Breathing together, breathing freedom. In the world to come
This text is the result of a collective discussion started on April 9th by The World to Come.
A political program and an open score for future struggles.
“I can’t breathe”. The last heartbreaking words pronounced by George Floyd, brutally murdered by the police on the 25th of May in Minneapolis, have become the slogan of the most powerful anti-racist movement of the last decades. Originated in the United States, it has spread globally, and is certainly going to continue to amaze us in the future. These words have set fire to Trump’s America along with the radical movements that are taking place. Words that do more than simply denounce the violence of the police. We can’t breathe in many ways: the world is overwhelmed by the pandemic, by climate change and by the most catastrophic economic crisis of the last century. In the United States, Afro-Americans are still dying of racism: for months now they have also been dying of COVID-19; for months they have been the most affected by the “occupational cataclysm” that has hit the country (40 million unemployed). The black, dark and white bodies that have been swarming the streets since May 25, with protests that have exploded in around 200 cities, want to breathe in a different world, and they have already started to build it. Multiplying spaces of intersection between practices, struggles, and people who experience different forms of domination and exploitation but who are rising up in a common struggle.
We all stand in solidarity with those bodies and those voices. This text is inspired by the cities of the US that have been occupied by demonstrators, by the world that is rising up and rebelling. The reasons behind this text are situated: the pandemic in Italy, after China, led to a lockdown and over 30 thousand deaths. During the suspended time of mass quarantine, we decided to break the solitude with an online assembly that hundreds of women and men took part in, people of all ages, with thousands more watching online. An event that was so overwhelming it needed a sequel. #ilmondocheverrà (“the world to come”) has been and is a space for convergence, it rejects perimeters and consolidated identities; from the very beginning its ambition has been to elaborate an offensive political program, able to confront the major shift that the entire planet has been experiencing since last February as a consequence of the pandemic.
Without struggles, without organization of the protests, no program is possible. Method is crucial. That’s why, during the four acts that followed the first assembly that took place on the 9th of April, the aim was not to apply an already established framework made to fit all the subjects taking part in the struggles. The guidelines of the program you’re about to read – it must be kept in mind that they are the result of an intense and highly participated collective discussion – already existed before COVID-19. The lockdown, border shutdowns, and the economic crisis (which will hit even harder starting in September) caused by the pandemic have exacerbated problems that already affected our world, a world that has been suffering the attacks of neoliberal globalization and its authoritarian trend for quite some time. We are driven by a sense of urgency, the timeframe we imagine is one we borrow from the most radical environmental movement, which forces us to take action now. Increasing inequality and impoverishment, patriarchal resurgence and racism, the privatization of welfare and of natural resources, devastation and plundering of the environment: these are all facts we are already aware of, and that have been driving the struggles of social unionism and of the global feminist movement, as well as the anti-racist and environmental struggles. It was and is a case of conquering a space of intersection and conversion among many different subjects, with a solid grounding, and with the strength built by the feminist and environmentalist movements, which have materially defined a program (which we make our own, without, therefore dedicating specific points to these issues).
This program is like a musical score. The pace is set – each time – by those playing. The type of score that could be useful for a jam session. Its virtuosity is that of a combination, not of a solo. It encompasses the struggles of the past years, the program for the future and the struggles to come. So far, it seems that the discontinuity characterizing these past months has on one hand worsened the neoliberal disaster impersonated by authoritarian figures such as Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi and Putin, on the other hand it has made it possible to radically rethink society. In the face of the trauma experienced by millions of women and men, the violence of capitalism reveals itself openly for what it is: a true catastrophe. An offensive program for struggles to come is a way to reiterate that normality was the problem in the first place and that only an alternative can save us. Wealth is common, as are knowledge and welfare institutions: common doesn’t rhyme with scarcity and competition, but with use, sharing, and happiness. Yes, we must defeat sorrow and loneliness: this is what we need, now and in the future, in the world to come – the one that will have to built with our struggles.
