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Strike against the Machine! Notes upon the Present

bmsby BERLIN MIGRANT STRIKERS

We publish a text written by the Berlin Migrant Strikers, a Berlin based group of EU internal migrants, and part of the Transnational Social Strike Platform. The text launches some elements of debate around the current centrality of the strike as the political practice able to address and hit the lines of power criss-crossing the European space and beyond. From the French mobilization against the loi travail to the strike of Polish women against the abortion ban, from the gig economy strikes  in UK and Italy to the blockage of harbors in Sweden, from the strike of migrant labor of the next February 20th in the UK to the global women’s strike of March 8th: a strike movement is clearly detectable in Europe. In several spots of Europe the strike is chosen as the way to fight exploitation and oppression, also by pushing it beyond its institutional borders. The text opens then a space of discussion about how to build strong connections between the different moments of this strike movement, so that each struggle can enforce the other; how to assume common watchwords that help strengthening these connections and how to let the strike movement grow and enlarge itself in the next months.

[Italian]

Ouverture

Revolution means confusion … where there’s confusion a man who knows what he wants has everything to gain

James Coburn, Head Down 

You think I’m a thief? Oh, you see, I’m not the thief. I’m not the one charging 85 cents for a soda! You’re the thief. I’m just standing up for my rights as a consumer. I carry prices back to 1965 … what do you think ?! 

Michael Douglas in Falling Down

In the past few months several political facts happened, concerning the conflict between capital and labor, the production of subjectivity and the organization of anti-capitalist struggles. These facts, happening on such a large scale, deserve a global analysis; they are so deeply rooted in latest transformations that they became useful clues to identify a possible political path. We especially want to dwell upon some of them: the Black Monday of Polish women, which re-bursted the gender conflict (from Argentina to Italy, and even in the US), the workers strike against Foodora in Italy and Deliveroo in London (followed by the new regulation on the Uber in the UK), the struggles of dock workers in Sweden and the Italian agreement in the logistics sector (a new tipping point in the frame of a ten-year-long struggle). Several strikes, demonstrations, struggles show the centrality of systems of capitalist accumulation and of production and reproduction, even outside of the classical work-related conception of salary. These struggles give a new meaning to the concept of strike, especially in a context that seems to us quite changed, compared to the previous phase/cycle of struggles.

The Nuit Debout and its square are, in our analysis, the bridge toward a phase change. Oversimplifying we could summarize the previous cycle of struggles in the long succession of events started with the permanent war and job precarization, through economic crisis and the European austerity, leading to a completely changed scenario. Nothing seems to be as before, the previous categories are ineffective. The horizons, the enemies, the complex of political dynamics and the landscapes in which we move, all of this has changed. French protests began in Place de la Republique as yet another possible example of “democratic protest” inside the violent scenario of the state of exception. A social movement inspired by the Occupy and Spanish 15M movements, even replicating their limits: the impossibility of keeping a square with the mechanisms of permanent assemblies in the context of generalized precarity. If you have a precarious life you cannot go on permanent strike, if you have a job you cannot risk losing it, if you are a student you can not waste months or years of expensive studies. A political phase, started in 2008 with the financial crisis, leaves us with various useless attempts to ask for a greater democratization of EU. The Spanish Indignados and Podemos experience, transnational Blockupy protests, the Greek OXI outcry, the Syriza government, finally forced to kneel. All these movements started from the dichotomy people vs. elite, all imagined the European institutions as  accessible and reformable. Some years after, this cycle returns us a Europe moving toward the past, though in a more authoritarian form: Brexit and the emergence of Maysm under the approval of Putin, the possible revival of Rajoy populars and Nea Demokratia, xenophobic nationalisms growing everywhere, from France to Italy, from Hungary to Germany. All of this while on the other side of the ocean Donald Trump is elected 45th President of the United States, thanks to part of the working class (that part of the class rapidly and inexorably going towards a fascist attitude, as the productive and political structures that represented them are falling apart).

