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Helsinki Network, "EuroMayDay's Social Contradictions"

Anonymous Comrade writes:

"EuroMayDay's Social Contradictions"
Helsinki Network

The evening before Mayday Helsinki saw EuroMayDay event as a part of Europe-wide day of action.

The event was a breakthrough in Finland. It didn't only successfully attack the proposals to weaken social and labour rights — presented by the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) — but it also took initiative to introduce our demand for basic income. Now our demands are discussed from editorials to cafeterias.

First of all our demand for basic income is about less control on people's lives and a more just distribution of income. Basic income would be a remuneration for production outside wage labour and at the same time it would enhance the bargaining position of flexworkers.
One of the conflicts of current economy is that time spent working gets longer while share of GDP spent on wages is getting smaller.Current information and service industries exploit all skills their workers develop outside paid time. Work has spread to every part of life. Working doesn't end when your shift ends but people continue thinking, developing and communicating in their "spare time".

A huge share of work done in our society is being done outside wage labour. At the same time paid work is getting more and more precarious because of short term contracts. The risk of running business is put more and more on shoulders of lowest paid workers.

Everywhere in Europe we can see a tendency from welfare towards workfare. The value of a human being is increasingly measured through eyes of market economy. New order of work demands stricter control, forcing worker to take any job with any conditions or wage. Social rights and conditions are attacked by "promoting employment". The CPE in France is only one example of this.

We have to reply to this attack we are facing. It is very likely we will see widening and deepening of social conflicts and struggles in the near future. EuroMayDay was the first response, attempt that is still looking for its form.

European-wide struggle

EuroMayDay in Helsinki was part of the European day of action. This year it was broader than ever. Just before Mayday, struggles in France had torn down plans for the CPE, law that would have strongly furthered precarisation. Victory in struggle against CPE was one sign of the collective power that precarious people potentially possess.

EuroMayDay has put precariat to the centre of Mayday. These struggles are creating political challenge to institutions of Europe. We can see the effects of this challenge when we hear EU leaders talking about models for flexicurity and transformation of welfare models and not only continuously repeating the mantra of more flexibility no matter the social consequences. The future of the European social model is still open and will be determined by future struggles.

New work is not understandable in old terms

Work and production have changed dramatically. To understand this you don't need to have read scientific research. It is enough to have talked with people in the subway, daycare centre or barber shop. Question is not about a temporary problem for young people. Precarity concerns a growing number of us.

This tendency of precarity can be seen everywhere; from agency workers of restaurants to municipal school teachers to migrants whose work anyone else would refuse to do.

Permanent temporarity and continuous precarity have become normal state for us. Social security is still bind to model of permanent jobs, something we have only heard and read about. These models are completely unable to solve problems we face in our reality.

Basic income as a remuneration for unpaid work

A worker whose work doesn't create measurable products is often regarded as a useless parasite. She/he often meets a lot of control policies and constant moralising by the bureaucrats of employment and welfare offices and by so many hypocrite glorifiers of work. They are trying to make her/his life as miserable as possible in order to make her/him "go to work".
Contemporary production and the accumulation of the wealth it creates, is based on the fact that a big amount of the work done is not being remunerated. This is because a considerable portion of work is done outside wage labour.

Central forces of production are now innovation, information and social interaction. These are not developed only in the minds of a few top professionals of the so-called "creative class". Production of information is always a collective process and all the factors of this process can never be clearly determined. This is production in which everyone takes part, from open source nerds coding for fun to youngsters creating street art. Guerilla marketeers and fashion designers have learned this a long time ago.

When we talk about basic income we are not only claiming that no-one should have fear of losing her/his income. We are also demanding basic income as a remuneration of the unpaid work that is done by so many people now labelled as unemployed and unproductive. We don't want charity but a recognition for the fact that a huge portion of production cannot be inside the sphere of state or wage labour but it still is socially productive, valuable and important.

Basic income — an improvement for the low paid workers' bargaining power

Because we have used the term "shit job" we have been blamed for despising low-paid workers. We have no need to take back our words. However to avoid misunderstandings: we do not despise a person who cleans a floor, neither do we despise cleaning itself but we despise the one who pays unfairly low wages for it while keeping the worker in constant insecurity about the future of her/his contract and income.

