Precarias a la Deriva, “Preguntas para Precarias”
“Preguntas para Precarias”
Precarias a la Deriva
How do (if at all) strains of theory (the Situationist theory of the derive, the work of Negri and Hardt) inform the work of Precarias?
Obviously, we’ve read a few things. But this doesn’t mean that we’re reading theoretical work and then looking for ways to put it into action: quite the contrary. We found ourselves in a certain situation and began to look for ways to understand it and intervene in it, and to the extent that other thinkers can provide us with tools or inspiration, we look to them. Mustn’t forget that any theory worth its salt is written as a tool for action in a specific context and moment. As for the influence of particular strains, I’d say we’re pretty eclectic: whatever seems useful. A lot of feminists, some operisti, some urban studies and an ongoing dialog with a number of other groups working on ‘activist research’ (like Situaciones in Buenos Aires). I don’t know if you can get your hands on the book Nociones Comunes but in the introduction the editor (Marta Malo, one of the Precarias girls) writes a very nice genealogy of influences; maybe I can get you a copy (in spanish, haven’t translated it yet)
Has Precarias encountered resistance? Has there been resistance from trade unions or the government?
Resistance is more subtle than all that. Do we experience direct repression or persecution as a group, for our ideas or activities? No: what for? We’re just a bunch of girls walking around asking questions.
But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t innumerable obstacles set by the state, which are not aimed at us personally but which nevertheless effect us both personally and as a working group:
– The social center we worked out of (illegally squatted) was evicted last March, which has forced us to spend really this whole year struggling to build a new space (www.sindominio.net/karakola), eating a huge amount of time and energy.
– Migration law continues to be what it is, every day more ferocious all over Europe (despite the recent special regularization process in Spain), with active racial profiling on the part of the police. This means that some of us are permanent suspects, have limited mobility, have to work under the table, etc.
– The academic sphere in which some of us work is often very resistant to activist postures, and some have seen themselves marginalized in hiring processes, etc. because of their insistance on the continuity of theory and action. And, more simply, because the academic economy of individual renown resents time dedicated to collective projects and processes
– The city government of Madrid is on a campaign to eliminate street prostitution (the only realm of sex work which sometimes lends itself to autonomous work) and is making life very difficult for women in this sector
– Our book and video, which are published under a Creative Commons license (copyleft, free distribution) keep running into problems: most journals and TV programs are legally set up to work with proprietary content and don’t know what to do with our stuff
– Etc etc etc.
And also resistance in a thousand little, less intentional ways, yes: our precarious situation (of work, housing, care, migration, health) continues, and this has obvious consequences for our ability (individual and collective) to dedicate ourselves to this work, this kind of project. Nobody needs to persecute us specifically, it’s a war of attrition: its clear that most autonomous movements and projects simply wear themselves out just trying to find time and resources and optimism to keep themselves going.
How (if at all) does Precarias see itself situated in the Spanish tradition of non-capitalist organizing?
More than seeing ourselves situated in this tradition I think we just effectively are in the midst of it. I mean, we’ve never really dedicated much effort to thinking through that genealogy and we’ve found that most of the contemporary groups which are committed to a historic communist or anarchist stance are not very useful when it comes to thinking about the present. But of course one is infused by one’s environment and the kind of language which works here is different than the language which might work in the US, for example, largely because the legacy of anti-capitalist organizing to which you refer is still alive, at least in memory, in a way it really isn’t in the US. In recent years this legacy has semi-successfully reinvented itself in the context of anti-globalization and anti-war movements. As for our personal trajectories, some of us come out of the squatting movement (with its anarchist heritage, its critique of the social-democrat governments, its strong links to Italy and Germany), others out of different varieties of feminist organizing, anti-racist groups, unions, student movements, leftist groups in other countries, etc. Quite diverse.
Are you aware of any groups focusing on precarity outside of Europe?
