friends,

very briefly some comments on the precarity-paper. I strongly support the things about the "traps" included in the concept of "precariat", in the sense that it evokes a sociological perspective (like, defining who belongs to the "group" or "class" of precarious) I think we have to be very careful not to re-invent what the traditional left did with the term class/proletariat. This is why we probably should consider to not use this term rather than to be forced to make distinctions every time. Instead we should, I propose, to focus on the process of precarization and on what "class" meant in the alternative reading: to include into its definition centrally the struggles of precarisation, since it is the struggles of the subaltern that establish the new forms and levels of conflict. In my eyes it is also very important to think about what mentioned attached as the forms of "collectivness" or solidarity. Much of the precarity-discourse today is backwards-oriented (like defending the sunday as a holiday, certain concepts of the fordist family etc.) and it seems to me that this it is the result of a conceptual shortcoming. What would be the adequat line of flight regarding for example social security (is it basic income?), What are the limits of community-projects e.g.? on a global scale there seems to be a debate on land-ownership as a strategy for reducing the dependance on commodties/global market. How to combie the different aspects of precarity: how to reduce social unsecurity without again linking it to a social stabilization of living forms (e.g. the nuclear family).