Monday, June 6, 2011

Unemployment and the Austerity of Everyday Life

Austerity measures imposed by local, state, federal governments and international monetary bodies (i.e. the world bank and IMF) are only one component of a more general state of austerity. This is most obvious in how social life is constantly restructured, readjusted and reconstituted as a consequence of crisis. Forms of employment and lack there of are immediate illuminations of this reality.

Since the post-WWII boom and the "golden age" of US capital, Capitalism has undergone a total transformation. What once was an economy grounded in industrial production has undergone a whole process of de-industrialization. Hollow corpses of industrial production such as Detroit and other American cities show the remains of an economy that was and never will be again. A time when workers could easily find employment with above subsistence wages is no more.  Workers are now constantly thrown into the realities of  precarity, unemployment and exclusion. While the long downturn of capital produces this situation the state then deploys austerity measures on top to protect capital accumulation and the production of value. This results in ever more insecurity and immiseration for workers both employed and unemployed alike.

Unemployment is often characterized as fluctuating and that the possibility of a turn around in job creation is coming. However the real tendency and long term trajectory of capital says otherwise:

"Today many speak of a “jobless recovery”, but if the “general law of capital accumulation” applies then all capitalist recoveries are tendentially jobless. The tendency of “mature” industries to throw off labour, whilst facilitating expanded reproduction, also tends to consolidate a surplus population not fully absorbed by the subsequent expansion. This is due to the adaptability of labour-saving technology across lines, which mean that the manufacture of new products tends to make use of the most innovative production processes. Yet process innovations last forever, and they generalize across new and old capitals, while product innovations are inherently limited in their ability to generate a net expansion of output and employment. Here the problem is not merely that product innovations have to emerge at an accelerated rate to absorb the surplus thrown off by process innovations, it is that an acceleration of product innovation itself gives rise to an acceleration of process innovation." -Misery and Debt, from Endnotes #2

Unemployment cannot be understood as a deviation from the proper functioning of capitalist social relations but instead as an inherent component of, a structural necessity to capital's own reproduction. There is no turn around in job creation just minor fluctuations in a long term trend of higher unemployment. Without access to the wage relation or means of social reproduction, to exist in this historical moment of austerity becomes a day to day struggle for survival. A struggle for life its self.

The latest statistics on unemployment in Santa Cruz put the rate at roughly 13.1% as of April 2011. These statistics of course do not factor in the under employed, those no longer looking for work, the precariously employed or inmates however still this is roughly 1.4% higher than the state average. With inflated rent prices, austerity measures in the form of budget cuts, general economic restructuring, and the ever increasing diffusion of policing mechanisms, life in Santa Cruz, like elsewhere, becomes austere, unlivable and perpetually impossible to reproduce.

This situation is dire indeed however it produces a unique context for activity. Reform-oriented options no longer make any sense even for the sake of short term amelioration of immediate crisis induced hardships. In the end there is no longer a classical distinction between "reform" and "revolution", but  an immediate need for activity that must be revolutionary, anti-statist, and anti-capitalist if it is to be activity at all. As comrades in the Bay Area have eloquently put it:

"The false opposition between austerity and welfare may lead some anarchists and anti-state communists to prejudge the fight, to conclude that it is rigged from the start, locked within the horizon of the liberal-democratic state.  But history is full of examples of people who think one thing and do another, who make revolution for reasons of simple necessity.  And in any case, we can no more choose to fight on some other terms than we can choose to start breathing carbon dioxide. In the near term, struggles against austerity are what we have. As with Egypt and Greece, Madrid and Madison – we should expect to see more conflicts between “the people” and “the state.”  We should also expect to see struggles over matters of government policy take on a near-revolutionary intensity. This is because, in the present period – when corporations and capitalists find such extreme constraints on profitability – states are unlikely to yield any ground except in the face of the fiercest opposition. Because states are themselves radicalized by the crisis, because they are at war with their population, we live in a time of tremendous radicalization.

Every strength is, from one angle, a weakness, and every weakness a strength. If the present movements against austerity exhibit a purely negative character, if they can say nothing about the world they want except what it is not, if they are largely confined to describing, in letters of fire and broken glass, the world they hate, this indicates at the same time their unwillingness to accept any of the simulacra which past movements hung under the name of communism and anarchy. But it also means that, until something inhabits the space left vacant by the old programs and parties, we are left forcing reactions by the state apparatus. We are a statism by proxy.

We do not need a program. But what we do need are rapidly reproducible practices that focus on our non-possession of the things we need to live – in other words, our reliance on money, on employment and the state. The only possible response to the antinomies of anti-austerity politics – which break down all too often into a fight between anti-tax and pro-welfare populisms – is to say that if we had direct, immediate access to such things, we would need neither state provision nor its powers of taxation. Only when capital is a natural, unsurpassable horizon does this appear as a real problem. This is why the truest response to a round of austerity measures is the looting of supermarkets and the jumping of subway turnstiles, tax evasion and debt default, the squatting of houses and the establishment of free communal gardens and kitchens." -A Government So Small You Can Carry it Anywhere... from Bay of Rage


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