Adam Fishwick and Heather Connolly report back on a workshop they convened for CURA on Resistance and Alternatives to Austerity.
On 18th May CURA hosted our one day workshop on ‘Resistance and Alternatives to Austerity’ engaging with a range of distinctive – and innovative – strategies that have emerged in Europe and Latin America that are challenging the dominant turn to austerity. Papers delivered during the panel sessions were grouped around three key themes on workplace occupations, migrant workers’ protest, and alternative ‘grassroots’ mobilisation. The day ended with keynote presentations from Lisa McKenzie and Phoebe Moore that illustrated the sheer range of opposition that the workshop presenters touched upon – from working class neighbourhoods in the UK to the tensions over technology in the workplace.
The panels generated lively debate from participants and speakers (some of which was broadcast on social media via #CURAresistance) with debates centring on the viability of bottom-up forms of resistance, on the role of institutional actors and the state, and the possibilities for developing new subjectivities and forms of agency.
In the first panel, David Bailey and Saori Shibata presented findings from their research in ‘low-resistance’ societies of the UK and Japan and argued that only with what they termed ‘militant refusal’ were austerity measures successfully challenged and reversed. Lucia Pradella discussed the centrality of new migrants in resistance within and against the traditional trade unions in the logistics sector in Italy – highlighting the dynamism of new actors in a sector crucial to global capitalism. Nick Kiersey, finally, drawing on his research into anti-austerity protests in Ireland challenged us to think about the possibilities of developing a ‘left governmentality’ in the ‘slow exit’ from neoliberalism and austerity.
In the second panel, Heather Connolly returned to the theme of migrant workers within and against traditional trade unions in France, presenting her research on the Sans Papiers movement in France and the innovative models of resistance it adopted. Adam Fishwick argued that, despite the return of a bleak period of austerity in Argentina, resistance could still be found in what Ana Dinerstein has termed the ‘concrete utopias’ in the country. Focusing on the recuperated factories, he showed how they offered a distinct alternative beyond the constraints of state. To close the panels, Stuart Price presented some of his findings of a workplace occupation in Spain, discussing tensions between the closing of space for protest and the potential/limitations of new, seemingly spontaneous forms of resistance.
Lisa McKenzie – alongside Stuart Price – brought a powerful visual component to the day, combining images collected in the course of her fieldwork and everyday life in Nottingham and London with ethnographic narratives on working class life under austerity. Her keynote presentation demonstrated the lived realities of austerity from navigating unemployment, to homelessness, to the pervasive class stigmatisation that, in her words, ‘does the work of the policies of austerity’. Running through her talk was a sense of the need to think concretely about the impacts of austerity in order to confront it – to engage directly with the lived, everyday impacts of the assault on the most marginalised and stigmatised communities and individuals. Closing her presentation, two resonant images of young working class men on top of the roof of an elite private school in Nottingham during the 2011 riots and a homeless man under a new luxury development in London neatly captured this sentiment.
Phoebe Moore took us in a different, but related, direction with a vision of the new workplace and the role of technology in reinforcing the lived conditions of austerity, but also in potentially offering ways to confront and resist in uniquely innovative ways. In her presentation, the new techniques in the measurement and management of working life – from worn technologies to new monitoring and surveillance devices – were shown to be a central component of the micro-level practices overseeing workplaces across a range of sectors. But her work also highlighted the means by which this key component of the new discipline of austerity can be confronted. Technology – as much as it represents a mechanism of control in the workplace – was also shown to provide mechanisms for overcoming that control. From the everyday challenging of its use in the workplace, to re-purposing it in practice, to the development of more organised forms of resistance, the potential for subversion was clear.
Overall, the presentations and discussions throughout the day made clear that if austerity is to proceed, it will not continue unchallenged. Drawing on research and expertise in a variety of settings and contexts, the speakers and participants offered a clear sense that the precarious, impoverished futures proposed and practiced by advocates of austerity are not the only future available. Moving forward, the plan from this workshop is to develop a published collection of the papers that consolidates these themes of resistance to the increasingly pervasive practices of resistance, with the aim of continuing collaboration in to resisting austerity.
Dr. Adam Fishwick is Lecturer in Urban Studies and Public Policy and Dr. Heather Connolly Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at De Montfort University, both are core members of CURA.