A proposal on the Scottish referendum: “Yes, but…”

by Gordon Asher on September 18, 2014

Post image for A proposal on the Scottish referendum: “Yes, but…”“A ‘Yes, but’ campaign supports a ‘yes’ vote as our least worst option, and supports the autonomy of social movements regardless of which side wins.”

By Gordon Asher and Leigh French

With Scotland’s referendum on “independence” and the likelihood of a very close result now sparking further interest and engagement, we catch breath to consider likely and possible future paths for movements struggling for eco-social justice. To be clear, we do so from a position of voting ‘Yes, BUT’, with no illusions, which is Richard Gunn’s useful way of framing and orienting a response to the highly polarized referendum question:

“A YES, BUT campaign would support a ‘yes’ vote as our least worst option [...] And — most important — it would support the autonomy of social movements regardless of which side in the referendum won. [...] Both an unadorned YES campaign and an unadorned NO campaign endorse neoliberal positions. By contrast, a YES, BUT campaign reformulates issues in an interactive way.”

It is important to recognize that there are a number of coherent and principled positions to take to voting in the referendum that reflect desires for eco-social justice — including choosing not to engage with the referendum vote at all. There are not simply two homogeneous opposing national positions, spoken for by party political leaders, as is represented by parliamentarianism and the media. Rather, a range of orientations around the national question can and are being expressed.

We sceptically believe that a Yes vote provides a greater likelihood for conditions favorable to ongoing struggles for eco-social justice. From a position of critique — treating Yes as our least worst option — we are under no illusion that ‘yes’ will, per se, enable struggles that speak to both resistance and necessary alternatives to our current socio-economic conditions. A Yes vote is not a solution to our contemporary crises — nor is it a new start.

Rather, it concerns the contexts of continuing present struggles. Something which requires the state-formation processes that are already underway (such as the SNP government’s proposed interim constitution) to be grasped more critically, so as to inform ongoing political action.

So voting ‘yes’, but with an awareness of the need for continuing — deepening and expanding, building and evolving — struggles for eco-social justice. And doing so through participation in and engagement with social movements, which will be necessary whatever the referendum result. In taking a critical stance in such polarised conditions of the referendum, we have repeatedly encountered demands to situate what we are for and what we are against in such binary terms that affirm one side or the other.

So as to be clear, we are against:

  • The rapacious neoliberal globalization of a corporate-state nexus — marked by growing social, political and economic polarization and integrated crises. How situations of civil disruption, social suffering and environmental crises are key strategic moments for the reproduction of capital (Naomi Klein’s ‘disaster capitalism’).
  • The idea of the nation-state as a naturally pre-given form — it is a historically contingent social construct and thus there are alternatives to it.
  • How the nation-state comes to sit above the local in importance — the way banal rituals and routine bureaucratic procedures help to assert the pre-eminence of state authority.
  • The combination of the state as the foremost institution involved in ‘binding space’ into productive territories, and the ideology of neoliberalism which exerts a pedagogical force that acts to shape social space — becoming the automatic ‘common sense’ by which the state, the media, civil society, and ordinary people relate.
  • The contradictory division between ‘good’ (civic) and ‘bad’ (ethno-cultural) nationalism — with the former linked to motifs of progress as an obligatory common destiny.
  • The use of shaming (of stigma) to modify conduct — as has been taken up in expressions and appeals of both campaigns.
  • The growth agenda of competitive nationalism — which, through a rhetoric of national competitive necessity, marshals consensus around the inevitability of market-competition, with practical consequences for international solidarity.

And, what we are for:

  • A path not a model — rather, an orientation or direction of travel beyond an improved future.
  • Asserting that our social relations should and can be different — and that we (as agents of change) can transform them in moving towards greater levels of self-determination, self-management, participatory democracy, and individual and collective autonomy.
  • Eco-social justice — an equal and just world for all with regard to all species and across the integrated spheres of society.
  • A prefigurative orientation towards critical dialogue and engagement that makes existing exclusions visible — because how we locate politics is central to the kind of society we would like to become.
  • A recognition of radical, autonomous social movements as central to living (an ongoing process of being and becoming) — the necessary prefigurative struggles of resistance, creation and evolution of alternatives.
  • Dissensus as central to democratic agonistic interaction (the positive role of political conflict) as it is key to opening up alternatives in political decision-making. Dissensus doesn’t just mean a conflict of interest, opinions, or values but, more widely, a dispute over the space of and for politics itself.
  • Agonistic pluralism — as a way to think about democracy that’s centred on that contestation, as a counter to the de-politicizing technocratic discourse of consensus, which displaces politics by determining the correct place and object of political action. As Chantal Mouffe explains: “while we desire an end to conflict, if we want people to be free we must always allow for the possibility that conflict may appear and to provide an arena where differences can be confronted. The democratic process should supply that arena.”

A ‘Yes Scotland’ and ‘Independence’

Attention to what vocabulary represents or obscures is important — not that we’re polishing any halos — particularly when it can be and is both contested and prejudicially manipulated. As such, should we be talking about a Yes vote leading to a ‘Yes Scotland’ rather than to ‘independence’? Because actual independence is not what is on offer, if indeed that is at all possible for any territory within the post-sovereign global system of nation states.

Rather, ‘independence’ is a matter of degrees and of variable power relations, both internally and externally. Certainly the nation-state that the SNP now envisages, with intentions to keep the monarchy (and hence Crown Powers), and to maintain a currency union (and thus austerity pact with the Bank of England) is, in these regards, no less independent of the rest of the UK than at present.

Neither is it independent of the tension between harmonization/acquiescence and conflict that exists between state politics and global circuits of capital and power — the network of inter-, trans- and supra-national bodies (such as NATO, the EU, the G7, the IMF and the World Bank) that serve to underpin, extend and evolve the processes of neoliberalism, and through membership of which nations have ceded sovereignty, or indeed had it taken from them.

A pressing example is the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), intended to further lock-in, deepen and expand the neoliberal organization of society, and through doing so further weaken undesirable aspects of state sovereignty. A treaty which Scotland will likely be bound by; either through remaining in a UK that has ratified it, or through a post-yes-referendum EU membership.

For a level of independence in which, individually and collectively, we have a say in decisions to the extent that they effect us — that is, participatory democracy — it is incumbent upon us to resist such plans, which includes those of considerable sections of the mainstream Yes campaign. That is, to evolve, build and connect social movements that not only resist and create alternative visions and strategies to the kinds of arrangements and pressures just outlined, but that over time move beyond not just capitalism but the nation-state system itself.

