This workshop will subject ‘the problem with work’ to scrutiny by relating unemployed workers’ struggles in the 1990s to contemporary campaigns in conversation with activists, artists and writers.
‘Kiss ma hole’ are the starting words of Paul Reekie’s rebellious poem dedicated to the struggle of unemployed workers: an expression of joy, rage and disrespect for the British state. Unemployment benefits are a feature in most of early-career writers’ existence, artist and musicians often being associated with a strategy of refusal to work.Not only has this strategy come under increased attack, but the whole of the benefit system is currently envisioning a radical shift in the imagination of many political practitioners.The 2014 Scottish referendum has produced a new political landscape in Scotland and has seen the emergence of food banks as a surrogate for struggle: while a new rhetorical emphasis is placed on issues of poverty, democracy and participation, this has not extended to the nature of work and its meaning for impoverished communities.
Tracing the socio-historical assemblages created by processes of micro-compositions between marginal, often overlooked sections of society can provide a useful map for re-imagining autonomous politics in Scotland both beyond the referendum and outside the very borders of Scotland.Connecting the autonomous struggles of unemployed workers in the 1990s with contemporary campaigns against workfare, sanctions and benefit cuts we propose to explore the space in between theory, practice and action in conversation with activists’, artists’ and writers’ own experiences vis-à-vis Scottish politics.The insights that will emerge will be reflected on in the introduction to a collection of essays, edited by Counter-info Lab, which aims to document the relationship between writers and autonomous campaigns in Scotland before, during and after the referendum.
In order discuss ideas of autonomous political imagination, we propose a laboratory for cultural and social engagement through the format of a workshop organised into three moments. The first session will take as its starting point 15-minute contributions by Leigh French, Harry Giles and Sacha Kahir on the relationship between contemporary artistic practice and culture on the one hand, and the system of benefits and work on the other. The second session will start with the screening of a video by Cameron Watt on direct action against workfare, and continue with 15-minute presentations by Lynne Friedli and Arianna Introna. We will finish with a roundtable conversation in which speakers and participants will be invited to discuss the connections between the different perspectives emerged during the day, in relation to 1990s autonomous struggles as captured in John Holloway’s 1990 ‘The Politics of Debt’ and James Kelman’s 1992 ‘Opening of the Edinburgh Unemployed Workers’ Centre’ (extracts will be circulated and read as starting points for questions on the day).
Who we are:
Counterinfo Lab is an autonomous left-libertarian collective of political and cultural analysis connected with the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh. It has emerged from the ideas and discussions that provided the basis of the existing Info Shop and Scottish Radical Library groups. It operates in the spirit of Counter Information – a magazine based in Edinburgh which started in the 80s as a support initiative for the Miners’ Strike but developed into a broader project bringing together struggles from different places and promoting direct action in the UK and worldwide. We produce writings, translations and analyses of the existent social reality and the variety of struggles arising from it, for use by the movements we are active in.In 2014 we edited a self-published collection and curated a photographic exhibition under the name “Up Against the State: the Battle for Broughton Street and the Edinburgh Unemployed Workers Centre”. This was based on archival material, poetry, interviews and analyses of struggles of unemployed workers and the constitution of an autonomous social centre in Scotland.We are currently in the process of editing a book on the relationship between autonomous politics and Scottish writers, with Word Power Books.
Provisional Workshop Schedule:
Panel: Alessandro Froldi, Sacha Kahir – 10.30am – 11.30am
Coffee Break – 11.30am – 11.45am
Panel: Leigh French, Harry Giles – 11.45am – 12.45pm
Lunch Break – 12.45pm – 1.30pm
Panel 3: Lynne Friedli, Arianna Introna, with screening by Cameron Watt – 1.30pm – 2.45pm
Short Break – 2.45pm – 3pm
Roundtable Discussion – (with the participation of James Kelman) – 3pm – 4pm
Leigh French – researcher at the Glasgow School of Art, curator, co-editor of Variant
Lynne Friedli – Lynne Friedli is a freelance researcher, with a special interest in mental health and social justice. She is part of Hubbub at the Wellcome Collection, exploring the dynamics of rest, noise, tumult, activity and work in modern life, and is currently researching the (mis)use of psychology in workfare and other employment programmes. Lynne is also interested in the politics of ‘assets based approaches’ (notably in Scotland), the wider use of positive psychology in the reification of ‘work’ and the resurgence of new forms of resistance to work. She wrote Mental health, resilience and inequality for WHO Europe and has contributed to the WHO Europe Strategy on Mental Health and the recent report on the Social Determinants of Mental Health. Lynne is a member of Boycott Workfare and a fellow of the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Alessandro Froldi – researcher and activist, has conducted ethnography with social movements and archives in Italy and in Scotland
Harry Giles – poet and performer making art about protest and protest about art
Sacha Kahir – visual artist working within, and frequently combining, animation, film, installation, theatre, poetry, and arts research
Arianna Introna – activist and PhD student in Scottish and disability studies at the University of Stirling
James Kelman – one of the writers of the Scottish renaissance of the 1980s and ’90s, author of novels, short story collections and political writings
Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, 2014, Up Against the State: the battle for Broughton st. unemployed workers centre, Clydeside Press.
Friedli, L.&Stearn, R. (2013) Whistle while you work (for nothing): positive affect as coercive strategy – the case of workfare. Retrieved from Centre for Medical Humanities website http://medicalhumanities.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/whistle-while-you-work-for-nothing-positive-affect-as-coercive-strategy-the-case-of-workfare
Graeber, David, 2011, Debt-Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years. Melville House publishing.
Holloway,John, 1990, The Politics of Debt, Common Sense, issue 10, Edinburgh.
Johnston,D.D., 2011 Some thoughts on working class fiction https://libcom.org/library/working-class-fiction
Kahir,Sacha, 2014, The Jet-Set Peasantry: where no passenger is not drunk. Mute magazine, London. http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/jet-set-peasantry-where-no-passenger-not-drunk
Kelman, James, 1999, And the Judges Said: Essays. Birlinn, Edinburgh
Negri,Toni, 1988, Revolution Retrieved: Selected Writings on Marx, Keynes & New Social Subjects 1967-1983. London: Red Notes.
Reekie, Paul, 1993, Zap – you’re pregnant. Rebel 100 series, Edinburgh.
Tronti, Mario, 1980, The Strategy of Refusal, Italy: Autonomia. Post-political politics. Ed. SylvereLotringer and Christian Marazzi (Semiotext), 28-35.