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Whirlwinds Cosse

Whirlwinds Cosse

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Published by: teamcolors on Oct 03, 2008
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Emmanuelle Cosse
“The Precarious Go Marching” 1 of 16
The Precarious Go Marching
 
Emmanuelle Cosse
 Spring 2008: One year after Nicolas Sarkozy’s crushing victory
1
, the commemoration of May ‘68 hasoccupied French political and media space without focusing on the actuality of social revolts in France.Surprisingly and unexpectedly the first presidential year pass without a hitch. Sarkozy hoped “
toliquidate 68”
 
(“In this election, it is a question of whether the heritage of May '68 should be perpetuated or if it should be liquidated once and for all...”
2
 ),
 but French society does not seem readyfor that.
 
Sarkozy promised economic growth
"with teeth" 
3
to address “pouvoir d’achat” (the purchasing power of the population), and has received the lowest confidence rating of all those who have served as president during the 5th Republic. None of his injunctions (such as
"work more to earn more”
4
 )
seemto resonate with French workers, regardless of his electoral success. Sarkozy has pitted the workingclass against the idlers and sensualists who are unemployed and precarious. But they were among thefirst to make demands of the president. For example, in a massive strike in the distribution sector during the winter of 2007, the hand of precarious labor did not remain invisible and submissive.A national day of action was organized in February 2008, creating an embarrassment for him. Whatdid the workers denounce? The imposition of part-time work, inefficient salaries (more or less 800 to900 euros monthly), difficult working conditions, a minimal income and a denunciation of sexism:these demands are not new. But this movement, which does not seek to gain something directly in thenegotiations thought power struggle
5
, rather it is questioning French society. For once, the cashier atthe supermarket was the incarnation of the precarious person, whom everyone speaks of but nobodywants to recognize. Two years ago, it was the students who fought against the CPE contract. By theend of April 2008, it was the sans-papiers who emerged from the shadows, seeking an end to France’shypocrisy towards undocumented migrants.This succession of mobilizations, which questioned certain bases of social democracy and the"benefits" of full employment, is not confined to France. Everywhere in Europe (but mainly in France,Italy, Spain, Germany and Great-Britain), many movements have erupted to denounce insufficientwages, dangerous and/or threatening working conditions, and the general conditions of precarity. National movements (Movement of Intermittents), local initiatives, organized struggles (CPE), andunexpected movements coming from nowhere (Génération Précaire) are interacting. This struggle isnot uniform, homogenous, or massive. It would be very difficult to identify a victory in these past tenyears; and it would be hazardous to adopt an analysis that solely saw these mobilizations predicated onthe liberal shift in policies that are defended by those who govern. But, something has happened: the precarious have ‘come out’. After the workers, the students, the unemployed ones, the sans-papiers and
1 On May 6, 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy won the French presidential election with 53% of the vote; the election took place with a historical rate of  participation 83,97% representing 37 million voters.2 A speech made at the electoral meeting, Paris, April 29, 2007.3 Press conference on October 13, 2007.4 All these quotes can be attributed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and were expressed during it electoral campaign in 2007.5 Thus, in a Carrefour supermarket in Marseille, after 16 days of strikes, the directors granted its employees 0,45 euros for lunch-tickets, passing from3,05 to 3,50 euros.
 
In the Middle of a Whirlwind: 2008 Convention Protests, Movement & Movementswww.inthemiddleofawhirlwind.info 
Emmanuelle Cosse
“The Precarious Go Marching” 2 of 16
disabled people come the precarious, appearing as one political figure and social actor. It is no longer aquestion of denouncing poverty or the lack of employment, but of questioning the conditions of  precariousness, whether imposed or chosen. The precarious are emerging from underground, claimingunconditional social rights: in this process, there is a new speech and a new visibility. We could speak of this in terms of pride, similar to the first lesbian and gay marches. In 1998, Act Up-Paris
6
embracedthis comparison when we explained our participation in the “movement des chômeurs”:
Something isinvented, which is similar to Pride. Angry people speaking in their own name have left the marginalityin which years of governmental resignation, charitable hypocrisy and compassionate speeches haveconstrained them. All this returns us to our own political history: visibility counters the calls of discretion, the urgency of anger against the reason of the experts, the conquest of rights against waiting for gifts" 
 
