archivi delle proteste globali
archives of global protests

How can we a make a network of local struggles?

The lessons to be drawn from the European March against Unemployment, Precarity and Exclusion

Table 1a Work and means of production

Sub table "work, precarity and social exclusion"

How can an international network develop? By sharing and then coordinating our local expériences of similar struggles. Its the only way to get beyond the general statements made in the first encounters, to really learn from and help each other.

How can the network develop at the local level? By trying to involve people and groups from diverse backgrounds in struggles that make them meet and interact. in Geneva we tried to get beyond the general appeal against néo-libéralism by implicating ourselves in the March and trying to bring trades unionists, squatters, unemployed, etc to see exclusion and the necessity of a radical reduction in work time as a one problem - their problem, our problem.

We propose that those who participated in the European March, and those interested, meet and discuss around this example. Concrete and precise exchanges of this kind are the only ones that can really build the network.

I. We should discuss our concrete experiences of this campaign. For instance, in Geneva: - Our actions (demonstration at the World Trade Organisation and in the city, texts, etc.) interested many militants and had some impact. - On the other hand, it proved very difficult still to involve many people from different sectors who still perceive unemployment as " the problem of the unemployed ". Still a lot to do at that level! - And yet we continue to think that aiming at general, global social problems, in order to create some unity between people in different specific struggles, is essential, even if very difficult. (Its also the heart of the Zapatist proposition.) Can this be a task for a specific group, a group which promotes contacts between different milieu and abroad, which circulates ideas and intervenes with a more general point of view in local struggles? That is a working hypothesis that we would like to discuss with you, if you would.

II. We should also discuss the strategic perspectives (reducing work time, garanteed income, third sector, etc.) that should unify our movement. We need to talk, first of all to see how much agreement we can really come to. That's not finished. We also need to discuss how these kinds of ideas can really be put forward through our action. During the March it seemed as though the stereotype of " the unemployed that we should help " tended to obscure our real aims, despite a general agreement among us on what we wanted to really get over. Reducing work time for example is a demand for everyone, not a measure to help the unemployed. The network, the movement, will only develop if we can elaborate and communicate unifying themes. People in each particular sector have to understand that these themes are indispensable to their own struggles.

We propose the following outline to structure some of the important ideas to be discussed in Spain this summer.

Work, unemployment and social project: a contribution to an urgent debate

In Geneva we participated in the March and in the elaboration of a local platform largely inspired by the " Appel au débat " published by 35 french intellectuals, and which proposes a radical reduction of work time, a garanteed minimum income and the development of a " third sector " of activities (neither public nor market) in order to react to the irreversible crisis of salaried society.

With this text we just want to raise a few points raised by this appeal that are important to discuss. Some seem to me to be relatively solid elements with which we can work, others need clarifying. Apart from the Appeal, we refer a lot to Alain Lipietz's book " La Société du Sablier ", to " Towards an Unconditional Minimum Income? " published by the MAUSS collective and to Jeremy Rifkin's "The End of Work ".

A change of era. It is evident that neither the old receipes of the left (stimulating growth and defending the rights and jobs that exist), nor those of the neoliberals (flexibility, the reduction of taxes and salaries) can really deal with unemployment and the economic crisis. The combination of the information technology revolution and new mangement techniques, and of a globalisation that withdraws from States the Keynesian instruments of control over the economy and over the redistribution of wealth are hurling us into a new reality. The studies cited by Rifkin for example forsee new reductions of 20 to 25 % of the workforce in practically all sectors, including services (that we were told were going to provide the new jobs!) The " growth " in the US only reduces unemployment at the cost of a terrifying increase in inequality and precarity, a social " dumping " that is in no way a solution. There is less official unemployment because people have been discouraged from even registering as unemployed, but the percentage of inactive men between 35 and 44, for example, is the double that of France. Others are at work, but are poorer than european unemployed. This is the direction of Workfare and the working poor. Lipietz, on his part, shows with precise figures that the decline in the profitability of capital invested in ever more costly machines (Hey old mole! Will Marx have the last word?) has only been compensated for by the reduction of salaries, the increase exploitation of living work. Which explains why in this new mode of capitalist development even growth combines unemployment and low salaries. And yet many leaders of the left continue to call for encouragements to " growth ", as though nothing had changed!