A lively debate has taken shape in Italy. Aware from the very beginning that the conquest of the European political space can no longer be postponed. The Europe built on treaties has never been and never will be our Europe. The States and their pathetic sovereign ambitions are enemies of democracy and freedom. A whole field of struggles must take shape: because it is in Europe that wealth is produced, it is in Europe that hierarchies and exclusion, cuts, impoverishment, labor and monetary systems are imposed. Against the Europe of treaties, only the Europe of social and anticapitalist movements can make the difference. The feminist movement, that has spread worldwide, has already made clear how the State reflects the logic of patriarchy and that it certainly is no stronghold against neofascism. State structures may, of course, be enhanced in the perspective of building welfare policies, but only starting from a mobilization, from practices and struggles that the State cannot represent or contain. Also, the pressure of migrations, against borders and walls, with its courage and suffering, reminds us every day that democracy is either an expansive political form, or it simply isn’t. Finally, for the first time following the Troika’s debt crisis the Recovery Fund has introduced a EU budget: resources are insufficient and will arrive too late, true; however the challenge we must face is that of questioning their allocation: should they end up in the pockets of corporations or be used to support social reproduction of life (care, healthcare, schools, and university, environmental reconversion, etc.)? This is the challenge we must face.
COVID-19 isn’t weaker, the pandemic isn’t over. It won’t be over until a vaccine has been found. At present scientific research looks more like a competitive global gold rush – the main clash being between USA and China. The European autumn will probably be similar to the French one of the past year, of the Gilet Jaunes movement. Perhaps. What is certain is that the economic crisis will be dramatic, there will be mass layoffs and the welfare systems are not prepared for this. The rest will depend on the struggles and their ability to converge at local, continental, and global levels. This is the moment to take back the public space, to inhabit it and transform it, treasuring the knowledge that comes from the care that has been put into practice inside the households during the lockdown. The program we have written together, articulated in six thematic sections, took shape starting from this hope. To start breathing again, to do it together in the world to come: this is is our refrain.
Once again, the crisis has shown how important the institutions that operate in the sphere of care and healthcare (physical as well as mental) are, and, more in general, in the sphere of the reproduction of social relations (education, training, assistance, services, culture). This is the ground – that of welfare – where the crucial battles of the world to come will be disputed. Today, it is possible to reverse the trend of privatization and cuts in investment that have characterized the last decades. We must mobilize in order for this to happen, without forgetting that welfare can mean many things: authoritarianism and paternalism have permeated even the most advanced democratic experiences of the welfare States in the 20th century. The redevelopment of public structures, therefore, is not enough: a different organization of welfare is needed, that of the commons, which stems from self-organization and collective decisions taken by workers and citizens (the “users”). In particular, it is necessary to question the logic that views cultural activities as mere means of producing consumer services, and to defend their position at the center of society as well as their vocation to be an essential tool for the commons, with the objective of enhancing their antagonistic potential. From this point of view, experiences of mutualism and self-organization are of crucial importance. Experiences of self-organization of independent and non-governmental services (grassroots welfare) that have proliferated in the main Italian cities during the pandemic. These experiences are precious, they provide indications and operational criteria, they are an accumulation of fundamental knowledge and practices that are a key for the struggles that will form in the following months. It is our objective to render these experiences lasting, transforming them into a widespread pattern of counter-powers, because along with the distribution of financial resources, what we also claim is a distribution of power in society.
The principle of “care”, redefined by the feminist debate on “reproductive labor”, offers a fundamental perspective for the reorganization of welfare. Historically, welfare policies are closely linked to labor. We claim that more important than the right to work is the right to live with dignity, a right that does not depend on whether one has a job or on the concrete possibilities of employment. An indispensable condition in this regard is the possibility to dispose of a domestic, livable, space: a home. The pandemic has exposed something we knew already: the dramatic and precarious conditions of those who do not have a home, or whose accommodation is precarious. It has also exposed the tragic and fierce face of the gender violence that took place in the houses during lockdown. Income, housing and the end of gender violence are therefore three essential elements in our program and our struggles.
Before paid or self-employed work, there is care work, sometimes invisible, most of the time carried out by women. It makes the reproduction of our society possible. We therefore need institutions capable of guaranteeing the various activities revolving around care. There are several struggles that in these years and months, during the emergency, have stressed the centrality of these institutions: from the global feminist movement of recent years, to the many singular struggles, such as those of the medical personnel in the worst phase of the pandemic. In this context, we demand more public spending for Healthcare, Education, Research, Culture and other essential services. At the same time, once again, we are aware that asking for more resources is not enough. It is necessary to build a struggle for the democratization of welfare institutions (and in particular, in the case of cultural institutions, for their willingness to dialogue with social actors and to enter into a conversation with history). We have suffered from lack of funding, but also from a complex process of managerialization of services, which has led to new forms of social exclusion and strong limitations in the democratic decision. We are also convinced that by placing the political dimension of care at the centre of our struggles in workplaces and for a universal and democratic welfare means fully acknowledging the need to radically rethink the modes of production and social reproduction in the sense of their ecological conversion (enhancing experiences such as eco-districts and ecological practices like agroecology).
