More stuff to read and write on as I work on this. It struck me that the stakes of a lot of this precarity stuff are organizational. For instance, biosyndicalism. Franco Ingrass talks about it here.

The Precarias mention it in their precarious lexicon:

we define precarity as the set of material and symbolic conditions that determine a vital uncertainty with respect to the sustained access to the essential resources for the full development of the life of a subject

Notwithstanding, in the present context it is not possible to speak of precarity as a differentiated state (and, as such, to distinguish neatly between a precarious population and another guaranteed one), but rather that it is more fitting to detect a tendency to the precarization of life that affects society as a whole as a threat (“… be careful to behave yourself because the situation is tense, don’t push it…”)

In the day to day, precarity is a synonym for some laboral and vital realities that are increasingly destructured: fragmented spaces, hyper intensified and saturated times, the impossibility of undertaking middle- to long-term project, inconsistency of commitments of any kind of indolence and vulnerability of some bodies submitted to the stressful rhythm of the precarious clock. Some bodies debiliated by the inversion of the relation of forces (now on the side of capital), by the difficulties of building bonds of solidarity and mutual aid, by the current obstacles for organizing conflicts in the new geographies of mobilities and the constant mutations where the only constant is change.

Typologies of precarity

Once precarity became a key word for explaining our existence in post modernity and the tensions that traverse it, typologies also began to spring up, that attempted to establish some type of coherence within the galaxy of atypical laboral figures in precarious conditions. One of them, perhaps the most well heard, is that enunciated by the Milanese “chainworkers” (www.chainworkers.org) and, more recently, the Italian pre-cog network – under this perspective, there existed three key figures within the condition of precarity: on one side, the “chainworkers” (or properly precarious), that is to say, all those atypical workers contracted in services and the fordist chains of the commercial public and private tertiary sector, as with flexible material production, who live in conditions of continual blackmail imposed by uncertainty due to the changes in the work contract; on the other side, the “brainworkers” or cognitarios, that is to say, all those that, with low salaries and ever longer work hours, loan their knowledges to the firms of immaterial labor (programming, semiotic production, relational activities, logistics, etc); finally, immigrants, that is, subject to whom the European immigration policies force into totally deregulated frequently illegal and probably informal labor relations, and which constitute, as such, the extreme figure of precarity.

This typology has various problems: in first place, it lacks coherence, because don’t immigrants sometimes work as chainworkers, in the services of public and private cleaning, in the large fast food chains, in the workshops and factories of flexible material production? Can’t we also find them, even if with less frequency, in informatic firms? And later, doesn’t it happen sometimes that those who work in McDonald’s later dedicate their free time to writing music or study? Are the chainworkers or brainworkers? On the other hand, where do we place the telephone operators, frequently immigrants, whose work is repetitive yet has a high relational and communicative content? Are they chainworkers or brainworkers or immigrants or all or none at the same time? Secondly, this classification is totally blind (in the most literal sense of the term) to all those activities that develop, as some feminists have said, “in the corporeal mode”: domestic work, care work, sexual work, relational and attention work… and which insert themselves inside that which we call the communicative continuum sex-attention-care. That is to say, it is blind to a whole set of labors traditionally assigned to women, marked by invisibility and/or stigmatization, low salaries, and a strong affective component that makes these labors central in the creation of social bonds.

In general, in the laboral terrain, more useful typologies attempt to think from the point of view of expressions of unrest and rebellioning the distinct positions. Thus, we can see that, in jobs with a repetitive content (telemarking, cleaning, textile workshops), the subjective implication with the task performed is zero and this leads to forms of conflict of pure refusal: generalized absenteeism, dropout-ism, sabotage… In telemarketing, for example, absenteeism is the number one problem for the departments of human resources, which rack their brains in search of strategies to deal with it: from the relocation to the old colonies of the mother firm (Marruecos and Argentina in the case of Spanish firms) to the contracting of more blackmailed subjects (women heads of household between 40 and 50 years of age) or the attempt to inculcate loyalty among the workforce, changing telemarketing to one of the branches of professional education. On the other hand, in jobs where the content is of the vocational/professional type (from nursing to informatics, to social work to research) and, as such, the subjective implication with the task performed is high, conflict is expressed as critique: of the organization of labor, of the logic that articulates it, of the ends toward which it is structured… This can be seen very clearly in the mobilizations of nurses in France in the 90s, in the present struggles of the intermittents in the media also in France or in the free software impelled by programmers all over the world in the face of the logic of proprietary software of the big corporations. Finally, in those jobs where the content is directly invisibilized and/or stigmatized (the most paradigmatic examples are cleaning work, home care, and sexual work, especially – but not only – street prostitution), conflict manifests as a demand for dignity and the recognition of the social value of what is done. “Fucking, fucking it’s a service to the community” chant the whores of Montera street in their demonstrations against the constant police harrassment and the criminalizing plans of the mayor of the city of Madrid.

