Chainworkers in the Sevilla meeting

This post focuses on issues not covered in the larger report back about Sevilla meeting on “Precarizacion, Crisis del Estado de Bienestar y Nuevos Derechos Sociales”.

It includes conversations with two members of Chainworkers and m+s reflections on “organizing the creative class”

1st conversation with Alex Foti

new initiatives in Europe such as the Radical Europe network- which is supposed to include various fronts of activity at the Europe wide level such as: legal resources, a ‘precarious syndicate’, and a “think-tankâ€Â. For the think tank the idea is to claim a territory for the thirty-something intellectuals not just the old ones from always (the Ramonets, Negris, etc.).

There is supposed to be the emergence of a sort of European Summer university for social movements in Vienna- need to find out more-

Reflection Note (RN): Interesting here the idea of “think-tanksâ€Â and alternative universities, as well as the Euro wide level- this question of thinking at the Euro level has come up quite a few times over the past month and there is quite some debate about how to do it-whether to do it, etc.

2nd conversation with Alex and Zoe:

Walking through a beautiful park in Seville after garlic with bread for breakfast. We learned about some of the political scene in Italy: Strength of Centri Sociali in Padua, divergences between PGA network and some strands of Autonomia in Italy (a sort of commie vs. anarcho thing happening);

The beginnings of chainworkers- Zoe and Alex after visiting the US in ’99 (Alex had lived in NYC several years) got quite inspired by things like examples of Mc’D-s workers in Canada trying to unionize, No Logo- they were reading stuff on the plane and decided to try and start a new brand of grassroots funky unionism relevant to a new young workforce with very different values, alienated from older unions, and having grown up in the midst of hyper-consumerist branded society.

They helped to kick off the EuroMayDay process with the first protests in Milan- around 2001/2 or so

We discussed whether or not precarity was a relevant category anymore- i.e. the language that has emerged is that of “miseria precariaâ€Â- does this speak to folks that are considered the ‘creative class’ living it up in the new europe even if precariously? Do we need new languages-memes? Zoe stressed the usefulness of precarity in labor struggles in Milan and how it resonates with many people coming to into struggles and meeting chainworkers for the first time.

The theme of “whither precarity’ came up quite a few times during the encounter and has been mentioned elsewhere.

Special note:

The Radicalization of the Creative Class:

One interesting thing that come up was the idea of Radicalizing the “creative classâ€Â and using precisely the Floridian language to do so. Foti from chainworkers stressed this as a new possible vein for movements in Euro/the North to pursue.

RN: Something we noticed here was that discussions around new forms of capitalism- cognitive cap, production of language as productive activity, production of surplus value through production of human relations etc., stimuli of creativity, etc- in Europe seem to be done primarily form a critical angle- with lots of theoretical work, and activist work around this (work by folks such as Lazzarato, Corsani, Negri, Virno, Bifo, …). It seems in N.America where one finds the majority of these discussions circulating is in the work of folks like Richard Florida and notions of the creative class.

We discussed this and inspired us (m+s) to think like the following in terms of conceptualizing and organizing:

If Richard Florida is going around lecturing to town halls, city councils, etc.; if the idea of the creative class and the policies needed to establish and guarantee that form of accumulation are circulating among those in power, local and regional governments community development corporations, etc.,- why not experiment with a sort of hack or re-appropriation of the idea from an autonomous position? If they’ve called an economic creative class into being- why not call a political one into being? Some of the notions that accompany supporting a “creative classâ€Â model of economic development: like diverse neighborhoods, transport infrastructures, public spaces for people to “rub elbowsâ€Â and produce original ideas- could be hacked into an interesting series of demands.

The idea wouldn’t be so much to guarantee that Florida’s dream come true- rather to facilitate the emergence of a new radical discourse that speaks to powers that be on a different level: i.e. instead of demanding quality affordable public transport only because of notions of human dignity/ rights, etc., you can add an “economicâ€Â argument.

Instead of demanding a sort of bourgeois corporate coffee shop utopia that sometimes seems to be the result of applying “creative classâ€Â solutions to urban development- one could articulate a list of radical demands such as: if productive ideas and capital accumulation come form very different types of people being able to meet and interact regularly and inhabit similar spaces, then other demands could be made: not just Starbucks but what about reinforced affirmative action in housing? Quality and accessible housing in different parts of a town city- instead of class and racial segregation; quality public spaces- parks, plazas- not just strip malls and Walmarts; free or cheap public transport that goes to all parts of the town/city in order to facilitate the necessary mixing that creates the base of profitable idea creation; blah, blah, blah…

Additionally the idea behind pushing a radical autonomous re-appropriation of the ‘creative class’ idea is to find a means of politicizing the potential of so many folks in those types of industries. People that may often be alienated by traditional forms of politics but at the same time do not fit into categories of “the oppressedâ€Â or the “poorâ€Â therefore their demands as a class are not often taken seriously by other social movements folks in the US.

It seems that some folks have already begun to talk about this a bit- a piece we saw on the Denmark squat defense mobilizations take this angle to a degree (see link here and critique of the same here), and a new piece by Sergio Bologna as well (see link here [in Italian).

So is this an avenue worth exploring, in particular in the US where ideas of Florida’s are in such demand? Even Florida himself has apparently distanced himself from some of the more neoliberal version of his argument.

A question- what would a form of autonomous (as in- at the very least not subject to the whims of a Community Development Corporation) struggle on the part of the ‘creative class’ look like? Besides the typical repertoire (marching, sit-ins, strikes, direct actions, petitioning, etc..) what could it mean. We could try and take a cue from Florida himself again and see if that leads anywhere productive. A recent work of his was titled “The Flight of the Creative Classâ€Â; thus authorities, states, municipalities, in this schema, do what they can to avoid that flight. So what could it mean to threaten ‘flight’? Besides actually moving from one place to another (a bit hard to do on a regular basis), what might it mean in a political practice of struggle? Could it mean temporary flight in the form of some sort of ‘creative strike’ or work stoppage- and what would that look like? What about threatening putting patentable ideas into the public domain- the class doesn’t fly but its production does? Or could groups of folks actually ‘move’? Not their whole lives, but from one company to another, concentrate their activities in one part of town over another- or in a different town (as a form of threat)? If in some sense the work of the creative class is done outside the confines of office/factory/gallery/classroom/etc. then this threat could possibly become feasible to pressure in cases. This isn’t the place to hallucinate further- but could this avenue of action be worth considering? Is it already afoot?

Anyway, we thought the idea was worth mulling over and taking to a group/collective or two in order to figure out if its is a line of work worth pursuing. Maybe not, but having the “creative classâ€Â just settles into a slightly controlled bohemian version of what is called ‘middle class’ doesn’t sound that appetizing either.