The SNP and the Constitutional Position

It is worth closely examining the recent history of the SNP government, as well as their proposals for a technocratic future Scotland – especially their White Paperxvi and constitutional plans.xvii We hold concerns about both the inter-related process and content. Why is there need for a bill in these terms, rather than the procedural minimum necessary – a “minimal constitutional model which would still leave policy choices to the new parliament”?xviii

The SNP propose a nation-state determined by:

  • Monarchic oversight and thus a continued acceptance of anti-democratic Crown Powers;
  • A US-dominated NATO with its neo-colonial role and developing strategy of first use of nuclear weapons;
  • The ceding of sovereignty to an EU neoliberal framework;
  • The economic primacy of the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) sector, and hence continued domination by corporations — for example, through low corporate taxes and the exploitation of debt and rent at all scales, from individual to state;
  • A commitment to endless economic growth with fossil fuels a significant economic driver.

Such a “treaty-worthy/ready” state (in Chomsky’s terms) will be subjected to and driven by the same neoliberal market processes as Westminster.The realities of the SNP proposals and present policies is that they would function to close down genuinely radical alternative visions and strategies.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, large numbers of people in Scotland have already expressed a sense of disenfranchisement and powerlessness and seek a greater say in how their lives are shaped. That aspiration cannot be satisfied by what is on offer. We will still have to work, post-referendum, to create and develop actual democratic structures and relations.

Issues Arising

Following on from these propositions are issues that we feel are either absented, paid insufficient attention, or grossly misrepresented across the referendum campaigns. They concern imagined visions of society and how we might wish to get to the many possible futures from here — something contingent upon the contemporary contexts of the integrated crises which we face.

Ecological Issues and Imperatives:

The roles of the state in creating and deepening the ecological and environmental crises of global warming, climate chaos, resource depletion and environmental degradation have been the significant elephant in the room with regard to referendum debates and positions, specifically for claims centred on a need for exploitation of oil and gas. Yet, the science tells us that to keep global warming to within a (still dangerous) rise of two degrees Celsius, it is imperative that we leave most petro-carbons in the ground, unexploited.

Further, across the campaigns, environmental policies comfortably sit within the capitalist paradigm, and thus are still based on a model of seeking infinite growth on a finite planet. A system that will continue to create climate chaos and further environmental degradation, even if we do leave carbon in the ground! Which is not to say that, if possible (a very serious question and doubt), these would not be small but significant improvements. But that we urgently need to replace these dictates and imperatives of capital — indeed the entire capitalist system.

Environmentally, we must develop resilience to eco-system changes otherwise locked-in, while rapidly moving from a carbon-based system of immense energy consumption to one that is more localized and consumes considerably less, promoting de-carbonization. Basing that on renewables — creating a low or zero carbon infrastructure — that permits the use of what carbon we do extract for the many petrochemical functions that are vital to modern society. It is worth noting that Scotland is particularly well placed to do so, with huge potential resources in terms of renewable energy.

Representative and Participatory Democracy:

Most of the debate to date has taken place within the paradigm of ‘representative democracy’ — the electoral system symbiotic with, and that is used to justify, capitalism in much of ‘the global north’. It is essential to puncture the myth that such a system is either representative of (or accountable to) those for whom it is claimed to be. Nor is it democratic. In that it does not lead to people actually being the decision makers — to people having, to the greatest degree possible, the ultimate power over decisions, regarding all aspects of society to the extent that they are likely to be affected by them.

It is this participatory democracy that must be prefigured in our movements, working towards an inclusive conflictual politics rather than a consensus that shrinks political space. The relations, processes and practices of our movements should demonstrate a possible world by reflecting the very values and objectives that we espouse.

Nuclear and Militarism — and Demilitarisation

There appears to be agreement across the Yes campaigns with the SNP policy of removal of Trident from Scotland. Yet, while welcome, as it is presently formulated this is limited, and we have to ask if it amounts to much more than a policy of ‘not in our backyard’? Central to the SNP’s stance is the hypocrisy of seeking to remain a member of NATO — a US-dominated, expansionist, and interventionist body and projectxl responsible for:

  • A military alliance with an evolving strategy of first use of nuclear weapons and a continuing history of illegitimate, immoral, and by their own logic, illegal wars and occupations;
  • Waging ‘war’ by other means — the economic pressuring of countries through diplomatic and development routes; from debt and spending, trade liberalization and privatization, to sanctions.

We should, instead, withdraw from NATO, alongside a unilateral relinquishment of nuclear weapons and, indeed, all other weapons and means of mass destruction. Further, we should demilitarize Scotland — which goes beyond divestment of nuclear weapons. A demilitarization through which we end both Scotland’s role as a constituent part of US global bases and force projection, and its part in the manufacturing and distribution chain of militarism globally.

The vast sums saved could instead underpin not just the protection but the expansion and improvement of public services, the vital rapid transition to renewable energy, and thus crucial opportunities for the creation of socially useful employment that such projects would create.

Questions

We will conclude by raising some questions. The first is relevant in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote: how do we not get the neoliberal Scotland envisaged in the SNP’s White Paper? And, more long term, how do we overcome a capitalist Scotland at the hands of any of the political parties?

Secondly, in the event of a ‘No’ vote: how do we resist, through building alternatives to, that which appears to inevitably be in store for us at the hands of the dominant powers in the UK? (Deepening and intensified so-called ‘austerity’, with extra foreclosure to stem any future challenges to UK state legitimacy). Further, what are the points of class (and other) oppressions and antagonisms that far too many national discussions have served, in large part, to overwrite or obscure?

Other questions needing to be asked whatever the result of the vote include: how do we contest the socio-economic consensus of There Is No Alternative (TINA)? That is, claims that there are no alternatives to an incontestable neoliberal vision — the entrenched dogma of competitive nationalism(s); where institutions are subject to reproduction of both banal and overt state ideology, where culture and education are pressed to contribute to a cohering of nationhood and positioned as a competitive factor, and where individuals are treated as responsible for not maximising their economising potential so relieving their burden on the state vision.

How do we address the related crisis of democracy — the political consensus of TINA; here, wedded to claims of a ‘representative democracy’ within a parliamentary system? Such that we genuinely democratize participation and engagement in political processes and decision making? How do we come to understand, and resist, the dominance of both the mainstream media and education systems as part of the state apparatus; and their roles in the manufacture, maintenance and evolution of consent? And in doing so, nourish, build, and evolve the necessary alternatives of education and communication across society?

Nothing is conceded by power without a struggle. While proposing voting ‘Yes, But’ as the least worst option on Thursday, our central focus (whatever the referendum result) needs to be on ensuring that struggles and movements for eco-social justice are continued, deepened and expanded — working to make real the claims that other, better Scotlands (and worlds) are possible, necessary and indeed, under construction.

Gordon Asher is an educator/learner, ‘activist’ and cultural worker, an editor at Variant and board member of Strickland Distribution. He works as a Learning Developer at the University of the West of Scotland and is studying part-time for a PhD at the University of Glasgow.

Leigh French is also an editor at Variant and board member of Strickland Distribution.