However, one and the other typology shares a same problem: the location of the point of view exclusively in the laboral terrain turns our perspective myopic to the micro and macro conflictivities that are given in and against the precarization of existence in the passage between work and non-work, generating short circuits in the intricate system of connections of the network society.

Biosindicalism

Biosindicalism has nothing to do with bifidus. It is an attempt to name a series of recent practical and everyday experiments that are happening in the terrain of precarity, in a provisional, provocative, and extremely pragmatic manner. Biosindicalism is a contraction of life and sindicalism, where life crawls toward that tradition of struggle that has been sindicalism and deprives it of its most corporative and economistic elements. But: why insert into this medium? 1) Because life is productive. We are not among those who say, “Life has been put into production.” It always produced: cooperation, affective territories, worlds… but now it also produces profit. The capitalist axiomatic has subsumed it. 2) Because precarity cannot be understood only from the laboral context, from the concrete conditions of work of this or that individual. A much more rich and illuminating position results from understanding precarity as a generalized tendency toward the precarization of life that affects society as a whole. And 3) because the labor has ceased to be a place that organizes (individual and collective) identity), a place of spontaneous encounter and aggregation and a place that nourishes the utopia of a better world. The reasons? The failure of the worker movement and the process of capitalist restructuration that accompanied it, as much as the push of the desire of singularity (of the feminist movement, the black movement, the anticolonial movements and other movements linked to the spirit of ‘68) that made the worker movement stall from the inside.

But, look, this does not mean that the laboral can no longer be a place (among others) of conflict, nor that the teachings of the worker movement cannot be useful. It means only that the battle inside and against precarization cannot be restricted to the laboral. It means that it is necessary to invent forms of alliance, of organization, and everyday struggle in the passage between labor and non-labor, which is the passage that we inhabit.

Precarious Instinct

Faculty of staying on a tightrope.

Inclination toward creative survival.

Illuminating heard of the uncertain avenues of precarity.

Happy intuition, transformative of the times of non-work into

Transitory eternities for putting into practice new forms of relation.

Cyborg nature that cooperates for the very pleasure of cooperating.

Sense of smell that seeks common names for our fragmented realities.

Pushes toward multiplicities.

Intelligence of strong alliances.

Resort to exodus.

Propensity to create networks generative of community.

Impulse for liberation from alienated labor.

Reflection of cross border voyage, across the geographies of earth, minds, and bodies.

See also these excerpts from Alex Foti’s lexicon:

Precarity [Précarité/Precariedad/Prekärität/Precarietà]. Derived from the latin verb precor, precarity literally means being forced to beg and pray to keep one’s job. This neologism is a better translation than the synonym ‘precariousness’ for the social state of work and being in the age of high (and mortiferous) neoliberalism.

Précaire: somebody performing flexible, and taylorized, service work – that is, she/he works for an hourly wage in large spaces physically proximate to other workers performing similar functions (but not necessarily having the same contracts, leaving extra room for the discriminatory and arbitrary practices of employers). Précaires work under the constant monitoring and supervision of management, in shifts and durations subject to change and stretch with little or no notice. Although information skills are essential for the job, it is relational skills that provide the most value to the company. Précaires are interchangeable by firms and possess low individual market power. But if organized into unions, syndicates or other social collectives, précaires possess tremendous bargaining power since they are situated in crucial and vulnerable intersections of social [re]production – such as product and service handling in consumption, distribution and transportation. To refer to the millions of uniformed and/or spied upon employees in chain stores, malls, supermarkets, warehouses, transportation hubs and call centers, we Milanese have coined the term ChainWorker – from which the webzine founded in 2000 derives its name (www.chainworkers.org). ChainWorkers are the unhappy successors of those working on the assembly chain and, earlier still, those chain-ganged into slavery, forced labor and indentured servitude.

Flex Workers: a good contemporary-English equivalent to the everyday-Italian precari or every-day Spanish precarios. Flex Worker is an expression that one finds in the daily press to loosely describe to the social reality of millions of service and information workers working under non-standard daily, weekly and monthly schedules, without secure tenure or social benefits. The call “Flex Workers of Europe Let’s Unite! There’s a World of Rights to Fight For” was used to open the declaration for EuroMayDay 2004.

The Greenpepper interview with Foti is also worth reading in its entirety.

This is also worth comparing with Virno’s “Immaterial Workers of the World.”

Also review and skim the following:

http://precariousunderstanding.blogsome.com/2006/08/03/resistance-and-organization-in-postfordism/

http://precariousunderstanding.blogsome.com/2006/08/03/the-battles-of-the-french-intermittents/

http://precariousunderstanding.blogsome.com/2006/08/03/anti-precariousness-activism-and-mayday-parades/

http://precariousunderstanding.blogsome.com/2006/08/03/mayday-mayday-euro-flex-workers-time-to-get-a-move-on/

http://precariousunderstanding.blogsome.com/2006/07/28/an-antibushist-future-for-europe-demoradical-vs-demoliberal-regulation/

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