N30: My Day Out on StrikeTagged as: n30
I'm not a public servant, not employed in the UK and not unionised. Went out on strike today anyway. I started from the mobile picket of the South London Solidarity Federation at Lewisham Town Hall, visited Goldsmith College and its teach out session, and joined the Precarious Workers Brigade at Lincolns Inn Fields. Below the pics are some more descriptions and questions about the possibility of striking together beyond the separations of industries, status, contract and so on.
I took a bunch of questions to this strike-day-out. How do I strike as a precarious worker? What is my strike? Does it affect the economy, the government, the bosses if I don't pursue my duties as an academic for a day? And what about my friends on benefits? Or all these freelancers? Do I have any power? Who can I associate with and how, and what can I bring to a civil servants strike a part from my body in the street?
Judith Butler describes the occupy movements as bodies in alliance, which create a "space of appearance", a space where new politics from below become tangible and visible and powerful. A space that extends well beyond the physical architecture of the event through the myriad of media channels that reach out to other spaces of appearance, in other cities and regions and countries and continents. Great, so maybe it is enough if i take my body to the streets. But what do I do with it? How can I put it "in alliance" with others, so that our actions form a space of appearance, a space between people rather than a one-off day of action soon to be forgotten?
The Chainworkers collective in Milan (and many others in the Italian movements around precarisation of work and life) talked a lot about the precarious conspiracy. Wtf? It's an effort to build a capacity for conflict amongst those whose jobs are unstable, short-term, flexible and dispersed. Amongst those who are seen as "non-organizable" in terms of traditional trade unionism. An effort to try out cooperative and conflictual forms of acting together. We can use the power of imagination and affect, of signs, symbols and images, to act together while acknowledging the difference of our various situations. So on N30, on a traditional strike-day interspersed with flying pickets, direct action and consensus decision-making, I also sought to feel my way into some sort of London-based precarious conspiracy.
The most practical suggestion for a precarious strike I found comes from Spain, from the group Precarias a la Deriva. Years ago, they wanted to participate in a general strike, but they were all self-employed in some way or other. Casualised, precarious. So they took cameras and went on "a drift through the circuits of feminised precarious work". They just documented each others daily lifes. Mapped out the skills and abilities they developed, their sources of strength and also of frustration. Their reflections draw out how precarious labout is at the centre of today's economy, what it feels like to live in it, and how we may be able to act in it: By drawing on our everyday experiences, and by inventing ways to act together, support each other and recognise the conflicts which may be the starting point of larger social transformation.
I took a camera with me today as well, the pics are above. Not very spectacular, not really an action, just the beginning of a search. What made me excited about this strike/march day doesn't translate easily into a report. Many seeds for a precarious conspiracy, practices towards a productive and radical space between people, traces of longstanding political networks, things that could develop into a larger transformation of society with a lot of time, effort and dedication.
The mobile picket called by the Solidarity Federation was not the only action which connected different pickets. For instance, unionised Goldsmith students drove around in a mini-bus, dissident island cycled across London gathering interviews, people from Indymedia London reported from various locations. These flying pickets connected the traditional protest format of the trade union picket line to the more mobile, more fluid and more mediated forms of the global protest movement.
Women from the Solidarity Federation offered biscuits adorned with the N30 logo. Made me rather nostalgic as I remembered N30 in 1999. The Solfed also brought flasks of tea, bananas and caviar in a bike trailer. Even a buggy was temporarily transformed into a strike-support vehicle.
Lewisham Council Workers talked about the intricacies of trade unionism in the council. Health workers of Kaleidoscope (Lewisham Centre for Children and Young People) reported about how their resources had been cut by a third. At Lewisham Hospital, a health worker said that this strike was about much more than the pensions. She thinks that people are worried about the dismantling of public services alltogether. Apparently, many workers in all these places had taken annual leave, so that they didn't have to cross a picket line. In the Job centre, striking advisors had re-arranged appointments and were happy about a good strike turnout.
At Goldsmith College, I visited the picket line in front of the library. It was a bit bleak, especially as several students and library workers pushed their way in - they simply didn't seem to understand the significance of a handfull of fellow-students blocking the entrance. The atmosphere changed as one woman begun to sing a very old trade union song. She read the lyrics from her mobile phone.
The teach-out was a series of really inspiring lectures. Taking in theories and analyses delivered from underneath a makeshift tarpaulin somehow made them seem relevant beyond the pleasures of knowledge production. "This is not crisis management, this is class war" - a simple sentence, but plausible. As cars were passing and beeping their horns, people lifted specially made placards saying "thank you".
Then the Solidarity Federation marched up towards the college, taking the street as they were approaching, they were greeted by joyful cheers, like long-lost relatives.
It was time to move on towards Lincoln Inn Fields. I travelled with some people from the Precarious Workers Brigade. Over the last few years, they have become quite a visible feature of many demos, carrying carrots in all shapes and sizes, and ass-masks to go with them: As precarious workers on flexible, temporary or no contracts at all, paid or unpaid, they seek ways to break the dynamics that makes us follow the carrot of false promises - of a safe job or a paid job, of security, reputation, fame and recognition in exchange for years of minimally or unpaid labour.
The march passed the madly borded-up Trafalgar Square. It looked like a science fiction movie, a city cut through by a sharp, silvery border. A reminder that we operated in an "already established space permeated by existing power" (Butler). The march was strictly contained on its route, every possible exit, every path that might have led away from the official route was blocked by police officers with dogs, vans and horses. Nevertheless, walking past this manifestation of power, dancing as the Samba band played behind us, apparently not bothered by a tightening police cordon around those who were playing, I felt that we were also creating our own space of appearance, another London that remembered conflicts from times past and anticipated those of the future.
Later on, in the pub, on the table next to us, was an interesting group of people. A white-haired woman, a big, middle aged bloke and a young man with a laptop. It turned out that they were family - mother, son and grandson. The woman had been in Greenham Common, the grandson was occupying St. Pauls. I found it uplifting to see my strike in a longer tradition of resistance and lived utopias.
Rumours had it that a people's assembly was announced at Piccadilly for 3pm, so I went to check it out. Found dozens of met police guarding the cupid statue at Piccadilly for some reason. Around them, a bunch of football supporters from Thessaloniki gathered and chanted at the top of their considerable voices. Spread between both were protesters. Then suddenly everything moved really fast. Cops, protesters, football supporters: Panton House in Haygate had been occupied, pink smoke went up in the street, a banner appeared at the top of the building, demanding "all power to the 99 %". By the time I'd found out that it was the offices of the mining company xstrata, the banner had disappeared, the police had blocked Haymarket with a few dozen vans and formed a kettle round the entrance of the building. My strike ended in the pub round the corner. Or maybe now, a few hours later, after uploading photos and writing this report.
I don't think this day out has answered my questions about a new form of strike, a translation of a protest format from industrial society into today's flexible, precarious, mobile, mediated society/economy. I guess we need more practice to cast our varied strenghts and creativities and abilities and vulnerabilities ... into a force to be reckoned with ;)