 

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Forty five million in poverty in the US

http://kstp.com/kstpImages/repository/2012-07/B-US-Poverty.jpeg

By Andre Damon
17 September 2014

Forty-five million people are living in poverty in the United States, according to figures released Tuesday by the Census Bureau. The 2013 Income and Poverty in the United States report found that the number of people in poverty remained at a record high last year, while the income of a typical household remained stagnant. According to the Census figures, the median household income in the US has fallen 8 percent since 2007.

The continuing prevalence of mass poverty and the stagnation of the incomes of working people are an expression of the fact that the so-called economic “recovery” touted by the Obama administration is a recovery only for the financial elite: corporate profits hit a record in the year covered by the report, while stock values increased by a third that year, fueled by the Federal Reserve’s money printing operations.

The White House praised the report, saying that it showed that “key indicators of poverty and family income improved.” In reality, the report is yet another confirmation of the fact that there has been no real improvement in the living conditions of working people.

The report follows the publication earlier this month of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, which found that between 2007 and 2013, the income of a typical US household fell 12 percent. According to the survey, the median American household now earns $6,400 less per year than it did in 2007.

The poverty threshold, which currently stands at $23,624 for a family of four with two children, or $12,119 for an individual without children, is abysmally low. Using this measure, the latest Census Bureau report finds that the official poverty rate fell by .5 percent, to 14.5 percent, the first fall in the poverty rate since 2006. While the poverty rate fell, the total number of people in poverty remained at the same level as the year before.

One in five children in the US were in poverty in 2013, and the child poverty rate stood at 19.9 percent in 2013, down from 21.8 percent the year before.

The stagnation of real wages shown in 2013 is part of an ongoing decline in workers’ wages. According to an analysis of the Census figures by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the inflation-adjusted median earnings for a man in 1973 was $52,419, higher than the present figure of $50,033. According to the EPI’s data, “the decline in median non-elderly household income from 2000 to 2013” was $7,337, or 11.2 percent.

According to the Census figures, while the Gini coefficient, a measure of social inequality, increased 4.9 percent from 1993 through 2012, it remained largely unchanged in 2013.

The report also noted that there were 42 million people in the United States, or 13.4 percent of the population, who did not have health insurance in 2013. The share of the population that does not have health insurance dropped as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which imposes fines on those who do not have health insurance.

As a result of the 2008 economic crash, a growing number of people avoided getting their own homes or apartments, or moved back in with their parents or acquaintances. According to the Census Bureau, such “shared households” are defined as “those that include at least one ‘additional’ adult: a person 18 or older who is not enrolled in school and is not the householder, spouse or cohabiting partner of the householder.” The number of such households had increased from 17 percent to 19 percent by spring 2014, according data referred to in the Census report.

The Census figures do not reflect a series of drastic cuts to social spending that were implemented in 2013, including elements of the “sequester” budget cuts, $11 billion in cuts to food stamp benefits, and the expiration of federal extended jobless benefits at the end of the year. These draconian spending cuts together removed tens of millions of dollars in income from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the population.

The Census report follows the publication of a number of social indicators showing growing poverty and social distress in the US. In April, Feeding America published its annual report on hunger, which showed that 49 million people, or 16 percent of the population, lived in food insecure households in 2012, up from 11.1 percent in 2007. The level of food insecurity among children is even worse, affecting 16 million children, or 21.6 percent of all children in the US.

The collapse of workers’ incomes and the growth of inequality express the basic response of the ruling class to the economic crisis that erupted in 2008. The Obama administration seized upon the economic downturn in order to carry out wage-cutting in the auto companies it restructured, incentivize companies to slash workers’ health care benefits through the Affordable Care Act, and slash billions of dollars in social programs.

As a result of these policies, the top 1 percent of income earners in the US took in 95 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2012.

Uber may be a bum deal for drivers and cabbies alike, threatening the future of full-time work

How Uber’s Efforts to Squeeze Drivers Have Compelled Them to Fight Back

Last week in Long Island City, a waterfront neighborhood in western Queens, over 1,000 Uber drivers went on strike, protesting against several recent policy changes that directly cut into their wages. LIC is cab country, home to countless car service companies, and it can sometimes feel like every passing vehicle is a taxi of some sort: a classic yellow cab, a town car, a green taxi or, more likely than not, a ridesharing car. So it came as no surprise that drivers who work for Uber—a smartphone app that connects drivers with people looking for a ride—chose the company’s Long Island City headquarters to protest their labor practices.

One driver grievance was the decision to extend a summer discount, where the base price for standard rides was slashed from $12 to $8, into the fall, requiring drivers to work more hours to make the same money. The other is slightly more complex, but just as damaging to workers’ earning potential. There are several distinct tiers of Uber service (UberX and Uber XL, the cheapest services offered in New York City, and UberBlack and UberSUV, the higher-end black car services), and drivers for the higher-end versions earn more, in part to compensate for the higher costs of their vehicles, which they must supply themselves. Without any advance warning, the company told drivers for “Black” and “SUV” that they would now be sent cheaper fares as well, and that declining those fares could lead to their deactivation from the service.

The coordinated outcry from their workers got Uber’s attention, and, in an abrupt turnaround late on Friday morning, the company sent a mass email to their New York drivers giving them permission to decide if and when to receive UberX requests. Though this conflict may seem like a minor technical issue, it speaks to the increasingly fraught dynamic between the San Francisco-based company and its international network of independently contracted drivers.

Uber has built its reputation on providing reliable, safe rides at any time and at any location in the urban centers where it operates. In 205 cities in 45 countries across the world, it is now possible to take out your phone, select a car from a map showing nearby Uber vehicles, and have a cab waiting at your doorstep in under five minutes. Because customers’ accounts are linked to their debit or credit cards, payment is seamless. The convenience and usability of the app have inspired devoted fans, and few would argue against the practicality of Uber and its ever-expanding list of peers, including Sidecar, Lyft, SheTaxis and Halo. But in their focus on customer service, ridesharing companies have pushed the concerns of their workers aside.

* * * * *

Since it’s founding in 2009, Uber has become the poster child for the sharing economy, a nebulous concept that basically boils down to companies taking on the role of middlemen. Companies like Uber, Airbnb and Snapgoods use technology to connect people to various goods and services (apartments, cars, ball gowns, bikes) that they can rent temporarily. The sharing economy has been heralded as a resource-saving, efficient, collaborative system that allows people to make a profit from items they wouldn’t otherwise be using. In another light, it can be seen as a sign of our economically insecure times. People who don’t make enough at their day jobs can try to cover expenses by renting out an extra room of their apartments, or driving strangers around a few afternoons per week. It is evidence of the fragile finances of people who are underpaid for minimum wage work or cobbling together full-time schedules from an assortment of temporary and seasonal gigs.

