Re-Inventing Work Through Collective Enterprises for Autonomous Workers

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  • Book: - Refaire le monde du travail. Une alternative à l'Uberisation de l'Économie. Par Sandrino Graceffa. SMart, xxxx



Based on the reading notes from Michel Bauwens:


SMart, the 'mutual society for artists', was created in 1998, as a nonprofit for artistic workers, in order to lighten their administrative burden, and give them access to welfare services. In 2014, it experienced a growth spurt, when it counted up to 160 staff members, 18,000 users, and 75,000 members. A new administration was elected, which wished for a much more active social role, and it launched a participatory and strategic process to enlist the support of the membership in this transformative project, which culminated in the creation of a cooperative structure that could also serve in other European countries.

This booklet has five chapters, respectively treating the following topics:

- contemporary questions related to employment and work

- social protections

- the role of the entreprise model

- what kind of social contract is needed

- the cooperative and mutualist solutions and their models

The sixth chapter looks to the future in a European context.

Chapter 1: Un monde de travail en mutation

Sandrino came to age in the formative time of 1968, which wanted liberation 'from' work, in the context of a growing desindustrialization which was believed to ideally leave the Western world with more 'noble' tasks. However, this promise was only realized to a very limited degree, as larger part of the populations indeed moved to more cognitive or service oriented tasks, but also became associated with structural forms of unemployment. Work came to be seen even more than before as a condition for self-realization.

It also became more customary to attach 'rights to these expanded vision of work.

Sandrino writes:

- “Il faut aller plus loin dans la reconnaissance du travail dans sa globalité." (p. 16)

Sandrino proposes to combine this vision of rights and recognition to a conditional 'universal income', which would be linked to some kind of social contribution. This could also be applied to the social role played by artists.

Concerning the generalization of part-time work, Sandrino stresses the difference between choice and imposition. The latter model is often chosen by companies who want to stimulate a turnover of personnel, as this weakens their capacity to bargain collectively.

One of the recurring characteristics of the new work conditions is its 'dis-continuity', which can again be both a choice or a imposition. We have to recognize it can be a positive choice. On a global scale, 'normal' salaried jobs are only 22.5% of the total (2015):

- “L’emploi permanent en CDI n’est plus la forme prédominante de l’emploi.” (p. 23)

However, it is equally illusory to expect the end of the salariat and the end of subordinate work; rather, our task is to accompany its mutations. One of the challenges is the cognitive economy and the dematerialized infrastructures which carry a risk of a atomized workforce (each in their micro-entreprises). Combining this new autonomy with new forms of solidarity and protection will be vital.

Regarding income from 'intellectual property', Sandrino does not believe it is enforceable and therefore, one must look for new revenue streams. Interesting for artists is also the possibility for shorter circuits ('circuit court'), between producers and consumers.

Chapter 2 - Refonder la protection sociale

Traditional social security has three pillars (and in some countries, 4): i.e. health, unemployment, and pensions (+ family allowances, in some places). Countries with strong social protection have weathered the economic storms much better. Still, they are everywhere under attack. Nevertheless, the old system is not adapted to the precarious and non-linear work that is becoming the norm.

The average worker has three times more employer in a lifetime, compared to the 1960s. Discontinuous careers should now be considered the norm. We must guarantee a continuity of portable rights. The two dangers here are rigidity in order to protect past rules that no longer apply to the majority of current workers; and on the other hand, a wholesale marketization of protection. Our own point of view is to protect the common core, but to make it adaptable to new workers. There is also the problem of automation and a real cultural revolution amongst young workers, who are now seeking meaningful engagements. Our solution to all this, are to generalize salaries, but without subordination.

Chapter 3: De la defense des acquis a l'innovation sociale (p. 43)

Sandrino counterposes a third way between these polarities:

1. Each worker is an individual enterprise, managing risks on his/her own

2. Only fixed salaried workers receive lifelong protections

3. The third way is to accept the flexibilization of the economy and the desire for autonomy, but to embed it in collective enterprise.