The social protection measures adopted by the Government in recent months – including social safety nets, one-off measures for self-employed workers and an Emergency Income (REM) – are temporary instruments characterized by a strongly categorical ratio, which produce further forms of exclusion for millions of people who cannot access these safety measures. It is necessary to go in the opposite direction, to question conditions and end segmentations: it is urgent to introduce an individual and unconditional basic Income, not connected to citizenship or residence, and adopt it as a permanent measure, also carrying out a profound revision of the so-called “Citizenship Income”. The criterion of universality to be applied to income support measures must be firmly claimed to counter the fragmentation of the current logic behind existing subsidies.
We learned about “essential workers” during the crisis. And we have seen how Confindustria (the largest Italian association representing manufacturing and service companies) has attempted to broaden this category, to restore the production model and the “normal” rates of exploitation. There have been many struggles of male and female workers, and it is with these struggles that we connect. We know that in the coming months initiatives on the part of employers will not stop, they will aim to attack labor guarantees and wages, now more than ever, in an unprecedented condition of social crisis. It is precisely with this crisis in mind that we claim that there is no contradiction between the struggle for a basic income and the struggle for better wages. The battle over a basic income is indeed the condition for the social crisis not to be used as an element of blackmail to put pressure on wages!
Two fundamental objectives emerge here, to be combined with an unconditional basic income and with the multiplication of struggles over contracts and working conditions: the introduction of a law on the minimum hourly wage and on the “minimum wage” for self-employed workers. Also, the taxation issue must be raised: it is not possible, as was the case also with the last budget approved, that the government continues to de-tax companies, using various forms of tax credits applied to revenue from capital. The result is that public spending, necessary for social protection and welfare, will continue to be financed mainly by wages. We need a strong taxation on assets (movable and immovable), starting from large concentrations of wealth, to finance universal services and to support the unavoidable increase in public debt in the coming years. On top of this, more changes are needed in the income tax system, because it is the rich who must participate more in financing collective institutions.
What also stands out today is the material relevance of trade union democracy. The massive use of smart working during the crisis, where the collective bargaining system played no role at all, together with the organization of labor made necessary by the “emergency”, anticipates a new and emerging labor law. This is particularly true for those in the tertiary sectors who are continuing to work from home, in a situation that further blurs the distinction between life and work. In this context, in which the organization of labor is a battleground, a struggle for “union democracy” can no longer be postponed: it is necessary to achieve and impose new rules on union representation, capable of concretely ensuring the free organization of workers, who are currently hindered by rules designed to facilitate control by the trade union confederation.
Initiatives in the field of labor must also address the current scenario, the fragmentation and precariousness that have been facilitated by the counter-reforms of recent years. “Platform capitalism” and “industry 4.0”, far from remedying this situation, have further aggravated it. The dominion of capital becomes more pervasive by means of metrics and algorithms, while the analyzes of the “feminization of labor” convincingly show how capital and patriarchal domination are combined. The conditions of migrant laborers in agriculture are also symptomatic of more far-reaching processes, in which exploitation is intertwined with race. Processes and ways to organize struggles able to represent this heterogeneous composition of living work must be a fundamental objective of future battles.
For some time it has been evident that poverty is not “external” to labor, in fact labor is permeated by poverty. During the social crisis of the coming months this trend is due to reinforce itself, and we must fight it by any means necessary, combining struggles for better wages with struggles for a basic income, demanding public interventions and relaunching the networks of mutualism that have developed during the pandemic. Poverty can also be the basis for expansive struggles, for the construction of large coalitions capable of calling into question the production model as a whole – starting from a strategic battle to reduce working hours. Sixty years have passed since the last law reduced working hours: during these decades productivity has increases and technological innovations have only benefited businesses. Again, it is a question of reversing the trend – with the awareness of how necessary and at the same time difficult it is to achieve this goal for workers who provide their services in a context that is very different from the standard traditional one with regard to typologies of contracts and employment conditions.
If we go more into detail with regard to welfare, the issue of healthcare is clearly a priority. The struggles during the crisis have forcefully and often effectively contested the blackmail implicit in the alternative presented between work and health (between production and reproduction), which also keeps coming up in the political and social clash. The issue of healthcare entails that of science, which has had an unprecedented public exposure during the crisis (it must be noted that despite this exposure, epidemiological data did not always prove to be reliable, sparking disputes among scientists that were often a sad scene to witness). Reclaiming the priority of the right to healthcare also means reclaiming the democratization of science, working on the conditions that would allow scientists to engage in projects to promote an aware and informed citizenship.
