MAYDAY 2004 — JYVÄSKYLÄ
On Mayday 2004 in Jyväskylä, Finland, we will be bringing the desires and needs of the flexible, mobile and precarious labour into the streets. At the same time we will bring forward in practice its models of action: reappropriation and independent modes of production. Similar events will take place simultaneously in various parts of Europe.
Mayday — a celebration of work?
In the era of massive lay-offs it seems as if everyone is worried first of all about the sufficiency of work. There is talk of the "China-phenomenon", the relocation of production sites into countries of lower labour costs. Moral appeals are being made to managers of corporations, even if the tendency is merely a consequence of the functional logic of the economic system: the threatening with relocation of production in order to blackmail lower working terms.
Also on this Mayday we'll hear big words "in favour of Finnish labour". The tight coalition between the union leadership (in other words, not the unions as a whole) and the employers' organisations in the traditional male-dominated industries, "working peace" and the policy of tripartite centralized contracts between the employers, employees and the state are stressed in particular. At the same time the speeches have a strong connection to the "necessity" of economic growth, which has recently been visible for example in the demands of withdrawal from the Kyoto agreement — an agreement that the same parties based their appeals for the fifth nuclear power plant on only very recently.
It is understandable that concerns of livelihood and welfare often appear as concern for one's job, by which one must earn one's livelihood. Another perspective to this is presented, when one pays attention also to how capital refuses to pay for the productivity outside of formal working time: for learning, development of skills, communication etc. However, it is especially this kind of productivity that is indispensable for capital in today's production, and this is what it tries to appropriate and imitate inside working time.
The spectre of "real work"
To what extent has the policy of tripartite centralized income contracts been able to prevent precariousness, flexibility, short contracts, the use of temporary agency labour etc. from becoming a more and more prevalent tendency? And has it for years been possible to increase rights internally to the national domain? In addition to the right of livelihood and protection against lay-offs attention must be paid to the possibilities of labour struggles concerning the local level or a particular trade, possibilities of which we have received encouraging European examples during the recent years. Moreover, there are many central questions — the rights of migrants, global minimum wage, intellectual property rights etc. — that cannot be solved on the national level even in principle. We must strive for at least European solutions.
The situation in Finland is similar to many other European countries: traditional areas of industrial production are relocated elsewhere as a part of the global management of the circulation of labour, commodities and capital. What remains in the country are the expert tasks in new technology, product development and research demanding high level education and the service sectors, whose wage level the employers are constantly demanding to be slided "flexibly". The labour market is being polarized into two separate sectors: expert tasks and cheap labour.
However, it is contradictory, that simultaneously a spectre of "real industrial labour" and an out of date measuring of value is haunting in the background. Mostly female service sectors — from nursing to sales tasks — have been sold time after time in the central tripartite contracts. Also the student benefit has remained the same for even over ten years (in other words, its real value diminishing remarkably), even if for example in cities such as Jyväskylä the most important "factories" are nowadays the university and other professional educational institutions. In the speeches of the decision-makers of economy and politics the students can't do anything right: they are made guilty either for having a job in order to survive and therefore delaying their graduation or for trying to concentrate on their studies and not having a job and therefore using "society's money".
The celebration of time outside wage labour
The alternatives regarding working life are often portrayed as an arrangement where there are available either the current form of flexibility, including the precariousness and exploitation connected to it, or the model of a "secure career" (the same job from the age of 20 until retirement), especially attached to industrial labour, and its nostalgisation. Even if the latter has brought security of livelihood, professional pride and opportunities of mass power into the lives of a certain generation, it does not seem to correspond to the wishes of the current generations: is anyone interested in being in the same job their whole life, does anyone hope such monotony for their children?
There is nothing wrong with flexibility as such — what's wrong is that workers have been one-sidedly forced to adopt flexibility. There is nothing wrong with mobility and variation as such; there is nothing wrong with entrepreneurship and independent work as such. What we want is to give flexibility such a positive content, that is a presupposition of free living and independent modes of production. Not because we'd like to avoid work, as a populist speech might whine, but because autonomy is the cradle of our creativity and productivity.
Guaranteed income is a central part of turning flexibility into a secure and recognized independence. Flexible, mobile and precarious labour does not have any reason to present a demand for jobs, but for unconditional livelihood — without proving one's activity in job seeking, without obligatory "labour education", without control.
Because wage labour is not a condition of productivity, it does not need to be a condition of wage either. In the postindustrialized society, value is not produced within the limits of formal working time or place, but within the currents of free communication and sociality. Therefore, for flexible labour, mayday is not celebration of work but rather celebration of time outside wage labour, a celebration of non-work, because in wage labour its creativity and productivity are limited into subordination. For flexible labour mayday is the celebration of the modes of struggle, where it acts autonomously and brings forward conflict rather than compromise.
This is why appropriation and independent modes of production are a part of our mayday celebration: we will organize a mayday demonstration, which, after moving as an appropriation of the streets along Jyväskylä, will reclaim a temporary space for itself for partying and other togetherness. At the same time we are doing our part in continuing the struggles regarding the management of public space. The participators of the appropriation come from the very groups of people, that have become accustomed to autonomous creativity and flexible co-operation and that are a thousand times more productive than the stock-option millionaires: students, cultural workers, the "unemployed", service and welfare workers, information technology professionals, researchers, journalists, small-scale entrepreneurs etc.