We have to organize flexible work as a reality and represent the interests of these un-represented workers. The problem with unions is that they defend 'jobs', but not 'workers'.

SG foresees other forces taking over the defense of precarious workers, such as the 'intermittent coordination' in France, if the unions fail to take up these struggles.

It is vital to become political, as this issue is beyond jobs, but involves reforms in pensions and many other areas.

SG stresses there must be room for social innovations, especially around work and enterpreneurship, which is by its nature transgressive, but should be allowed through regulatory frameworks, that allow for experimentation. Sandrino cites the experiments of Elisabeth Bost in 1993, which led to the generalization of labour mutuals.

Chapter 4: Creer de l'emploi, son emploi (p. 51)

One should imperatively not confuse work and salaried jobs! The latter is based on a social contract of subordination in exchange for protection. This model is clearly linked to the industrial era. Today, on average 10% of EU workers are also jobless. One of the first reactions to this, since about 1970, was to subsidize socially useful employment (by the state). the so-called 'third circuit'. Thought of originally as temporary measures, they are still there after 40 years. The second type of answer is to aid the creation of enterprises ("if you don't have a job, create one"). Sandrino is opposed to this model, as they turn out to have negative social effects. Most fail once subsidies end, leaving the enterpreneurs economically devastated and worse off than before. What is positive however, is that it has democratized the 'right to initiative'.

Between 1997 and 2001, Sandrino was involved in such a project himself, which aimed to reconnect ex-mining workers in the Pas de Calais region of northern France. In 2001, he created the Multicite initiative, to create territorial processes around this conversion; the region had a alliance of benevolent social-catholic employers and politicians which made it work.

- “Ce qui devient l’objet du consensus, c’est l'intérêt commun pour le territoire” (p. 58)

Around 2005, Sandrino met Elisabeth Bost, who came from Lyon. Sandrino discovered she had also experienced the limitations of individual enterpreneurship, and she had created a format for collective support.

Sandrino discovered she had also experienced the limitations of individual enterpreneurship, and she had created a format for collective support, which she was trying to organize at a national level in France. his is when and why Sandrino created Grands Ensembe, a collective for Nord-Pas-de-Calais. GE was a support structure for 300 enterpreneurs, and also a place where members could organize their cooperation.

Sandrino stresses it should be considered cross-sector and favor social mixity:

- “L’entreprise collective devient un vrai lieu de sociabilité, de renforcement des liens sociaux, et du mieux vivre ensemble.” (p 63)

Given the experience of successful cooperation, the next step was to organize the cluster, “Initiatives et Cité", a rejoint l'entreprise du développement durable”. In this model, each company keeps it own autonomy.

Chapter 5: Mutualiser ses forces, démocratiser l'économie

Sandrino started his career as a social worker, "repairing" individuals without affecting the system or deeper causes. This is why he looked for 'territorial' approaches, at the same time as urban policies were being developed which needed social workers. However, employed in Lille Sud, he noted 'separatist' policies, in which the poor were being concentrated outside the convivial core of the central city neighborhoods. This led to his interest in more systemic approaches and in economic development. Sandrino calls for a more conscious attitudeto the economy, i.e. consumption, production, but especially work. People can organize themselves as collectives and intitiate change.

SMart was founded in 1998 by Pierre Burnotte and Julek Jarowicz, but Sandrino met them at the Int'l Biennale of the Spectacle in 2006, just as they were looking for partners to expand in France. The key to its success had been to marry scale and numbers, while keeping personalisation. Digitalisation through self-service had been a key to this.

Sandrino believes that more is needed now: "

- “Nous devons à l'avenir les aider à organiser leurs mise en relation.” (p. 73)

The end of the chapter discusses the advantages/disadvantages of direct democracy and of the cooperative form.

