marcelo on Tue, 7 Feb 2006 12:19:43 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> interview with chainworkers (english)

hi - an interview we just translated into english - with italian
chainworkers - on (social) precarity, innovative direct action,
bio-unionism, mayday, and so on... - next 17-19 april there is an european
meeting for the euromayday network, in milan -

just to give you a glimpse on what's going on at this side on political
imagination+creativity :)


>From labor precarity to social precarity [1]

Chainworkers interviewed by María Cecilia Fernández

The workers' movement of the nineteenth century was organized around the factory
by means of the union, but, at the same time, it created ?societies of
resistence,? spaces of social gathering and mutual support. Capitalist production
was understood not only as an economic problem but as a social problem as well.
The struggle against capitalism signified a struggle against mercantile forms of
life, beyond unionization and worker's rights.

Presently, the capitalist process of producing surplus value has incorporated as a
force of labor the cognitive, comunicative, and affective capacities of human
beings. One of the most dynamic dimensions of social production is a type of
inmaterial work force. Computer technicians, web designers, workers in
advertising, artists and publicists are part of the present social composition of
labor. In post-Fordist production, the new forms of labor have raised the question
of which forms of social organization will confront the situation of flexibility,
mobility and labor precarity, as well as the forms of life of capitalist social

In Italy, the Milan collective Chainworkers has been working with the issues of
social and labor-related precarity for a number of years. Chainworkers? early
efforts were, on the one hand, aimed at the employees of commercial chains and
signified an attempt to address that emblem of precarity of the 1990s, the
McDonald?s style employee, who, without rights or union representation, is unable
to perceive themselves as a worker in the classical sense. On the other hand, the
collective experimented with innovative strategies of communication with the
objective not only of making available information concerning labor rights in the
situation of precarity, but also of creating means for uniting and social struggle
beyond unionization. In order to give visibility to the new figures of precarity
in Europe, Chainworkers organized MayDay (First of May) in 2001 as a carnivalesque
festival in the streets of Milan.

María Cecilia Fernández (MCF): What analysis have you made after your first round
of activity?

Frenchi (F): In the beginning, at the core of the movement the entire question of
labor was expressed with rhetorics that denoted powerlessness but not the ability
to intervene (?Stop the Precariat,? etc.). In our case, one of our inicial
characteristics was a hatred for chain businesses not as places of consumption,
but as institutions. But we were very innocent because we thought that the
neo-slave conditions of workers in commerical chains would be a condition
?non-imitatible? and that large zones of marginality understood as a certain
reproduction of the Fordist market were being created. But we were mistaken: the
entire world of labor was moving towards this neo-slave condition. Precarity, as a
concept, appeared in 2002, as part of the realization that this was not a new
subproletariat that was being born nor just a labor mechanism that was being
deployed but a new, more complex social relation between life and work.

MCF: How do you define, then, social precarity?

F: It is a mechanism of control, a division of labor, the partitioning of human
resources, and a selection that generates profits and surplus value for
businesses, that mutates and modifies its own structure. This movement from labor
precarity to social precarity calls into question our ability to intervene and, as
well, questions attempts at revindication that count on a strong historical
tradition. For example, the Italian Autonomia movement of the 1970s, with its
refusal of work and its reappropriation of time, or the right to a decent life
preserved by a series of civil and social rights won over the course of history.

MCF: For Chainworkers what does creating community mean?

F: To create conscious relations of solidarity with strong ties, the capacity for
communication between all the subjects in the community. The potential to generate
an autonomous production that is cooperative, horizontal even assuming the
division of competences, strongly tied to the undeniable potential that one can
see in others. A community of individuals in solidarity, of friends, but above all
a community in the moment that it manages to produce and cooperate and to have

MCF: Which are this community?s different planes of intervencion?

F: There are many. First off is collective self-formation. To be in a community is
to be in a situation that already supports you. Then, there is a social element,
an element of community, an element of communication, an element of play, and, as
well, an element of autoredito [ED: the generation of income out of self-regulated
jobs and other activities]. All this includes various factors: community,
socialization, education, political intervention, closer relations with some
groups...that is to say, a strong consciousnes of the territory and the mechanisms
that regulate this territory. This is the community that we are creating.

MCF: In your experience how has this idea of the production of community taken
shape and what does the concept of ?autoredito? signify in your practice?

