On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and a few days after the second anniversary of the inauguration of the new European Central Bank in Frankfurt – which coincides with the first anniversary of the Agreement between the EU and Turkey on migrants and refugees – it is worth to rethink Europe as the heart of current political action. A first set of questions relate to the matter: can an institutional anniversary still be considered as an occasion to contest the neoliberal European order? Can we contest the neoliberal order today, without referring to the strike movement that is sweeping the globe, sparking reactions of insubordination and organizational processes everywhere it goes? Can we return to the «politics as usual», the anti-summits that characterized the social forums for years?
To answer these questions it is useful to go back to the great autonomous event that more than any other has questioned the tradition of anti-summits: the Blockupy Spring. The long preparation of the spectacular mobilization, which took place on March 18th, 2015 against the ECB, has laid the foundation for the creation of a European political space of communication in which women and men, precarious workers, migrants and industrial workers, claimed – and still – claim power. After that day the potential of insubordination that was expressed at European level, was not grasped or did not want to be so. The will to clearly determine the terms of the matter vanished too soon. We did not reflect enough upon what grounds the clash with the European neoliberal order was to be fought on, even though that day and its precedents had catalysed a feeling of revolt not only against the EU as a symbol, or against the institutions. This feeling was against the European government as a border regime, a government of mobility, the precarization of the workforce, impoverishment and the compulsion to work through workfare as the only way to beg for the residues of a financialised welfare.
What remains of that day and the intense preparatory work is therefore something more than the abstract demand for democracy and transparency, or white solidarity against borders and expulsions. What remains is the awareness of the importance of the European space as a battlefield crossed by fractures, differences and hierarchies, a space that is not simply contained within the Union’s borders but expands to the outer ones, opened by the agreements with Turkey and with Libya. A space that is not only institutional, but crossed by streams and dotted with well-protected corridors and special economic zones. These areas, partly or wholly out of the scrutiny of the European and national institutions, but authorized, consented and legitimized by them, are both those colonized by large multinational companies that control the transnational chains of production and exploitation, as those of lawless islands on which migrants and refugees live within large cities, of hotspots, of reception and detention centres. Here, in the North as in the South, in the East as in the West, migrant labour is institutionally underpaid, if not free, and becomes the bargaining chip to receive a precarious and dehumanizing refuge, which does not give any guarantee against the threat of expulsion. Even the social-democratic and civic Sweden has just decreed that the refugees should receive by law a salary that is lower than the national minimum, having approved in 2016 a law that seals the doors to migrants in the name of social security. This is the nature of the European regime of wage. This is the true «European spirit» against which in the last years, the Transnational Social Strike Platform has been catalysing unprecedented experiments of organization, built by a multitude of individuals, groups and unions of various countries upon the consciousness of the need of a political initiative, which sets itself on the same level of the neoliberal attack.
From now on, can any European mobilization pretends to act as if this was not the scenario? Does it risk to be naïve to thinks that Europe had any original promise to keep, that only a less or more radical protest could revitalize, coming back to the famous founding fathers? Grounding on the claim of formal democracy and transparency has limits, because it neglects the materiality of the synchronization of exploitation, led by European governments and institutions, in accordance with global capital, and implemented thanks to the several and more or less recent reforms of labour market, welfare and migration policies. The scenario of the two speed Europe, sold as the innovation of the White Book 2017 of the Commission, does not add anything to this ongoing process. If anything, it advances the goal that every State must achieve earlier or later, at all costs.
At the same time, can a «radical» Europeanism be the real answer to jingoist neo-sovereignism and xenophobic populism? If promotes a federalism from below can seem the right move to oppose policies that restrict freedom of movement and to politicize the public opinion. The example of the 200.000 pro-refugees in Barcelona show it very well. Yet, it barely can exist without the good will of some local institutions or without the fundamental contribution of generous charities, be they religious or secular. It is at least problematic to ground a European struggle initiative on this benevolence. On the other hand, it is as much problematic claiming that the movement of insubordination to neoliberalism that is crossing the world, led by transnational subjects as migrants and women, can be channeled in local projects for building space of alternative that turn out to be narrow. In front of an ever more segmented and hierarchized European space, the perspective of radical federalism tries at least to overthrow against the EU the complexity of its own space. Instead, the neo-sovereignist perspective returns to defend the State and its borders; it feeds itself with the illusion that in a renationalized State it is possible to influence or even «take the power». There is no symmetry between these two perspectives. Yet, we are wondering how to be able to achieve the task in front of us, that is to overthrow the European synchronization of exploitation in the direction of a mass transnational insubordination, without surrendering to the institutional determination of equality. The call for a politics from below that makes the local or municipal dimension its own ground of action and then turn towards Europe risks to reproduce the contrast between local and transnational, without facing the fact that often the decisional independence of local branches is as such until the well-known trend of the executives to centralize power doesn’t emerge. In front of the rising arbitrary acts of the member States we wonder: from where can we restart with our political action? Who is the enemy, if now it is clear that the local dimension is a constitutive part of processes that then overdetermine it?