Unemployments nature has changed. It is more and more massive and longer in duration. The huge increase in " flexible " and precarious employment has not slowed that. And one must remember that in France for example one must add the two million people who already have some kind of work in training or subsidised job to the three and a half officially unemployed (Lipietz estimates that there are really 5 million). Meanwhile the " German model " is stumbling. Even Switzerland is beginning to be hit.

With respect to this new situation, the authors of the appeal have an attitude of " radical reformism ". Considering that it is impossible to directly attack capitalism in its actual form and general conditions (free trade, the pressure of foreign competition and financial markets), they try to define the first steps in the right direction that are still compatible with the competitivity of a country's industry at an international level. (Faced with such cataclysmic perspectives some might ask if capital really has a long term future, and if it is worth trying to concede anything to its needs. The answer would no doubt be that the program proposed is also the best way of preparing post-capitalism.)

The first step would thus be the combination (the synergétique effect of the three would be essential) of a radical reduction in work time, a mimimum revenue and the development of the " third sector ".

Reduction of work time

Working less is a fundamental goal as such, that much more of our lives won back from capital. Polls in France show that it has become a demand of the majority since 1993, among other things because now even the middle classes are feeling the menace of unemployment for themselves or for their children. (Recently we saw the embarassment of the unions and the government faced with the demand for retirement at 55 come up from the grass roots.)

A reduction in work time is also the only way to reduce unemployment massively (simulations cited by Lipietz show that the 35 hour week would create about 2 million jobs, about 10 times as many as one could expect from a return to growth or a reduction in salaries to stimulate exportations.) It is possible to finance such a measure without menacing the competitivity of enterprises. Lipietz makes a precise proposal for France: 35 hours (minus 10%), with a reduction of 3 % in salaries, but which would only affect people earning more than twice the minimum wage. The reduction in work time would financed by the spontaneous increases in productivity, by part of the unused capacities of auto-financing of enterprises, financial profits (that implies of course a fiscal reform), but also sacrifices of the higher salaries. That seems justified, especially as they have greatly increased in the last few years, while low salaries were at best stagnating and work hours have been frozen (or increased) after a century of gradual decline. (In France increase in unemployment corresponds approximately with the suspension over the past twenty years of cuts in work hours.)

And what about the garanteed minimum income and the " third sector"?

These demands were advanced during the March, but we think that there is an important debate to be had between this position and that of people like Castel, Michel Husson, Petrella and others, who see dangers in these propositions. Is the real priority finally just reduction in work time?

A. A garanteed income (and the " third sector ") have appealing aspects: - To recognise a right to a revenue to all, would that not be a step towards real communism - to each according to his needs? It recognises that our current affluence is a common heritage, the product of a long, common social process that no particular group or individual can claim as theirs. And in the short term, the idea of a right to a revenue eliminates the humiliating aspect of public assistance. - By facilitating the extension of an alternative sector of activity, these revenues could facilitate answers to social needs that cannot be answered to by the logic of the market. - This sector could ideally structure itself in a cooperative and self-managed fashion, have another relationship between people rendering and receiving services, in short experiment new social relationships. - By giving the essential to life, or at least to survival, this revenue would reinforce decisively salaried people with respect to capital, since they would no longer be obliged to accept unacceptable terms. - Ferry for example also considers that such a revenue, by assuring a minimum, would render tolerable the flexibility and precarity of employment which seems to become more and more the rule today.

B. But!

- Critics of garanteed revenues, Husson for example, are precisely afraid of that - that the minimum income and the third sector will legitimise the flexiblilisation and dualisation of society. He cites a french government document that proposes a policy of high salaries for exportation industries (to encourage the search for productivity increases), and low salaries (in order to " encourage employment ") in sectors less exposed to competition. The genevan public services union observes that the programs of " insertion " and the minimum revenues tend to create unemployment in the public service rather than to reduce it, since they tend to replace regular employment with jobs having a precarious status. Instead of offering every year a certain number of " temporary " jobs for the unemployed, they would do better to simply hire them. But it would cost more!