Bombo: I began my professional education in a social center, Deposito Bulk, in
Milan. There I recieved something that neither a university nor a job could have
given me. Following the do it yourself philosophy of the social centers, I did my
professional training, which I presently apply to my work. The discourse of free
software and the idea of sharing knowledge allowed me not only to affirm a
cultural demand, but also to continue working in the information technology sector
with the objective of not just producing and earning more, but of working in a
manner alternative to that of the commercial world of information technology.

Much later, we began to think of the Centro Sociale La Pergola as a possible place
to begin constructing the necessary infrastructure for our project, as well for
creating spaces of intervention in the city?from tools and telematic space to an
accomodation space that was extremely affordable compared with what Milan had to
offer and from here was born the self-managed hostel. Opening a hostel involved us
in a project that on a volunteer basis wasn?t going to work and so we solved this
by creating jobs that didn?t follow the traditional rules as we considered them a
type of social service.

MCF: Chainworkers began in 2001 with the MayDay celebration but by resignifying it
as the day of precarity. What is the objective of this communicative intervencion
and how is it expressed?

F: Some years ago, for our government representatives, speaking of precarity was a
kin to a terroristic activity. MayDay served as a communicative act to develop a
new consciousness. With Saint Precarious, for example, we engaged in subvertising
(a technique of diverting and repropriating the language of advertising to create
meanings that are either different or completely opposite) against a social fabric
that is very catholic. Although we?re really secular, in Italy there is a very
strong ultra-catholic tradition. The saint was taken from this popular culture
into order to insert it in a non-religious situation. And each icon that sits
under the image of Saint Precarious stands for one of the five keys to
non-precarity: we should have access to money, housing, affection and the right to
communication and transport.

MCF: How is the figure of precarity inserted in the discouse of unionism?

F: It doesn?t have one, since precarity is extorsion, blackmail and not easily
understood with the classic trade-syndicate forms. We believe that speaking of the
renovation of the forms of struggle also implies a renovation of the institutions
of struggle, that is, of unionism, the art of unionization, and union-style direct
actions. Currently, we are mapping out the ?sites of Saint Precarious? that are
co-ordinated in a network we call bio-unionism.

The conception of biounionism starts from the following premise: if precarity is
social and invades every aspect of our lives, it is obvious that our collective
action ought to start from each of the sites where our lives take place, both
inside and outside of the workplace. The sites of Saint Precarious will be places
for legal services, self-education, community solidarity and defense. They will be
everything that we can think to create so that our actions of conflict will be
incisive, striking a blow against business and its image. They are an attempt to
organize a defense, a counterattack. In the end, individuals are precarious
because they don?t have access to the information that they need about the
conditions of their own contracts. And, above all, they are isolated in relation
to others in their workplace. We need to break through this isolation, creating

MCF: What do you think of the struggle in the area of workers' rights?

F: We are convienced that the present situation cannot be modified from inside the
political-judicial discourse. The relation of social precarity supercedes the
legal-labor relationship and represents business? direct explotation, force and
power over the lives of everyone. If a change in the labor laws comes about, it
will happen just the same as always: thanks to the ability to create conflict and,
above all, to create potent, strong and intelligent conflict. Of the laws that are
concretized we called them ?amorticized?; we recognize that 200 Euros more or
less a month would change the situation. However, if this money is the reason why
you don?t build a political strategy that goes beyond 200 Euros, then you?ve
fallen into the monetarization of rights. An intelligent political strategy should
pursue an increase in salaries, redistribution, assitance or subsidies, but
without losing sight of the fact that the problem of precarity is when they call
you at midnight in order to tell you ?look, tomorrow you?ve gotta work? when
you?ve already got plans to go to Lugano to visit your family.

[1] This version edited from the interview published in Spanish in the newspapers
Proyecto 19y20 (Buenos Aires, March 2005) and in Diagonal (Madrid, March-April
2005). Chainworkers were key in the beginning of the European movements against
precarity, with communication tools such as their website (inaugurated in 1999), the book Laborare nelle
cattedrali del consumo (DeriveApprodi, Milan, 2001; Spanish version published in
Brumaria nº 3, 2004; and also found at and in the Milan celebration of
MayDay, the Precarious First of May, since 2001 and currently spreading as
EuroMayDay to cities across the European continent (see Translated by Brian Whitener.

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