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(en) PGA*-inspired newsletter, #3 - Call for a working group to write a political reader on precarity (for the next PGA conference)

Date Thu, 13 Dec 2007 10:03:26 +0200

Our intention is to drop in questions, and generate a debate, rather than a
clear opinion about what is precarity and why are we using this expression. Can
precarity be a unification of different kind of workers that are so far away on
the social ladder from each other by mainstream measures? (Quality of living
measured by income, goods, etc.) Btw., should precarity be a unification at all?
----- Manuel Castells says, in The Rise of Network Society, that flexible work
is spreading in two big categories: among the unskilled workers, and among
highly educated people. Immigrants, women, children, handicapped people,
ethnics, and the intellectuals: painters, writers, musicians, translators,
engineers, managers, also bureaucrats, like auditors, lawyers, economists etc.
The distance between these two big groups is getting bigger, and mobility is
becoming almost impossible (of course on the way up: the way down is always
easier). The distance manifests itself not just in the (irregular) income, but
also in what is expected from the pink collar or the creative worker in their
consumption, lifestyle etc.

Quotation from the wikipedia the free encyclopedia
"More problematic is the fact that precarity seems to conflate two categories of
workers that are at opposite ends of labor market segmentation in postindustrial
economies: pink collars working in retail and low-end services (cleaners,
janitors, etc.) under constrictive but standardized employment norms; and young
talent temping for cheap in the information economy of big cities around the
world: the creative class of strongly individualistic workers illustrated by
managerial literature."
It is questionable, if precarity conflates these two groups, or we are
conflating them. And also, it's not clear if they are combined or confused. And
even if precarity is a good tool to describe postindustrial work conditions, are
the pink collars and the creative class combined in it by themselves or are we
doing it for them? If we, as activists, mostly students and young intellectuals,
living a life that feels precarious, invent an expression and a method for this
feeling, and try to include other classes, will other intellectuals ­ forced
into eventual orders, temp jobs, outsourced ­ feel or think they are almost in
the same position as the person that cleans their flat or cooks them the fast
food on the ground floor of the business center they are working in ­ because
they don't have any free time for such thing, because they are working 12-15
hours a day, 6-7 days a week, and even if they can drink a beer, they drink it
as a job,
with the boss, the partners etc. So, getting back to the main question:
recognizing that the absolute income is maybe bigger, but the expected volume of
consumption is so much higher, their quality of life is not that different, as
it seems at first sight. Is it like that? Are they realizing it? And then are
they changing their everyday habits? Including the way they behave with the pink
collars around them, and bosses, partners etc. who maybe also precarious.

Can you really believe that you have the same quality of life, if you're living
in a huge loft in the center, wearing expensive suits everyday and doing only
expensive sports, or if you're living in the outskirts, in an area that is
becoming and immigrant ghetto, and you share a two-room flat with 8 other
people, including children who are also working, but even if not, they don't
have the chance to think about any kind of school, especially not high school or

Maybe it's not the quality of life, but the security, or insecurity. But then:
doesn't the quality - even if it is so temporary and unstable ­ make a
significant difference?
And from the side of the pink collar cleaning woman, maybe somewhere from the
Third World, can she really believe, that they are in the same position?
Wouldn't she choose the intellectual's precarious life, working 15 hours, 6-7
days just as before, but for a much higher income, and with a much higher level
of consumption, though obligatory. If she could be in his position, maybe after
a few weeks, half year, she would realize the similarities. Maybe, maybe not:
but it doesn't really matter, how things would be theoretically, when reality
shouts in that it is not possible, it is so much unlikely (especially when
you're not a citizen of the country you're trying to get along) to take a step
upstairs in social mobility. And it is not just because of the fact that classes
are closing up, maybe more than other times, maybe just as before, but: the step
is getting bigger, and the group that is in between is disappearing. (Not
only the middle class, but the small-bourgeois too, if there was such a thing ever.)
The fact, that students are so into this topic, makes the precarity movement
more comprehensible. I mean as a university student, lot of us work in unskilled
jobs, temp student work, though we are heading into the highly educated
(creative) class ­ that is enlarged and devalued by mass education, and closed
up by neoliberal reforms such as school fees for everyone. So we have the
experience of both sides, maybe. But in the same time we have another kind of
perspective, because of the opportunity to get out of one precarious state to
another one. And this, the 'other one' is very much connected to the growing
proportion of graduated people in (post)modern societies, and the effect of
this: the growth of unemployment among professionals. This means that on the one
hand it is told that education is a tool for mobility or at least the
preservation of the class position (regarding the second- or more generation
intellectuals). On the other hand it is not even enough for that, and there
comes the ghost of unemployment, after studying for so many years to become an
unemployed professional.

So there are different social groups included in the pile of precarious people,
and on the other hand those who work on this topic either focus (and so
specialize) on one or some of them, either try to deal with precarity itself,
that is complex. The movement that wants to take part in organizing a network of
so much different social struggles that are still similar in that they fight
against/about precarity, has to deal with the problem that people in different
social position won't consider each other that similar, even if they have common
problems paralelly.

Even if they fight against these problems, they were socialized differently,
hence they have different strategies (that could be combined). The question is,
if there is a network, and the people involved in it really feel what they have
in common, is it loose enough to let them act differently, but strong enough not
to fall apart, when the authorities offer something better for some social
groups (probably the educated ones, or the ones that were more organized and
negotiated...) and let others on the ground?

Texts to include: Some from the Precarious reader from metamute.org and the new
greenpepper issue, something about euromayday, about the multitude,
question-mark statement ­ proposal for a kind of methodology: agitation only by
asking, not by telling the people what they should think, even without making it
clear what we think.


* An antiauthoritarian anticapitalist international direct action network
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