25 05 07

The Sevilla Meeting on Welfare-state Crisis, Precarity and New Social Rights

Maribel Casas-Cortés and Sebastian Cobarrubias

See background information and complete programm at:


This three-day long political meeting, The crisis of the welfare-state, precarity and new social rights, took place in an old building in downtown Sevilla occupied by aged neighbors and several community organizations. This emblematic place –Centro Vecinal El Pumarejo– is also the headquarters of one of the main organizers of the meeting: the Office of Social Rights of Sevilla. This group, as well as other ODSs [1] (from Malaga, Barcelona, Madrid and Terrasa), and groups such as Laboratorio de Nuevas Maquinas Políticas, Universidad Nómada and Precari@s en Movimiento, organized a series of workshops and assemblies bringing local and international speakers from a variety of groups working on precarity. These groups share in common a broader understanding of precarity as a process that affect diverse aspects of life beyond remunerated labor, using terms such as “social precarity” or “precarization of life”. As the definition reads in the meeting dossier:

“Precarity means scarcity, insecurity, weakness and intermittency of the following: salary, rights, projects, confidence in one’s own milieu, health, and life expectations” (Presentation of the encounter).

Inspired by the political potential of a concept of precarity that goes beyond the labor conditions in the workspace, the encounter aimed to investigate the transition from the welfare state to a “workfare state”, based on increasingly precarious living conditions. The encounter was set in Sevilla in mid-April in order to aid in building momentum for the EuroMayDay process [2] in the region: MayDaySur [3], as well as to exchange some of the experiences and thinking around struggles within/against precarity in order to strength alliances and common strategies. The goal was to explore and articulate what new social rights might be appropriate for the current conjuncture. Among the experiences shared, two main proposals became the focus of the rethinking of social rights, constituting the bulk of the meeting: a rethought version of Renta Básica (Basic Income) and Derechos de ‘Cuidadanía’ (Rights of ‘Caretizenship’).

In regards to the first one, the fight for basic income has a long history, with diverse manifestations according to place and specific time of the struggle. The best known version is one based on monetary retribution, this being universal, individual and unconditional. Since everybody –not only those in salaried positions– participates in one way or in another to the process of capital formation, everybody should get at least a piece of the pie: the sum would be estimated according to the minimum wage at the time.  However, the version discussed in this encounter went beyond money. Based on certain analyses of the current state of capitalism, especially those coming from neo-Marxist and Feminist readings, we are passing through a transitional époque. According to authors such as Antonella Corsani and Maurizio Lazzarato, the relationship has gone from capital/labor to capital/life. The tendency towards a kind of labor that include many characteristics traditionally associated with women’s work –such as flexibilization, vulnerability, availability, adaptability, improvisation, or multiple tasks– is blurring the clear lines between work and non-work. Spaces of reproduction as well as relational and cognitive activities –spheres of life in general– became sites of economic production strictly speaking[4]. Given this context, the demand for a “basic income” can not be exclusively in monetary terms, rather it would include a series of infrastructures, services and resources such as: housing, transport, access to knowledge, etc.

Despite the nuances among the different versions presented in the encounter, all of them pointed towards this common denominator: renta básica as a mechanism for valorizing those activities that despite being constantly producing, are nevertheless invisibilized, unrecognized and difficult to measure: affect, knowledge, relations, care, etc… The struggle for renta básica in these terms, would be the equivalent to the struggle for a salary by the mass-worker/factory worker. Given the new stage of capitalism, we need new rights. If the production of capital is distributed among more actors and various spheres, if economic activity has become more collectivized and more diffuse, then resources should be distributed further as well, and not based on individual property or an individual’s amount of work. Renta básica then becomes a tool for the recognition and retribution of those cooperative and relational activities that are currently off the radar. This retribution should be unconditional, and not based on quantifiable merit, because we are constantly productive, within and without our workspace. This version of renta básica would be an income not directly connected to productivity. According to the Italian participants, renta básica becomes a measure to deal with the question of increasing precarious living conditions brought about by “cognitive capitalism”.