- In fact, the third sector would introduce a fundamental division between the salaried of the traditional sector (better paid, qualified, protected, etc.) and those of the third sector, out of the market, but also less paid and qualified and dependant on redistribution via the State. Could this sector defend its interests over the long term against the possible alliance of interests between the bosses and salaried of the regular sector who would be financing them through their taxes? A swiss union man remarks with some common sense that the money invested in a third sector could just as well finance a reduction of work time that would create jobs for all, and that it may not be a very healthy situation to have half of society dependant on the other. It would suppose in any case that a union or other type of organisation assure a strong link between them, whereas we observe that unions don't even defend the unemployed of their own sector very energetically... - More fundamentally, could one assure social insertion and cohesion by only garanteeing an income, or is this a " utopia " really typical of the individualistic " consumption society "? Is leisure time today usually used in a way that favors social cohesion? Whereas the optimists imagine a great development of associative activity, pessimists see all these people becoming couch potatoes in front of their TV... Would the people, who have often suffered a lot, who will end up with a minimum garanteed income really be able to develop new and interesting social relations, relations that many of us have spent 20 years trying -with variable success - to develop? Is there not a danger that we project now onto the excluded class (after the working class!) the " historic mission " of elaborating a new society? - Many fear that the right to an income replace the right to work, bring people to accept that everybody can't find a job (at least in the " normal " sector), although for most people work is still an essential aspect of identity. In Geneva the authorities cleverly use this argument in order to justify the obligation to work in return for a garanteed income. But wouldn't it be more logical then to assure a normal job for everyone instead of inventing obligatory work in return for a garanteed revenue? - Basically, what do we gain by encouraging this logic, when a radical reduction of work hours 1) would avoid these traps and divisions while assuring a revenue and a social insertion for all ; 2) would give a lot more free time to all (who could thus develop associative activity, autonomy, etc. on the basis of gratuity.) - The garanteed income would reinforce workers with respect to capital if it was really sufficient to live (and not survive) on. But the third sector could (does already) exert pressure on the regular sector in the measure that they come to do the same work for less. And finally wouldn't a radical reduction in work time reinforce workers just as much? Is the garanteed income perhaps a way of avoiding that reduction? of avoiding a social control over the labor market whose necessity is more obvious than ever? - People make the argument that we are already going in that direction (40% of incomes in Europe are already indirect, redistributed via the State in some form or another), and that a garanteed income would permit a greater flexibility of workers and a simplification of the Welfare State. Is this tendency necessarily to be encouraged? By reducing the function of the State to the distribution of a check would not we be making State and society even more inhumane and merchandised? Is this project really in conflict with liberal capitalism? And isn't it an illusion to think that we could thus evolve without a major conflict towards a situation that would relativise, reduce more or less, the tyranny of capital over work? - Now that it is attacked by neo- (or rather retro-) liberalism, we find ourselves often defending the State. But less not become too naive. The strategies of a garanteed income and the third sector aren't they too dependent on the benevolence of a State that has always been at best ambivalent? And today it is moreover weakened, and more than ever under the influence of the economic powers.

C. Some elements of synthesis

Obviously, both sides of this debate admit the totally ambiguous character of the ideas of garanteed revenues and the third sector, which present interesting possibilities while remaining fundamentally (like the NGOs in the third world) the " progressive " version of social management under neoliberal capitalism. But in fact we are already up to our necks in it, we must do something with what's given. It remains however to be clear on priorities, those that we consider are really parts of a project of liberation.

It seems to us that the reduction of work time is the most fundamental, unifying and solid demand. With minimum income and the third sector we are in the domain of pragmatic decisions. If it is not possible to find normal work for all and to satisfy all needs, it will no doubt be necessary to try an arrange this social space as best as possible and take advantage of its better aspects (non-market logic, etc.). But it may be better to consider it as a transition, while we lack the means to repair the " social fracture ", rather than as a positive perspective or goal. Certainly we can all agree that those who find themselves unemployed are in no way responsible for the dysfunctionning of the economy. They thus have the right to a revenu without any condition ( any form of constraint, workfare or forced labor can only endanger the unemployed and employed alike). But this does not mean that we should necessarily encourage the perspective of a minimum revenue or universal allocation. Of course, for people who finding themselves in or having chosen (squatters, "alternatives", etc.) a situation on the margins of the economy, a revenue of this kind could be very useful... Similarly, those who are excluded from the labor market should be able to associate themselves in socially useful activities of the "third sector", for they have the right to an activity, and there are plenty of things that need doing! But that doesn't mean necessarily that we should encourage blindly the development of such a sector. The reduction and sharing of work time and the struggles of the regular sector remain the top priority. An example: the question of independent workers. Neoliberalism tends to develop, in parallel huge multinational holdings and thousands of small, theoretically independent companies of one to a dozen workers, non-unionised, practising intensive "auto-exploitation" in order to subcontract to the real bosses (Sergio Bologna considers that the intensification of work rythms and longer work hours obtained in this "independent" sector, which is the dynamo of the new italian economy, is the principal victory of neoliberalism.) What should be the reaction? People speak in this context of the necessity, the utility (also for the system!) of a garanteed income which would smooth the bumps in this chaotic sphere, but the real challenge will obviously be to organise the independents, the reconstruction of practices of solidarity and unity, of which the french truck drivers recently gave us a fine example.

