For some of us, as cultural producers the idea of a permanent job in an institution is something that we do not even consider, or at most for a few years. Afterward, we want something different. Hasn’t the idea always been about not being forced to commit oneself to one thing, one classical job definition, which ignores so many aspects; about not selling out and consequently being compelled to give up the many activities that one feels strongly about? Wasn’t it important to not adapt to the constraints of an institution, to save the time and energy to be able to do the creative and perhaps political projects that one really has an interest in? Wasn’t a more or less well-paying job gladly taken for a certain period of time, when the opportunity arose, to then be able to leave again when it no longer fit? Then there would at least be a bit of money there to carry out the next meaningful project, which would probably be poorly paid, but supposedly more satisfying.
In this decade, especially in the last five years, European social movements have developed increasingly on the issue of flexibilization of labor. These movements are clearly a response to neo-liberalization and the reduction of welfare and the so–called “social rights” acquired, after intense struggle, by citizens of the industrialized countries during the 20th century (Hobsbawn, Piven and Cloward). In Italy in particular, several new laws and tax measures passed over this period have transformed the workplace both qualitatively and quantitatively, particularly through the proliferation of temp-agencies and new types of short-term contracts. While a number of books and research have focused on how these shifts have impacted the workforce in general (Tiddi, Zanini, Chaincrew, Accornero), a gendered approach is uncommon and underdeveloped (Allegrini 2005). By bringing gender into the analysis of precarity, I intend to address its multiple dimensions, especially the aspects of precarity that impact everyday life and social reproduction. This approach stems from previous traditions of feminist research and aims to avoid any reductionist equation of precariousness as simply a dreadful condition of labor *1. By analyzing the emerging discourses in the new precarity movement, I intend to provide here some useful insights, eventhough any analysis of such a recently born movement can not provide but a specific depiction of concrete cases. My analysis is centered around the ideas of gender and generations, as two important dimensions defining the emerging movement.
I see the students’ mobilization that has been mounting on the North American campuses, especially in California, as part of a long cycle of struggle against the neo-liberal restructuring of the global economy and the dismantling of public education that began in the mid-1980s in Africa and Latin America, and is now spreading to Europe—as the recent student revolt in London demonstrated. At stake, in each case, has been more than resistance to the “enclosure of knowledge.” The struggles of African students in the 1980s and 1990s were particularly intense because students realized that the drastic university budget cuts the World Bank demanded signaled the end of the “social contract” that had shaped their relation with the state in the post-independence period, making education the key to social advancement and participatory citizenship. They also realized, especially on hearing World Bankers argue that “Africa has no need for universities,” that behind the cuts a new international division of work was rearticulated that re-colonized African economies and devalued African workers’ labor.
I have chosen to focus the thoughts I will develop today on a fact that I consider fundamental for every other discourse concerning women’s autonomy. That is: for women, in every part of the world, the construction of autonomy has meant first of all the re-appropriation of their body; it has meant to have the availability of that female body which has always been at stake in the relation between the sexes. This was true for us at the beginning of the ‘70s in Italy, as it was for the Mayan women when they began to draft their law, at the beginning of the ‘90s in Chiapas. To mention here and compare some aspects of our problematic and struggles on this terrain could be useful then in a battle that for us, as for them, as for many other women in many other countries, has reached important goals, but is far from being concluded. When I read the Revolutionary Law of the Mayan Women, I was struck by the very close correspondence between the demands presented in it, as well as the others that were being all along elaborated, and our own demands at the dawn of the 1970s. We, like them, had to unite as women in a movement in order to lift ourselves out of our pain and impotence. Impotence was the very problem we had witnessed in the lives of our mothers. It was the impotence due to the lack of money that made any choice, even running away from violent husbands or fathers, impossible. It was the impotence of not knowing our sexuality, which made marriages fail, but was beyond remedy as the counterpart were men who knew nothing about female sexuality1. And again the impotence of not being able to communicate, as it was a taboo to speak with other women of too intimate things; the impotence coming from the stigmatization of life outside of marriage, which forced our mothers to move, still very young, from the house of their father to that of their husband, without ever having a chance to find out who they were and what they wanted; the impotence of finding themselves mothers just nine months after their marriage, without ever having known themselves as women –-pre-matrimonial ‘virginity’ being a social imperative; the impotence of being subjected to violence in or out of the family, but not being able to speak about it, not to expose the family to a scandal and not to be guilt-tripped by other men, starting with the judges and the policemen; the impotence of being subjected to sexual harassment on the job, but not being able to afford to loose it. All these are issues that, despite great differences as far as social contexts and life conditions, stand out clearly in the demands and debates that are developing among Mayan women.
The issue of a generational exchange in Italian feminism has been crucial over the last decade. Current struggles over precariousness have revived issues previously raised by feminists of the 1970s, recalling how old forms of instability and precarious employment are still present in Italy. This essay starts from the assumption that precariousness is a constitutive aspect of many young Italian women’s lives. Young Italian feminist scholars have been discussing the effects of such precarity on their generation. This article analyses the literature produced by political groups of young scholars interested in gender and feminism connected to debates on labour and power in contemporary Italy. One of the most successful strategies that younger feminists have used to gain visibility has involved entering current debates on precariousness, thus forcing a connection with the larger Italian labour movement. In doing so, this new wave of feminism has destabilized the universalism assumed by the 1970s generation. By pointing to a necessary generational change, younger feminists have been able to mark their own specificity and point to exploitative power dynamics within feminist groups, as well as in the family and in the workplace without being dismissed. In such a layered context, many young feminists argue that precariousness is a life condition, not just the effect of job market flexibility and not solely negative. The literature produced by young feminists addresses the current strategies engineered to make ‘their’ precarious life more sustainable. This essay analyses such strategies in the light of contemporary Italian politics. The main conclusion is that younger Italian women’s experience requires new strategies and tools for struggle, considering that the visibility of women as political subjects is still quite minimal. Female precariousness can be seen as a fruitful starting point for a dialogue across differences, addressing gender and reproduction, immigration, work and social welfare at the same time.
In the many articles and books written in recent years on the topics of precarious labour, immaterial and affective labour, all of which are understood within the over-arching frame of post-Fordist regimes of production, there is a failure to foreground gender, or indeed to knit gender and ethnicity into prevailing concerns with class and class struggle. I seek to rectify this by interrogating some of the influential work in this terrain. I draw attention to those accounts which have reflected on gender and on changes in how feminists and sociologists nowadays think about the question of women and employment. I ask the question, how integral is the participation of 'women' to the rise of post-Fordist production, and what kind of role, do women, especially young women now play in the urban-based new culture industries? By prioritising gender I am also critiquing its invisibility in this current field of new radical political discourse associated with writers like Hardt and Virno (eds 1996) and Hardt and Negri (2000). I argue for a more historically informed perspective which pays attention to the micro-activities of earlier generations of feminists who were at the forefront of combining forms of job creation with political activity (eg women's book stores and publishing, youth-work or 'm�dchenarbeit', child care and kinderladen ) under the auspices of what would now be called 'social enterprise'.
In a contested 'swerve' in debates around communisation, issues of gender, class and race are coming to the fore. Reviewing key texts in this debate, P. Valentine discusses the material basis of the gender distinction in capitalism, and its centrality to class exploitation