We want to be clear, in this sort of “Back to the Future” every left-wing hypothesis of popular sovereignty seems to us part of the same mistake. These are, for us, desperate and unrealistic attempts to redistribute what’s left in the rubble; we have the same opinion about the retreats in neo municipal forms (be it more or less “rebel”); the production of wealth cannot, today, be regimented into an institutional space, even if self-proclaimed autonomous from capital. Capital would flow away wherever it is useful to the reproduction of capital itself. In simple terms this attitude is an optimism of the reason for the alchemists of the revolution, an attitude that may be even useful to its opponent. However exactly the French movement has moved progressively toward slogans and practices that evoked an endless multifaceted and mobile strike. From the democratic grassroot agora, the square of Paris marked the pace change to a new dimension that, in our opinion, is one of permanent social strike. Here we finally landed on the shore of a new present. In a time of dark and oppressive engines of war lighting up, of cynical propaganda and social control, as we said, several unexpected events broke into the actual debate. Various signals, only clues at the moment, splits in the system.

If my life has no value, then produce without me” (Argentinian women’s strike slogan)

 “Your gaze is like a wind that sweeps me away”

Goliarda Sapienza – The Art of Joy: A Novel

The first point that we would like to underline among the contemporary struggles is the successful strike of the Polish women against the draft law that aimed to outlaw abortion. This strike has, in our view, a twofold paradigmatic nature. First of all this strike marks the emersion of subordinate subjectivity, a subjectivity crossing and redifining the class stratification: women. Furthermore it shows a new form of struggle, one that undermines three decades of gender struggles, a tradition of civil battles, big gatherings, political lobbying mostly from within the institutions, and a formal claim of equality. Polish women choose to stand up against a law by organizing a strike, leveraging on their force of production to put politics under pressure, bringing back an old practice that is considered illegal in several countries, among which Italy and Germany: the political strike.

We are now facing a component that embodies the oldest and most radical conflict in the existing social structures. This component is often regarded as marginal in respect to the class conflict, but is actually the core of the work organization and of society under the capitalistic system. This subjectivity is not only a direct articulation of a material relationship, but, by claiming its autonomy, it also expresses itself in a conflictual manner, directly damaging the capital. In the polish strike, gender and politics are mutually redefined inside, marking a step forward and a path to follow. In addition the Polish women strike reveals the ability to show how women’s body is the first ground to feel the backlash by the productive and reproductive needs of the capital. Women right to abortion is prevented, the imperative is strictly on the reproductive function. Women answer to this violence is a block of production, showing how production and reproduction forces regiment the bodies with repressive and violent instruments. This violence starts on women’s body, but can expand to any subordinate, precarious, immigrant or other social figure. The meaning of strike is redefined, becoming fully social by innovating the praxis of gender conflict, bypassing the specificity of the productive relationship, involving life, desires and the human body. The feminist discourse fills the final lack of awareness, the intrinsic and functional link between the capital and the patriarchate is clear, leaving behind the illusion of being able to have a democratic voice and choosing to have an economic voice and to consequently put pressure on the system.

The Polish Black Monday had an immediate international echo, with parallel solidarity demonstrations in different European cities. Some days later a gender strike took place on the other side of the world, in Argentina, with an enormous women demonstration against gender violence, suppressed violently by the police. Argentinian women use the gender strike directly as a fight against men violence, showing that grassroot struggles can have an echo much broader than any transnationally organized platform. Women strikes and demonstrations against gender violence spread to other countries in South America like Mexico and Bolivia. “If my life has no value, then you can produce without me” is one of the slogan that we hear in the Argentinian protests, that with to the Polish strike, gives us one more element: when life is wholly put at work, work abstention becomes a way to claim one owns right to life. We understand that this interpretation might be stiffed, as its not clearly claimed by these fights, but we find useful doing this exercise to be able to talk about the centrality that women “naturally” express nowadays. Work and life, production and reproduction, mass strike of production.

On Saturday, 26 November 2016, in a political climate saturated by the obsessive debate about the constitutional referendum, 200 thousandths women (and men) showed up to demonstrate against the gender violence. The call to the demonstration was bottom-up, built from scratch, and without any help by institutional groups. The last demonstration that can be compared to this one happened in 2011, and even if it reported with an awful obscurantism by televisions and newspapers, the demonstration of November 26th has been a political fact in the country. Where did all these bodies come from in a political frame that seemed so blighted? Nobody knows. The chemistry that creates such conflicts is a mix of variables whose logic escapes from the forecasts and can be read only with through political imagination. The day of November 26th has no unique interpretation, but it’s a real and strong engine for the feminist subjectivity, involving not only women. The day after, during the thematic discussion that took place, the idea of a transnational gender strike on March 8, 2017 was relaunched in Italy as well, as done by the Argentinian women.

