The welfare prospective defined here as guaranteed income of working classes and the creation of a system of social services able to hinge modern society on the base of relative economic security and to prevent the rise of violent social conflicts and the deregulation of solidarity—was born in Germany during the Bismarck period. In the 1880s Bismarck introduced old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance that formed the basis of the modern European welfare state. His paternalistic programs won the support of German industry because its goals were to win the support of the working classes for the Empire and reduce the outflow of immigrants to America, where wages were higher but welfare did not exist. Then, became a common governmental practice in the time following the 1929 crisis and the work of John Maynard Keynes played a fundamental role in the formation and development of modern Welfare State theory.
At that time, the working class movements had been gaining more job security and freedom, as an effect of the increasing power and influence of the working classes. At the same time, the organized and manifested autonomy of working class movements, clearly materialized during a preceding period of protests against the industrial bourgeoisie at the end of the First World War (especially in Germany) convinced the Industrial bourgeoisie (the old industrial remanant: Protestant, moralist bourgeoisie, forced to recognize the rigid determination of salary in relation to the law of values) to renounce part of their profit in favour of a more peaceful social co-operation, that could, in the long term, spur the expansion of societal-economic growth.
But the territorialized industrial bourgeoisie thought in terms of the future and the rationality of their investments; rather than in terms of affectio societatis (spirit of cooperation) or of affectio comunitatis (spirit of community). The industrial bourgeoisie could not ignore the fact that most of its wealth was, essentially, derived from its relationship with the local working community, which was greatly linked to local territories. They could not ignore that the amount of consumables necessary for making their profit derived essentially from a territorial community (of consumers).
The bourgeoisie were dependent upon the production of local goods, which implies that they had previously tried to be quite prudent in their relationship with the local working forces. On this presupposition, during the 1950’s it seemed possible that the political existence of social democracy, in this specific sense, including all of the social and economic policies that then were already in place, could have been called a Welfare State system.
From 70s to the present, since the neoliberal offense against salary and conditions of life and work, particularly, the revolution of information technology, and, consequentially, the development of globalization, neither fair salaries nor good conditions exist. The worker unions have disperately tried to defend salary levels and the Social democratic of all of Europe have, without any real convinction, tried to defend the Welfare State system.
The ideological offense of Neoliberalism convinced people (thanks to the systematic use of the big mass media lies) that all characteristics of public domain are negative: They are slow (bureaucratic), damaging, and parasitic; meanwhile, what is of private domain is free, meritocratic and perfectly competitive. In this present age, there is no bigger fallacy than this, which has become dogmatic to the general public. But this idea has been working for a long time and the result is a complete devastation of the Welfare State structure; as well, the submission of workers’ wedge to arbitrary decisional criteria and an unbalanced relationship between working force and capital, in which the working force is always weak. The capital force is derived essentially from the rupture of any relation with local territories, with the community, with the urban materiality, with the existential and emotional characther of a human being. This rupture is made possible by the virtualization of working relations; digitzing production’s processes, and by complete deterritorialization, delocalization and precarization.
In this sense working class movements have lost the battle defending the right to a Welfare State system because of many complex reasons. Foremost of these reasons: The raising of capital was inexorable, especially when the process of delocalization of production’s processes permitted consumable goods a different speed of transfer that the localized workforce could not have. But there is another and more important question we should consider, in the 60’s and 70’s the labour movement struggles attacked the industrial structure of the workforce, anticipating and taking the same direction, in a certain sense, that later would be taken by the capitalist system. The working classes refused industrial work, calling it alienating, tiring and useless. At the same time the Capital system set its engineers to work on a redefinition of labour’s system, one which frees itself from the labour of the working classes.
When technologies became able to substitute work force with a new strategy of de-territorialization, fragmentation and recombination in a more authoritarian and precarious way, at that precise time games were already played. Neither the working-class’ resistance, nor union resistance, could stop the offensive of capital. It is demonstrated, for example, in the case of FIAT in the 80’s, when the workers union was faced with the labour system’s de-structurization. It has happened as well in England, where in 1983 the Miner’s Union guided miners’ struggles. And then again, it could be seen also when working class and public employees’ struggles against privatization faced a glass ceiling, because the privatizer’s capital system did not possess old bourgeoisie, renanian, individual and territorialized connotations anymore. Instead, employees and the whole of the working classes faced the ubiquity of financial capital, which does not have home nor place nor any stable owner, but it tends to assume the shape of the wire (the internet wire). The workers union became a 'conservative' force because it defended an old composition of work and society, while the Neoliberal capitalist strategy appeared, to some degree, as a deliverer of innovation, mobility, and especially of freedom from the welfare state’s public, static regulations.
