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<nettime> Bifo - The insurgence of European precariat

The insurgence of European precariat

Franco Berardi "Bifo"

Translated by Alex Diceanu and Arianna Bove. The original Italian text is
published on the Rekombinant mailing list ( The
French translation by Serge Quadruppani is available at

A new European cycle

The struggle of French precarious and cognitive workers could mark the
beginning of a new political and cultural cycle in Europe. Fully aware of
being at once students, cognitive labourers, and precarious workers in the
fluid cycle of recombinative capital, they started occupying the schools.
This is a novelty: hitherto, such awareness had not been so manifest in
student struggles.

Let this be clear: the question raised by French precarious and cognitive
workers is directly European, although, as Villepin says, the CPE is much
better than the slave rulings adopted by other countries, Italy above all.
Biagi?s law and the Treu "package" are a hundred times worse than the CPE
French students are fighting against.

Hence if they win, the same question will be immediately raised in every
European country.

If the French students defeated the CPE, they would certainly not have
defeated precariousness: they will only have rejected its legal
formalization and initiated a new phase in European social history. This
phase of struggle and social invention will allow for the formulation of
new rules and criteria of regulation of the labour-capital relation beyond
neo-liberal slavery.

The dark core

Rather than a particular element of the productive relation,
precariousness is the dark core of the capitalist process of production in
the sphere of the global network in which a flow of fragmented and
recomposing info-labour continuously circulates. Precariousness is the
transformative element of the whole cycle of production. Nobody is
shielded from it. The wages of workers on permanent contracts are hit,
lowered and broken down; everyone?s life is threatened by precarisation.

Digital info-labour can be broken down into fractal elements to be then
recomposed in a place separate from where labour is supplied.

>From the standpoint of capital valorisation, this flow is continuous; from
the standpoint of the existence and time of cognitive workers, the
character of labour performance is so fragmented that it can be recomposed
in a cellular form. Pulsating cells of labour are lit and extinguished in
the large control board of global production. The precarious nature of
info-labour is not due to the accidental mischief of the bosses: its
reason simply lies in the nature of the supply of labour time. Labour time
can today be detached from the physical and legal person of the worker and
becomes an ocean of valorising cells singularly called upon and recomposed
by the subjectivity of capital.

Either guaranteed income or slavery

We need to rethink the relationship between recombinative capital and
cognitive labour in a new referential framework. The attainment of a
contractual negotiation of the cost of labour based on juridical persons
is no longer possible because the supply of abstract productive labour is
detached from the physical individual worker: the traditional wage form is
outdated, it no longer guarantees anything. Hence the income of
subordinate workers and employees is constantly decreasing whilst
slave-like working conditions are being re-established.

Whilst it is true that the number of work places is on the rise, total
wages have decreased.

But unemployment is much better than slavery. And this is what the French
rebels have realised: they refuse the employers' blackmail : if you want
to work, you must put up with slavery.

The struggle of French precarious workers puts on the agenda the question
of wages as one of global politics and demands a new wage form: a
guaranteed income detached from work.

Clearly, guaranteed income can?t be seen as an extremist watchword. It is
the only chance to flee the constitution of the generalised slave regime
of labour relations. So long as the criteria of social government remain
confined to the conceptual framework of economic growth and to the
predominance of accumulation over and at the expense of social interest,
guaranteed income will remain empty talk. The ties to growth and
competitiveness, presented by dogmatic neo-liberal theory as natural laws
and accepted as such by a Left incapable of non-dogmatic autonomous
thought, are actually rules established and founded on a relation of
forces that digital technologies have tilted in favour of capital through
the deterritorialisation of labour.

Rules and forces

Rules are not immutable and no rule compels us to comply with the rules.
This is what the legalist Left never understood. Fixated on idea that
rules must be respected, it was unable to withstand confrontation on the
new grounds opened by digital technologies and by the globalisation of the
cycle of info-labour.

The Right understood this very well and subverted rules that a century of
trade unionism had established. In the classical mode of industrial
production, rules were founded on a rigid relationship between labour and
capital, and on the possibility of determining the value of a commodity on
the basis of socially necessary labour time. However, the stage of
recombinative capital is founded on the exploitation of fluid info-labour
and there no longer is any deterministic relation between labour and

Rather than restoring the rules violated by the Right we must invent new
rules that are adequate to the flexible nature of the labour-capital
relation that no longer presents any quantitative determination of value
and time or any invariable element in the relationships between
macro-economic forces.

Cultural insurrection in Europe

After the elections in Italy a cultural process of generalized
insurrection against precarious form of existence needs to take place.
Getting rid of the Right will only help to remove the tool of political
power from the hands of dangerous people; but the struggle will start
afterwards and we must strive to fight under the banner of a guaranteed
income detached from the fluid process of cellular recombinative labour

The struggle of French students can effect a revival of the European
process. The French ?NON? on the referendum on the constitution was
essentially motivated by a refusal of the precarisation and devaluation of

Today, we see the "propositive" side of this NON.

The European process can be governed by the interests of capital, be it
protectionist or globalistic. But only labour, in its process of social
recomposition, can function as the source of European right and culture.
This is another lesson of the French March.

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