A new landscape is taking shape, a crucial one in the political debate and praxis to come. In this landscape, women can choose to be part of the institutional structures, like amplifiers of power, and to be overwhelmed as Hillary Clinton case showed us, and how shows the absence of “Se non ora quando” groups at the November 26th demonstration, or they can embrace the feminist break as an answer to the wars of the capital. Starting from feminism to move over the battles for gender equality, restart from the strike as instrument to build an inclusive conflict hypothesis.

_reproduce(future)_ aka reversing the machinic command of capitalism.

My politics are: I’m a trustbuster. Very focused. And yeah, I’m pro-efficiency. I want the most economic activity at the lowest price possible. It’s good for everybody; it’s not red or blue. 

Travis Kalanick- Uber’s founder and Ceo

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary

The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by  Emmanuel Goldstein (fictional book that is used as a thematic and plot element in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell)

The simoultaneous and disruptive expansion of companies such as Foodora, Delivero but also Uber and Helpling etc. demands us to promptly follow the direction which a growing fraction of capital is heading to, and formulate a fast analysis of that part of digital capitalism which is called “gig economy”.

The promise of flexibility and autonomy, which systematically entails the trap of job insecurity – a typical mechanism of contemporary labour’s transformation – tells us about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and about the tensions in which capital is enmeshed in this historical period. Capitalism answered to The call for more independence and flexibility, brought by the workers movement of the seventies, has been met by capitalism through experiments of social engineering directed to increase productivity via the deregulation and atomization of labour relations. This leads to an increase of productivity in the West but also the destruction of the class structure as we knew it. We stand now in front of the desruption of the dichotomy between employed and self-employed work.

Crowdworking, gig economy, mechanical turk: “choose when and how to work, we will care about the rest (which means obviously: the best way to exploit you)”. This re-definition of labour allows capitalism to better adapt to the schizofrenic ups and downs of the global financial markets. When every worker will become its own employer, s/he will have more difficulties to build alliances with other workers and become a working class for itself. This is the representation of the self-made-man, which is typical of capitalism at least since the neoliberal eighties. However, the protests against Uber in the US, the Deliveroo’s workers strikes in London, the Foodora’s protests in Turin, all these conflicts created a first crack in the shiny world of digital economy, finally making exploitation in these fields  visible. These fights, as well as  the battles against gentrification connected with Airbnb, destroyed the common rhetoric of a possibly humanitarian capitalism, and led to the adoption of new national laws which try to save some residual protection to the workers. Unfortunately, these laws are nothing but unripe and ineffective experiments. Far from protecting workers on a long-term from this new dispositif of exploitation, they produce a spiky legislative framework  which enables  multinational companies to develop  transnational forms of dumping (eg. between Germany, Italy and France in the case of Foodora).

At the same time, alongside these predatory forms of digital economy based on  “national platforms” that vary from market to market, advanced forms of platform co-operativism are springing up. Networks based on of mutualism, pioneering from below: we want to put the spotlight on these experiences. Together with strikes and knowledge sharing, we believe that these new forms of cooperatives will need to be supported and practiced to resist the war that digital capitalism is carrying out against humanity. The specificity of the digital economy lies in the delegation of profit-maximization to an algorithm, an intelligent machine. Easy to see why the algorithms of the gig economy are sealed and guarded: they make up the profit lever. No one (least of all the Foodora or Deliveroo workers) has access to them, this is a crucial point in the struggles against capitalism platform. However, in the moment when the relation between capital and labour, usually disguised by glittering slogans, is laid bare (the king is naked!), workers recompose as working class, and they react as such: on strike. Here comes back to light the connection with the strike of the Polish Women: the strike as a tool for unmasking capital and blocking production. The process of unmasking takes place also through communication. Workers first broke the narrative upon which Foodora builds its survival within the harsch competition in the gig economy: the communicative rhetoric, the brand. Workers did it by crossing their arms during the rush hour (thus putting to value their sapere operaio, the “worker knowledge”), and organized the strike via whatsapp (thus regaining possession of the tools that the company uses to communicate). Once again, their emergence and their narrative produce an economic damage.