In relation to the second main point of the meeting, the workshop on “Practices and Rights of Caretizenship” took place in the afternoon, again in the typical Andalucian patio of that mythical occupied building. The four participants at the table also spoke about the changing relationship between life/work, but this time departing not from a labor-centered approach but rather, from a care-centered vision of the same phenomenon. The analysis presented by a member of Agencia de Asuntos Precarios and by a representative of the Sevilla-based feminist collective Lilith, focused on the increasingly popular notion of “care crisis”. What feminist social movements mean by care are those material and immaterial tasks that provide security and comfort to third ones –such as cleaning, cooking, nursing, rearing, smiling, reassuring, etc. – which are those necessary activities to sustain life itself[5]. Despite its centrality in producing and maintaining life, contributing greatly to economic growth and socio-political development, all that production[6] generated within the sphere of care has been undervalued and made invisible. Historically this invisible, non-recognized and unpaid position has been assigned to women, and it is still the case nowadays where 85% of those who ‘take care of care’ are women. However, some of the recent socio-economic transformations (e.g. womens’ access to labor markets, migratory movements, flexibilization, etc.) not only strengthen the fragility and exploitation of that sector of the population traditionally ascribed to care issues (women). Rather, these transformations are also generalizing the problems of care to the rest of the population, exponentially multiplying the question of care. Care tasks end up -more clearly than ever- affecting everybody everywhere: since we are all cuidador@s o cuidad@s (we all take care of somebody or we are being taken care of), we all have to deal with the emerging challenges of an increasing void of care-givers that have to be filled with different roles and actors. The situation is exploding because of many deficiencies: such as the lack of an explicit policy about care-givers, of infrastructures and services, as well as of cultural recognition and monetary remuneration to that critical activity.

The deepening and expansion of the ‘care-giver’ as a singularity –until now, generally embodied by women– is opening contradictions and challenges referred to as the “care-crisis”. This crisis forces a necessary redefinition of the roles of care-givers/care-takers, opening questions such as: who is going to take care of those that need care –children, elders, people with functional diversity, etc.? What kind of infrastructures, services, recognition and new family structures would resolve the current situation of care-crisis?

This crisis brings along both challenges but also promising opportunities. If this crisis is understood as something not limited to the domestic sphere but rather, is seen as a social question, then it is possible to realize its transformative potential. The logic of care, understood from a feminist standpoint open to multiple alliances, would contest the logic of profit. Care, as the set of activities that manage to sustain life, would generate a certain sense of commonality among diverse situations and different populations. It could help to amplify mobilization processes. An example mentioned during the panel was the case of the celebration of international women’s day in Madrid on March 8th of the year 2007. The main action was product of a series of previous work sessions and workshops addressing the issue of care from different experiences: from domestic immigrant workers to domestic violence to sexual diversity. Care became the transversal theme, visible among the different sectors of the lively demonstration marching down Atocha Avenue.

From a feminist standpoint, the notion of care helps to redefine the political understanding of citizenship and rights. These two are considered as somehow biased notions. Even if citizenship was historically necessary to acquire certain improvements, according to a feminist analysis, they are placed in the side of “public/autonomous individual/profit” of the gender division.  It is based in the logic of “asking for something from the state”. Thus, the question of renta básica/basic income was presented as problematic in that regards, if it limited itself to a demand such as asking for monetary recognition from a public institution. The logic of care would go beyond that. It would think of rights as the necessary redistribution of care-tasks, pushing toward redefined infrastructures and roles. This is what they refer to as cuidadanía[7].

This point generated a large debate among all the participants, given that the discourse of renta básica was immersed in a conventional understanding of rights and citizenship. The debate was quite productive trying to reconcile both proposals, which until then seemed quite distant from one another, each one mutually ignoring the other. Despite that apparent distance, there were things in common between the roundtable on renta básica and cuidados , although departing from different premises and a rather gendered embodiment of the presentations: the first workshop given mainly by men and the second by women.