Investors love this economic model, for obvious reasons. Because these service providers are tech companies first and foremost and do not own the products being rented, much of the business risk, from upkeep to scheduling, is shifted to the workers. Companies like Uber—which received a valuation of $18.2 billion back in June—can make enormous profits while washing their hands of any responsibility to their employees.

Uber has exploited their position as middleman in two principal ways, both of which have a serious impact on people who drive cabs for a living. One, they claim that they are “disrupting” the overly regulated, outmoded taxi industry in the name of competition and the free market. What goes unmentioned are the thousands of full-time taxi drivers, many of whom belong to associations that help them fight for decent wages and other benefits, being put out of work by the rise of ridesharing companies. Furthermore, for a company that so values competition, Uber has systematically worked to quash their rivals in cities across the country, engaging in underhanded tactics to poach drivers from other car services.

The other way Uber takes advantage of their middleman status is in their treatment of workers. Uber drivers are not technically considered employees. Instead, they are “independent contractors,” meaning that they don’t receive any of the benefits or protections employers are typically expected to provide. The company tries to play this both ways. On the one hand, they claim that Uber drivers—or “partners,” as they’re known—typically work part-time, and drive as a way to make some extra cash. Yet the company also markets itself as a job creator and promises drivers the opportunity to make up to $90,000 a year in places like New York—no one’s idea of pocket change, if it is in fact true.

The contractor model has been tested by a number of corporations that want to do away with the inconvenience of having to be accountable to their labor force. In one recent example, FedEx Ground lost a landmark court case for misclassifying their drivers as “contractors,” saddling them with the burden of providing their own healthcare, FedEx-brand equipment, gas, insurance and much more. FedEx may now have to pay hundreds of millions in backpay. By shifting much of the risk and cost of operations onto the workers, companies like FedEx and Uber are relieved of the responsibility of dealing with the day-to-day hazards of running a business. In a blog post about the downsides of the sharing economy, Maureen Conway of the Aspen Institute, a centrist think tank, writes:

“If someone gets sick in the car and that driver has to spend the rest of the day cleaning the car, that’s not Uber’s problem….The risks associated with illness, injury or just the ups and downs of customer demand are largely borne by workers.”

Uber drivers use their own vehicles, pay for their own gas, parking and repairs, receive no benefits or worker’s compensation, and, once they are hired, have hardly any interaction with the company for which they work. Taken together, these additional costs make a significant dent in what workers bring home at the end of the day. Yet the company and its acolytes promote Uber as a source of well-compensated, stable employment. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced last week that they are adding 50,000 new “driver jobs” each month, and they have hundreds of thousands of drivers in their network. In promotional materials, Uber brags that their drivers can make salaries in the upper five figures in particularly busy markets like New York and San Francisco, and that they earn far more on average than taxi drivers. This would all seem to imply that the company acknowledges that drivers operate vehicles for Uber as their primary source of income. As the recent protests in New York City (and Los Angeles, and Santa Monica) suggest, many of the people who work for Uber consider driving their full-time job and are struggling to make ends meet.

Yet the company also markets itself as a form of part-time employment, a stopgap measure between full-time jobs or a way for grad students or stay-at-home moms to make a few extra bucks. This is certainly the case for some drivers, who enjoy the ability to create their own schedules and serve as their own employers. Nina Beck, a sunny 26-year-old from the Bay Area, told me in a phone interview that she started working for Uber because she was getting married and needed a job with flexible hours. Maria Vargas, an Uber driver who lives in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, began working for the company when her kids moved out and she no longer needed to work at her full time job sewing for a garment factory.

“I love it,” she said. “You can go on vacations. They don’t care if you’re working or not. The money is never enough, but for me, it is.”

For many others, it is not. Haroon, a Pakistani immigrant who has been working for Uber for two years, told me that he works 12-hour shifts six days per week in order to support his wife and two young sons. Most of the drivers who he knows from Uber, and from a previous stint working for Lyft, work full-time, often clocking far more than 40 hours per week. Anyone hoping to earn a decent income as a ridesharing driver should expect to treat it as a full-time job, whether or not the company admits it. Though Uber is surely aware that casual part-time workers aren’t the reason the company has been able to move into scores of new markets at a blistering pace. No corporation would function with a labor force of individuals who only worked for an hour or two a day. Uber’s popularity is based on its reliability and availability, and the company needs knowledgeable, friendly drivers working on a steady basis to ensure that they maintain it.

Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, NYC’s union for yellow taxicab drivers, put it to me this way: “Ridesharing companies like Uber are informalizing driver labor. Throughout the world, whenever workers’ labor is deprofessionalized, they lose protections and rights…As much as Uber supporters talk about their model being something modern, I really think it seems quite backwards as far as workers’ rights are concerned.”

* * * * *

The ability to make “enough” as a ridesharing driver depends largely on where Uber drivers are located geographically. They can earn much more in cities with high customer demand, like San Francisco and DC, but the issue has become more complicated by Uber’s recent fare cuts. As a means of boosting ridership and offering customers the cheapest possible rates, Uber has drastically cut fares in many states, including New York and New Jersey. Customers are understandably thrilled by the cheaper prices, but a lower fare translates to a pay cut for drivers, who earn 80% of the cost of each Uber ride. The company says that drivers will benefit from this system since they will get many more trips as a result of the spike in rider interest. Drivers don’t seem so sure.

“You can’t keep cutting people’s rates in half and telling them, ‘Oh, you’re going to get twice as many customers!’” Jonathan Cousar, a part-time Uber driver who runs the website Uber Driver Diaries, told me in a phone interview. “There are only so many people that you can physically drive around in one hour. It basically translates to drivers doing more work for more time while making a smaller profit.”

Another barrier to earning a decent wage is the surplus of drivers. Because Uber is desperate to prevent other ridesharing services from hiring new drivers, and because their business model relies on providing people with cab rides anywhere and at any time, the company has far more drivers than Uber workers say they actually need. This cuts into business both for traditional cab drivers and for ridesharing drivers. The Uber driver thread on Reddit is flooded with posts by drivers upset about their lack of trips. “I haven’t had a single fare this weekend (sixteen hours online),” user ImagineFreedom, who is based in San Antonio, fumed in a posting. “All of a sudden it seems like driver numbers have quadrupled and ads are still being posted for drivers.” On a recent afternoon, my Uber app showed six available cars in a two-block vicinity on a quiet corner in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights.

Cousar, who operates in northern New Jersey, told me that when he first joined the company, he easily made his goal of $500 per week to supplement the income he made from his web hosting business. But now it’s impossible to make that much thanks to the combination of fare cuts and the surplus of drivers on the road.

“It makes me wonder how reliable this is as a future full-time or even part-time income. They’ve already brought in far more drivers than the market can support, and they’re still recruiting so aggressively.”

This is where the lack of accountability comes in. Uber doesn’t care if drivers are only getting one fare an hour, as long as all of their customers are getting picked up on time. It’s not their problem if drivers have to work longer hours to make the same money, or to waste hours waiting around for a trip that never comes. Uber’s concerns are customer satisfaction and profit, and in those regards, they’re doing as well as any company could hope to.

