Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The New Multitude

In their book Empire, Michael Hardt and Tony Negri argue that the new proletatariat is the Multitude, the migratory labourers, the international sans papier, the immigrants who flood Europe and America, legally or illegally, economic refugees one and all, to create the new black market in unregistered alien workers.

Hardt and Negri went on to write a second book about this new international proletariat of globalization, called wait for it....Multitude....In the US a growing jingoism arises as America outsources jobs overseas while millions of Mexican workers enter the country to find work in the low paying unregulated job market. But in a new twist on the multitude, comes the case of auto workers in Oshawa who spend hours on the commute to work.

Oshawa has been haven for migratory workers

New breed of auto labourers commutes for hours because of plant cutbacks

Laid off from his GM job in St. Catharines 4½ years ago, Mr. Demoe took advantage of his preferential-hiring status to pick up a job putting together Impala doors in Oshawa. Every night at 7:30, he gets into one of the vans for which parking spots are reserved in GM's Oshawa lot. He doesn't get home until 8:30 the next morning.

The growing number of auto workers who make such long commutes has shattered the "company town" stereotype often associated with the industry: that employees and their car factories overwhelmingly share the same hometown.

Some workers shrug off the travel as a necessary burden to maintain their quality of life. However, critics say such commutes are detrimental both to employees' health and the province's economic well-being.

Sym Gill, director of pensions and benefits at CAW, said some employees make a weekly rather than daily commute, spending even less time with family back home. Instead of returning at the end of their shifts, they find a place to stay near the plant from Monday to Friday, returning home for the weekend. In a way, such workers bring the "company town" stereotype full circle, as they spend more time living in the town of the plant than their own homes.

This could also apply to Newfoundland workers who left their province to find work in Fort McMurray Tar Sands operations, or to others now rushing into the province to find work.

It could apply to those Alberta construction workers who also commute to Fort McMurray daily and weekly. On Highway 63 the widowmaker. A road so bad that even the oil companies have complained to the Alberta Government to widen it. Like the satanic mills of old, or the sweatshops at the turn of last century, the actual conditions of this killer highway constitute a death sentence for workers.

Death's icy grip
An Edmonton man was killed Saturday morning after he lost control of his pickup truck on an icy patch of Highway 63 and plunged into the House River south of Fort McMurray, say RCMP. Kimball said Highway 63 is notorious for being a dangerous road. He took a picture of a sanding truck that drove past the scene about noon and questioned why it hadn't been there earlier in the morning when the road was icy.Rebkowich said there have been several accidents on the road lately. "Drivers are just in such a hurry. There's lots of speeding on the highway," he said.

While they are not the sans papier illegal immigrants, capitalism relies upon this new movement of workers to create what it calls the new era of flexible working conditions.

The new multitude is the movement of labour in the era of outsorucing, cuts in production, and privatization. What capitalist apologists call having multiple
career options.

Towards an Ontological Definition of the Multitude

by Antonio Negri (Translated by Arianna Bove)

The multitude is a class concept. In fact, the multitude is always productive and always in motion. When considered from a temporal point of view, the multitude is exploited in production; even when regarded from the spatial point of view, the multitude is exploited in so far as it constitutes productive society, social cooperation for production.

The class concept of multitude must be regarded differently from the concept of working class. The concept of the working class is a limited one both from the point of view of production (since it essentially includes industrial workers), and from that of social cooperation (given that it comprises only a small quantity of the workers who operate in the complex of social production). Luxemburg's polemic against the narrow-minded workerism of the Second International and against the theory of labour aristocracies was an anticipation of the name of the multitude; unsurprisingly Luxemburg doubled the polemic against labour aristocracies with that against the emerging nationalism of the worker's movement of her time.

If we pose the multitude as a class concept, the notion of exploitation will be defined as exploitation of cooperation: cooperation not of individuals but of singularities, exploitation of the whole of singularities, of the networks that compose the whole and of the whole that comprises of the networks etc. Note here that the "modern" conception of exploitation (as described by Marx) is functional to a notion of production the agents of which are individuals. It is only so long as there are individuals who work that labour is measurable by the law of value. Even the concept of mass (as an indefinite multiple of individuals) is a concept of measure, or, rather, has been construed in the political economy of labour for this purpose. In this sense the mass is the correlative of capital as much as the people is that of sovereignty we need to add here that it is not by chance that the concept of the people is a measure, especially in the refined Keynesian and welfares version of political economy.

On the other hand, the exploitation of the multitude is incommensurable, in other words, it is a power that is confronted with singularities that are out of measure and with a cooperation that is beyond measure.

If the historical shift is defined as epochal (ontologically so), then the criteria or dispositifs of measure valid for an epoch will radically be put under question. We are living through this shift, and it is not certain whether new criteria and dispositifs of measure are being proposed.

"The Multitude and the Metropolis"*
Toni Negri

1. ‘Generalising’ the strike.
It is interesting to note how, on the occasion of the Spring and Summer 2002 struggles in Italy, the project of ‘generalising’ the strike of the movement of precarious and socially diffuse workers, men and women, seemed to be harmlessly and uselessly subsumed beneath the workers’ ‘general strike’. After this experience, many comrades who participated in the struggle began to realise that whilst the workers’ strike was ‘damaging’ to the employer, the social strike passed without notice through the folds of the global working day. It neither damaged the masters nor helped the mobile and flexible workers. This realisation raised a series of questions: how do we understand how the socially diffuse worker fights; how can he concretely subvert in the space of the metropolis his subordination to production and the violence of exploitation? How does the metropolis present itself to the multitude and is it right to say that the metropolis is to the multitude what the factory used to be to the working class?
In fact this hypothesis presents us with a problem, one not simply raised by the obvious differences between social and workers’ struggles in terms of their immediate efficacy. It also raises a more pertinent and general question: if the metropolis is invested by the capitalist relation of valorisation and exploitation, how can we grasp, inside it, the antagonism of the metropolitan multitude? In the 60’s and 70’s, as these problems emerged in relation to working class struggles and the changes in metropolitan life, often very effective responses were given. We will summarise these later. For the time being, we just want to underline how these responses were concerned with an external relation between working class and other metropolitan layers of wage and/or intellectual labour. The problem today is posed differently because the various sections of the labour force appear to exist in the metropolitan hybrid as an internal relation and immediately as multitude: a whole of singularities, a multiplicity of groups and subjectivities, who mould the (antagonistic) shape of metropolitan spaces.

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