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Precarias a la Deriva, “Precarious Lexicon”

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Precarious Lexicon”

Provisional European lexicon for free copy, modification, and distribution by the jugglers of life by some precarias a la deriva

Translated by Franco Ingrassia and Nate Holdren.

April, 2005 [Link]

Precarization of existence

In order to overcome the dichotomies of public/private and production/reproduction, and to recognize and give visibility to the interconnections between the social and the economic that make it impossible to think precariety from an exclusively laboral and salarial point of view, we define precarity as the set of material and symbolic conditions that determine a vital uncertainty with respect to the sustained access to the essential resources for the full development of the life of a subject.

Notwithstanding, in the present context it is not possible to speak of precarity as a differentiated state (and, as such, to distinguish neatly between a precarious population and another guaranteed one), but rather that it is more fitting to detect a tendency to the precarization of life that affects society as a whole as a threat (“… be careful to behave yourself because the situation is tense, don’t push it…”)

In the day to day, precarity is a synonym for some laboral and vital realities that are increasingly destructured: fragmented spaces, hyper intensified and saturated times, the impossibility of undertaking middle- to long-term project, inconsistency of commitments of any kind of indolence and vulnerability of some bodies submitted to the stressful rhythm of the precarious clock. Some bodies debiliated by the inversion of the relation of forces (now on the side of capital), by the difficulties of building bonds of solidarity and mutual aid, by the current obstacles for organizing conflicts in the new geographies of mobilities and the constant mutations where the only constant is change.

These new and metamorphic forms of life can get caught by the discourses and technologies of fear and insecurity that power unfolds as dispositifs of control and submission, or, and this is what we are betting on, the can conceive new individual and collective bodies, willing to edify organizational structures of a new logic of care that, faced with the priorities of profit, place in the center the needs and desires of persons, the recuperation of life time and of all its creative potentialities.



The social context that we live in today is the network-society. The factory has overflowed and has invaded the social, changing it into the principal lever of production. The wave of struggles in the 1960s and 1970s, on one hand, and the saturation of markets, along with the high levels of competition that introduced the process of globalization, on the other, obligated firms to develop techniques and technologies to make themselves more mobile and flexible and also more resistant to conflictivity and crisis: their survival depended, on one hand, on their capacity to detext (and take advantage of) the politico-institutional and social conditions and of the supply of most optimum raw materials, software, and machinery and work force; on the other hand firms’ survival depended on their ability to respond within very brief time spans to oscilations of demand, thus in order to create (with a whole set of identification of needs/desires/forms of life and production of signs) the demand for a product even before manufacturing it. The key thus was in the multiplication of contacts and in a flexible and network organization that allowed a maximum fluidification of the circulation of information about local and international markets and an immediate production response to this information. In this manner, externalization, dislocalization and flexibilization became the slogan and communicative and relational work became the essential pivot, the active interface, of this ever more networked production.

The paradox of these transformations resides, however, in that these relational and communicative capacities that are in the center of the present economy never pertain to an isolated worker, but rather are inscribed (they form and recreate) in the concrete social fabric, which each worker forms a part of. On the other hand, in this networked context, the consumer/spectator/citizen works when they select one product in place of another, one program in place of another, on candidate in place of the other. And subaltern communities work when they invent a new mode of wearing their pants (even if it is because of a lack of money) that later a cool-hunter sells to a multinational fashion firm. The blackmail, however, is rooted precisely in that, even though work takes place in common, retribution continues to be individual and, at bottom, profoundly arbitrary.


Precarization affects all of us, and however, axes of stratification traverse it. Axes that have to do with gender, ethnicity, age, and with other things. In the first place, with the resources monetary (patrimony) and cognitive (education) that we count on. In second place, with the networks of contacts and of support in which we participate, in order confront unforeseen events, in order to ease uncertainty. In third place, with the capacity for mobility: just as with businesses, the more mobile we are the more possibilities we will have to take advantage of comparative advantages in changing from one position to another, but it’s trouble for us, if – due to physical or mental condition, dependents that we care for, lack of material or cognitive resources or roots – we don’t know to move at the exact moment, like a lightning bolt! Finally, the degree of precarization has to do with our place of origin and our legal situation: those who have come to Europe from the East and the South of the world in search of a better life, fleeing from situations of exploitation and/or oppression, not only have to cross ever more militarized borders, but also traverse a veritable legal obstacle course (from their status of being “without papers”, that is to say, without rights, to achieving full citizenship) imposed by the European policies of immigration control.