Chapter 6: Refaire le monde du travail

Sandrino proposes four directions for the future of work:

- “Un droit à l'expérimentation sociale à l'échelle européenne

- Création d’un Régime Européen Universel de Protection Sociale .. qui vise à réconcilier les différentes formes de travail

- Organiser les coopérations économiques à grande échelle pour accroître la solidarité

- Promotion d’une économie collaborative non prédatrice “

Première Piste

Taking the example of the very difficult implantation of SMart in France (where the prefect wanted to dissolve the structure), Sandrino believes that if social innovations can be experimented within a regulatory context, and with the involvement of various stakeholders, much more would be possible

Seconde Piste

Despite the many differences between national schemes of social protection, they share commonalities, even if they treat various secors very unequally, and exclude more and more workers. This makes a new harmonization necessary. Only 2 categories should exist: those that live from their work, and those that receive patrimonial rent. Moreover, increased mobility demands that those protections should be attached to the person, not the job. These reforms should be on a European scale.

Troisième Piste

Sandrino believes in the cooperative form, but it must be scaled up through federation, as SMart is trying to do with its cooperation with the BIGRE intiative in France. It's a convergence between the originally 'administrative service' model of SMart, and the CAE cooperative incubation of enterpreneurship model, such as practiced by Bigre member Coopaname. What they share is a joint desire for autonomous work. It has to be stressed that this model is fundamentally different from the popular 'auto-enterpreneurship' models in France and the Netherlands (ZZP), which is attractive because of its short term reduction in costs; but it is a model that increases precariousness. The aim of Bigre is to let the alternative model, based on solidarity and cooperation, to be better known.

Quatrième Piste

The fourth direction is to help create a non-predatory collaborative economy. This section cites our book and distinguishes a hybrid commons / collaborative market economy from its predatory versions. Sandrino discusses the rapid ascent of Uber and the legal fights against it, but also the counter-reaction through platform cooperativism. SC notes their need for capital at particular stages of their evolution, and that risk-capital is not going to fund these models. The giants of the classic coop economy should play their role here as does the public sector.

Chapter 6, continued:

Sandrino concludes with a summary of these four directions, with associated solutions:

- "Première piste: pour un droit à l'expérimentation sociale en Europe (p. 78)

- Deuxième piste: réconcilier les différentes formes de travail et de travailleurs par la création du Régime Européen Universel de Protection Sociale. (p. 81)

- Troisième piste: organiser les coopérations économiques et sociales à grande échelle pour accroître la solidarité (ex: Bigre) (p. 84)

- Quatrième piste: promouvoir une économie collaborative non prédatrice (p. 88)"

This ends the booklet, but there is an extra appendix, entitled:

- SMart, une évolution permanente .

Appendix: The creation, history and evolution of SMart into a cooperative labour mutual

SMart was started as a non-profit in the 90s, called "Les Passions Unies", offering administrative services to artists. It became a membership organization in 1998, with 50 members. Today it has 80 staff members in Belgium alone. It added legal defense and advocacy as its core activity. It was an active partner in the creation of a new law for artists in 2002, accepting project-based work ('a la commande'), but within the salary condition.

Cette assimilation de l’artiste au salarié en dehors de tout lien de subordination amènera SMart a développé un rôle de tiers-payant, entre le prestataire et son donneur d’ordre.” (p. 97)

In 200?, after a general assembly vote, it set up a mutual guarantee fund, allowing it to guarantee payment within 7 days.

This has extended SMart's field of membership beyond cultural workers. Since 2004, it has extended its job mgt services to 'enterprise management' ('le cycle de l'entreprise'). This 'Activity' structure has now surpassed that of 'Contracts'. In 2015, it introduced an experiment to allow permanent salaries for a undetermined time (CDI contracts). SMart also noted in 2015, that 10% of the invoices by its Belgian membership consisted of international engagements, stimulating the creation of branches abroad (France and Sweden first). This led to its transformation as an alliance of European cooperatives, which means members are now also co-owners. SMart Belgium , the last to legally join in January 2017, went through a cultural process, 'SMart in Progress', to achieve this cultural change.