* * * * *

If Uber drivers are fed up with this lack of consideration, traditional taxi drivers are in despair. The highly regulated industry has strict requirements that determine standards for licensing, rates and training. Uber isn’t subject to these regulations, meaning its drivers have a significant advantage over taxi drivers who have to comply with county and state regulations that specify when and how a for-hire car can be booked. Kalanick, the CEO, has scoffed at the taxi industry as a “protectionist scheme,” and blames excessive regulation for strangling competition in the field.

There is certainly some merit to his claims, and customers have plenty of legitimate complaints about the traditional cab industry (the difficulty of finding a ride at odd hours, high prices, a lack of options). Ask why people use Uber and they’ll respond with complaints about cabbies talking on the phone while driving, taking unnecessarily long routes to jack up the fare, or subjecting them to unwanted flirtations.

Beck, the San Francisco-based Uber driver, told me, “Personally I’m not really concerned about taxi drivers losing their jobs. I can’t tell you how many creepy cab drivers I’ve had in my life; it’s just like ‘good riddance.’ They never innovate. I guess that’s not the fault of individual cab drivers but the industry itself.”

This last line is key. Why are we blaming individual taxi drivers for the effects of strict regulations they had no part in creating? And isn’t it a bit unfair for people to write off an entire industry based on a few negative experiences? Imagine passing judgment on the food service industry based on the one time a waiter happened to be rude to you. Moreover, most of the regulations that “encumber” the taxi industry are designed to protect consumers. Taxi commissions exist to control fares, enforce training, licensing and safety standards for drivers, and to provide a platform for customers to file complaints or report lost property. Most of the negative press about Uber has involved customer complaints: female riders being sexually harassed by drivers or passengers being charged exorbitant rates under the surge pricing system, where fares go up, sometimes dramatically, during times of increased demand. In August, Uber riders in San Francisco took to social media to rail against the $400-plus fees they were being charged to get to and from a popular local music festival. Clearly, consumers expect some degree of liability and oversight from the companies with which they do business.

So who are the people who are so vigorously applauding Uber’s fight against industry requirements? A March Daily Beast article, which recounts a visit from Republican Senator Marco Rubio to Uber’s DC office, gives us some indication.

“Regulation,” Rubio told the gathered group of Uber employees, “should never be a weapon used by connected and established industry to crowd out innovation and competition, and this is a real world example.”

* * * * *

Uber’s cutthroat tactics are not restricted to the taxi industry. In a remarkable scoop at The Verge, Casey Newton details the underhanded methods the company uses to hurt the business of other ridesharing services. The anecdotes read like the pages of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except instead of sending spies to steal recipes from rival candy manufacturers, Uber sends undercover “brand ambassadors” to convince drivers from Lyft and Sidecar to switch companies. Their campaign against Lyft, their main competitor, is particularly underhanded and systematic. CNN reported in August that the company had employees around the country order and then cancel 5,560 Lyft rides, disrupting the company’s operations and causing Lyft drivers to lose business.

Cousar, the Jersey-based driver and blogger, expressed his discomfort with these aggressive tactics. “I think they’ve done some terrible things. From a moral standpoint they make me cringe, and they make me less proud and more leery about working with them.”

For now, at least, the legality of Uber’s tactics hasn’t been seriously questioned. As any defender of the company will tell you, all competing companies try to hire each other’s workers and undercut each other’s business. But Uber is already the colossus of the ridesharing industry, with a budget and international presence that far surpass any of its rivals. Though Kalanick and other Uber reps constantly preach the gospel of competition to reporters, their methods are as anti-competitive as they come. As Andrew Leonard at Salon puts it, “There’s little doubt that Uber is the closest thing we’ve got today to the living, breathing essence of unrestrained capitalism….This is how robber barons play.”

After all, wasn’t the whole reason that Uber came into being to shake up the taxi industry monopoly and open it up to new ideas and innovations? Basic economics tells us that competition is essential to provide companies with an incentive to keep prices reasonable, ensure quality and moderate supply. So do we really want Uber to be our only option?

People lover Uber because it’s reasonably priced, it’s reliable and it’s easy to use. But we love plenty of products and services that depend upon the exploitation of workers: disposable fashion from H&M and Forever 21, fast food from Wendy’s, discount furniture ordered on Amazon. The traditional taxi industry may suffer from an excess of regulation, but regulations exist for a reason. If we want workers to be protected from exploitation, have stable, full-time jobs, and benefit from decent working conditions, we need to treat them like the employees that they are. If Uber turns out to be the industry-transforming technology it claims to be and becomes the new universal model for hiring taxis, we need to seriously consider some of these questions. Because if the sharing economy is the way of the future, the future of full-time, permanent work is at stake.

Allegra Kirkland is AlterNet’s associate managing editor. Her writing has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Inc., Daily Serving and the Nation.

http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/how-ubers-efforts-squeeze-drivers-have-compelled-them-fight?akid=12245.265072.efeL2-&rd=1&src=newsletter1019485&t=5&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

What Happened When Some Libertarians Went Off to Build Ayn Rand’s Vision of Paradise

http://davidbiddle.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Atlas-Shrugged-Walking.jpg


Hint: nothing good.

The theme of Ayn Rand’sAtlas Shrugged, according to Ms. Rand herself, is “what happens to the world when the Prime Movers go on strike.” The prime movers are corporate executives – “the motor of the world” – and Rand imagines what would happen if they all just went away. To Rand this is nothing less than “a picture of the world with its motor cut off.”

Ouch. Paging Dr. Freud.

In Rand’s novel the great, throbbing “motor of the world” (it’s made of executives, remember?) retreats to an Atlantis-like idyll known as “Galt’s Gulch.” Without their ingenuity and drive the nation descends into chaos, leading many long pages later to their triumphant return and anointment as leaders of a new libertarian order.

Which gets us to the fraud charges now swirling around a venture called “Galt’s Gulch of Chile.” Its website is currently down, but it’s still being promoted as a real-world retreat for the world’s movers and shakers. “Yes, you read that right,” the organizer chirps cheerily. “Those who become one of GGC’s Founders will be paid back … within three years of the consummation of their Founders Club participation (please contact GGC for the fine print and T&Cs).”

In what should be an unsurprising outcome, it didn’t turn out very well.  That news comes (via Metafilter and Gawker) from a blogger named Wendy McElroy, who writes that she bought some property in Galt’s Gulch with her husband and then learned that it never had legal rights to the property in the first place. A visit to Chile revealed that many of the area’s local vendors had also been defrauded by the Galtians.

As Gawker’s headline puts it, “Ayn Rand’s Capitalist Paradise Is Now a Greedy Land-Grabbing Shitstorm.”

