Precarious, Precarization, Precariat?

Precarious, Precarization, Precariat?

Submitted by hagen on March 14, 2005 – 21:55.

The following text is the slightly revised version of a working paper. It was
written and distributed by people from frassanito-network for the euromayday-preparation-meeting in Berlin in January 2005. And this paper is still on the move. As known we emphasize the interconnection between the (migrationrelated) 2nd day of action (2nd of april) and Euromayday. Concerning to that please read this lines as an attempt to establish a common debate around political aims in european space. Contact: frassainfo@kein.org”

Precarious, Precarization, Precariat? Impacts, traps and challenges of a complex term and its relationship to migration

I. Precarious literally means unsure, uncertain, difficult, delicate . As political term it refers to living and working conditions without any guarantees: for example the precarious residence permission of migrants and refugees, or the precarious everyday life as a single mother. Better known was the term Since the early 80s the term has been used more and more in relation to labor. Precarious work refers to all possible shapes of unsure, not guaranteed, flexible exploitation: from illegalized, seasonal and temporary employment to homework, flex- and temp-work to subcontractors, freelancers or so called self employed persons.

II. Precarization at work means an increasing change of previously guaranteed permanent employment conditions into mainly worse paid, uncertain jobs. On a historical and global scale precarious work represents not an exception. In fact was the idea of a generalization of so called guaranteed working conditions a myth of a short period, the one of the so called welfare state. In the global South, in eastern Europe as well as for the main part of women and migrants in the north all together the big majority of global population precarious working conditions were and are the norm. Precarization describes moreover the crisis of established institutions, which have represented for that short period the framework of (false) certainties. It is an analytical term for a process, which hints to a new quality of societal labor. Labor and social life, production and reproduction cannot be separated anymore, and this leads to a more comprehensive definition of precarization: the uncertainty of all circumstances in the material and immaterial conditions of life of living labor under contemporary capitalism. For example: wage level and working conditions are connected with a distribution of tasks, which is determined by gender and ethnic roles; the residence status determines the access to the labor market or to medical care. The whole ensemble of social relationships seems to be on the move.

III. Precariat – an allusion to proletariat – meanwhile is used as an offensive self-description in order to emphasize the subjective and utopian moments of precarization. Through the mass refusal of gender roles, of factory work and of the command of labor over life, precarization has really a double face: it is possible to speak indeed of a kind of flexibilisation from below. Precarization does not represent a simple invention of the command centers of capital: it is also a reaction to the insurgency and new mobility behaviors of living labor, and in so far it can be understood as the attempt to recapture manifold struggles and refusals in order to establish new conditions of exploitation of labor and valorization of capital. Precarization thus symbolizes a contested field: a field in which the attempt to start a new cycle of exploitation also meets desires and subjective behaviors which express the refusal of the old, so called fordist regime of labor and the search for another, better, we can even say flexible life. However, we think that precariat as a new term of struggle runs in an old trap if it aims at a quick unification and creation of a dominant social actor. Precariat gets even into a farce, if the radical left tries to legitimize itself as main force in its representation because of the increasing involvement of leftist activists in precarious labor and life conditions. But the main point is that taking into account the hierarchies which shape the composition of the contemporary living labor (from illegalized migrant janitors to temporary computerfreaks), the strong diversity of social movement and respective demands and desires, nobody should simplify precarization into a new identity. We are confronted here with the problem of imagining a process of political subjectivation in which different subject positions can cooperate in the production of a new common ground of struggle without sacrificing the peculiarity of demands which arise from the very composition of living labor. In these conditions, we think that precarization – as complex and contested process – can offer a frame:
– to bring the different subjects into an intensified exchange, on a social as well on a political level;
– to mediate contradictions and even concurrences within the respective realities;
– and to pick out comprehensive questions as common themes.
We are thinking of process which bases on the autonomy of the various struggles, which fosters the communication between the struggles, which invents new forms of cooperation and which opens new fields.

IV. Particularly because migrants experience all mentioned forms of depreciation and precarization of nowadays work, and particularly because mobility is their answer through and against the borders and identities, they show in their subjective conditions all the main characteristics which shape modern labor as a whole: in their subject position a common ground of the existence of social labor today finds a peculiar expression. To talk about migrants labor means to talk about a general tendency of labor to mobility, to diversity, to deep changes, which is already affecting although with different degrees of intensity all workers. Because of the possible extension of these conditions we speak of a political centrality of migrants work. The position of migrants represents the social anticipation of a political option to struggle against the general development of labor as it will be extended to the whole society and the whole life of all people. At the same time, we are aware that migrant labor as well as precarious labor doesnt represent an homogeneous subject: the process of subjectivation we were talking about is a process which must go through migrant labor itself, and which can be fostered by an increasing communication with other struggles and with the demands of other sections of contemporary living labor.

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