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Ingrassia, draft translation

Draft under revision, please don't circulate. From my friend Franco Ingrassia.

* In spanish at -

11 Precarias Ideas for a Biopolitical Sindicalism

00. Introduction

To speak of precarious labor is to speak, to begin with, of half the workers in Argentina: those who work in the black economy. To continue, it is to speak of the multitudes of un- and undermployed who, despite working outside the wage relation, also produce a type of wealth which, in many cases, is directly linked to the survival of hundreds of millions of people. To those must be added those who work under the so-called “garbage contract”. Contracts for services, temporary, without recognition of minimum labor rights. Neither holidays nor vacations nor sick days. To those must be added, in addition, a multiple variety of [becarios - grantees?], [pasantes], ad-honorem [??] workers, volunteers, etc.

This is the precariat. The workers not recognized as such by outmoded conceptions that assign the condition of worker based on a type of contractual relation that is increasingly exceptional. Workers invisible to the State which does not recognize their rights and also to the majority of the unions, which do not permit them to affiliate or participate for themselves. This is the precariat today: the vast majority of the class that lives from its labor.

The precarization of labor, the permanent instability of the conditions of life profoundly alters the very notion of project of life in young workers. Our parents had project of life with contents distinct from those of our grand parents. The conditions of life for the one and for the other were distinct, but in both cases these conditions were relatively stable. For our generation it is not a matter of elaborating distinct contents but rather of reinventing the very notion of project of life. How to project when instability becomes a point of departure? In what way can singular and collective trajectories be constructed that avoid remaining subject to disperion and the aleatority of market flows? To reinvent the notion of project is a task that connects immediately with the task of reinventing the spaces of collective organization that allow us to materialize said projects.

What is sindicalism or what could sindicalism be after precarity? What type of transformations in its organization, in its dynamic and its modes of action would tend to be introduced by a union that [plantee dejar de desconocer a - arose ceasing not to know?] the most significatn portion of the present workforce [note: the Spanish, fuerza de trabajo, can translate into English as both 'workforce' and 'labor power'. In English 'workforce' normally indicates an existing group of people in a specific workplace or labor market, while 'labor power' is a more abstract (which is not to say unimportant) marxian category. The use here is in the text is closer to 'workforce', but the term also includes 'labor power' in a linked set of meanings which it is difficult to express in English - tr.]

This writing attempts to propose some precarious ideas, tools, and hypotheses that contribute to the labor of reinvention and relaunching that the worker organizations most committed to social change are attempting to carry forward. It is a matter above all else of a set of sketchs, fragments, or clues that will have value in as much as they are able to stimulate the collective process of debate and thought.

01. mobility

The laboral instability proper to precarity produces a constant fluidification of the workforce. The individual itineraries of each worker begin to resemble a species of laboral dispersion in which one passes from one job to the next, from manual tasks to intellectual tasks, from complex labors and intense hours to periods of under- or unemployment. Is there an alternative to this which would not be simply reactive, that is to say, the attempt to rigidify the labor market? Perhaps the key is identifying this mobility as a characteristic common to an increasingly broad sector of the class and to being to intervene upon this mobility, in order to change it, in certain conditions, into a militant practice. To migrate from one center of labor to another permits constituting relationships with dissimilar compañeros. It also permits knowledge of some situations to resurge in other parts. Additionally, mobility as a central characteristic supposes the reformulation of the union organization which, until know, that thought of itself following schema of permanence. The forms of organization that continue separating workers by branch or by center of work continue losing, in a tendential form, their relevance to the degree that the workforce makes itself more and more flexible.

02. intermittence

In the everyday life of the precariat the periods of employment are found to alternate with periods of unemployment and/or underemployment. Waged labor, previously a full presence, is an intermittence in the life of the precarious worker. As such, the categories of employed worker and unemployed worker are increasingly fluid. A biopolitical sindicalism, a sindicalism that wants to empower (potenciar) the antagonistic capacities of the precariat, can not think itself in the same way, then, as a space of organization exclusive to employed workers. The biopolitical union presents its first hybrid figure: the crossing of organizational forms and modalities of collective action of the mass union and of the movement of unemployed workers. That is to say, the question remains open, what type of union organization could group together the precarious worker, that is to say, the intermittent worker?

03. autonomous cooperation

Precarious workers, subjected to instability as a permanent condition, only survive through the permanent generation of relationships, of networks of contacts in distinct instances of the productive territory. This capacity, in the light of discontinuity in incomes which intermittence produces, can bring us to conceive the idea of a new type of sindicalism, which would be able to organize these capacities for the configuration of forms, these capacities for cooperation, orienting them toward the productionof more or less autonomous forms of existence of the workforce, beyond the wage relation. With that, the biopolitical union presents its second hybrid figure: the crossing of the union with the productive experiences of the cooperative workers.

04. recombination: militant task in dispersion

Intermittence, mobility, discontinuity of incomes and laboral instablity have changed the social existence of the precariat into an experience very distinct from the pre-existing forms of the workforce. Since 30 years ago, against the permanent and [inconsulta] structuration of laboral activity brought forward by the boss. This structuraction extended to the disciplining of the rest of social life, from the time of nonwork. This industrial worker struggled against domination understood as fixation of the body to one place and to one task. For its part, the precarious worker sturggles against a very distinct form of domination: instability. This laboral instability has an extralaboral correlate: social dispersion. In conditions of stable structuration the militant tasks are to break, negate, subvert the rules. In conditions of social dispersion, the militant tasks are to invent autonomous modes of cohesion and recombination of resources and of human bonds that always threaten to escape, to disperes. In a certain sense, the present militant task of those that concentrate in intervenint inside the precariat could be considered as the slow and intricate process of subjective reconstruction of the working class, taking the objective conditions of generalized dispersion as point of departure.