The borders are among the principal enemies of any struggle against the precarization of existence, because they generate veritable local laboral and social apartheids that enclose and precarize the social bond and impregnate it with fear of the other. Creating spaces of mixture, of alliance between precarious with and without papers, from here and from there, is to challenge these borders, subtract their command from them, to produce the common. The European action day of 2April of this year for freedom movement and right of residence is an example of this sense: see madiaq.indymedia.org, http://www.globalproject.info, and pajol.eu.org.

Typologies of precarity

Once precarity became a key word for explaining our existence in post modernity and the tensions that traverse it, typologies also began to spring up, that attempted to establish some type of coherence within the galaxy of atypical laboral figures in precarious conditions. One of them, perhaps the most well heard, is that enunciated by the Milanese “chainworkers” (www.chainworkers.org) and, more recently, the Italian pre-cog network – under this perspective, there existed three key figures within the condition of precarity: on one side, the “chainworkers” (or properly precarious), that is to say, all those atypical workers contracted in services and the fordist chains of the commercial public and private tertiary sector, as with flexible material production, who live in conditions of continual blackmail imposed by uncertainty due to the changes in the work contract; on the other side, the “brainworkers” or cognitarios, that is to say, all those that, with low salaries and ever longer work hours, loan their knowledges to the firms of immaterial labor (programming, semiotic production, relational activities, logistics, etc); finally, immigrants, that is, subject to whom the European immigration policies force into totally deregulated frequently illegal and probably informal labor relations, and which constitute, as such, the extreme figure of precarity.

This typology has various problems: in first place, it lacks coherence, because don’t immigrants sometimes work as chainworkers, in the services of public and private cleaning, in the large fast food chains, in the workshops and factories of flexible material production? Can’t we also find them, even if with less frequency, in informatic firms? And later, doesn’t it happen sometimes that those who work in McDonald’s later dedicate their free time to writing music or study? Are the chainworkers or brainworkers? On the other hand, where do we place the telephone operators, frequently immigrants, whose work is repetitive yet has a high relational and communicative content? Are they chainworkers or brainworkers or immigrants or all or none at the same time? Secondly, this classification is totally blind (in the most literal sense of the term) to all those activities that develop, as some feminists have said, “in the corporeal mode”: domestic work, care work, sexual work, relational and attention work… and which insert themselves inside that which we call the communicative continuum sex-attention-care. That is to say, it is blind to a whole set of labors traditionally assigned to women, marked by invisibility and/or stigmatization, low salaries, and a strong affective component that makes these labors central in the creation of social bonds.

In general, in the laboral terrain, more useful typologies attempt to think from the point of view of expressions of unrest and rebellioning the distinct positions. Thus, we can see that, in jobs with a repetitive content (telemarking, cleaning, textile workshops), the subjective implication with the task performed is zero and this leads to forms of conflict of pure refusal: generalized absenteeism, dropout-ism, sabotage… In telemarketing, for example, absenteeism is the number one problem for the departments of human resources, which rack their brains in search of strategies to deal with it: from the relocation to the old colonies of the mother firm (Marruecos and Argentina in the case of Spanish firms) to the contracting of more blackmailed subjects (women heads of household between 40 and 50 years of age) or the attempt to inculcate loyalty among the workforce, changing telemarketing to one of the branches of professional education. On the other hand, in jobs where the content is of the vocational/professional type (from nursing to informatics, to social work to research) and, as such, the subjective implication with the task performed is high, conflict is expressed as critique: of the organization of labor, of the logic that articulates it, of the ends toward which it is structured… This can be seen very clearly in the mobilizations of nurses in France in the 90s, in the present struggles of the intermittents in the media also in France or in the free software impelled by programmers all over the world in the face of the logic of proprietary software of the big corporations. Finally, in those jobs where the content is directly invisibilized and/or stigmatized (the most paradigmatic examples are cleaning work, home care, and sexual work, especially – but not only – street prostitution), conflict manifests as a demand for dignity and the recognition of the social value of what is done. “Fucking, fucking it’s a service to the community” chant the whores of Montera street in their demonstrations against the constant police harrassment and the criminalizing plans of the mayor of the city of Madrid.

However, one and the other typology shares a same problem: the location of the point of view exclusively in the laboral terrain turns our perspective myopic to the micro and macro conflictivities that are given in and against the precarization of existence in the passage between work and non-work, generating short circuits in the intricate system of connections of the network society.


Since 1886 the first of May has been the international day of commemoration (except in the US) of the “Chicago Martyrs” (worker leaders condemned to the gallows in the context of the general strikes for the eight hour day in the US) and of expression of the demands and struggles of that great historical and strongly identitarian subject, the proletariat, inexorably united in a period of capitalism, industrial capitalism, to some modes of organization, the great strikes and the mass unions, and to some places of mobilization, the factories. But to the degree that capitalism has been changing its forms of exploitation in order to dodge the workers conflicts and reappropriate their demands, passing from industrial capitalism to fordism and, from this, to the present postfordist mode of production, this date has been losing meaning until it became of holiday (for some) and completely devoid of content for almost everyone.

