~ from Tous Dehors ~
In this splendid collective editorial – Against pension reform and work ideology – in Tous Dehors, emerges the desire for a new form of social cooperation as expressed by the young rebels who are rising up together with so many in the streets and squares of France these days, against pension reforms and so much other. The desire for a new way of being and becoming in the world and for the world, of doing in common, a desire so profoundly and radically anti-capitalist as to make one dizzy: “Our generation never believed in emancipation through work. For us, on the contrary, what structures a happy world is not wages, it is not the sanctity of private property and the reign of petty interests. It is cooperation, it is joyful relationships, it is mutual help and exchange, it is friendship and the desire to care for those dear to us, but it is also being able to provide answers to all the piles of problems that we have inherited and that drive us to the need to find solutions to the madness of a world on the brink of the precipice. All this is mind-boggling, we agree”.
- The editorial was originally published here in and reproduced here via the Italian translation on comune-info. See also other pieces on ‘mutual aid’.
Against pension reform and work ideology, April 2023
By dint of hearing it, that refrain, we could almost end up believing it: youth is precariousness. At school, at university or in vocational training, at work, in internships, temporary work or fixed-term contracts, in the rat holes that house us, in our own social status, in our identities, in love, in everything, everywhere and for everything, we are ‘precarious’. That is to say, never truly complete, never truly stable, we would always be missing something. A revolution, perhaps? Our parents and grandparents pity us but in the meantime somewhat despise us, the trade unions and left-wing parties generally ignore us, except perhaps to promise us an impossible return to the Glorious Thirties.
All these nice people, who claim to represent us, speak for us and decree at will what hypothetically would be good for us, i.e. finally becoming sensible adults. But what we are offered is to settle for being exploited like previous generations. And today, we are being asked to get moving because then, in times long past, when we are old and exhausted, we will be able to live in the earthly paradise of the ‘deferred wages’ they call retirement. Wages which, by the way, will surely be worth less to us than a minimum wage.
The idea of common happiness for the generation of our parents and grandparents rested on the foundations of an economic growth that we have never known. From an anthropological point of view, it translated into the figure of the good citizen-worker-consumer: a 20-year mortgage to ‘become a homeowner’, a consumer loan to experience the ‘freedom’ of driving a car, one or two children, a semblance of a career in a crappy job, a vote in the ballot box, now and then, but without believing in it too much.
Today we all know the extent to which this dream has always been a mirage. We also know how much it cost in political compromises for which we are still paying the price. There is no need to remind us how this society rested, and still rests, on the one hand, on the most immoral exploitation of labour by capital, and on the other, on an overexploitation of the earth’s resources, the effects of which are only just beginning to be felt and will continue to do so to an increasing extent.
Everything is bad for our generation, yet nothing changes. With inflation and generalised price increases, moreover, many of us have fallen below the poverty line. Yet still nothing. ‘People don’t like work anymore’, we hear everywhere. Perhaps it should be added, however, that they didn’t like it before either. “Fuck you!”. This is, in essence, the message for newcomers to the labour market for the past twenty years. What unashamedly stands out in our time is the suffering at work, which has become one of the main indicators of the social transformations in contemporary society. After all, we already do not work, we do not make a career. At the most, we find a little job, we go unnoticed, we damage our souls to find a few connections.
Our generation has never believed in emancipation through work. For us, on the contrary, what structures a happy world is not wages, it is not the sanctity of private property and the reign of petty interests. It is cooperation, it is joyful relationships, it is mutual help and exchange, it is friendship and the desire to take care of those dear to us, but it is also being able to provide answers to all that pile of problems that we have inherited and that drive us to the need to find solutions to the madness of a world on the brink of the precipice. All this is mind-boggling, we agree.
The Covid 19 epidemic has forced us into isolation. Yes, it is true, in a way, we are often nailed to our screens, isolated, prisoners of algorithms. We are fragile, manipulable, exploitable. And yet, today there is a whole field antagonistic to the power of economics and governmental authoritarianism that is trying to find its way into this age. We are on the side of strikes, blockades, sabotage and overcoming imposed limits. We feel close to all those who, everywhere in the world, are trying to raise their heads by rebelling against the reign of inequality and injustice.
Today, for several reasons, we are running the risk of pension reform appearing as the mother of all struggles when it is nothing more than a symptom, among others, of a dictatorship of the economy that seeks to impose its total domination over our lives. Firstly because it allows us to evoke, once again, the indescribable ‘French-style social movement’, even though almost no one now believes in the relevance of the forms of struggle it uses, except perhaps some trade union strongholds (RATP, SNCF, energies, national education). Forms that, on the other hand, have been largely overtaken by the strength of the immediate revolt of the Yellow Gilets. And then, because by reducing the conflict to these trade union strongholds, we all become spectators of a conflict in which we count for nothing. In fact, as was the case on Thursday 19 January, in this type of movement we appear as an amorphous mass, which only serves to make up the numbers, and is therefore only good for being counted, to explain the balance of power between the trade union centres and the government.
Moreover, it is at least 40 years since the classical social movement’s repertoire of action was overtaken by the contemporary restructuring of the economy (globalisation of capital flows, de-industrialisation, tertiarisation of the economy, management by algorithms, etc.). Today, forced on the defensive, the classic French-style social movement, stiffened in its repertoire of action, ends up blocking an antagonistic restructuring of struggles based on a skein of social situations, obviously different, but ultimately aiming at a mass questioning of the current economic system.
However, as widespread anger prepares to converge around the rejection of pension reform, this opportunity is too good to miss as a springboard. A strike, moreover, is always an opportunity for a halt. The time of the strike is often also the time for collective reflection on one’s living conditions, on the worlds we desire. And it is also a propitious time for the elaboration of new strategies of struggle. How to break into it? How to increase the intensity? How to avoid being co-opted by all those ambitious politicians? So many urgent questions to be answered in the coming weeks.
The camp calling for the abolition of capitalism is growing in number, especially among the younger generation. However, it is still trapped in an abstract critique of the economic monster and is not finding autonomous forms to come to light. Consequently, this antagonistic camp to the dictatorship of the economy over life appears only faintly and almost invisibly in an increasingly marked rejection of the ideology of labour. The symptoms of this widespread rejection are numerous. We see it, year after year, in the statistics of suffering at work, in the anxiety and depression that are spreading, but also in the fact that many of us adapt to a ‘little job’ only with the prospect of earning a salary, i.e. with no other motivation than that of pure survival. In other words, hardly anyone expects emancipation from work any more. Except, perhaps, those who control others and ruin their lives: the manager class. For the most part, however, they no longer fool anyone. This is also testified to by all the influencers flooding social media with their videos praising investment: in the ideology of capital, the image of those who make money by investing in the stock market, in cryptocurrencies or in real estate has now replaced that of the honest worker.
This rejection of work is undoubtedly still massively passive, and its rare occasions of public appearance are those of those who ‘can afford it’, such as students at major engineering schools who say they want to ‘stand out’, or executives in existential crisis who reinvent themselves as artisans or neo-ruralists. When we participate in a movement such as the pension movement, however, it is up to us alone to restore to this rejection the hostility that configures it. We think that the irruption in the public square of this hostility common to the many different voices that feel it can be a way to go beyond the trade union context and open the door to all kinds of new practices of re-appropriation, both in struggle and in everyday life, both in this movement and in those of the years to come.