Thursday, 27 September 2012

17. - 20 Reposaari/ 18.9 New Work, New Practices

Sergio Bologna: The Italian term »precariato« has a slightly different significance than the notion of the »abgehängtes Prekariat« (»socially-detached precariate«), which has become a buzzword in Germany in the debate on the »Unterschicht« (»lower class«). Differences in systems regulating work often make it difficult to compare particular social classes using the same terms or definitions. In Italy the traditional liberal professions have a form of self-regulation via their professional associations (guilds, chambers). These provide protection from risks for members and in some cases offer better benefits than the general social insurance scheme. Second-generation self-employed workers are members of what are known as »non-regulated professions«. Despite fifteen years of mandatory contributions, which have been increased significantly by Prodi’s government, they are only eligible for paltry benefits from the social security system. They have no form of self-protection – that is also a consequence of their fragmentation. We distinguish between the self-employed who can move freely on the »skills market«, the pseudo self-employed (who work, for example, for a single client and invoice the client every month) and casual workers/jobbers, who experience precarity as a »normal state of affairs«. Basically however all these groups are exposed to risk and the insecurity associated with precarisation. A typical feature of the post-Fordist era is to-ing and fro-ing between various different employment relations, which has become necessary to secure one’s livelihood: sometimes one is an employee in a wage-based contractual relationship, then self-employed again, then unemployed once more etc. 
To my mind the notion of the »individual as a company« is nonsense, an absurdity. In economics and in European theory of law the concept of the company is always associated with the terms »institution«, »organisation«, »complex structure«, with three essential, distinct social roles within this structure: the role of the financier, the role of management and the role of the workforce. If these three social roles are assumed by one and the same person, then we have no right to talk about a »company«. In that case it is independent work, working on one’s own account.
But why do people insist so much on wanting to describe something that is actually »work« as a »company«? Why do statistics institutes persist in maintaining this classification, whose grotesque character is revealed at the very latest when these institutions publish figures on the size of businesses and talk about »average company size«? It is because this conceals an ideological operation. The subjects in question are transferred from the symbolic sphere of work to the symbolic sphere of the company. Perhaps some people actually believe they have managed to make the leap from worker to entrepreneur and have moved from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. In reality however they are often neither one nor the other.

Today a precarious worker may be on the breadline, tomorrow a well-paid consultant and the next minute unemployed with little prospect of re-entering the labour market. The people I interviewed almost all had a high level of professional qualifications, i.e. they were what is called knowledge workers. Three aspects made a profound impression on me, as they cropped up in all the interviews. The problem of risk is not one of them. The first aspect is the low esteem with which such people are treated during the initial job interviews in Italy, whilst in the USA firms are fighting to acquire talents and skills for their companies. The second aspect is the almost complete lack of political or civil commitment among this group; the excuse generally put forward is that they have no time for such engagement. The third aspect is the enormous difference between generations. Graduates who completed their studies in the early 1990s can look back on successful professional careers, with periods in which they worked as employees alternating with independent work. Graduates who completed their studies at the start of this millennium have enormous difficulties in starting out in their profession, even if they are have much better qualifications than colleagues ten or fifteen years older. As they cannot find work and are afraid the risky business of becoming self-employed, which seems to be increasingly difficult, they continue their studies, do specialist training or language courses, go abroad, etc. 

And here some characteristics and requirements of new work:

1. Work is not a specific activity - it is about general human abilities that are put to work, intellect, ability to language, feelings etc.

2. Work does not happen in a specific place reserved for working.
3. Work does not happen in a specific time reserved for working.
4. It is not about making a specific end-product, but about potentialities, that what is new and emerging.
5. Work has no specific individual subject: the subject of work is always a plurality, a multitude, a collective.

and requirements:

1. work requires ability to collaborate
2. it requires ability to imitate and recycle, be an opportunist
3. it requires innovativeness, ability to take risks
4. and it requires something extra, something that cannot be reduced to the task at hand - virtuosity.

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