Because today that monolithic antagonistic subject has been replaced by a diffuse multiplicity of singularities that some dare to call the precariat. In the year 2001, a Milanese colelletive of precarious of the large service sector chains, the Chainworkers (www.chainworkers.org), issued a call for May first what was baptized the Mayday Parade. Its protagonists were atypical workers, remunerated and non-remunerated, with and without papers: these professionals of geographic and vital flights, fixers of temporality, experts in metamorphis who, linked by multiplicity, sought, in the difficult times of existential precarization, to celebrate and visibilize our struggles and dreams. The initiative caught on and was repeated year after year with increasing numbers and increasing expressiveness. Three years later, it was put on in the city of Barcelona as well, and this year anticipates these Maydays in no less than 16 cities European cities (see http://www.euromayday.org).

The Mayday Parade constitutes a means of visibilization of the new forms of rebellion, a moment of encounter for the movements, and practices of forms of self-organized politicization (social centers, rank-and-file unions, immigrant collectives, feminists, ecologists, hackers), a space of expression of its forms of communication (the parade as an expression of pride inherited from the movements of sexual liberation, but also all the media-activist artillery developed around the global movement against the summits of the powerful of the world) and a collective cry for rights lost (housing, health, education) or new ones (free money, universal citizenship), which day to day and from each situated form we try to begin and to construct from below.


Biosindicalism has nothing to do with bifidus. It is an attempt to name a series of recent practical and everyday experiments that are happening in the terrain of precarity, in a provisional, provocative, and extremely pragmatic manner. Biosindicalism is a contraction of life and sindicalism, where life crawls toward that tradition of struggle that has been sindicalism and deprives it of its most corporative and economistic elements. But: why insert into this medium? 1) Because life is productive. We are not among those who say, “Life has been put into production.” It always produced: cooperation, affective territories, worlds… but now it also produces profit. The capitalist axiomatic has subsumed it. 2) Because precarity cannot be understood only from the laboral context, from the concrete conditions of work of this or that individual. A much more rich and illuminating position results from understanding precarity as a generalized tendency toward the precarization of life that affects society as a whole. And 3) because the labor has ceased to be a place that organizes (individual and collective) identity), a place of spontaneous encounter and aggregation and a place that nourishes the utopia of a better world. The reasons? The failure of the worker movement and the process of capitalist restructuration that accompanied it, as much as the push of the desire of singularity (of the feminist movement, the black movement, the anticolonial movements and other movements linked to the spirit of ’68) that made the worker movement stall from the inside.

But, look, this does not mean that the laboral can no longer be a place (among others) of conflict, nor that the teachings of the worker movement cannot be useful. It means only that the battle inside and against precarization cannot be restricted to the laboral. It means that it is necessary to invent forms of alliance, of organization, and everyday struggle in the passage between labor and non-labor, which is the passage that we inhabit.

Rights of Citizenship and Care [1]

The 8th of May 2004, in the neighborhood of Pumarejo in Sevilla there was inaugurated a rehabilitation house and, to leave a memory of the event, a commemorative plaque was hung up. On the plaque one could read “on the 8th of May this neighborhood center was inaugurated, the neighbors of the Pumarejo neighborhood having the right to use enjoy the cuidadania”. From chance or mistake, the “u” and the “i” changed places, launching to the passers-by a paradoxical wink that soon became a slogan. Faced with the abstract (and mystifying) bond that unites the cuidadania as a whole population linked to a territory and a State, the cuidadania appears to us suddenly as a concrete and situated bond created between singularities through the common care (and care for the common).

Thus, from the experience of fragility and isolation that produces the process of generalized precarization, the rights that we want to instantiate are rights of cuidadania: right to resources, spaces, and times that permit the placing of care in the center and, with that, the possibility of constructing the common in a moment in which the common is shattered. But, look, if we speak of care it is not as the exclusive task of women to care for others, but rather as an ecological mode of taking charge of bodies that breaks with the securitarian logic and that substracts itself from the logic of accumulation. Care as passage to the other and to the many, as a point between the personal and the collective. Care as a fundamental weapon against the precarization of our lives.


“Free money”

“More money, less hours”

“Insecurity shall overcome”

“35 hours, ugh, what a pain!”

