The logistics of struggles. Notes on the Italian case
by UNINOMADE COLLECTIVE
Logistics today is key not only for processes of capital accumulation, but above all for the possibility of rupture and subversion. There is not any objective specularity between these two aspects: in fact, workers’ struggles – made up almost entirely by migrants – have been the ones to impose such centrality. It was on the basis of pickets, wildcat blockades, and last months’ and last years’ victories that the general strike of the sector has been proclaimed for March, 22nd. As we have been internal to these processes of struggle and to these attempts of autonomous organisation, we here propose a collective contribution in view of March, 22nd , from the perspective of the production of a political discourse and of concrete participation to conflicts. Our desire is to open up a space for reflection and in-depth analysis.
March, 22nd will be a very important day. It will, first of all, because of the mark that will impress on migrants’ struggles. Ten years have passed since the approval of the infamous Bossi-Fini legislation. Ten years of relentless mobilisations for the freedom of movement and for the right to stay, ten years of wild and radical struggles against “CIE” (identification and expulsion centres), ten years of self-organisation. It will be important, moreover, because it will determine the highest peak of conflict ever reached within the logistics’ circuit: a sector that knows no crisis, crucial to capitalist and financial valorisation, a sector where criminal capitals are being cleaned up and within which labour flexibility, rights de-structuring, confederal unions’ co-optation and reduction to entrepreneurial functions, and exploitation, are all materially realized. Thus, it should not come as a surprise the fact that the platform for the new logistics’ national contract – stipulated by those above-mentioned confederal unions – goes towards a substantial worsening of work conditions, much worse than what even bosses had asked for.
Logistics is a fundamental sector as far as contemporary class composition is concerned. On one hand, you have commodity valorisation that out of the impasto between the glittering IT circuits and pure toil makes its fundamental vector. On the other hand, you have instead precarious workers, organized by fake cooperatives, which – thanks to the defaults of labour and employment law and of the fiscal system in general – mercilessly exploit them: first and second-generation migrants who get their backs broken by sorting parcels, who are subdued to unbearable work-paces by just in time algorithms, to 24/7 work-shifts, to unbearable hierarchysations and blackmailing practices, to the dirty game of exchanging the subcontracted cooperative, to the systematic theft in their pay checks.
Walter Benjamin asserted that harbours used to be special places where the rarest and the least probable class combinations could happen. Undoubtedly, harbours still are those special places, and the history of the strike of Maersk Line’s dockers – the leading global commodity transport corporation –, which paralysed the logistics joints of Los Angeles and Long Beach, has recently reminded us of that. However, today we can assert that contemporary road transport hubs and warehouses have definitely become what harbours used to represent in Benjamin’s analysis. In the last years, in fact, not only we witness increasing workers’ organization, but also rising levels of conflict. Conflicts that manage to combine radicalism and negotiation, production blockades and concrete dispute; able to go back up along the chains of subcontracts and identify the counterpart representing the first ring of that chain.
In the last months there have been many victorious struggles. Victorious thanks to that working class knowledge deployed to deciphering the circuits of commodity distribution and transport – knowledge that in several cases made possible to really harm corporations, by chasing warehouse management mobility and flexibility with mobile and flexible pickets –; victorious for there have been income and salary recoveries, realised by imposing an autonomous reaccounting of effective material working hours and denied holidays, days off and breaks; and finally victorious, in other cases, for having forced bosses to reemploy those colleagues fired because they had been protesting against exploitation.
In the logistics’ cooperatives the workforce is predominantly made up by first-generation migrants. There are several women. But also very young second-generation migrants: educated boys and girls, linguistically proficient and well aware of their rights, now employed in the logistics as a result of the Gelmini reform of the Italian university. In the more recent struggles, to whoever has been following these processes of self-organisation it came to the attention the generational rupture that characterises them: in fact, it is now these very young workers pushing forward the assemblies and the struggles. It is them producing an immediate welding between struggles on work and social rights: in their interventions it does powerfully resonate the strength of a will that marginalize the resignation and disenchant of their patents and older relatives working with them. It is thanks to these new protagonists that the strike on the 22nd gets projected towards a renewed radical dimension.
Logistics’ struggles are perceived in immediate continuity with migrants’ struggles typical of last years, but at the same time as a reaction to the differentiated inclusion within the labour market – actual result of Bossi-Fini legislation. Migrants working in such cooperative fiction that logistics represents not only have been hold within the limb of citizenship, but they also have been put at work by directly exploiting the supplement of race, that is the difference upon which it is possible to profit in terms of blackmailing within and against the warehouses’ walls. It is the whole social factory the territory where the subjectivization of these migrant and precarious workers is rooted.
There are at least two other relevant points regarding the coming strike: first, strike as a political and organizational form; then, the triggering of a multiplicity of claims and conflictual experiences destined to relaunch the struggles of the metropolitan precarious.
Without doubts, one of the most relevant data has been the assemblies taking place last weeks in preparation to the strike. Very participated assemblies indeed, which have managed to do networking and represent the embryo of autonomous organizational forms: new “chamber of labour and non labour” within which intensifying communication processes go through and exceed those same base union forms that generously put their loose structures at the service of the workers’ struggles.
Organizational and conflictual experiences, moreover, able to read and reinterpret from below the territories drawn by the circuits of commodity mobility. Pickets at Ikea triggered new pickets in other cities, tracing and overturning the panoptical geography of cognitarian valorisation, in the same way as it happened a few years ago, when by chasing warehouse after warehouse the distribution of Michelin tyres it got finally blockaded all around Veneto. From here, the second thing signalled above: the real and already experimented possibility to overturn, while carving on it a working class mark, the dense network of lines of production connecting hubs and warehouses in the Po plain and opening it up towards northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Again: it is the logistics’ routes to trace the new productive organization of space and time; and its is the struggles to impose on it a new materiality, another usage.
March, 22nd will be important as all these factors will converge. A new geography drawn by struggles that have finally demonstrated to being able to do networking, processes of self-organisation that exceed the representative formulas and immediately practise their aim, the accumulation of won disputes that increase in speed and power the claim to income and dignity, a new political and social subjectivity that crosses and reciprocally infects the different conditions of the migrant and of the precarious, a radicalism hardly capturable and able to translate itself into conflictual practices immediately efficacious.
While we are writing these notes, it reaches us the news about repressive measures and threats directed to the protagonists of these experiences of organization – to whom we express our solidarity – , and we say that this does not surprise us. It is a precise signal of anxiety and fear. These struggles can lead to new paths; the blockades to commodity circulation anticipate the new forms of strike of the social factory. There is not any chart of rights – least of all of the common – that is not imposed by the rupture of a continuity and by a showdown. The logistics’ strike on March, 22nd works at that rupture and at that showdown.
(Translated by Ivan Bonnin)