28 09 06

Precarity. New Wikipedia Entry

s. also the multingual eipcp-webjournal on "precariat"

Precarity has been adopted in leftist circles as the English-language
equivalent of Precariedad, Précarité, Precarietà, terms of everyday usage
in Latin countries that refer to the widespread condition
of temporary, flexible, contingent, casual, intermittent work in
postindustrial societies, brought about by the neoliberal labor market
reforms that have strengthtened the right to manage and the bargaining
power of big and small employers since the 1980s.

Precarity is a general term to describe the fact that large parts
of the population are being subject to flexible exploitation or
flexploitation (low and insecure pay, high blackmailability,
intermittent income etc), and existential precariousness (high risk of
social exclusion because of low wages, welfare cuts, high cost of living
etc). This condition of precarity is said to affect all of
service labor in a narrow sense, and the whole of society in a wider
sense, but particulary youth, women, immigrants.

While contingent labor has been a constant of capitalist societies since
the industrial revolution, it is argued that the flexible
labor force has now moved from the peripheral position it had under
Fordism to a core position in the process of capitalist accumulation under
Post-Fordism, which is thought to be increasingly based on the casualized
efforts of affective, creative, immaterial labor. There is scattered
empirical evidence in support of this thesis, such as the growing share of
non-standard employment on the overall labor force, particularly on new
hires (for example, in Western Europe, between a quarter and a third of
the labor forces now works under temporary and/or part-time contracts,
with peaks in UK, Holland, Spain, and

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, nurses etc.) under
constrictive but standardized employment norms which leave them
fragmented vis-a-vis employers' power; and young talent temping for cheap
in the information economy of big cities around the world: the creative
class of strongly individualistic workers illlustrated by managerial

It also remains to be seeen whether the insider/outsider division that
economists observe in European labor markets means that the young,
precarious, non-voting, and non-owning outsiders have fundamentally
conflicting aims with respect to older insiders who tend to work
full-time, long-term contracts and/or enjoy relatively high pension
benefits and who command a disproportionate weight in European public
opinion and political debate.

Precarity and the Antiglobalization Movement

Around year 2000, the word started being used in its English usage by the
antiglobalization movement (Marches Européennes contre le
chômage la précarité et les exclusions; European Marches against
uneployment, precarity and social exclusion), and also in EU official
reports on social welfare. But it was in the strikes of young
part-timers at McDonald's and Pizza Hut in the winter of 2000, the first
political union network emerged in Europe explicitly devoted to fighting
precarity: Stop Précarité, with links to AC!, CGT, SUD, CNT, trotzkyites
and other elements of the French radical left.

In 2001 Italian antiglobalization collectives and networks, as
they were preparing for the Genoa countersummit just months away,
inaugurated in Milan a new kind of first of may, MAYDAY, spelling it like
the international call for rescue, and explicitly centering it on the
street representation of the so-called "precarious generation". It
employed carnival-like techniques of agitation (allegorical wagons, media
subvertising, colorful actions etc.) in imitation of gay prides and love
parades of the 1990s. Italian activists meant it as a revival of the
wobbly traditions of May Day, and consequently as a break with traditional
union representation and social-democratic compromise that had allowed
precarity and social insecurity to spread unchecked to reach critical
levels in all of Europe, thus repeating the experience of UK and US
economies with a few years' lag.

By 2003, the event had grown exponentially in size, and Catalan
antiglobalization activists participated as non-neutral observers. In
2004, Barcelona joined Milan's mayday efforts, as delegations
of French Intermittents participated as guests of honor in both
mayday parades. That year also saw the launch of the icon of San
Precario, patron saint of the struggle against precarity. The icon proved
very popular in Italy and abroad, and would colonize the
mainstream mediascape in the following years. By virtue of all these
developments, mayday 004 drew 80,000 young protesters from all over Italy,
and the rest of Europe took notice.

Precarity and Euromayday

In October 2004, libertarian and syndicalist collectives from all over
Europe gathered at Middlesex University at "Beyond ESF" (a critical
reference to the European Social Forum that was being held elsewhere in
London) in order to give life to a unified European May Day of
precarious and migrant workers: EUROMAYDAY, which involved a dozen of
European cities in 2005, and about twenty in 2006, with Milan, Paris,
Helsinki, Hamburg, and Sevilla being among the most lively nodes. In 2006,
the mayday process was launched in Brussels on Good Friday with few
hundreds activists from Belgium, France, Italy, Germany protesting against
pro-business lobbies in the European Quarter: "no borders, no precarity:
fuck the new inequality!".

The euromayday network has gathered several times across the EU
to discuss in its assemblies common actions against precarity and
mobilizations against the persecution of immigrants, and particularly the
segregation of undocumented migrants in detention centers all over Europe.
Euromayday demands the full adoption of the EU directive on temporary
workers being blocked by the Barroso Commission, as well as a European
minimum wage and basic income. Cyber and queer rights are also part of the
euromayday deliberations and activities.

Rebelling against precarity in France, Denmark, and the US

A core constituency of mayday has been the movement of Intermittents, the
French expression to refer to stage hands and showbiz personnel. In
2002-2005, the Intermittents captured the French imagination and filled
the press with their inventive rebellious tactics (e.g. they famously
disrupted live TV news programs and the 2004 edition of the Cannes
festival) denouncing precarity in the form of cuts to their unemployment
benefits (they counterproposed an alternative reform of the system which
was so well crafted that managed to put French élites and union leaders in
an awkward position)

In the early months of 2006, French youth rejected the CPE, the
first-job contratct introduced by the government who made it easier to
fire workers under 26. Clashes with the riot police, as it reclaimed
Sorbonne from occupying students was the signal that something major was
happening, as the university had been the epicenter of social
insurgence in 1968. Four decades later, France was again paralyzed by huge
student demonstrations and solidarity strikes of the French major unions,
as well as the more militant unions and organizations. With the vast
majority of French universities occupied for more than a month, and the
whole nation on strike, the Villepin government was forced to withdraw the
provision, in a test of force with democracy in the streets that weakend
the presidency itself. Le Monde commented that "précarité" was going to be
a central issue in the upcoming 2007 presidential elections.

Few months before, France had been rocked by generalized rioting of the
French youth of Arab and African descent in its suburban ghettos
(banlieues) to express angst at racial and economic discrimination from
the rest of French society. Although aspects of the same national malaise
and social anguish, banlieue rioters and student protesters did not really
share tacticts and demands. The French explosion of 2006 against precarity
was followed a few months later by a lengthy general strike in Denmark to
protest against welfare cuts especially discriminatory with respect to
young people. All universities were occupied, and the right-wing
government was forced to withdraw the provisions that had to do with
student subsidies and other welfare benefits for young people, although it
retained pension cuts for older employees.

In a different context, May Day 2006 was also a historic day of
protest for U.S. immigrants, mostly of Latin-American origin, who
mobilized in all American big cities to protest against a punitive
anti-immigration bill being discussed in Congress. Hundreds of
thousands of people from San Francisco to Chicago celebrated the
first of may by taking the streets against increased repression of
undocument immigration by the Bush administration. Grassroots and
community organizing, helped and funded by the progressive wing
of North-American unionism -- which had already been behind the
successful Justice for Janitors campaign, narrated by Ken Loach in Bread
and Roses, that has organized many legal and illegal immigrants in Los
Angeles -- were crucial for the media impact and social
magnitude of the demonstrations.

See also

* Defunct First Employment Contract (CPE)
* New Employment Contract (CNE)


External links


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