Are they perhaps the dictates of the European institutions, including the Commission, which strive in vain for months to enforce relocation agreements, achieving little success? This response is at best inadequate. The arbitrariness of the States, that is, their «sensitivity» in processes of exploitation and dispossession that need the local scale, is putting into question the effectiveness of the European institutional action, delegitimizing and diminishing the Union’s attempt to advance collaborative policies on immigration, but also on precariousness and mobility. From the negotiations for Brexit, to the Polish challenge to the appointment of Tusk as president of the European Council, it seems that the credibility of the European Union is strong only when it comes to derogate from Schengen or suspend the Dublin agreements. The tangible effects are, among others, increasing the discretion to deny access to a residence permit and citizenship (by reasons of national security, the extension of the concession until they do not meet the requirements) and the harmonization of policies of free or nearly free labor for refugees. Despite the compression of the EU’s room for maneuver, the choice between Europe and the nation-State is therefore false. Those who contest Europe in the name of the nation-State next 25th March will defend a simulacrum, a decision center that simply no longer exists, except in those evil desires destined to turn into nightmares. Even when they take the name of populism from below and claim to speak to ghostly white working classes, those desires are speaking to the armed fears of shopkeepers of every color. Political decisions operate to put constraints on the freedom to move and to stay; they use the wage differentials and the different welfare regimes as incentives or disincentives for mobility and as mechanisms for the hierarchization of the workforce.
Nevertheless, thanks to the residual possibilities opened up by the free movement of workers, the European space offers the opportunity to make a common front against the European regime of wage and his government of mobility. On this level, the initiatives on the model of «a day without us» or expressions of solidarity with refugees are multiplying –not least the international day of action on March 18th sponsored by City Plaza Hotel in Athens – by bringing together migrants and not, men and women aware that on the skin of migrants, whose movement is unstoppable, the game of freedom of all people is played. The strike of March 8th has widened dramatically this slot already opened, producing the first true global uprising against the patriarchal neoliberalism, which has not only the grim face of Trump, Erdogan, Macri, Juncker, Orban, the Szydło, but also the faces more composed of those who day after day, piece by piece, work to silence the daily insubordination of precarious, workers, migrants, students. That uprising has suddenly burst on the ability of a partial subject, women, producing an array by calling into question any and all who oppose the present state of things. To produce moments of communication and political initiative of women and men, migrants and precarious workers, which can in turn lead to further moments of upheaval, is the way, also from Europe, to stand up to the global movement of the strike. If we overlook this perspective, no other way of understanding the institutions, no other form of sovereignty, no other opposition from below to this or that single head of State, no coalition among international pieces of social movements will be able to respond to the need of a politics that takes seriously Europe as field of struggle. In order to get rid of the symbolic and practical dependence from the agenda of this or that local or supranational government, a European movement must impact the terrains where the absolute command on life and time is exerted.
Our political infrastructure of the struggles needs qualified watchwords and well-defined fields of action. If a widespread sentiment of enmity against this Europe were enough in order to build a supposed profound alterity, Brexit, with its 2.0 Commonwealth-like neo-colonialist afflatus, would be nothing but the beginning of a positive trend. Or the exacerbation of institutional racism in the UK is perhaps the side-effect of a positive invigoration of class consciousness? Are we talking about that while assisting at the European nurses massively quitting their job, something that risks making English healthcare system collapse? It rather seems that the profusion of ideas on the abolition of the European Union is missing the target of giving voice to the demand of freedom that the global movement of the strike dared to bring to light: liberation from exploitation, in productive and reproductive labour, and from the political and social conditions that produce and reproduce it, be them national or supranational.
Avoiding the alternative «Yes to EU, No to EU» is then the task we have in front of us, taking on the challenge to bring the global politics of the movements inside Europe. We could even say that that alternative is simply not given. We are inside Europe. We are European citizens, women and men who refuse European citizenship because for us it is not enough and not because we want a more restricted and national one. We demand a European minimum wage, a European welfare and an unconditional European residence permit because we do not contest the European governance on behalf of other governments, but in order to open spaces of action and insubordination for movements in Europe. In order to live up to current times and to the transnational space where it must belong, our political infrastructure must be able to rethink the link between forms of organization and political program. The movement of the strike is showing us this possibility: only those claims which pursue the aim of catalysing and enlarging that movement will be able to point out real fields of convergence. On March 25th in Rome – as well as on May 26th-27th in Taormina and during the G20 in Hamburg – a demonstration of strength in the squares, or a series of demonstrations, cannot replace a process that goes beyond the counter-institutional agenda. The agenda of European movements cannot remain blind and deaf in front of the global movement of the strike. Will the social movements be able to cross and be crossed by this this movement, or will them indulge in fighting against the last Europe?