Category Archives: precarity

Cartographies of a “#revolution” (1)

(The first in a series about the protests in Spain. Disclaimer: I’m in Madrid, therefore my posts are from the perspective of Madrid. There are marches, camps and assemblies in cities and towns across Spain – I would love to hear reports from more of them. Also, the pictures are not mine but have borrowed from other sources.)

I had the good luck to arrive in Spain on May 14, the day before the “#spanishrevolution” was to begin. Of course, it wasn’t entirely luck, I had been inundated with tweets and FB posts about May 15 for months, mostly by friends from Barcelona. That was enough to get me to pay the $40 extra and very quickly move out of my apartment to get to Madrid by the 15th. (point 1 about social media: if it got me to go to Madrid from the US, think how many people were encouraged by social media to travel much shorter distances.)

The May 15 March was largely organized by a diffuse internet-based coalition Democracy Real Ya (Real Democracy, Now), supported by Juventud Sin Futuro, mostly made up of university students, and other groups. You can read the DRY manifesto in English. Of course, it also comes out of a long history of organizing in Spain – elements of the global justice movement, the anti-war movement, autonomous organizations working around migration and precarity, etc.). This conceptual map gives a good overview of the earlier organizing 15-M builds on and the relationships between 15-M and other movements. Also, a piece from Madrilonia examining the genealogy of the movement.

The call was simple: “real democracy now,” “we are not commodities in the hands of bankers and politicians”. A call against a government that insisted in going along with austerity measures, drastically cutting social services, while bankers and finance capitalists continued getting rich and corrupt politicians continued to go free. It was a march as much against the governing socialist party as the opposing conservative party (a common chant was that the 2 parties are the same piece of shit). The comment sentiment that led people to the streets was a sense of anger at this state of affairs, not only at having to bare the brunt of a crisis they did not cause, the massive level of unemployment, the cuts to pensions and health care, but also that all of this was happening under a “socialist” government many of them had at one time voted for or at least not totally despised.

The march in Madrid was march larger than most of us had expected and coincided with large marches in cities and towns across the country. (The event’s facebook page lists most of the participating cities) While most of us slowly left the Puerta del Sol where the march had ended, a few people stayed around, leading to clashes with the police and arrests.

A call was made for a concentration in Sol the following evening in support of the people arrested the night before. I was with a friend who got the call via text message (point 2 about social media: it does not preclude, but in fact works wonderfully with other forms of communication, including face to face communication). We hurried to the plaza to find a small but growing crowd and the first assembly of the Acampada Sol. That night we made the first committees, based on different issues and needs of the movement.

I headed home around 2am, with the plaza still occupied by a small group of people planning to spend the night. A few hours later, there was another confrontation with police and the campers were kicked out of the plaza. As a number of plazas around the world show, once people have decided to occupy a square, they won’t easily give it up: a march to retake the plaza was called for the following evening.  This time, we had more than twice as many people as the night before and, despite our worries, entered the plaza without any trouble from the police. We had no idea at the time, but from that moment on the plaza would be known as the Acampada Sol.

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3Cs meets Carrotworkers

When in London recently, Liz met with the Carrotworkers’ Collective – a collective of ex-interns in the cultural sector, working largely around issues of free labor. Their work counters some of the myths surrounding free labor in the cultural sector, which are very similar to some of those that we’ve encountered in graduate school – it’s a rite of initiation (you have to suffer as a grad student to eventually make it into the ranks of tenured faculty), we do this work out of love (therefore we don’t need to get paid a living wage), etc.

We talked about different forms of militant research, including mapping and graphing, and ways of doing both quantitative and qualitative research. They emphasized the importance of having at least some quantitative data on the cultural sector, as well as documenting the subjective experiences of interns. One technique they’ve used is to have folks graph how they spend their time in terms of unpaid vs. paid labor and the trends and transformations over time and how people would ideally spend their time.
They are currently working on a Counter Internship Guide

We’re planning on doing a collaboration with the Carrotworkers and students at Queen Mary University in April and May of this year, more coming soon…

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3Cs in Bologna

Liz recently got back from a visit to Bologna…

My first night in Bologna I gave a talk at Bartleby – an occupied space at the university and spoke about university struggles in the US and the edu-factory project. The talk was part of a week of events leading up to the strike on Friday that included other talks, meetings, music and parties. Some themes that came up in the discussion during my talk were:

– the relationship between autonomous movements and major trade unions
– the effects of student debt (universities in Italy are now beginning to charge tuition fees, forcing students to go into debt in order to study – like the US!)
– the effects of the Bologna Process and other efforts at standardization of university curriculum

The next day, I participated in the autonomous student & precarious workers’ march during the general strike, as part of the Yes We Cash campaign for a guaranteed minimum income.

Back in NC, our discussions focused on the importance and the pragmatics of having a space – in Bologna, as many other places around the world, taking over a space, not only as a temporary tactic, but to create a more permanent presence, an alternative space. These spaces are used for talks and discussions like the one I participated in, and also  more generally as meeting places, spaces to enact the kind of university we want. Could we do this? It seems much harder to permanently occupy spaces within our university campus. For one, there is much less unused space to occupy and secondly, the administration is much less willing to negotiate with students for the control of a space. Yet this shouldn’t serve as discouragement, but rather open up new lines of inquiry and action. In Italy and other places, it is the strong base of student power that forces the administration to negotiate with students – building this power from below must be one of our starting points. Some questions that might merit further research – how are spaces used and controlled on our campus? What would we like that to look like? How might we begin to go about occupying university spaces differently? What about creating alternative spaces of knowledge production outside of the university?

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Filed under edu-factory, europe, precarity, university