Radical media, politics and culture.

On the stumbling of some precari over a short period of time

[please do not circulate, it would be embarassing!]

Immaterial value, communications strateg and the search for complicity.

The last six months have been a time of intense discussion regarding the relationship between communication and struggle, furnishing some concrete examples fleshing out their different consequences. What follows is a synopsis that covers the period from Incontrotempo, the 'festival of the urban precariat' held in Rome, to the media-hoax Serpica Naro recently conducted during "Fashion Week" in Milan.

The diversity of local contexts makes treating Italy as single frame of reference a risky business. Rome and Milan, site of the actions herein recounted, display radically different characteristics which help explain the different emphases, resources and modus operandi. Milan's style and entertainment industries stand at the core of the cities wealth, and as a corollary are a key site of both casualization and the transformation of the city according to the needs of these industries. The city is ruled by a despotic rightist, Albertini, who enforces a zero-tolerance policy towards social opposition, especially evident in the difficulties encountered by the housing occupation movement who are ritually evicted in short order. In Rome on the other hand the flashpoints are largely clustered around services, care and social workers, largely employed by private companies or co-operatives which bid on tenders administered by the city council, although there have also been conflicts within the television sector and call-centers. At least 39,000 people are employed in this indirect fashion by the city council through contracting. The competition between tender-bidders drives the squeezing of labour (the major factor in the cost estimate) and the renewal of such deals every three years makes sustainable organizing difficult. This occurs in a city which otherwise likes to market itself as a torchbearer for global poverty alleviation, a hub for solidarity with children and above all center of world peace of every stripe. As befitting the laboratory for centre-leftist management in governance and the home of the Vatican!

Rome in Autumn: Incontrotempo At the beginning of october several hundred people from collectives all over the country came to an occupied greyhound track (Acrobax) for the Festival of the Urban Precariat. In addition to sessions devoted to housing struggles and the network of advice centres (sportelli) there was also a lengthy discussion around the relationship between communications and struggle. It was also the first moment of organization in a process that would conclude dramatically on November 6th with actions and a demonstration for the right to an income uncoupled from the obligation to work.

The discussion involved people in specific struggles (such as ISTAT, the city kennels, the cooperatives) together with collectives formed around communications production. Essentially the discussions teased out the the theme around four elements relating to the immediate needs of those in conflict and then broader strategic considerations related to an analysis of the changing social situation: 1) The most urgent need is to create materials capable generating consensus around the agitation at the site of the conflict. Here the focus is on communication as an instrument for internal organization. 2) Broadcasting to the city - productions for radio, video, reworking of informational materials so as to be accessible for the wider public, and to explain who should respond to the demands, placing them under pressure.

In addition to these specific challenges during a mobilization, two other points were emphasised regarding the integration of communications processes in both the objective of the action and the way in which it should be executed. Chainworkers underlined the importance of acting at the level of production of immaterial value, and thus the need to damage the image of the company concerned, but also of privileging communication and informal relations with the employees at the selected site. P2P fightsharing proposed a rereading of action-design, where the means of action themselves generate spaces of complicity between those in struggle and a wider public who must be mobilized, or at least persuaded, so as to construct a favorable balance of power with 'the opponent'.

Unconditional Income This concept is often misunderstood in Northern European countries as being a demand for social welfare, the dole. In fact the energy behind it emanates from the refusal of work elaborated during the 1970s, the fight for the liberation of time from activity coercively mobilized for the production of profit. It exceeds the moralistic demand for redistribution (although its vision is premised observation of the abundant productive capacity of the system) and insists that we are productive in an economic sense even when not officially "at work". When we are exposed to advertising; when we consume leisure; when we discuss the films, books or music that interests us, wearing branded clothes that turn us into walking billboards, when we raise children and clean the home, when we follow the basic protocols of everyday social cooperation that facilitate the "normal" functioning of society as usual.

Within this demand contend two divergent visions articulating the objective and the underlying rationale. The first postulates unconditional income as a remuneration of invisible labour, but by premising its claim on unaccounted productivity risks legitimating the hegemony of profit-producing social organization as a whole. The second critiques this implicit acceptance of productivism and argus for a subordination of economics to the full development of the individual, a view well expressed by Andre Gorz:

"The existence-income only has sense as an attack against labour value if it neither requires nor remunerates anything at all: on the contrary its function is to restrict the the sphere of value creation, in the economic sense, by making possible the expansion of activities that create nothing that can be bought, sold, or exchanged with anything else, nothing thus which has a value (in the economic sense) - but only non-monetizable wealth having its own intrinsic value.

By liberating the production of self from the constraints of economic valorization, the existence income should facilitate the full unconditional development of people beyond that which is functionally useful to production." (L'immateriel, p.31, my translation)

All Saints v All Shits - S. Precario at Esselunga October 30th had been agreed by those involeved in the Mayday process as a date for actions around centres for advice and conspiracy - the "San Precario Points". In Milan this took the form of a ludic invasion of the Esselunga Supermarket in an action dubbed All Saints versus All Shits, it being halloween. 80 adepts of the cult entered and installed themselves nearby the check-out with effigy and standards, erected a sound system, and initiated discussion with shoppers and workers about their labour conditions and ability to make ends meet. Shopping trollies were taped together infuriating some rather short-tempered shoppers, but otherwise the actual operation of business was not physically impeded. Interviews were videotaped and questionnaires distributed, together with prayer cards for San Precario naturally. Champagne was taken from the shelves, opened and distributed to all, although some workers declined stating that they couldn't drink on the job! Otherwise the merchandise on the shelves was left unmolested. Notwithstanding the peaceful nature of the action 21 people now face quite serious charges.

