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Precarious of the World!

by Peter Novak Tuesday, May. 02, 2006 at 5:42 AM

May Day is a response to the crisis of traditional union representation. The loss in influence and fighting strength of the unions has its cause in the changed working conditions in so-called post-Fordism. The eight-hour day is increasingly replaced.


The May Day Parades Leap into the Breach where Traditional Union Concepts Fail

By Peter Novak

[This article published 4/29/2006 in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.telepolis.de/r4/artikel/22/22498/1.html.

May 1 in Berlin was always connected with battles between police and demonstrators in the Kreuzberg district. May Day has now reached Berlin after political, social and cultural groups allied. (1)

The May Day movement spreads from Amsterdam to Stockholm and from Helsinki to Marseille. (2) Its roots are in Italy and Spain where the first May Day parades began 5 years ago. In Mailand, 10,000 people will take to the streets on May 1 amid music and belligerent slogans. Decorated trucks are part of the May parade like cultural contributions. In Barcelona, the number of participants will also be in five digits.

In 2005, 4000 persons took to the streets in Hamburg in the May Day movement in Germany. (3) Criticism along with connection were prominent in the course of May Day. Migrant groups deplored the lack of political earnestness. Still the organizations were united in the process. In 2006, a May Day parade is organized for the first time in Berlin alongside Hamburg.

In 2007, the movement could spread to more cities. “May Day is a response to the crisis of traditional union representation,” a member of the Berlin May Day group explained. The loss in influence and fighting strength of the unions has its cause in the changed working conditions in so-called post-Fordism. (4)


The unions had their base in the large factories. They have few answers to the new working conditions. “Fighting for common rights is not simple when the factory loses its significance as a collective organizer,” a Hamburg union activist said.

He theoretical background of the May Day parade revolves around the term precarity (5) of all living and working conditions. The eight-hour day with fought for wages according to scale and regular vacation periods is increasingly replaced in many European countries by short-term work contracts, apprenticeships without pay and one-euro jobs.

When the affected are not reached by traditional union representation, new action forms are sought. Thus it is no accident that the beginning of the May Day movement coincided with the IT (information technology) crisis. In this time, the conviction spread that concrete exploitation conditions prevail in all the exciting projects and representation of one’s interests was not unnecessary.


In France and Italy (6), resistance forms of precarious employees (7) gained headlines in the cultural sector. In Italy, Saint Precarious (8) obviously not recognized by the official church was promoted as the media mascot of the movement. The strange saint was also recognized for the first time in Germany during the pope’s visit in 2005. (9) The Europe-wide day of action of the precarious (10) on April 1 was assign that precarious employees are seeking forms of organization.

New forms of protest are tested where the Fordist work society strikes its limits. The growing May Day movement stands in this context. Contacts between old and new movements presage new commitments to human rights, solidarity and the social contract.

[The numbers refer to footnotes in the original Telepolis article.]
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