Yes, lots. Europe with its historic welfare states (organized labor, public services) has become precarious more slowly than in other places like the US and Latin America, so the need to self-organize for survival has been earlier and more acute elsewhere. Therefore I’d say there are a lot more precarious-self-organizing experiences outside of Europe, and that these are in general much more ambitious and effective. But in general these movements outside of Europe are using different vocabularies to describe what they’re doing, they’re not talking about precarity as such, and they’re certainly not citing Negri and company. In the US, the movement of the Workers Centers has been a huge inspiration, as have the campaigns against Walmart, domestic worker organizations, various tenants movements, care cooperatives, neighborhood and ethnic groups and other often totally informal or spontaneous grassroots organizations. Uncomfortable as it may be, a lot of what some churches are doing in poor areas is similar too.
In Latin America the panorama is again very different. I’d say all the incredible experiences of the piqueteros and barter-economies in Argentina are totally paradigmatic, the MST in Brazil and some other campesino movements, squatter neighborhoods outside Quito, popular education in the favelas; of course in each place and moment people mobilize around the issues, the discourses and the mechanisms that work for them there: in societies in which there has never been a 36 hour industrial work-week and a welfare system it would be simply pretentious to make this a principle point of reference, but you can certainly still talk about a sustained and increasing insecurity re: access to material and immaterial resources fundamental for the full development of the life of a subject, a permanent threat or blackmail. And since the imaginary for collective organizing is so much more alive in Latin America than in Europe or the US, the possibility really emerges for massive mobilizations, a whole different order of magnitude.
My own personal field of interest (besides the here-and-now of daily life in Madrid) is the way a lot of religious organizations are stepping in to fill this void. In Morrocco or Lebanon for example the only organizations (both large-scale and spontaneous) which fill the void of social fabric/material resources/justice discourse are the Islamic ones.
Of course all of these parallels are approximate: the fact that they work on similar problems doesn’t mean that they share similar strategies or analyses. But it seems important to keep eyes open and not exaggerate the importance nor the singularity of what we’re doing in Europe just because Europe likes to be at the center of things.
What are the commonalities that you have encountered across class for precarious workers? How can a computer programmer and a sex worker struggle side by side?
That’s the big question. We’ve written a lot about this so instead of rehashing it all here I think I’ll just refer you to our work (www.sindominio.net/karakola/precarias.htm ) but I’ll add that none of it is clear nor easy: we tentatively attempt to create or percieve common places but it’s a constant effort and negotiation. And don’t be misled into thinking we’ve been able to do it. We’re a little group doing a little work, unfortunately we are very very far from mobilizing anything major. What is most difficult, in the end, is not so much the across class problem but the struggle problem: Where do you struggle? Against whom? For what? While we have been able to find a lot of shared concerns and characteristics despite our very different situations, when you don’t have a common employer the nature of the struggle becomes pretty abstract, pretty fragmentary. In the last year or two we’ve created a little mechanism so that whenever any one has a specific little conflict (gets fired, gets harrassed, gets evicted, etc) we can all come together to support her and put together some kind of action. This has been interesting but is still so limited. Our next experiment (the first open meeting is today!) is one we’ve been thinking about for a long time now: a resource center we hope will improve our ability to collectivize conflicts and invent new mechanisms to survive them.
A great many people that I worked with in my experiences as a temporary worker had recently been released from prisons. How does (if at all) the prison system serve to keep people in and transfer people into precarious positions?
I think that’s a really good observation, and probably ground for a lot more research. Especially in the US where the prison system is so incredibly enormous. Here it doesn’t have nearly the same presence, though it does to some extent have the same kinds of racial bias – most prisoners are Roma or migrants – and a similar effect of producing a stigmatized and permanently precarious layer of society. Honestly we haven’t really thought about this at all in Precarias – it hasn’t come up directly – though one of us has written a fair amount about the prison system, women in prison, prison drug-treatment programs, etc. Maybe if you’re going to work on this (and you want some Spanish/European context) you should get in touch with her, she could at least refer you to others working on the question.