05. heterogeneization

Contemporary capitalism produces fragmentation and introduces heterogeneity (in assigned tasks, forms of contractual relations, incomes, continuity/discontinuity in the job, etc) and the individualization of the precariat. It is necessary to produce new forms of action that take advantage of this multiplicity. If the mass union constituted its power (potencia) on the basis of the growing homogeneity of the life of workers, biopolitical sindicalism should find its force in the wealth of differences, in the capacity to politically articulate the contemporary heterogeneity, in the will to carry this process of hetereogeneization beyond the logic and the projects of capital.

06. confluences

Biopolitical sindicalism has to propose producing horizons of confluence of living labor in its multiple current forms of existence: stable work, precarious work, long term unemployment, etc. The project of construction of a non-state public sphere as much as the general income (or minimum guaranteed income) could become collective projects. Beyond the visibility of immediate implentation of proposals like the basic income, it is a matter of producting common horizons, territories of cooperation in which the different forms of existence of precarious work can recognize, recombine, and articulate themselves.

07. instability and self-organization

Instability, mobility, and heterogeneization define the characteristics of a fluctuating class composition. The conditions of life of the precariat are in constant change. A biopolitical sindicalism would be able to construct flexible organizational dispositifs capable of accompanying this mobility constitutive of precarization. The models of organziation that base themselves on fixed structures reveal their limits. The union should function as a permanent space of self-organization and recombination for the workers that move in a productive and labor context in constant change. The capacity of organizational innovation becomes fundamental in order to be able to respond to the variable problematics that arise in struggles at each moment.

08. new topologies of conflict

In conditions of laboral instability, the same economic dynamic situated the place of antagonism and of struggles inside the factory. The analysis of the productive cycle specific to each productive unit permitted discovering which were the key points, the seccions that, by being halted, had the capacity to paralyze the whole set of production. In conditions of precarious work, this is never defined beforehand. In passing from a logic of structures, that is to say of fixed places and relations, to a logic of processes, where there are flows of capital, information, and resistance that redefine themselves at each pass through places, productive relations, and their occupants, [de lo que - such that?] it is a matter alway, in the first instance, of being able to produce, construct the conditions for the localization of the conflict. Inside or outside the productive space? In the street or in the media? In the places of production, in the avenues of distribution or in the spaces of consumption? A biopolitical union would have to be able to have the tools of analysis to be able to situate, in each concrete case, in each concrete struggle, where it would be best to localize and deepen collective conflictivity and action. Many times a creative and innovative approach to the problem of the localization of the conflict is defined in large part by the type of prior struggle.

09. networks

If the strucutre was a system of fixed relations, proper to contexts of stability, the organizational form that will be most effective in situations of instability is the network. Without predetermined relations, open to the permanent incorporation of new elements, without a centralized command structure, the network permits a collective to be able to reconfigure itself successively following the changes of its environment, in order to always be able to act with the greatest transformative capacity. Unions up until now adopted structural organizational forms, in consonance with the structural organization of production proper to the industrial era. Presently the productive spaces, in agreement with the postfordist and toyotist theories, have initiated processes of transformation of structures into productive networks. A union that has the capacity to act taking into account the new forms of labor would be a network-union, an organization with the capacity to transform the characteristics that constitute the precariat (mobility, intermittence, heterogeneity, etc) and change them into tools for struggle, into mechanisms of political aggregation.

10. research

Since the workers inquiry by Marx for the International Workingmens Association, there have existed numerous experiences of appropriation of diverse tools of research on the part of the worker movement. Today the fluid characteristics of precarity lead us to intensify these practices, proposing a labor of permant self-inquiry. The biopolitical union would also be the dispositif starting from which the working class could investigate its own technical and political composition: the characteristics that define it, the tendencies and countertendencies that pass through it, the everyday resistances susceptible to recombining themselves into an antagonistic project. Biopolitical sindicalism as process of though, of collective elaboration of knowing about own conditions and potentialities. It is a matter of producing the passage from action-research to participative union research.

11. mixed models

The biopolitical union is a diffuse project today, a set of hypotheses on how there can be thought a union organization inside precarization. The term "biopolitical" indicates to us that it is a matter of being able to respond to a type of capitalism that is misunderstood [se dentiende - should this be 'misunderstands'?] [de] the problem of reproduction of the work force (as the dramatic closeness of the average wage in our country to the line of indigence defined by the INDEC [??]). It is a matter of being able to think how to collectively construct conditions of life, cooperation, resistance, and social invention. In the present conjuncture, biopolitical sindicalism could be thought following a mixed model, which can recombine in a dynamic form elements stemming from the three great dispositifs of organization created by the worker movement: the union, the cooperative, and the worker party. Economic struggle, autonomous organization of productive capacities and political struggle will function as articulated dimensions of the biopolitical labor of a new sindicalism able to confront the challenges of the new contemporary forms of exploitation. And to transform them.

Franco Ingrassia.