It’s possible to feel genuinely sympathetic to the McElroys’ plight – and I do – and yet wonder why this outcome was the least bit surprising to any reader of Rand’s work. Atlas Shrugged actually celebrates fraud – at least against those whom Rand despises. These charges aren’t an aberration. They’re the inevitable outcome of Rand’s own philosophy.

Atlas Shrugged opens with a question – “Who is John Galt?” – and then takes forever to answer it, clocking in at a weighty and tendentious 1168 pages. One glance at its author’s pinned eyes, immortalized in the photo on the back cover of the hardbound Dutton edition, and the book’s interminable length becomes easier to understand.  Ms. Rand is gazing slightly heavenward, as if locking eyes with some adored Übermensch. She sits poised as if preparing for flight, one hand nervously clenched in a half-fist, like Mighty Mouse on methedrine.

How misguided, how downright strange, is Atlas Shrugged? Rand insists that the most sexually desirable human beings on the planet are wealthy male CEOs, a conceit which conjures up images of Charles Koch as Austin Powers, performing a mating dance to the sounds of “Let’s Get It On” as a comely stranger reclines on a rotating sofa.

Do I make you Randian, baby? Do I?

But the auto-executive eroticism becomes considerably less amusing when one realizes that one of Rand’s heroes is a rapist:

He held her, pressing the length of his body against hers with a tense, purposeful insistence, his hand moving over her breasts as if he were learning a proprietor’s intimacy with her body, a shocking intimacy that needed no consent from her, no permission.

…She knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his, that he left nothing possible to her except the thing she wanted most – to submit.

She wanted it, so it’s okay, right? Except she never said she wants it, and the rapist (“Francisco”) had already roughed her up in an earlier scene: “When she came home, she told her mother that she had cut her lip by falling against a rock.”

Then there’s Hank Rearden, the married man whose sex with the heroine leaves her bloodied and bruised the next morning. To wit: “She saw a bruise above her elbow, with dark beads that had been blood.” The morning-after sweet nothings rom Hank include “I wanted you as one wants a whore – for the same reason and purpose,” and “What I feel for you is contempt…”

Vile talk. But then, women are an inferior species in Rand’s world, a place where little girls need not dream of growing up to be President. “By the nature of her duties and daily activities,” writes Rand, “she would become the most unfeminine, sexless, metaphysically inappropriate, and rationally revolting figure of all: a matriarch.”

Rand’s creepy mise-en-scène is as ridden with criminality as it is with misogyny and sexual brutality.  One of its cartoonish heroes is a pirate named Ragnar Danneskjöld, who’s celebrated for stealing from humanitarian relief ships bound for poverty-stricken lands and giving the money – I’m not making this up – to the rich.

“I’m after a man whom I want to destroy,” says Ragnar. “… Robin Hood …”

Danneskjöld is described as follows:

… the face had no expression; it had not changed once while speaking; it looked as if the man had lost the capacity to feel long ago, and what remained of him were only features that seemed implacable and dead. With a shudder of astonishment, Rearden found himself thinking that it was not the face of a man, but of an avenging angel.

It sounds more like the face of a psychopath.

Rand’s heroes aren’t just rapists, woman-beaters, and thieves. They’re also terrorists who freely blow up or burn properties for ideological reasons, or simply because things didn’t turn out as they might have liked. (Fun exercise: Imagine how conservatives would react to Rand’s storylines if all the protagonists were black. Or Muslim.)

Then there’s the fraud. It’s praiseworthy in Rand’s eyes – if it’s practiced by the right sort of people. Francisco, the rapist/hero, even boasts about defrauding investors from the “looters’” parasitical economy. In an ironic foreshadowing of Galt’s Gulch in Chile, he brags about building defective housing for Mexican workers as part of a government contract:

Well, those steel-frame houses are mainly cardboard, with a coating of good imitation shellac. They won’t stand another year. The plumbing pipes – as well as most of our mining equipment – were purchased from dealers whose main source of supply are the city dumps of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. I’d give those pipes another five months, and the electric system about six. The wonderful roads we graded up four thousand feet of rock for the People’s State of Mexico, will not last beyond a couple of winters: they’re cheap cement without foundation, and the bracing at the bad turns is just painted clapboard. Wait for one good mountain slide …

“Wait for one good mountain slide” – with those workers’ families inside, of course. Comedy gold, amirite?

Is it any wonder that a venture inspired by this book eventually defrauded its customers? And yet, despite the allegations against them, Gawker’s Adam Weinstein tells us that, “GGC developers will still sell you a 1,200-acre “Master Estate” for a mere $500,000. As long as you’re also willing to extend GGC developers a $2 million ‘Founders Club’ loan along with that $500,000, which they’ll totally pay back, they swear.”

Weinstein snarks, “That silence you hear? That’s the sound of Atlas shrugging.”

But hold the schadenfreude for a second. Every victim of criminal fraud deserves compassion, even when they admire a writer who idealizes greed. McElroy appears to be the kind of libertarian who, however misguided one may consider her economic views, can be found on the frontlines of many a good fight – for civil liberties and individual freedom, and against militarism.

McElroy says she still has faith in the project’s founder – Mr. “Yes, you read that right!” – and believes that other partners were responsible for the malfeasance. But one of the reasons the “Galt’s Gulch” crowd chose Chile is because of that country’s lax regulatory environment. Regulations exist for a reason. The Randians’ blind hatred of them, and of the democratic governments which establish them, flies in the face of reason.  Would they object to the recent regulatory actions which resulted in Graco, the baby products corporation, recalling more than six million infant car seats? Would it change their minds if they knew that Graco’s improperly designed strollers resulted to the strangulation deaths of four babies in 2010?

But then, a hatred of regulation is part of Rand’s profound contempt for democracy itself, which can be seen in her description of  “the woman in Roomette 9, Car No. 12 … a housewife who believed that she had the right to elect politicians, of whom she knew nothing, to control giant industries, of which she had no knowledge.”

Rand and her followers don’t think that a “housewife” has the right to elect politicians who regulate giant industries. The parents of those four strangled infants would probably disagree.

Hopefully the criminal justice system will bring justice to the McElroy household and to other fraud victims. These government agencies can be very effective at such tasks, although perhaps less so now that tax cuts for the wealthy have eaten into their operating budgets.

The truth is that we need government, in the form of police, legislatures – and yes, regulators- to protect us from the psychopathic lack of empathy which, along with the sadomasochistic sexuality, is such an integral part of the Randian ideal.

What sort of society would voluntarily surrender itself people like the sociopath Ragnar, the rapist Francisco, or the rough-trade cruiser Rearden? That would be an act of collective masochism.

And let’s get one thing straight: Ayn Rand isn’t a deep thinker. She’s a gelatinous mass of chaotic and violent drives, loosely wrapped in pseudo-Nietzschian babble. Her writings are intellectually shallow econo-porn, part Kraft-Ebbing and part Horatio Alger, possessing neither coherence nor philosophical depth.  Rand writes that Galt’s Gulch represents “the mind on strike,” but it’s more like a work slowdown.

