precarity

Jessica Clark

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Adbusters is hosting an interesting forum on the European notion of precarity--movements supporting lifestyles that respond to a lack of security resulting from the failure of unions, the welfare state, and globalization-wracked governments.One European poster weighs in:I've been working over here in Europe for a while now with the precarious movements, so I thought I'd give my own 2 cents…The article asks:So here's the question: where is the precarity movement in the rest of the world? How about in the USA, home to some of the most insecure workers in the first world? Does America's culture of individuality preclude a collective response? Have activists been beaten into submission by corporate dominance and the heavies in the White House? Or are we wrong? Maybe the US has an equivalent precarity movement under a different name. Or it's nameless and waiting to be discovered.I think that the US workers' rights culture is so inexistant that precariousness has been the general condition for many years now. It doesn't seem like it really ever occured to anyone to name it. Things are the most dangerous when they are transparent.In the states, i'm not sure contracts really exist anymore. The only thing i've ever seen or heard of is the thing they make you sign that tells you that the boss can fire you without any prior notice. nice contract.Here in Europe, this discourse about precariousness is coming out due to a few things. First, major reforms have been made in Italy, France, and Germany (previously run on the state socialism models) that have created new "determined length" contracts to replace the traditional "undetermined length" ones. At the same time, we are seeing massive reforms in the traditionally well-off northern European countries where before there was what is called a "citizenship income" - or a guarenteed living minimum wage… even if you are unemployed. These reforms are, of course, making massive cuts in the social welfare system.The reasonings behind the precarious movement here in Europe are interestingly complex, parting from many different nodes of thought. One of the most attractive is the work that is being done by some interesting groups: globalproject (http://www.globalproject.info), a guerrilia comunication network starts from the analysis that in our contemporary society, an individual's capacity to reason and communicate have become a the major form of labor for production (these types of workers are refered to as precarious cognitaries - or precogs). We can see this in the ever increasing emphasis on the cultural battle between copyright (i.e. microsoft) and copyleft. These copyrights are an attempt to exploit human knowledge to generate weath for the market. Hence the reasoning that human knowledge should been a common wealth, freely shared and distributed.Another fundamental element to the precariousness problematic are Migrants. Migrant workers are possible the most emblematic of all precarious workers. Here in Europe, evermore, the stay permits or green cards are based upon a working contract. If a migrant's working contract expires, so does her rights to remain in many European countries. This creates a transient flow of human flesh and labor at puts it a at the disposition of the market forces. Human beings become commodities to be shifted around based on labor needs. The US has used this same strategy for years with migrant workers coming from Mexico and other Latin American countries.The discussion here is not an attempt to "fight" precariousness… Going back to 19th and 20th century thoughts is not the answer to contemporary problems. (In fact, we can see major conflicts errupting within the European left between traditional labor unions, political parties etc., with more movement based, grassroots activist groups and associations.European movements are pushing for guarenteed services, regardless of employement status. Income, rights, housing, transportation, communication, and dignity have been the words heard in European demonstration over the last couple of years.Sounds good--sign me up.

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Jessica Clark is a writer, editor and researcher, with more than 15 years of experience spanning commercial, educational, independent and public media production. Currently she is the Research Director for American University’s Center for Social Media. She also writes a monthly column for PBS’ MediaShift on new directions in public media. She is the author, with Tracy Van Slyke, of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media (2010, New Press).
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