Besides these two key seminars during the encounter there were two assemblies that framed the gathering: one, an Andalucian & Spanish state wide encounter; the other a European assembly. The first assembly included brief presentations by a series of groups such as the Immigrants’ Coordination from Malaga, the Office of Social Rights from the Seco Social Center in Madrid, and the Sindicato Unitario, each describing their own process and struggle from and against precarity.  The European assembly, while it did not have participants from many countries or regions (besides the Spanish state, there were quite a few people from Italy, and one each from London and Holland) raised several interesting points relevant to precarious struggles. On the one hand there was some debate about a ‘crisis of the EuroMayDay’ process. While new cities were beginning to experiment with the action/process many had abandoned it and in Italy, where it had emerged, a schism has emerged. While for some this demonstrated that EuroMayDay was a tired process, others concluded that there is a crisis precisely because the process was successful.  If the goal of EuroMayDay was to visibilize new forms of labor & life and problematize them, then this has to a degree been achieved. Precarity is on the political agenda (one way or another) in many European countries. Additionally, struggles around precarious issues are spreading far beyond a particular date in May (mention was made of the CPE revolt in France, a series of strikes in Denmark, the student mobilizations in Greece), thus the process may have served its purpose. Another point brought up was that of avoiding turning “precarious” into and exclusive identity (as in “we the precarious”). There has been an incredible amount of graphic and symbolic production by groups working on precarity issues (especially those involved in EuroMayDay) and this was done expressly to attract a crowd of people alienated form other types of politics and organizing.  At the same time though, an excessive use of the word ‘precarity’ (as noun, as adjective, as type of subject, etc.) accompanied by a very particular style of techy/flashy design aesthetic maybe creating a too much of a niche population to which the discourse of precarity speaks, instead of generalizing the sites of struggle which might articulate to questions around precarity. 


Before finishing this report back/correspondence on the meeting, let’s leave the contents to briefly mention some of the achieved goals of this encounter. The event itself provided a great opportunity to network and form alliances among parallel initiatives within the Spanish state and beyond (mainly Italian initiatives), trying to consolidate a more solid articulation among those. As mentioned earlier, the organizing goal of the encounter was to rev up minds and bodies to strengthen the previous work on issues on precarity in the region.  In particular, the aim here was to support the organizing efforts towards the MayDaySur-EuroMayDay process that brings together groups and networks within Andalucia, and that this year took place in Málaga. However, the goal of the meeting in this regards was far from being accomplished. There was a rather low attendance rate of folks from Sevilla. And though the meeting took place in some of the most interesting political spots in the city (such as the Neighbors’ Center El Pumarejo, or meals in a squatted lot called Huerto del Rey Moro) there was often quite a bit of disconnection between the talks of the encounter, the visitors and Sevilla’s reality.

Despite its internally criticized limitations, the organizing effort was worthwhile. After reviewing some of the theoretical contributions circulating among movements and presented in the meeting, it is evident that social movements are more than just “anti” and are generating a series of political proposals backed up by theoretically elaborated analysis and innovative concepts. This gathering in particular put two avenues of struggle (renta básica and cuidados) into intense conversation, to highlight differences and search for possible commonalities. Let’s put it in the organizers’ own words: “we want to contribute to the passage from a state of denouncing to a phase of research and action” [our italics].

[1] ODS in its Spanish acronym.


[2] The actions during May 1st that since 2001 are reclaiming international workers day as the day of precarity in different European metropolis


[4] Antonella Corsani and Maurizio Lazzarato “Renta garantizada como proceso constituyente”, paper forming part of the dossier distributed at the encounter (a copy can be viewed at

[5] This explanation of the notion of care crisis is based both on the presentation at the Sevilla encounter as well as on the Manifiesto del 8 de Marzo discussed, consented upon and distributed by different collectives of the Madrid feminist movement. It is important to mention that it is our own reading of those contents.

[6] Care then is part of production and not just reproduction. This division is based on Marxist economics that puts production as the main activity, and reproduction as the supporting device for the first one. This notion is based on the patriarchal division of public/private. Feminist versions emphasize the centrality of the reproductive realm, which is understood as the one that is producing life itself, and economically speaking generates 2/3 of total social production (member of Lilith collective during the panel discussion).

[7] The term cuidadania was born out of a grammatical error that by coincidence was written in the inaugural sign that is still present at the doors of the El Pumarejo Center. Some Sevilla-based feminist groups started to expropriate this happy grammar episode in order to rethink the connections between care and rights.


Maribel Casas-Cortés


Sebastian Cobarrubias


other languages

The Sevilla Meeting on Welfare-state Crisis, Precarity and New Social Rights “Crisis del Estado de Bienestar, Precariedad y Nuevos Derechos Sociales”