Yesterday I read an essay by Kristin Lawler, "Fear of a Slacker Revolution." It appeared in December, but somehow I missed it. What stands out to me in the essay is Lawler's critique of the "Jobs for All" demand that was highly controversial in the Demands Working Group and failed several times to get approved by the GA, even as some very dedicated people worked very hard on its behalf.
Perhaps this anti-austerity history helps to explain why the “jobs and fairness” line doesn’t inspire quite the way that the more revolutionary “another world is possible” strain of movement discourse does. Consider the Demands Working Group of OWS. In October, members put forth a demand for unprecedented public investment to create “Jobs for All.” Not so surprisingly, it never really went viral. The truth is that jobs don’t get people all that excited. (Just ask the unions how things have gone for them since they abandoned the popular demand for shorter work hours at the same pay in favor of the discourse of “jobs, jobs, jobs.”)
Putting aside the matter of unions (the attacks on unionization efforts are surely more significant in any serious account of the decline of unions in the US), Lawler makes an important point. The demand of "Jobs for All" isn't all that inspiring. It's like a demand that says: "please put us under the wage relation; please give us drudgery; please take our time." Instead of refusing work or, as Franco Berardi suggests, demanding more money and less work, it asks for more opportunities for subjection to conditions where another profits from our labor.
A way to approach this question is to recognize the different strands and interests uneasily combined in the movement: on one hand, unemployed and not yet employed people who had worked hard and expected gainful employment; on another hand, artists and activists inspired by what Boltanski and Chiapello describe as the "aesthetic critique" of work. Another version of these same hands: trade union consciousness and revolutionary class consciousness. Perhaps the problem is that of vanguard. How does the vanguard remain connected with the people as it works to inspire the people toward imagining and enacting new ways of being together? "Jobs for All" might be a reasonable political demand, but if it doesn't inspire activists to fight for it, organize around it, then it's not worth much.
Lawler's essay helps me see the inadequacy of the "Jobs for All" demand--it isn't adequate to the tactic of occupation. In fact, it doesn't mesh with occupation as a political form at all. She writes:
Here then, is what movement opponents call “class warfare”—the creation of a counterculturally oriented space and the utopian vision that it inspires. An Occupation is a place where people (uselessly and inefficiently) converse, enjoy one another’s company, make their voices heard, eat food, play and listen to music, connect, engage in the experimental practice of radical democracy, and generally contribute nothing whatsoever to the production of profit.
I supported "Jobs for All" because it seemed to me to do two things: it addressed a real economic problem (massive, persistent unemployment) and it was a demand impossible for capital to meet while remaining capital. The limit of that way of expressing the problem is its neglect not only of inspiration and fun (why not "Playtime for All!"?) but it's disconnect from occupation as a practice that does not contribute to the production of profit. In effect, the demand obfuscates the rejection of and potential alternative to capitalism at the movement's heart--in addition to offering a future of drudgery as the goal of the movement. No wonder the response has been "no thanks."
The movement has been more succesful with negative demands (money out of politics, stop foreclosures) and grievances (banks got bailed out, we got sold out). Efforts around foreclosures make sense because having a place to call home is generally more basic and gratifying than having a job. Efforts against school closings and privatization resonate because educating children still seems like a basic social responsibility. Both the foreclosure and the school efforts might be thought of as putting up barriers or blockades to capitalism, as fighting to establish and maintain spaces free of capitalist encroachment, in a word, as occupations.
What would a positive demand in tune with the practice of occupation be? This will probably sound corny, but why not "Share!"? This fits with the chants "whose streets? our streets!" and "whose park? our park!" The chants assert that people belong there and that these spaces are all of ours in common. The demand to share rejects the entire framework of ownership and competition to appeal to a more fundamental solidarity: no one should have two when some don't have one. It extends to work and play, production and consumption. And it continues the ethos that has galvanized Occupy. People share space, responsibilities, decision-making, risk, enthusiasm. The demand to Share! uses the practices through which occupation prefigures the world it wants to bring about and extends them into the movement's larger setting, into the society it endeavors to change.