The priority of healthcare as a public practice is in fact often defended abstractly, and then denied, by enclosing these practices within a disciplinary conception of services to be dispensed, marked by a hierarchical, patriarchal and colonial idea of public health. We defend the priority of research, monitoring, territorial healthcare (also stressing that healthcare cannot be separated from environmental care). But also, at the same time, the priority of the struggle for the re-appropriation of a non-managerial and non-disciplinary idea of health. Beyond the logic that views practices as something to be dispensed, and beyond the abstract distinction between users and operators. We take inspiration from the history of the struggles that have democratized and transformed the healthcare system, before the neoliberal counter-revolution dismantled it. To resume the struggles for the centrality and transformation of healthcare also means developing an effective and practicable criticism of a system that delegates knowledge to experts, with the aim to democratically appropriate this same knowledge. The conflict between care and reproduction on the one hand, and property and capital on the other is emerging as a ground of fundamental conflict in the search for care, in conflict with the proprietary logic of the pharmaceutical system: this is where we speak of “a common vaccine” , of the centrality of social reproduction in developing a radically new democratic model of healthcare and social protection and security. We want cure and the vaccine freed from the proprietary logic – that of companies and of nation states – and free from the logic of patents. The example of Act Up, of activism linked to HIV, is fundamental for us because of its ability to politicize the conflict between care and reproduction on the one hand, property and capital on the other.
The appropriation of health takes place in collective practices – in the same conflicting practices that will mark the struggles of the coming months. A collective experimentation of forms of being together in the area of healthcare is central, together with performing practices able to build a new regime of visibility, expression, of self-care and care for others and of conflictual urgency, (we leave it up to the fascists to break up and attack this singular and collective care); practices of struggle and of mutual and collective support, capable not of removing suffering and mourning but, at the same time, of giving visibility to the strength of relationships. In short, the exact opposite of the “Lombard model”, celebrated in recent years and which has proved to be sensationally inadequate (to say the least) in dealing with the pandemic.
IV. SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY
The world of education (schools of all levels and types, as well as universities) has been hit violently by the pandemic, in particular due to the effect that remote teaching has had on millions of families (and therefore due to the direct impact on social reproduction). Schools have mobilized in many forms: street protests, open letters, the establishment of committees in all of Italy, sometimes intersecting with the feminist practices built in recent years and recognizing the position of care work as central in the lockdown phase. The fact that education was totally absent in the government’s agenda for the reopening – as well as the persistent confusion about exams, the date school will reopen in September, national competition for the stabilization of precarious workers – is significant and telling. To claim that education is a priority, against such a deafening silence, means rethinking the entire network of educational interventions starting from nursery schools that suffer from a structural lack of support on the part of the state and must be rethought in terms of quality and free access.
At present, in fact, the urgency of this claim, the need to be present in the streets, reflects the need of transformation: both in terms of planning and intervention required, and with regard to the models and relationships involved in the school, the relationships among its different components. It is necessary to rethink the school as an organic body whose components, students, teachers, parents, ATA staff and educators may dialogue on a new basis. The struggle also means creating new connections between subjectivities, also to overcome the abstract distinctions between “workers employed by the service” and “users”. It is a matter of radically criticizing a model of institution entirely founded on the dispensing and disciplinary logic, of fighting for transformation to build a different school, which does not fear conflict but knows how to enhance it, in the perspective of an authentic participation of all its components. This transformation requires to review the model based on evaluation and hierarchization, in line with the business model that has become increasingly predominant.
The contradictions affecting universities are evident: on the one hand, universities have been subject to financing measures which are certainly insufficient, though quantitatively not irrelevant – a result of the fact that it has become evidently impossible to ignore their central role. On the other hand, the absolute lack of a general plan for reopening is striking: almost as if, in this context, the costs of planning the reopening of physical spaces is viewed as being optional. The risk a situation of emergency may become permanent is particularly evident in universities. The pandemic is in fact likely to produce a further acceleration of the restructuring of the post-reform university: an even stronger hierarchy, individualization of university life and research, strengthening of the evaluation system. The reactivation of the assemblies of precarious researchers is now the strongest leverage against this process: these struggles, in addition to revealing how much the crisis weighs unequally and affects precarious workers in particular, indicate how to redesign plural and cooperative universities by identifying the following goals: welfare measures and continuity of income must be guaranteed, stable recruitment methods that are not a series of “extraordinary plans” must be adopted, for the enhancement of research as an autonomous and collective activity, and to guarantee the right to access these structures and render their management that of an infrastructure of collective intelligence.
