A brief overview of intensive European peripheral class struggles gives us the following polarity: on one side, we have the comprador bourgeoisie joined by a surge of extreme right movements, while on the other, we are faced with a fragmented workforce which is mostly incapable of unified political action despite an ostensibly univocal opposition against neoliberal policies. We can thus identify a number of social groups which are equally subordinated to the agents of capital, but all too often act independently of one another and do not recognise their common interest. It is a fact that the basic conflict of contemporary societies, the one between labour and capital, cannot be observed in its pure form anymore, and even less so can it be used as a basis for political action. Hence, more attention should be payed to the conflicts and oppositions that take place within both the exploiting and the exploited social groupings themselves. That is to say, we ought to analyse the horizontal dimension of class struggle and conduct class analyses of specific fields. The objective of this panel will thus be to analyse the workforce fragmentation and the class character of the workforce in specific sectors of the Slovenian peripheral economy. In this panel, we will provide specific case studies of the class relations in the Slovenian culture industry, media industry and the academia.
We will touch upon three major points in the discussion. First, we will be interested in the invasion of the market logic into each sector. On the example of media industry, we will analyse the precarisation of workers, the reduction of their social rights and the decline of their mobilisation power and political relevancy of their work. Second, we will analyse the specific legislation which contributed to the formation of class differences in the field of culture and institutionalised the precarious working conditions. Third, since the class position of university students and professors in Slovenia does not depend on some abstract predetermined place in a capitalist society, but rather on the state of the class struggle itself, we will scrutinise the relevance of class analysis that sees class as a thing or as a pseudo-natural property of certain social groups. Building on the dichotomy between intellectual and manual labour, we will then proceed to analyse the relations of dominance in Slovenian academia, while tackling the seemingly subversive and naïve defences of the abstract pole of this antagonism.
Katja Praznik – Welfare or Precarity? The History of Cultural Legislation for Artistic Labor and the Escalation of Class Differences in the Cultural System: The Slovenian Case
By tracing the logic and rationale of the Law for Independent Cultural Workers, that is, the 1982 special legislation for artists and cultural producers which in a slightly altered version currently still exists in Slovenia, I will analyse one of the contributions to the formation of class differences in the field of culture and to the institutionalisation of precarious working conditions of the independent cultural producers in Slovenia via juridical arrangements. What is particularly contradictory in this case is that a law that was regulating cultural labor and the economic standing of cultural producers was passed under the ideology of autonomy and entrepreneurial freedom while it simultaneously disenfranchised cultural producers of their social and labor rights. The Law furthermore failed to secure welfare provisions for this group of workers and hindered their chances of unionisation. Hence, I will argue that the effects of this law have brought about the escalation of class differences in the field of culture by introducing an unequal treatment of artistic and cultural labor, which pronouncedly manifested itself after the 2000s, when the neoliberal destruction of the welfare-state mechanisms became evident in the new nation-state of Slovenia. I will also scrutinise pleas for the autonomy of the arts and cultural production by arguing that the defence of the autonomy of the arts is in fact a structural disavowal of the socio-economic context which obscures class relations. It is precisely under this spontaneous ideology of artistic autonomy where the reproduction of class relations is taking place by turning independent cultural producers into a superfluous reserve army of labour.
Katja Praznik is Assistant Professor at SUNY Buffalo. She holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Ljubljana. Her research focuses on autonomy, labor legislation and political economy in the arts during the demise of the welfare state. She was the Editor-in-Chief of the performing arts journal Maska (2007–2009) and she co-authored a book on the chronotopographies of dance (2010). In Slovenia, she was involved in the improvement of working conditions of independent cultural producers at Asociacija, Association of Cultural NGOs and Freelancers.
Primož Krašovec – Room for Class in the Contemporary Slovenian Academic Field
Taking cue from Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s famous formulation, the most pronounced and visible inner antagonism of contemporary university can be interpreted along the lines of the divide between intellectual and manual labour or, more precisely, between the production of abstract, conceptual thought, on one side, and bundles of workplace-related skills and applied knowledge, on the other. Far from being subversive, the defence of the abstract pole of this antagonism (the ‘autonomy of the university’, or basic research vs. commercial encroachments) fails to grasp the necessarily antagonistic interrelation of both the ‘abstract’ and the ‘concrete’ aspect of the university, a contradiction that reinforces and reproduces the general social division of labour and which necessarily remains unsolved.
An arguably more productive approach to the transformations and struggles in the contemporary academy would be to problematise the above-mentioned division of labour itself. Regarding class issues, such an approach would also enable a theorisation of class divisions and struggles within the academy without lapsing into the reductionism of seeing the academy as just another workplace – since ordinary workplaces merely carry out, but do not by themselves institute the division between intellectual and manual labour – and can account for its specific institutional role in contemporary capitalist societies.
Since attempts to pinpoint the exact ‘class positions’ of the university professors, students or researchers starkly reveal the poverty of class analysis that sees class as a thing, or as a pseudo-natural property of certain social groups, waiting to be revealed by the Marxist’s prescient eye. In an objectivist perspective, university staff and students are, like all public employees, outside the common class division scheme (if we take direct exploitation by capital as the decisive criteria). But seen politically, their class position is the effect of the class struggle and depends not on some abstract predetermined (structural) place in the capitalist society, but on the state of the class struggle itself.
Primož Krašovec is an ‘independent’ lecturer, translator, editor and writer. He is currently teaching Theory of Ideology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana and translating Michael Lebowitz’s The Socialist Alternative.
Igor Vobič – Online Newsworkers: At the Periphery of Journalism
Recent studies of labour relations in media and journalism suggest that media owners are reshaping the workplace to become precarious, characterised by endemic uncertainty, permanent change and labour flexibility. Until recently, the news industry predominantly offered to its employees permanent contracts, including health-care and other benefits, pension plans and a formal voice in strategic institutional planning. Today, the emergence of people formerly known as employers can be observed as the news industry is withdrawing from taking responsibility for the hidden workforce, and is adopting managerial practices in which newsworkers are treated as variable assets.
During the current financial, economic and social crisis, mass layoffs have taken place in the news industry, and job insecurity has become normal. Online journalism in Slovenia is acharacterised by the dual process of the demise of the journalist and the rise of new kinds of workers with less social protection and labour rights, workers labelled as news producers or web specialists rather than journalists. Online staffers at two leading Slovenian newspapers acknowledge job (dis)satisfaction and work alienation influenced by discontent with pay, workload and employment insecurity. A division is emerging between privileged professionals who enjoy greater job security and career development in print or broadcast, on one side, and a periphery of semi-affiliated newsworkers in precarious labour relations, often working at online departments of mainstream media, on the other. These difficulties appear to be tied to the larger process of the pauperisation of journalism. For there are many indications that online journalists are being impoverished not only in terms of their risk-laden employment arrangements which neglect many labour rights, but also with respect to their identity and the political relevance of their work.
Igor Vobič is Associate Professor of Journalism Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana. He teaches courses on radio journalism, the Internet journalism and digitisation. His research is focused on the social status of journalists.