We want to highlight one last thing: if the workers of the gig economy had open source access to the algorithm that govern their work,  they could bend it to their will. A new unionism that wants to make the struggle in the digital sector a tool to undermine capital accumulation, should equip itself with a know-how based on communication, mathematical programming, on psychological skills and on a cold perspective on the capitalistic war machine.

The strike will be logistic, migrant and digital.

But within bourgeois society, the society that rests on exchange value, there arise relations of circulation as well as of production which are so many mines to explode it. (A mass of antithetical forms of the social unity, whose antithetical character can never be abolished through quiet metamorphosis. On the other hand, if we did not find concealed in society as it is the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations of exchange prerequisite for a classless society, then all attempts to explode it would be quixotic”

Karl Marx – Grundrisse

The analysis here made tries to capture the forms in which capitalism is acting in this scenario of  vertical and horizontal war, at high or low intensity. Capital constantly realizes its value by moving from one point of extraction, production, and reproduction, to the next one. This movement goes from the bottom to the top (as in the case of financialization of welfare), or from a place to another (through the deployment of a dense network of infrastructure and logistics) or horizontally in the web (data collected from different devices flowing into a single device of analysis, aimed to creating an output of value). The flow involves goods and services (as in the case of Foodora) or human beings (as in the case of migrants), and constitutes in our view the current phenomenological account of capital, that is the the circulation between nodes endowed with higher or lower intensity, through a market infrastructure formally constituted by the network.

Those social subjects on strike, i.e. workers, migrants, exploited women and men, have acquired  a huge bargaining power by preventing the circulation of capital. Indeed, they often created serious troubles to their counterpart. In order to be truly effective, the coming strike should therefore point to the emerging politics of exploited subjectivities, but also block, stop these flows of capital.The strike can do this if it uses the logistics to counteract the power of capital, if it deploys its migrant and female condition as a transversal weapon, and if it is virtual in reversing the flow of wealth through an automated process. Firstly, the strike will have to take place along the trails of logistics.  As shown by the struggles in the logistic in the North of Italy, the ones  carried out by the railway workers of the DB and Lufthansa in Germany, as well as by the blocking of the supplies to the refineries in France and of the port of Oackland and Goteborg, capital loses its capacity to generate value when it cannot circulate. If blocked, capital vanishes.

Secondly, following the line of the development of the capitalistic war machine, which uses and abuses bodies as fetishes for value reproduction, the strike will affect the bodies in motion. If the relationships, ambitions, and knowledge are sources of value, and the capital acquires value through movement, it seems natural to extend the analysis to the bodies that move in space.  Two billion people on planet earth are migrants. The exploitation they are exposed to is multiple as their subjectivity is. They are exploited as a flow of labour (and non-labour) force. Exploited in every part of the labour market (from the dusty countryside of the South of Europe to the glittering and evanescent Northern metropolitan start-ups), exploited in every corner of the geographies of power. Exploited in their movement from authoritarian governments such as the Turkish or the Syrian one, exploited by welfare systems which take their revenues and give small change back, or give them a one-way ticket for  low-wage education paths, as it occurs in Germany. Exploited in order to sustain rapidly declining welfare systems,  but also in order to enable dynamics of wage dumping which are necessary to keep the Western economy competitive. A huge flow of bodies in motion that de-territorialize and re-territorialize capital, wealth, and the possibility of reproduction of the value. But precisely because it faces division by economic forces and blackmailing by geo-political conditions, because it faces fragmentation by immigration policies and atomization by “social” policies, the migrant subjectivity has the chance to subverse the capitalist plan of divide et impera and reassemble weakening divisions into strenghtening diversity, recompose the puzzle of capitalist oppression, and create the point of leverage for a transnational social strike from the very below. The migrant subjectivity can show the non-migrants that the attack led by capital in every sphere of society points to making out of every body a migrant body, expelled from one exploiting labour sector to the next more exploiting one, from one central district to the next forgotten periphery, from one miserable social policy to the next more miserable one. On the search for a unifying slogan, we could say that we are all migrants in the labour market, and we are all women in a male dominated society.