Until the 90’s, this new capitalist global structure seemed to be able to give response to some societal issues thanks to the uninterrupted expansion (apparently unlimited) of growth, technology and income. But the illusion of an unlimited expansion (profoundly embedded in new economic theories as they appeared at the beginning of New Millennium) has finished at the turn of a new decade. The dot-com crash of the new millennium, the collapse of the virtual economy, plus the explosion of the immaterial bubble, gave new kinds of labour (cognitive, mobile, innovative and semiotic) up to the hell of precariousness.
The breakdown of entrepreneurial illusions has opened up a new phase of proletarization (if I can use again this Eighteenth-century term) that has, within it, invested cognitive and semiotic labour forces. This process happened with an incredible speed, and at the end of the first ten years of the New Millennium we have experienced not only all the devastating social consequences, but also all the possibilities of autonomy and resistance that this process has generated.
In December 2010, the raising of student movements spreading all over in Europe involving universities and schools is the starting point of a new process of auto-organization and permanent conflict of the cognitive workers, whose characteristics cannot be completely comprehended and imagined until now. One thing, however, is certain: The cognitive movement will never have characteristics and goals of the previous working class movement.
So, in this new context it is a dangerous illusion the one the leftist parties try to propose again and again with even more scarce vigour: the restoration of a classical welfare state system based on safety valves (shock absorbers) and job security. In the near future, there will no security nor safety valves for precarious labor. There will be autonomy, but this is a different discourse.
In the current system, there is no possibility of establishing the law of ‘right salary,’ for the simple fact that salary is never right enough. Salary cannot be determined on the based of specific objective factors. Salary is the product of a forced relationship, and especially today the forced relationship in the labour market is totally unbalanced in favour of capital. That is, the cost of consumable goods will always exceed the costs of human labor. And in this sense, it will remain like this for a long period to come (even if the coming cinese workers’ revolt could potentially modify the actual situation).
If the cognitive movement (the cognitivat) follows the blind path of conservative revenge (the restoration of the socio-democratic idea of a Welfare State as a guaranter of a job, as it has happened in Italy and could individuate in the idea of ‘assistenzialismo’ or dependency culture), we can be sure that the congitivat will loose any political battle and will be reduced to a condition of infinite sadness and in a sense of sub-alterity. As long as the cognitive labor force continues to be associated with old values, they will never have a chance at restoring original ideals of economic growth via the Welfare state.
Only when the cognitive labour-force will be able to intellectually, socially and productively separate from the global capital, as well as separate from ancient connotations, then it will be able to start a process of autonomy and solidarity that could permit moving beyond the actual catastrophic situation and onto envisioning new prospectives for the future. Here begins the most difficult issue, because it concerns the possibility of inventing new forms of action, related to totally new social goals. What I should say is that it is necessary to be free from all political illusions (often consequences of theoretical blunders), in order to clearly see what is the new context of the 21st century.
The illusion of democracy, for example, is similar to the illusion of the right salary. The word ‘democracy’ has not corresponded to anything for a long time. Democracy presupposed two fundamental conditions: The free formation of the political will of the majority; and the efficiency of the majority political decision; from these two conditions, we can rightly say that democracy doesn’t exist anymore. Indeed, we have standardized or (homologated) machines determining the will of the majority (the most important are television and advertisement); to those, the verdict of the majority is always pre-constituted. Secondly, any political decision cannot do anything against the techno-financial automatism that rigorously guides the economic and societal daily life. It is well explained by the melancholic impotence of American President Obama. He has demonstrated to be incapable of freeing himself and the whole Nation from the financial automatism those powers have imposed by the domain of big banks and of Neoliberal rules, despite the enormous failures of big banks and Neoliberal policy.
In the same way that democracy no longer corresponds to present conditions, the expression ‘right salary’ (meritocratic, etc.) does not correspond to anything else. In this sense, there is no way of evaluating physical work in its general sense, and specifically, there is no way to evaluate the value of cognitive labour force. The only way to define an adequate salary is based on the recognition of individual human needs, independent from their competences and their productivity.
To be free from these kind of illusions would mean stopping to think that we can increase or change the existing society; on the contrary, we need to create the condition to get out from such a system; to create structures of production, distribution and education that are external to the logic of capitalism. This is the sense and meaning of the present understanding of the word ‘Autonomy.’ The cognitive labour force, the so called cognitivat, is currently in the best position to realize an autonomous project, meant as a project of self-design of independent worlds with seismographic character—to once again, change the rules of the game.