Those are the happy battle cries of those who know the line of continuity between work and nonwork, between the public and the private, between production and reproduction: of those who know that their life is productive all the time. Time pirates have preferred not to save the lifeboat of meaningless securities and to take to the sea of uncertainties. Mariners of the interminable life have elected to navigate the heavy swells of the intense present, the tides of the desire to learn, to change, to experiment. But, though weather-beaten by the experience, they are vulnerable navigators on the constancies of terra firma: in long term projects, in the needs or desires to root oneself in vital, laboral, or political initiativies. Because, as good as uncertainty is in a certain – chosen – mode, it also is, at the same time, heterodetermined. And it is the case that, in the present, flexibility is increasingly something that benefits capital and not those who try to balance themselves on the tightrope.

From here arises the need to turn this situation around, in the sense of demanding securities and rights in the bosom of flexibility. It would be a matter of demanding and constructing flexicurity, as a contribution to a sort of new welfare state for intermitency. The dispositifs and demands are multiple: assure the access to knowledge generated by all, to housing, to real mobility (through free transportation and the abolition of migration regulations), to health and to care; generate a universal basic income that ends with the economic overturning of the bipolarity of temporary workers, a regularity in their incomes that would give them negotiating power when they accede to a remunerated job and when they refuse to accept determined laboral conditions and that permits the organization of strong networks of resistance in the times of non-work; to study the creation of new labor rights that respond to the new realities of temporary workers and would be aimed at avoiding the new forms of abuse due to this condition and to recognizes the wisdom and dexterity acquired across the length and width of these labor and vital trajectories enriched by mobility (changes of activity, of country, continuous education).


Copyleft is a movement that, departing from the certainty that the goods encapsulated in the concept of “intellectual property” (a book, an informatic program, a melody…) are the patrimony of all persons (since they are nourished from collective magmas) and that, unlike material goods, they neither deteriorate nor are exhausted with use, nor, lastly, are they subjected to the principle of scarcity (but rather that, to the contrary, they increase and are enriched when they are shared), it would be a matter of fomenting the diffusion of this idea as basis for projects of cooperation without command over living labor and of promoting legal implementations to make it effective (creation of licenses that assure the free circulation of immaterial goods).

Copyleft is, also, an axis of fundamental articulation for a politics from below adequate for our times. Some times traversed by crossroads such as the overcoming of the society of labor in forms prescribed by the social system based on waged labor, knowledge converted into the principle productive force when labor time is maintained as a unity of measure or 18th century property laws applied now to immaterial goods (pillars of our global economy) whose qualities are completely distinct from those of tangible products.

But, what relation does all this have with precarity? Well, among the possible avenues of deprecarization is that of assuring that the fruits of collective intelligence (from the development of free software to audiovisual production, passing through all types of literary and musical creations) for the use and enjoyment of all, because they are born from the common and nourished by the common, because it would be the cultivating stock from which future immaterial creations will grow. If the lang was once a common good for the few who managed to appropriate it, the moment has come for stopping the communal lands of knowledge from being also enclosed, the time of the freedom to access, distribute, modify, and enrich what belongs to everyone.

Precarious Instinct

Faculty of staying on a tightrope.

Inclination toward creative survival.

Illuminating heard of the uncertain avenues of precarity.

Happy intuition, transformative of the times of non-work into

Transitory eternities for putting into practice new forms of relation.

Cyborg nature that cooperates for the very pleasure of cooperating.

Sense of smell that seeks common names for our fragmented realities.

Pushes toward multiplicities.

Intelligence of strong alliances.

Resort to exodus.

Propensity to create networks generative of community.

Impulse for liberation from alienated labor.

Reflection of cross border voyage, across the geographies of earth, minds, and bodies.

1. This section makes use of a play on words that is not directly translatable into English. The word “ciudadania” means citizenship, as well as having resonances with the word for city, “ciudad.” The word for care, “cuidado,” is spelled vary similarly. The authors of the text use these similarities to craft the neologism “cuidadania”, referring to proposed rights to care analogous to the citizenship rights demanded by some sectors of the European precarity and immigrant/asylum seeker movements. Phrased in terms of a probably outmoded and problematic distinction, it can be said that “ciudadania” is a demand for public recognition and rights and “cuidadania” is a demand for private recognition and rights, though at the same time “cuidadania” is an attack on the separation between public and private. – Tr.

The translators are involved in an informal collective project to encourage, support, and conduct translations of social movement and radical theory related material. Anyone interested in being involved is encouraged to contact them at notasrojas at lists.riseup.net.

The translators are involved in an informal collective project to encourage, support, and conduct translations of social movement and radical theory related material. Anyone interested in being involved is encouraged to contact them at notasrojas at lists.riseup.net.
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