November 6 Demonstration for Income Italy has only a very limited social welfare apparatus, payments are available only on the basis of work related contributions. For those who have nothing, it's a case of tough shit, and difficulties making ends meet are widespread, aggravated by recent increases in the cost of living. As elsewhere, the introduction of the euro was used to mask an increase in prices at a retail level. In addition apartment rental costs have increased due to speculation and privatization. In Rome today it is difficult to find a room for less than 450 euro in a situation where wages are pathetic. Working conditions have been in rapid descent for years as the casualization multiplies; there are now an estimated 7 million (27% of the workforce) as well as an additional 2-3 million working under the counter, often legal or illegal migrants.

The second annual demonstration for income - intended in a broader sense than the unconditional form described above - took place at the beginning of last november. An action based on the theme of reappropriation was called for the morning, and the operational details were decided by a coordination of Roman groups.

The morning began with what was intended as a collective negotiation of a reduction in grocery prices at a supermarket (owned by berlusconi) in Pietralata, a suburb where Pasolini shot his films about the Roman slums. The cash registers were blocked and negotiations began to demand a 70% reduction in prices for everyone in the supermarket. Whilst the management hummed and hawed, more proletarian methods were brought to bear and the commodities began to walk. Huge hams, booze, chocalates, food of every type. Meanwhile, upstairs in the clothing and electrical goods departments things really escalated: computers, flat screen monitors, dvd-players, cd-burners and anything else that wasn't nailed down. was liberated. Outside booty was distributed to the "public" and bottles opened. The cops realized the situation was ungovernable and left. The whole thing lasted about an hour after which we hopped on the train and went back to the centre of the city.

The afternoons demonstration had a much more diverse composition and included many delegations from labour flashpoints including Alitalia, ISTAT, the organised unemployed from Naples, as well as innumerable smaller and less publicized situations. In addition there was mass participation by housing occupants from Rome organized by the cities three housing coordinations and predominantly involving migrants. Many unions and social centres also brought sound systems on trucks as the day is conceived as a street parade. In the preceding week there had been various proposals for actions at the Feltrinelli bookstore, en route, but none of them had been formalized nor socialized. Originally these speculative actions were going to focus on copyright or the libraries, but the morning's events had let the genie out of the bottle: 200 people entered and staggered out with as many books as they could carry (between 1500 and 2000 according to the proprietors).

Hysteria immediately broke out in the press which outdid itself in proposing absurd historical parallels, proclaiming the return of the 1970s and referring to the participants as autonomi and disobbedients (a structure which had just officially dissolved itself amidst considerable rancour!) Amidst all this spectacularization, predictably, the urgent needs of a that vast swathe of society broadly represented in the street. Besides lurid resurrections of proletarian expropriations that occurred before most of the participants were born, the press rounded up the usual suspects, movement talking-heads who had developed a national profile due to the counterproductive use of spokespeople. These figures were treated as being leaders around whom a caricature of the social categories at play could be manufactured, insulating the broader society from the suggestion that there is a widely-felt social problem, and presenting them as political specialists akin to party leaders. Unsurprisingly this functions so as to impede wider public identification and subsequent aggregation. This problem had been anticipated and it had been agreed during planning meetings that no group should present itself as representative or spokesperson for the demonstration, a promise which unfortunately was not fulfilled amidst the spectacular feeding-frenzy.

In fact it became clear that the movement was entirely lacking in the methods and instruments of self-representation capable of reflecting its irreducible diversity, its commitment to processes of self-organization and rejection of the cults of personality, and the basic rules of the Political game, etc. This initial failing, provoked by standard media mechanisms, was compounded by the related lack of agreed protocols as to how communication should be handled afterwards. Meanwhile recriminations abounded as to whether the events of the morning had in fact been spontaneous or architected by elements who wanted to hijack the occasion for the purpose of raising their own visibility. The ultimate outcome was utter defenselessness before a media barrage which fictionalised and falsified the purpose of the day, and in terms of communications strategy was a miserable failure. Thye silencing of movement personalities and tardy depersonalized interviews with San precarion on television and in print were too little too late.

Professional Notoriety: http://espropriproletari.com One intervention did try to use the experience to reveal the operation of immaterial value and media processes. Guerilla Marketing opened a website playing on the medias nostalgic readings and offering a unique new service to retail outlets: Espropriproletari.com They underlined the tremendous amount of publicity accruing to a firm "victim" of a "proletarian expropriation", and proposed an ascending scale of packages available for purchase by proprietors to have one organized at their store. According to the clients taste they could have from 70 to 500 participants congregate to remove specified quantities of goods from the shelves. For an additional payment the presence of a "nationally recognizable movement figure" could be guaranteed. They underlined that they already had a large number of precari enlisted and willing to undertake the job if fairly remunerated for producing the type of publicity which, after all, money cannot buy. Subsequently they held presentations soliciting CVs from would be precarious collaborators. It must be said that in some parts of the movement the sophistical of this proposal was unappreciated, and treated as an attempt to capitalize on the movements stigmatization. If nothing else however it served to focus people's minds more critically on their unwitting complicity in media paradigms and to illustrate the mechanisms of brand construction.

Coming Soon - the thrilling story of Serpica Naro and the mysterious "Chainworkers"!