D. Apart from the question of our positions concerning a garanteed income and the third sector, we can hopefully agree on some points:

- Stimulating "growth" is no longer an answer. For one thing technical innovations are such that growth and investment can eliminate as many jobs as stagnation. (And we don't necessarily want growth anyway!) Apart from that, the policies imposed world wide by the IMF, EU, etc., (dogmas of budgetary balance, commercial trade balance, the taboo on inflation, monetary rigor, etc.) constitute a recessive policy globally, not one that stimulates growth. And that doesn't seem ready to change soon. - Training and recycling unemployed changes nothing, except maybe shuffling a bit the order in the queue of people waiting for a job. Its the brilliant policy the french call "Papa, I found a job. Yours!" Obviously such a stupidity does have a justification, that of stimulating the efforts and competition of the workforce one against the other, which is very good for the bosses. - All forms of workfare or forced labor must be refused, including "active measures" of job search, the reduction of benefits which are supposed to "incite" unemployed to look harder for a job, etc. Quite patently, its jobs that are lacking, not job seekers! This quite Orwellian denial of the facts is simply psychological warfare aiming to destroy solidarity with the unemployed. A dirty trick that can work, because people would like to believe that there's work for all who want to, and thus that they aren't menaced themselves. The fear of unemployment can stimulate solidarity, or on the contrary cruel irrationality. The obligation to work which accompanies minimum income policies in France (RMI) and in Geneva, could be a first great step back towards the 18th century workhouses. Unemployment benefits are an insurance, and thus a right, and must not slip towards being a form of social control and a way of "punishing the victims". - The creation of subsidised private jobs must be refused, for they are based on the accentuation of social injustice. In many countries (we are opposing it in Geneva) there are scandalous programs such as the french "job cheque", which allows rich people to buy themselves a servant for free, their (too low) salary being deductible from taxes. Make them go on paying taxes! These can then be used to finance much more useful jobs than walking poodles. (In some countries unemployed who refuse such jobs lose their benifits!) - Whether it may be in order to finance revenues for the unemployed, to create useful jobs or finance the reduction of work time, there is a common necessity: the reduction of the ever greater inequalities of revenues and salaries, be it by the reform of taxation or through new work contracts. (From that point of view Switzerland is one of the most unjust.) And that is where positions get quite clear: like the charming bourgeois politician who dares to come to a round table on precarity and say " The objective must be to create jobs, not equality. The societies that are dynamic today don't favor equality." Too bad, huh? - And of course, there is that massive reduction of work time, that so many people seem to agree to, but which isn't happening. In Switzerland the social-democrats are proposing a 37 hour work week. Is such a tiny step in the right direction still a step? - ...Hopefully other points to be discussed in Spain!

>From here to the time of the Encuentro we hope to produce other texts (some are already available in french) and above all receive some from you. Consult the web pages of the Encuentro ( and of the Berlin zapatistas (

If you are interested by this discussion table (which doesn't necessarily have to last the whole encuentro) contact us directly so that we can prepare it together and exchange us much as possible before. We saw at the Berlin and Chiapas meetings that this would be important, essential even, in order to be able to really make progress during the Encuentro! It would also be very helpful if you forwarded this text to other addresses that might be interested.

Neoliberation (Neoliberation is a small reflection and action group with strong links to the Comité Viva Zapata! of Geneva)

Our address: e-mail:
Fax/tel (4122) 344 47 31
c/o I.A.S. 5,
Rue Samuel Constant CH - 1201

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