Atlas Shrugged’s long-awaited last line reads as follows:

“He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar.”

Some of those now-invisible air dollars belong to fraud victims like the McElroys, victims who went looking for “the motor of the world” and got the shaft instead.

Our libertarian friends seem to think that government produces an over-regimented, insect-like society comprised only of rulers and drones. But the only governments which have turned out that way are either corporation-run or practice a Communist model of “state capitalism.” Democracy has never produced the kind of regimentation which the average corporation now demands of its employees and customers.

It’s greed, not government, which subjugates us today. Nobody wants to be an insect, but Rand and her followers want to turn society into a hive filled with sociopathic bees. When that happens, as the investors in Chile learned, somebody’s bound to get stung.

XM24: survival and inspiration against all odds

by ROAR Collective on September 14, 2014

Post image for XM24: survival and inspiration against all oddsThe story of the XM24 squat in Bologna is one of struggle and resistance, of hope and inspiration; a story about the self-management of everyday life.

By Sean Patrick Casey and Giulia Zapata Foresti

XM24 is a self-managed social center and public space in Bologna, Italy. It was first occupied in 2002, but its origins go back to the 1990s, to the social centers and the anti-globalization movement of that decade. It is heterogeneous and non-hegemonic, but it holds anti-fascism, anti-sexism and anti-racism to be the three common points that hold the space, its collectives and its individuals together in a revolutionary and pluralistic identification with the broader anti-capitalist movement.

The object of this article, written by two militants of the space, is to give a sense of our story and daily practice that, we hope, will be useful to comrades outside of the Italian context.

Birth of a global space: 1999-2002

The story of the XM24 social space begins with the protest movement that exploded in 1999 after the Seattle riots. That movement took shape in Bologna the next year, with the creation of the Contropiani network. This network played a central role in the mobilization against the OECD summit. The summit, held in Bologna itself, represented yet another moment in which globalization and development were being discussed behind closed doors, with countless issues not even on the agenda, like worker’s rights, oppression of indigenous peoples and the devastation of the environment under neoliberalism.

The network needed a physical space to organize meetings and prepare the mobilization, so in July 2000 an abandoned warehouse on via Ranzani was occupied, filling an abandoned space with people and their desires. Starting from here many different paths began to intersect, creating a common space around concepts like the need for free circulation of people and of knowledge, a global minimum and living wage, the globalization of rights rather than that of capital.

All these points were at the center of building opposition to neoliberal globalization. The same words and slogans were yelled at the G8 summit in Genoa, in 2001. It was in everyone’s hearts that the cultural and generational multiplicity that made those massive demonstrations possible, the independent information media activism project represented by Indymedia, the Social Forums, legal aid volunteers, joy, determination and militant solidarity, be the only characteristics of that summit. Instead there was harsh repression from the state, culminating in the death of 23-year old Carlo Giuliani; the brutal beatings at the Diaz school; and the legalized torture of detained protesters at the Bolzaneto barracks.

In December 2001 the spaces of via Ranzani were evicted by the police. The city administration then assigned the spaces of the former city fruit and vegetable market, in via Fioravanti 24 to the various collectives which had been based in via Ranzani. The agreement was public, but informal, and as a consequence the initial entry into the 3.000 square meter space represented an occupation. The occupants were not a homogeneous collective with a common political line, but multiple intersecting subjectivities that since Ranzani had been carrying on various political projects.

The occupants were aware that they were giving a space back to the neighborhood – a working class area which was very important in the resistance to fascist occupation. The space had been abandoned for years and was falling apart, ugly, and had become a hotspot for drug dealers and addicts alike.

Now it was revived by people with different life stories and projects, but with a common objective: to short-circuit neoliberal mechanisms, producing social justice and horizontal social spaces. The weekly assembly took on a strong political weight in the self-management of the space in furtherance of these objectives, becoming the space in which to collectively discuss how to keep alive a project that was full of political and social potential.

Repression, reflection, innovation: the first decade of XM24

Brutal police violence, the assassination of Carlo Giuliani and the subsequent media cover up and legal repression did not succeed in neutralizing the social center movement in Italy that XM24 had emerged from, but the long-term effect was both weakening and traumatic. The end of the movement against the war in Iraq (2002-’04) can be taken as the beginning of the “fase di riflusso”, the ebb phase, when the accumulated strength of years of struggle subsided and the movement began to lose traction, street presence and social relevance.

The flip-side of this decrease in collective strength was a sharp increase in the legal repression of activists, and a country-wide attempt to make the occupation of social centers, and the occupation tactic in general, impossible. Historic social centers, including legalized ones, came under increasing pressure from city administrations which attempted to exploit the situation to wipe out decades of political work and struggle.

In Bologna this situation was particularly felt, due to the center-left mayor’s decision to launch a law and order campaign whose main target was the city’s social and housing occupations. Between 2004 and 2007 the police carried out numerous evictions, and activists received hundreds of citations, frequently finding themselves charged with subversion of the democratic order – a law of fascist origin – for actions as simple as the interruption of a city council meeting or the self-reduction of a meal at the university’s cafeteria (the most expensive in Italy).

This period also saw, on a national level, a sharp increase in neo-fascist violence against social centers, activists, migrants and members of the LGBTQ community. This period of relative isolation and repression, which coincided with the first years of XM24’s existence, contributed to the definition of the space’s political priorities, discourses and campaigns.

The political interventions practiced by the space and by the collectives and networks active in it in this period were largely, but not exclusively, along three broad lines: a collective attempt to re-imagine the theory and practice of anti-fascism; the collective and participatory theorizing of self-management; and the support of migrant activism against institutional and cultural racism and labor exploitation.

The desire to re-imagine anti-fascism was a direct result of the heterogeneous and non-hegemonic composition of the assembly of the space. A particular contribution to this debate came from the queer collectives active in the space, which encouraged an analysis of fascism and anti-fascism that took into consideration the patriarchal and hetero-sexist nature of fascist and neo-fascist discourse and culture.

The urban laboratory

The increasing pressure that social spaces were coming under provoked an intense debate regarding the nature of occupation, self-organization and self-management in the context of broader political struggle. Within XM24 itself the debate centered on the relationship of the space to the city administration and more importantly to the Bolognina neighborhood in which it was situated and on whether it was possible to interact with local institutions while at the same time practicing politics in an autonomous way, that is, without falling into a trap and being “recovered” by the mechanisms of capital and its governance.

This approach was tested when the space decided to collectively participate in the Laboratorio di Urbanistica Partecipata (‘Laboratory of Urban Participation’), initiated by the local administration to involve different social realities of the Bolognina neighborhood in the process of deciding the course of a large construction project to be realized in the area. While the end results revealed the bad faith of both the administration and construction companies, the experience proved valuable in terms of relating to local situations outside of the radical left scene, which in the future would prove very valuable.

