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Precarious labour: Interview with San Precario Connection organizer Alessandro Delfanti

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Alessandro Delfanti is an organizer withe San Precario Connection and will be visiting Vancouver for a series of talks in early October.

What is the Chainworkers Collective? What is the San Precario Network?

Chainworkers (chainworkers.org) was a collective of precarious workers born ten years ago as a response to the transformations occuring in labour relationships -- the birth, at least in Italy and Europe, of a new generation of workers deprived of the rights and benefits that longlife contracts used to guarantee to their parents. Now Chainworkers doesn't exist anymore. Instead, the Intelligence Precaria (or San Precario Connection if you prefer, www.precaria.org) is a project which puts together different individuals from several collectives, groups of workers and social centers based in Milan and Northern Italy.

We are one of the main organizers of the Milan EuroMayday (italy.euromayday.org), but we are also involved in the Punto San Precario, a project to provide workers with legal support and help for their mobilisations, and in several different campaigns related to labor, precarity and social rights. With the organizing that is being done with precarious workers, why is there such a developed politics and infrastructure with this movement in comparison to other parts of Europe and other parts of the world?

I would not say that our infrastructure is that developed... We have relations with several groups of service workers (call centers; theaters; precarious researchers; students; book publishers and so on) but it is a mutual relationship of help and support rather than a formal political organisation. Anyway I think that one of our main characteristics is that we try to couple theoretical analysis with direct political work... and that during these last ten years we have all been damn precarious ourselves! That’s why we always try to translate our ideas into actions directed towards the real needs and dreams of precarious people.

Our latest campaign for a new welfare was born out of our ideas about how and where not-paid production takes place outside the workplace, such as in continuous education between different jobs, exploitation of our territories, financialisation, the role of costumers as producers of information that companies can exploit, and so on. Our response is the idea of a welfare different from the 20th century “workfare” based on permanent jobs and nuclear families. We reclaim guaranteed income but also access to services such as education, transportation, housing, information technologies... (http://welfare.sanprecario.info/)

Are you in alliance with co-operative movement in Italy?

No. In the past the two main Italian cooperative movements were strictly linked to the Communist Party and the Christian-Democratic Party (red coops and white co-ops). They are still linked to political power and when it comes to labor conditions... guess what? They do not differ at all from corporations. San Precario appeared in a Coop supermarket to point to awful precarious workers conditions even in the Mecca of the Italian communist tradition. “Fake” coops are used by entrepreneurs as a means to pay less taxes and be able to contract low-wage and precarious workers. Corporations outsource part of their production to these co-ops in order to save money... But then we support new forms of cooperation based on open source principles... see the project Serpica Naro for a community of craft designers who share ideas, brands and information under the umbrella of the precarious - and misterious -- fashionista Serpica (www.serpicanaro.org).

The MayDay celebrations that you are involved with had 120,000 people there last time.  How did you pull that off?  What needs to be done in North America to make that kind of organizing happen here?

In 2001 there were 2.000 of us... it has been a long process. I think one major motivation of the success of the Italian Mayday is the immediate link between the languages and symbols maydayers have been using and the perceptions of precarious people in their daily lives. San Precario (www.sanprecario.info), for example, is a well-known icon and the Milan Mayday has become an institution: it is the First of May of the precarious, and everybody knows that. Even if we did not call it, probably 30.000 people and a couple of dozens of trucks would show up anyway! It is also a huge party, the party of the precariat abandoned by political elites and major unions. People need to give their individual experiences a collective dimension, and the Mayday is the place to be if you want to meet your sisters and brothers and imagine together a better future. North America has a different political tradition and it’s usually more difficult to get so many people on the street, but look at the struggles related to University of California. When people feel that their rights are at stake, they do react.

With the situation in Europe where you see large-scale demonstrations and action happening in Greece, Spain, Portugal and France -- is the current political and economic climate leading to new forms of organizing and networks happening throughout Europe?

Italian movements are weaker than they were five or ten years ago...actually, we are trying to adapt our languages and practices to a different, more general, target than the average “social center” activist because that political area is getting smaller and smaller. On the other side, precarity has been used as a means to mantain companies’ profits high even during a phase of crisis, but in the meantime no precarious insurgence has taken place. Our generation has lost the right to exert conflict within the productive sphere, one of the main drivers of political change. That’s why we think that the most interesting movements are those that focus on production (and not just consumption) and that envision a better future, a new social pact, rather than being just oppositional. For example the Climate Camp movement in UK or -- but I have a bias here -- the EuroMayday network, which is having a meeting in Milan during the Etats-General of precarity.

What do you find interesting and inspiring about North American social movements as someone from Italy?

They are lively and creative. They have access to funds we can’t even imagine - from foundations or grants for example. And they are more independent and less linked to political organisations. This makes them more free and imaginative, at least from my perspective. But sometimes this also makes them less effective, because many political movements have focused goals (which is often good) and don’t link them to higher, more general structures of power or social changes. Traditional political organizations such as unions and parties are much more pervasive in Europe.  You have to deal with them and play at their level, which may be tiring but it is also an interesting challenge.

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