Contemporary capitalism has already proved that it can reproduce huge fractions of capital and wealth along assembly lines which are totally out of the sight and control of the labour force. Financial algorithms can move billions of euro in a nanosecond, in the mad rush to money which produces money. Other types of algorithms profile and process information, attitudes, affects, transforming them into  valorizable data, which are then sent to other algorithms intended to use them to maximize profits and open new markets. For this reason, our investigation of flows of capital must land now on virtual shores. The social strike has to act on the immaterial ground and try to subtract value and power to the algorithms of capital. It will be able to do this by making algorithms useless for the purposes of capital, by reversing their profit-maximising commands and by creating universal access and opening algorhitmic knowledge to common property. The social strike will have to aim to the valorization of the interests of the many against the interests of the few, it will have to overproduce information, produce a neverending virtual noise which makes algorithmic profilation impossible. And it will do this by building an open source infrastructure of commonly owned and constantly modifiable algorithms. As the science of open source shows, privately owned softwares cannot compete with a system in constant change and reprogramming. In a nutshell, the virtual strike will have to reverse the present flow, which goes from the many to the few, into a flow which goes from the few to the many.

Creepage, aka Lines of flight

“‘How long have you been on the run?’ […]  I told you, ever since priests and prophets claimed a hold of my life. I fought with Müntzer and the peasants against the princes. Anabaptist in the madness that was Münster. Purveyor of divine justice with Jan Batenburg. Companion of Eloi Pruystinck among the free spirits of Antwerp. A different faith each time, always the same enemies, one defeat.’ – “ 

Luther Blissett, Q

Here it is the globalization, in all its magnificent disaster. It promised us the abolition of borders and barriers, but only produced the conditions for new re-territorialisations following the principles of nationalism, protezionism, austerity and so on. This is what capitalism has always done (for example through colonialism): constantly extending the field for wealth’s extraction in both geographical and productive sense (data, logistic, finance, relations). We are now overcoming the “expansive” phase, a phase made of international law and commercials agreements, toward a new phase of segregation and differentiation. In fact a phase of classist, civil, gender, and race war, as war is the most efficient instrument in order to divide, to generate flows able to re-produce capital in an even faster, rough, exploitative way. Trump, Putin, Le Pen and all the populisms and nationalisms are just political functions to this process of value acquisition carried out by the evergreen logistical Hubs managing wealth’s flows: the national states. The european union becomes nothing more than a Hub that manages, distributes and profitably divides a huge flow of capital. Then, european nations are nothing more than Hubs managing this flow on one more level, handing out the incoming capital into smaller and smaller Hubs. At the same time the flow (also through the dispositive of debt and taxation) goes the other way round from the most tiny, from the individual, from families, from small communities, into the global and the finance. The Eu forces wealth expropriation, helped by an internal colonialism of ordoliberal matrix (Greece and Italy as examples).

Customs, duties, borders but also racists rhetorics are instrumental to the flows’ propagation and to the acquisition of the wealth and power from the Hub, logistic nodes of the capital. Of course the state doesn’t disappear from the current horizon. Rather, it deeply re-defines itself and its functions. Accumulation hubs auch as as the national  states, but also the free trade areas, the sovranationals institutions, will eventually continue in their effort of perpetually accumulating value by preying on local populations through acts of inner war. They will keep on answering to any new forms of resistance through a more and more cruel authoritarian switch. This deadly dance between capital and institutions can be stopped only by alliances between differents subjects opposing war, by processes of recomposition, by strikes blocking wealth production and reproduction, by blockades of the flows and by sharing of knowledge. Without this process, which shall be both cooperative and disruptive, the only thing left by a ruthless monopolized capitalism will be the collapse of the financial system, of the “planet system” and finally poverty for everyone.

Exactly for these reasons, we consider every strike and every economic experimentation of mutualism and cooperation as matters of political investment that have to be practiced with more energy than   the traditional conflicts of the previous political cycle. Exactly for these reasons, the political strike against Trump on January, 20th 2017 in the US, the Women’s March against sexism the day after in Washington, the migrants’ strike in Uk on February 20th and the gender strike in  Italy on March, 8th, all of these are dates that we want to go across, to discuss, and  to analyze. We are ready to do the same with the G20, which will take place between the 6th and the 8th of July in Hamburg, if it will be elaborated along the lines that we highlighted. On that date, the managers of the national-statal Hubs will re-define the rules for the valorization of flows of goods, data, human beings. They will try to do this in the city of one of the most important logistical nodes of Europe. This date will be a chance for us to put new practices of blocking and ricomposition to work, it will be a chance for us to practise forms of strike which shall be a calling to the oppressed of the whole world.

Berlin, December 2016