In order to defend itself, but more importantly to counter-attack the institutional attempt at removing the social center experience from the map, XM24 began the process of developing a collective discourse of self-management. This process centered on common points that permitted the development of a broad and pluralistic political debate: the inseparability of self-management from a political culture and praxis that is anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-authoritarian; the political incompatibility of self-management with the legalistic framework of institutional urban policy; and the central role of self-management of spaces and life in the broader anti-capitalist and social justice movement.

In 2008 the On the Move Project was born from the Migrants Coordination, a youth-oriented community organizing project that has become an important voice for working class migrant and Italian youth, many from the Bolognina neighborhood, which has campaigned for citizenship rights for migrant youth born or raised in Italy. XM24 has had a central role in these mobilizations and projects, both as host and more generally as an openly multi-ethnic and anti-racist space, which during a period of increasing institutional and cultural racism never stopped openly opposing racism and supporting (politically, humanly and economically) migrant and anti-racist struggles.

These struggles made Bologna a center for the migrant struggle in the Italian context. Some important examples of this were the first of Migrant Strikes and support for migrant workers of the logistics sector who have carried out dozens of strikes and pickets over the past few years.

Over the years many major events have contributed to the construction of XM24′s political identity and presence. For ten years XM24 was the home of the Anti-MTVday. The event celebrated independence from major labels, accessibility and diversification of underground music, and the self-management of the creation and distribution process. United by the slogan “Stop music business and television lobotomy”, thousands of people from all over Italy and other European countries would come to XM24 for the autumn festival, which in ten years hosted hundreds of bands and independent record labels.

The Bologna Festival Burn of 2013 supported, through concerts, art performances and street art, various other spaces in the city that produce culture from below and develop political, cultural and social alternatives to mainstream models. In 2005 the social center entered into the Critical Wine – Terra e Libertà network, a project that foments the creation of new global sensibilities relating to food and the environment, aiming at liberation from the consumerist model of production and alimentation.

This is the same objective behind CampiAperti, the self-managed cooperative network of farmers who belong to the social center and hold a farmers market of biological produce every Thursday, an event that draws dozens of people, young and old, to the space every week. The social center also has a collective garden, in the shadows of the massive construction works happening behind the space, a little bit of green in a sea of cement and speculation.

Under attack: “The Battle for XM24”

The city administration had promised during its participation in the Laboratory of Urban Participation the massive development project known as Trilogia Navile in the abandoned area behind XM24 would only remove a small part of the social center’s courtyard necessary to construct a roundabout. However, when the final project was made public it was revealed that the actual project called for the demolition of a significant portion of the structure itself; the kitchen, gym and one of two concert spaces.

It became clear that with the pretext of the roundabout the city administration was attempting to weaken, if not eventually evict XM24. The mobilization in defense of the space was a challenging moment in the history of the space, in that it required an enormous amount of discussion, research and organizing, attempting to maintain consensus, transparency and horizontalism in every moment of the campaign.

The parting shot of the campaign was the painting of an enormous mural on the wall intended for demolition, by world-famous street artist Blu, whose murals have adorned XM24′s walls since its birth. The mural depicts the city of Bologna as a Lord of the Rings-style clash between good and evil, center and periphery, social movements and city rulers. The mural drew massive attention to the campaign, on a political and artistic level, and became a symbol of the struggle to save the space.

The campaign organized several very successful events in which artists, writers and musicians performed in support of the campaign, drawing thousands of people to XM24 and reminding city administrators what would happen if the space were evicted.

The campaign culminated in the blocking of the first day of works to construct the roundabout, in which activists conducted a press conference and presented city administrators with an alternative set of plans, drawn up by comradely architects, for the construction of the roundabout.  This proved to be a winning strategy. Within hours a new round table was called by the city and within a few weeks the project for the demolition of part of XM24 was abandoned, and a roundabout similar to that initially projected by the Urban Laboratory was built.

Autogestione and the City: a committee for self-management

One of the main points in the discussions between XM24 and the city administration was the absence of any formal legal agreement between the space and the city. The city initially demanded that XM24 sign a traditional agreement, in which the space would constitute itself as a cultural association and sign a strict contract for the management of the space.

This proposal was rejected, on both political and practical grounds. In the face of this resolute rejection the City relented on its demands and an agreement was reached in which the space was “assigned” to a third party committee. This committee was established to permit the assignment process, without reducing the horizontal, non-hierarchical assembly of XM to a legally recognizable form.

The committee is a third party subject that vouches for the activities of XM24 without representing it. This agreement allowed the multifaceted experience of XM24 to go forward, reducing, but not eliminating, the gentrification-induced political pressure that the social center and its collectives face every day.

The creation of the committee in December 2013 coincided with the signing of an agreement with the city that for the moment legalizes the occupation of XM24. But it has a broader goal, which is the promotion and support of self-managed social experiences in Bologna with the objective of encouraging the spread of occupation tactics and self-management in the city.

These tactics are also seen as a fundamental part of the construction of radical direct democracy and social and political protagonism and participation from below to respond to the needs of communities. The political wager of the committee is that it will be a tool to defend self-managed spaces and practice social conflict. Various social centers and spaces from Bologna have decided to participate in it.

The situation today

On a day-to day basis, XM24 is a center for the self-management of everyday life in the Bolognina neighborhood. The Ampioraggio People’s Bike Shop, organizers of Bologna Critical Mass, the annual Human Motor mobilization against the Bologna Motor Show, and convergence space for many neighborhood residents, young and less young, migrant and Italian. The People’s Kitchen, a vegetarian, cruelty-free space has been a vital resource for political and social groups to organize benefit dinners for projects, legal aid and political prisoners for many years now. The People’s Free Gym is an open space for neighborhood residents to do yoga, aerial circus and many other arts without spending money.

The only central decision-making space is the assembly, every Tuesday night, frequently beginning late, always ending after midnight. It is a space of collective responsibility, where decisions affecting the whole space are made and where new people can come to propose projects or events. It is public and usually made up of thirty to forty people.

As in many spaces, finding a consensus is not always easy or automatic, but through horizontal decision-making and free participation the space is still functioning, twelve years on. The space is completely volunteer-run and self-financed, and is continuously hosting new projects in which those proposing are welcomed, but expected to take responsibility of the fact that they too are now participating in the management of the space, and not merely using it.

Giulia Zapata Foresti is a political activist who conducts research with a political and legal framework on minority rights and on the criminalization of social protest at an international level. She collaborates with different universities, has had experience in cooperation projects in Latin America and she is an independent publicist.

Sean Patrick Casey is an activist in the Migrants Coordination of Bologna, he writes for and belongs to the editorial collectives of Connessioni Precarie and Bolognina Basement.

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