We don't wish to end cleaning of the floors — we wish to end the humiliation of the cleaner. For us, "shit job" does not mean only physical and monotonously repetitive work but any type of work with poor wage and working conditions.

It was downright hilarious how the comment about "shit jobs" made those right-wing people who keep constantly demanding lower working standards rush to defend the work ethic of cleaners. It is hard to imagine a more transparent hypocrisy.

When we talk about basic income we want to make clear that we do not mean some small allowance proposed by some right-wingers, an allowance that only barely enables survival in between jobs. Neither do we endorse the "active concept of man" of some left-wingers, according to which a healthy self-image is based on living in wage-slavery. We demand a basic income that provides a guaranteed income for all without humiliation. We believe that it does not make people "passive" but on the contrary it would promote people's autonomy and would enable people to build real well-being and to work without being dependent on the immediate and short-sighted demands of firms. In the same time it would strengthen the bargaining power of low paid service workers in regard of firms.

The clash at the VR storehouses expressed antagonism towards control

After the EuroMayDay parade people had a party at the abandoned and soon-to-be demolished VR storehouses. The party itself was not a part of the political demonstration but it got some political characteristics when the riot police arrived.

The decision to demolish VR storehouses and to replace them with the new Music House is an example of standardisation of urban space. It symbolises policies which aim to restrict people's chances to autonomously build urban public space and to replace this urban public space with hygienic urban space produced from top-down according to corporate interests. Although the party at the storehouses had no explicit political demands, it did relate to the struggle about the management of urban space.

Violence was present only when the police arrived. From the side of party people violence was self-defense and there is no doubt that it was fuelled by several preceding experiences of humiliating and arbitrary control by authorities. Is there any other way we can interpret the way in which such a big amount of people took immediate action and resisted the police forces, actually driving them away?

The minister of interior claimed that the clash was a pre-planned riot. Soon this turned out to be untrue. Instead we can say that the level of the conflict was already determined in those confrontations with authorities which people have on the context of their daily life. The control policies and zero tolerance programs — both in the context of labour force management and the management of urban space — can lead to unexpected counter-reactions.

Movement of new labour

In Finland, as well as in Europe and the United States, the events of Mayday have opened up political debate and changed the coordinates of the social situation in an exceptional way. It seems that a real opportunity for the birth of "movement of new labour" has been opened up. Above all, in this situation we need to work for broadening the network of different subjects. We need concrete actions and demands around which different subjects can group themselves.

It is clear that this year's EuroMayDay was not an "activist event". EuroMayDay was adopted by several hundreds of people, who normally don't go to demonstrations or Mayday parades. We need more occasions where different precarians can join together.
It is exactly the multitude of subjects that pressures institutions to confront the expressed demands politically, not only as technical problems which would be "solved" by forming working groups and writing a couple of memos. Precarisation does not only concern youth, it concerns the whole society. One expression of this is the fact that after the publicity aroused by EuroMayDay we have been contacted by a lot of older people.

After EuroMayDay some have started talking about the return of class struggle. However, class as a political subject can only be born through common struggle. Therefore what is required now is the ability to form alliances and the "movement of new labour" can be born from the multitude of these alliances.

The police and the mainstream media have been trying to paint a picture of centralised organisation. There exists no such a thing and we have no desire for such. Instead we want to encourage people to create networks around different autonomous projects.

We think it is essential to continue the debate on — and the fight for basic income as well. One example of forthcoming activities can be participatory precarity research which aims not only to collect information but also to deepen political interaction among different precarians and to develop new researchers. We also need new kind of labour unionism as a counter-force for the despotic rule of capital.

In the struggle for new social rights, it is of utmost importance to build co-operation with migrants and subjects working with migrants. The controlling of migrants — through arbitrary policies of residence permits and detention centres — is part of a wider process which aims to produce submissive service class. At the same time migrants with their mobility and their active struggles are forming a real challenge for the processes that increase precarity and inequality.

The representational system in the nation-state level has proved itself to be unable to answer the needs of mobile and flexible workforce. Political parties and state supported NGO's are too afraid to open up social contradictions and are unable to make new political openings.

What is needed is a social movement which is able to create ruptures to the hegemony of neoliberal politics and to force the capitalists to dig into their pockets.