During the crisis, migrants continued to struggle. We choose two very different examples: the general strike of May 21 in agriculture and the persistence with which hundreds of migrants challenged the border regime in the Mediterranean despite the ports were “closed because of the pandemic”. This side of the Italian borders, we also witnessed the mobilizations of June 6 and 7 to protest the murder of George Floyd (#BlackLivesMatter), which revealed an extraordinary protagonism of boys and girls born and raised in Italy – but to whom in the vast majority of cases citizenship is denied. The revival of the battle for the “jus soli” is viewed as essential, within the more general anti-racist battle. At stake is the self-representation of Italian society, the affirmation once and for all of its heterogeneous and happily mixed character, irreducible to any nationalistic narrative.
Migration will however continue to be a highly conflicting terrain in the coming months, both in Italy and on the European maritime border. And certainly it can be assumed that migrants will be among those who will be hit the hardest by the crisis, given the essential role they play within social reproduction (we only need to think, for example, of the essential role of migrant workers in the food supply chains, logistics and distribution, as well as in domestic and care work, where gender plays a very important role). It is essential to fight with all means necessary to broaden the regularization process currently underway, to guarantee procedures for permanent regularization. It is necessary to fight against a utilitarian model which has clear colonial traits, which hierarchizes migrant bodies on the basis of criteria of vulnerability, “deportability” and usability. The same regularization process, which revolves around the “plantation” and domestic system, falls within this model. For us, the imagination of a world to come cannot be separated from the struggles of migrants in the fields of labor and rights, for a permanent regularization process and for freedom of movement.
At the same time, we will continue to do our best on land and at sea to stop the Mediterranean being a sea of death and to open humanitarian corridors and safe passages for women and men fleeing (first of all from Lybia and form the camps they are locked up in). We will work to assure that migrants that have managed to arrive in Italy are decently received and have the possibility to successfully apply for asylum, networking with international activist along the borders (in particular with Mediterranea Saving Humans). We will be everywhere, taking to the streets to demonstrate against detention centers (CPR), and we will fight until the logic of detention is banned for good from migration governance processes (even when it presents itself “undercover”, as in the case of hotspots). From here on, we promise to go back to acting inside prisons, where migrants are notoriously too many, and against the deep and structural injustice that permeates police forces and the judiciary system.
VI. the web
During lockdown, our relationships have become colonized by platforms: our bodies have changed, the connection between body and machines has become stronger, at a time when our bodies showed all their vulnerability. At this exceptional time, a fundamental characteristic of the present was revealed. Privatization of the web has been a tendency for a long time, and it has favored the raise of “platform capitalism”. Extraction and manipulation of data are at the origin of horrendous processes of valorization of capital and they have not rendered exploitation obsolete (the best example of this are the riders who work for the food delivery industry). On the contrary, they strengthen the processes of dispossession (of data and of the possibility to access specific digital spaces). These processes, that have been accelerated by the crisis (which has determined an incredible increase in market value of many platforms), will continue for months and years to come.
Remote working, in particular, will probably become central to the way we produce in the near future. Therefore, it will be necessary to ideate experiments to challenge and criticize the appropriation of our time, that is increasingly taken away from us and transformed into time we dedicate to work. The fact that working hours are becoming longer and that no type of union negotiation in taking place – as we have said earlier – makes a new labor law necessary. Struggles over the web and issues concerning trade unions are therefore closely linked, both with regard to claims and organization methods. Struggles on platforms, with the experiences of mutualism and conflict that are taking place, are the grounds on which we should strategically rethink the union structure itself. These issues must be tackled with a critical awareness of the risks and possibilities that the web offers, paying attention to alternative models and thinking about the relationship between activism and the digital world, to the definition of the collective body and the public space, to the redefinition of the natural/artificial body through the online dimension – keeping in mind the constitutive asymmetry between practices of self-management and social cooperation and platform capitalism.
Artificial intelligence creates taxonomies through categories that are invisible to the human eye: codes create classes by which subjectivities are identified, and this often happens without any kind of direct experience. To keep up with these transformations we need new cosmologies, new rituals, new constellations to understand how to find our way together. The network is increasingly less a tool and more a ground of conquest where it is possible to experiment forms of cooperation and infrastructures for the commons. At present two claims have priority: access to the internet should be free and guaranteed for everyone, as well as access to forms of critical digital knowledge through self-education. On these two points, but also on others, we believe the way forward are struggle and experiments to be carried out at a municipal level.