Translated by Aileen Derieg
are the precarious, the flexible, the temporary, the
mobile. We’re the people that live on a tightrope, in
a precarious balance, we’re the restructured and outsourced,
those who lack a stable job, and those who are overexploited;
those who pay a mortgage or a rent that strangles us.
We’re forced to buy and sell our ability to love and
care. We’re just like you: contortionists of flexibility."
An Australian tourist, who had spent all his savings on a one-year trip around the world, told me in a bar in Barcelona that he happened to be in India just at the time of the Social Forum in Mumbai, and now he had just arrived in time to experience that in Barcelona. He thought this spreading of ideas of freedom and understanding on a global scale was fantastic. This means that one of the most important goals of the organizers of the "Forum 2004" in Barcelona – during preparations it had the more flowery title of "Universal Forum of Cultures" – had already been achieved before the forum even opened: the PR technique of citing the successful globalization-critical Social Forums not only in Porto Alegre and Mumbai, but also at the European level in Florence and Paris. This false labeling was further augmented by an impenetrably complex program over the course of the whole summer, an equally complicated assembly of celebrities and the conceptual triad that sounds like a "best-of" list of social movements slogans appropriated by neo-liberalism: "cultural diversity", "sustainability", "peace". The minor flaw in the euphonical conceptual buzzwords: cultural diversity is played out here primarily at the representationist levels of the cultural spectacle, while the diversity of the local autonomous and occupied houses in Barcelona was decimated just prior to the Forum; sustainability consists in the gentrification of an entire city district in a huge construction endeavor that involves driving out thousands of people living there; and peace is celebrated under the flags of several sponsors that make their money with military technologies. Whereas the Social Forums are precarious attempts to make another world more than just possible, the Forum in Barcelona is an attempt to rewrite the current reality of difference capitalism as a grand success story of cultures in conjunction.
Particularly in Barcelona, though, there is also a counter-public sphere, which does not leave this neo-liberal appropriation of both urban and discursive space uncontested. Prior to the Forum, prominent icons of the global movement such as Antonio Negri and Naomi Klein, who had declined to participate in the Forum, were invited by its opponents to address counter-strategies in both global and local frameworks together with activists. Prior to, alongside and beyond this, many small networking meetings took place, which dealt with tactical-political issues. Most of all, though, one event succeeded in becoming the highpoint of the local protests against the Forum, conjoining these protests with the more general theme of the increasing precariousness of work and life: following the example of the successful May Day Parades in Milan, the radical demonstration practice of May 1st was taken up again and a large May Day Parade against the growing precariousness of life was organized.
"We're the precarious – the hidden face of Forum 2004"
On posters and a huge demo banner, the Forum was branded as "fascismo postmoderno". Although the term may be somewhat problematically exaggerated, it was certainly based on fundamental considerations, so that this formulation was intended to call attention to the totalitarian aspects of difference capitalism. In this context, "The Precarious" functioned as the disappeared creativity not only behind the Forum in Barcelona, but altogether in a biopolitical setting, in which an unsettling hold on all areas of life is increasingly prevailing, beyond the sphere of work. While Social Democrats and unions throughout Europe carry out their rituals on May 1st, continuing to spread the cynical propaganda of "full employment" in passing, and while Green parties attempt, on the other hand, to create a dichotomous counter-weight with the "Day of the Unemployed" on April 30th, the reality of work and unemployment has long since moved on; it has moved into a world, in which not only work and unemployment become diffuse and vanish in countless in-between forms, but also where forms and strategies of resistance must be newly invented.
Reclaim the Walls!
On the evening of
1 May 2004, about ten thousand demonstrators progressed
from the central square of the university through the
city to the beach of Barceloneta: sans-papiers and migrants,
autonomous activists, political activists from left-wing
and radical leftist unions and parties, art activists,
precariously employed and cognitive workers of all kinds,
who are just working on calling themselves precari@s.
Like an accelerated version of the practices of Reclaim
the Streets, a stream of dancing, chanting and painting
people flowed through the inner city of Barcelona. This
stream – as the yellow press newspapers would argue
– left a trail of havoc through the city. Yet this had
nothing to do with the familiar anti-globalist rituals
of disinhibition and transgression, for instance "removing
the glass" from banks – that occurred in Barcelona
too, but only as a marginal phenomenon – or riots between
militants and the police.
The reappropriation of the street took place here mostly
as a new arrangement of the mixed interweaving of bodies
and signs in a terrain where action and representation
"Precariousness is what we live, flexicurity is what we want"
Parallel to the diversity
of sign forms, the ambiguity and contradictoriness of
the meanings of "precarious", this key term,
are particularly striking. The Mayday formulation "capitalisme
és precariat", for instance, is to be understood
as an analytical and ambivalent introduction of the
concept of precariousness as a definition of the current
capitalist form of society. Contrary to other – more
unequivocal – formulations such as "Contra el sistema
i la precarietat", the ambivalent concept of precariousness
simultaneously refers to the non-self-determined insecurity
of all areas of life and work, as well as to the possible
invention of new forms of resistance and the chance
of newly forming as "precariat", "cognitariat",
"affectariat". In the words of the Italian
media activist and theoretician Bifo: "Self-organizing
cognitive labor is the only way to transgress the psychopathic
The May Day Parade was "invented" in Milan, organized in 2004 as Euro Mayday in Barcelona and Milan – allegedly also with branches in southern Italy and Dublin. Aside from the proliferation of the idea, what was most convincing was the attempt to jointly organize and mobilize across geographical and language distances. Despite the spread of internal left-wing confrontations here too, it was at least possible to create a common web site, http://www.euromayday.org/, and – to a certain extent – to collectively edit a newspaper for Mayday, which was published in two version, in Italian and in Spanish/Catalan.
Cf. the thoughts of the philosopher Santiago López Petit on this in the newspaper published for the Mayday Parade in Barcelona/Madrid: "Forum 2004: el fascismo postmoderno".
Injuries and arrests only occurred after the official end of the demonstration during an attempt to occupy a former police station. Except for the omnipresence of a helicopter circling over the demo, the police were almost invisible throughout the demo itself.