Sunday, December 5, 2010
Games for a New Class
Do the young people working job to job, contract to contract, without expectations that sustained their parents, and the migrants being exploited with no labor rights constitute a “new class” of precarious workers, a “precariat”? Or are they somehow in a temporary limbo before “real” work, or simply living the new conditions of labor with no claim on any kind of historical destiny? This was a thread in the discussion after the presentation of Alessandro from the San Precario group in Milan, in New York recently as the guest of the 16 Beaver Group.
The show began with a video of a young man in bed tossing and turning for fear of rent, losing his job, all the insecurity – and the figure of San Precario appears to him. The revelation, however, is different: Do not believe in me, believe in yourself and the power of others like you; I am a saint so that you do not become a martyr. San Precario figures in the banners of the “precarious conspiracy” of volunteers in Milan, the Chainworkers collective, which continues to organize temporary workers. The group has some 30-50 members, each of them networked to other political groups. They use “viral media and subvertising” to advance their agendas in the media and the public eye.
Some of these usages were cute, like saint cards for San Precario. Others were game-like, in the spirit of Jasper Groetveld's “marihu” schemes that organized the Provos in Amsterdam. A precarity puzzle assembles into a schematic picture of a different world. Trading cards depict “superheroes of precarity” (collect them all!). An elaborate precarity tarot, carefully designed, can indeed be used to predict the (limited, insecure) future. A pad of lotto-like slips form a game called “Welfare for Life”; it promotes (propagandizes) the “dream demand” for a guaranteed income, “flexicurity” for the new conditions of labor.
This isn't such a dream, it seems. The question is being debated in Lombardy, the province of Milan. It's a rich one, accounting for some 25% of Italy's GNP. To put this into discourse is an achievement. Just as the Chainworkers efforts have shifted the term from “flexible” worker to “precarious.” “We went against that word,” Alessandro said. “They were using it at first.” To shift mainstream political discourse through creative political agitation is a great achievement. In the U.S., it seems only the rightwing can do this (e.g. “death tax,” and “Obamacare”) through sheer weight of media capital (Fox).
There's a lot more – the most glamorous achievement of the group's “spectacle phase” was a spectacular intervention into Milan Fashion Week 2005, a trumped up controversy between the designer Serpico Nari and the social centers of Milan. (The Chainworkers were based out of CSOA Pergola.) The radicals vowed to blockade the modista's runway show, and a phalanx of cops showed up. The designer and radicals were one in the same, as it turned out – Serpica Naro is an anagram of, well, you can figure that one! And the media reported on the rough conditions workers in the fashion industry live with. And Euromayday, a carefully nurtured by now Europe-wide “rebranding” of the great workers' holiday as a street festival of the new class.
Those who want more can check out the links to videos, and Stevphen Shukaitis' essay explaining it all very well at: 16beavergroup.org/monday/archives/003168.php
the image is from metadesigncom's photostream