7
. If 10 years later the term "Pride" still leads to debate, then there can’t be a singlemode of understanding the movements around precarity. These struggles have to maintain the capacityto adapt and to play with an identity, whether assigned or chosen.The ambitions of this article are very modest: It acts within the framework of the
 In the Middle of aWhirlwind 
project to put in perspective the major initiatives around precarity in Europe. It doesn’t seek to present an exhaustive history, but simply to tell, with a committed and perfectly subjective perspective, of their creativity and their inventiveness. Major authors have already analyzed what thesemovements are and what they create; others will continue to do it. If the reader could find influences of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze in this paper, they won’t be seeking in this text a theorization of these struggles. One will be able to find here elements which gravitate around four strong moments of these ten last years: the emergence of the precarious worker as a political figure, the Europeanizationof the struggles, the difficulty of dealing with identity and finally, the rebellion of precarious people.
1. "You can expel us, you will not cancel us". "Work, it is a right! An income, it is due! "
8
 This is exactly what was said in July 1997 in connection with the collective squatting of Assedic’s
9
 office in Paris. Hardly two months after the arrival of Jospin’s government
10
, the demands were placedon the table. Occupations mainly organized by AC! (Agir contre le chômage) began in several cities,mounting during the summer to culminate in a national occupation of Assedic’s offices during thewinter. The principal demands sought to address the weakness unemployment compensation, particularly for the longtime unemployed. But where the movement of the unemployed - as it was veryquickly dubbed - is crucial is in the strategy to put on the ground immediately the precarious - not onlythe unemployed. This strategy is adopted by the actors of this movement, in particular AC!. Thisexplains why the range of the claims is much broader than one would expect: the payment of a
6 Because I have been member of Act Up-Paris, an activist group of fighting AIDS, since 1992 and after of having been president, I voluntarily use “Us”when it is a question of evoking these years, this history being mine. The reader will be able to detect a lack of distance, something I assume. I have been amember of Act Up, involved in the movement of sans-papiers and having taken part in May Day Paris; these contributions are mine and mine alone, anddon’t necessarily reflect the analysis of these initiatives as such or groups in which I belong.7 Évidemment nous en sommes. édito d’Action n°51, janvier 1998. www.actupparis.org/article355.html8 Slogans of the movement of the unemployed and precarious, Winter 1997.9 Assedic, created in 1958 is a French organization controlled by management and labor (trade unions and employers) and is charged with theassurance-chômage system - which consists to allocating an “income of replacement”, calculating contributions related to preceding employment andsalary. The offices of Assedic, in connection with those of ANPE (national agency for employment), control the unemployed. The various policies of the past twenty-five years have pushed to reduce the duration and the amount of compensation.10 The president of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, elected in 1995, dissolved the National Assembly (one Chamber of the French Parliment) in April1997, hoping to reinforce his majority after two years of very difficult social movement struggle. The coalition known as the “plural left”, lead by theSocialist party with the Greens and the Communist party, won the election and governed the following five years cohabiting with a president of the right.
 
In the Middle of a Whirlwind: 2008 Convention Protests, Movement & Movementswww.inthemiddleofawhirlwind.info 
Emmanuelle Cosse
“The Precarious Go Marching” 3 of 16
Christmas gift for all the unemployed, the questioning of the system of unemployment insurance
11
, animmediate increase of social income (around 1500 Francs is required
12
), and attribution of Revenuminimum d’insertion (RMI) for all those who are deprived of it, in particular those less than 25 yearsof age.That also explains why the movement has widened beyond the unemployed and precarious.“Obviously we belong in it”, answers Act Up-Paris when one interrogates the group about its participation. This was our analysis: precarity encourages the AIDS epidemic, as well as homophobia,sexism, prohibition of drugs and control of migration. Fighting against AIDS also means fighting for equal access to care and medication, for a guaranteed income and the freedom of circulation. To belong to this movement means call into question the centrality of work. For Act Up’s militants,generally expelled from the world of work and living off of social incomes
13
, the experience of thoseliving with the disease pushed us to study and adapt theories developed by Toni Negri on guaranteedincome and popularized by groups such as Cargo
14
. “
Can one praise the “work society” without irony,when our health condition pushes us out of traditional paid employment?”
15
, ask Act-Up. This
 precarious Pride
” was a humorous moment for the group: meeting with militants from different political arenas and traditions, an intense confrontation of modes of action and debate discovered of  part of the trade unions
16
. One was praised us the merits of the full employment, we required
 guaranteed, unconditional and immediate rights”
and refusal of “
alms or granting sparingly”
.The participation by Act Up-Paris in the mobilizations of the unemployed was not expected. Until thattime, Act Up was well known for its actions (in the heritage of Act Up-New York) and its directlanguage (“
We die, they study the problem”),
even if we had prompted surprise in spring of 1997 withthe movement “
We are the left”
17
. I still remember the incredulity of Act Up-New York comrades,whom we had regarded as a model for a long time - when we explained our “
 precarious Pride”
tothem during the 12th International Conference on AIDS in Geneva (July 1998). What was an AIDSorganization doing in a movement of the unemployed? This left them perplexed. However we were ona line extremely close to theirs, as Philippe Mangeot, former president of Act Up-Paris, explained
18
:
This connection of the specific and the global is perhaps what defines best the politicization of Act Up. Having never ceased being an association against AIDS, Act Up was also immediately a groupthat dealt with general policy, engaged on multiple fronts, always seeking the points of passagesbetween various mobilizations: how to contribute to other movements dealing with the question of health? How to translate the speeches and the knowledge of other fights into the particular [languageof the] field of AIDS? As a member “of the” social movements, Act Up always remained on the fringes “of the” social movement”.
Thus Act Up-Paris was at the fringes of the social movement but
11 Sur le mouvement des chômeurs de l’hiver 1997-1998 », Interview of Laurent Guilloteau by Yann Moulier Boutang, Futur Antérieur, avril 1998.www.agirensemblecontrelechomage.org/spip.php?article45712 Like RMI or AAH. The minimum income (Revenu minimum d’insertion, RMI) is versed with any person from twenty-five to sixty years, withoutincomes or whose incomes are lower than this minimum. The adult disability benefit (Allocation Adulte Handicapé, AAH) is versed to handicapped people in age but without the capacity to work. In 1998 when they are versed with full rate, were around 3400 Francs (510 euros) for a single person.13 In particular AAH.14 Collectif d’agitation pour un revenu garanti optimal, born in the middle of 90’s.15 Act Up-Paris, Évidemment nous en sommes , Action n°51, janvier 1998. www.actupparis.org/article355.html16 In particular trade union Solidaires (called the “Group of 10”).17 www.actupparis.org/article322.html18 Philippe Mangeot, Sida : angles d’attaque , Vacarme n°29, septembre 2004, special issue Michel Foucault, 1984-2004).www.vacarme.org/article456.html

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