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«Precarious in capitalist culture – Should we continue living like this?» Report from Skopje

December 27, 2019


Symposium on thinking the future from a labor perspective

Kino Kultura, Skopje, November 29-30, 2019

The symposium on thinking the future from a labor perspective «Precarious in capitalist culture – Should we continue living like this?», organized by Faculty of things that can’t be learned (FR~U), North Macedonia in partnership with Lokomotiva – Centre for New Initiatives in Arts and Culture and Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Southeast Europe, gathered several actors from the region and across Europe to discuss the labor relations of freelance cultural workers. The symposium focused on the topic of precarious conditions that workers are facing in today’s capitalist world in order to exchange experiences, discuss existing models and share strategies for labor organization in culture and art and concerning possibilities of transnational organization.

The participants of the symposium started from the perspective that, when it comes to labor rights, cultural workers are in a particularly desperate condition, because their work often is not regarded as labor and is not valorized as such. The exploitation and marginalization of cultural work, as well as the overall lack of understanding of the emancipatory potential of arts and culture, is rarely addressed as an issue in need of systemic change. For decades now, neoliberal austerity measures push artists and cultural workers into short-term contracts or freelance relations. Often unpaid, they do not even earn a living wage, and most of them live in a cycle of debt and poverty. Unequal and precarious labor conditions are also evident in other sectors in North Macedonia and the region. In the transition to post-socialism, Yugoslavia’s big factories were dispersed into hundreds of private companies that took advantage of cheap labor in the race for profit in a strong rivalry with their competitors. The unchallenged neoliberal discourse penetrated society and labor relations changed, union activities have been oppressed and labor legislation has been neutralized. All this led to the neglect of labor rights and living wages. The state institutions lack systematic procedures and political resolutions that would foster emancipatory culture and improve the labor rights of precarious cultural workers and all workers in general.

In this context, the symposium «Precarious in capitalist culture – Should we continue living like this?» reflected on how precarious cultural workers can organize to struggle for better working conditions and presented artistic and cultural practices and strategies that can support the struggle for labor rights and make emancipatory social movements stronger in the future. The conclusion was that there exists a variety of valid forms of struggle and organization, such as protests, participation in the elaboration of new laws and regulations concerning culture and labor rights in coalition with the civil sector and freelance workers, collective agreements and organization in trade unions. Several examples of artistic and cultural practice were presented that helped to strengthen the ties between workers in different sectors in order to improve their situation. The overall conclusion was that there are many «art worlds», but that the most successful strategies are based on solidarity between precarious cultural workers and workers of all fields of labor.

The public part of the symposium started in the evening, the same day as the workshops, on 29th of November (Day of the Republic) that was celebrated in former socialist Yugoslavia as the celebration of the re-establishment of Yugoslavia on the second conference of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) in Jajce in 1943, as well as the proclamation of the socialist Yugoslavia on the same date in 1945. This date symbolically reminded us on the fact that cultural workers in Yugoslavia had more rights than artists and cultural workers nowadays, especially when we think about the Law for cultural workers from 1982 that was annulled after the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

After Ivana Vaseva from FR~U, North Macedonia, Krunoslav Stojaković and Vladan Jeremić from RLS SEE have presented the main idea and program of the symposium, Corina L. Apostol from Tallinn Art Hall and ArtLeaks, Estonia/Romania gave a lecture. She presented from a historical perspective how artist groups from around the world sought alliances to various degrees with members of the organized Left, in order to frame the concept of the «art worker» under which members of the artistic community mobilized in different context and used different strategies, from artistic interventions to direct actions. Then the symposium continued with the presentation of Ivana Vaseva and Violeta Kachakova from Lokomotiva, North Macedonia, about the condition of freelance cultural workers in North Macedonia, about their collaboration with the Ministry of culture on the new Law for public interest in culture and the regulation for monthly benefits for artists for health insurance and retirement fund, and about their future activities concerning the Law of work relations and collective agreement. They also called upon better collaboration with other stakeholders on the improvements of the rights of freelancers and the civil sector and suggested possible ways of cooperation and unification.

The same day the symposium started early morning with the Workers Inquiry workshop that explored working conditions of artists in the Macedonian context, which was led by Bojana Piškur and Djordje Balmazović. In the second half of the day, the workshop titled «Advocacy of cultural workers for labor rights» with Tjaša Pureber was held. On the first workshop the meaning of the Worker’s inquiry by Marx was discussed, its importance today was stressed and already produced booklets based on similar workshops in Madrid and Belgrade were presented. The participants Elena GjorgjevskaBiljana Dimitrova, Angela SaveskaIvana Samandova and Zorica Zafirovska discussed possible ways of producing the inquiry in Skopje, including a booklet, poster, social network platform or sticker.

The work between the participants continued the next day in a form of a more open discussion between the audience, mentors and workshop participants in order to clarify different ambiguities and receive feedback. The work among the workshop participants continues in December when, under the guidance by the artist Oliver Musovik, they will produce the final result of the worker’s inquiry workshop.

The same participants were part of the second workshop where they learnt about different mechanisms and tactics that Slovenian freelance cultural workers and the civil sector used in order to fight for their rights. This way, the participants were «equipped» with various strategies that they can employ in the process of improvement of their worker’s rights.

The first panel of the second day titled «Precarious in capitalist culture» was moderated by Biljana Tanurovska – Kjulavkovski from Lokomotiva, North Macedonia and included Antonia Alampi from Savvy Contemporary, Germany and iLiana Fokianaki from State of Concept Athens, Greece. They presented their platform Future Climates pointing out the critical and precarious conditions of individual workers and small-scale organizations of contemporary art and culture and stressed the responsibility of larger institutions in regards to this condition. It was concluded that the culture of silence needs to be broken in order to start changing the situation. Corina L. Apostol from Tallinn Art Hall and ArtLeaks and Vladan Jeremić from RLS SEE/ArtLeaks presented the ArtLeaks platform that was formed as a response to the abuse of the art worker’s professional integrity and the open infraction of their labor rights. They also presented printed copies of the ArtLeaks Gazette.
The second panel titled «Precarious in deindustrialized societies» was moderated by Filip Jovanovski from FR~U, North Macedonia and was opened by Karla Crnčević, dramaturge and film worker from Croatia that presented the initiative «Enough with the cuts» from Zagreb. Similar to the actions that are taken in Macedonia, this initiative through protests but also suggestions to the Law of culture and other regulations tries to outdo the inequalities in the cultural sector in Croatia.

Tara Rukeci from the Zrenjanin Social Forum Workers Video Club, Serbia, presented the work of this initiative, how they started and how films and videos made by workers or anyone that has a problem can help improving the context and struggle for labor rights. Kristina Ampeva from Loud Textile Worker, North Macedonia, presented their fight that’s been going on the last three years and stressed that without the help of the precarious cultural workers they could not have succeeded in improving their situation. The second panel finished with the presentation by Kire Vasilev, labor activist, North Macedonia that gave advice how to continue the fights against precarity and stressed that unions are the best means how to do that and that freelancers can strengthen their position by making a collective agreement.

The symposium was concluded with the screening of the film «Picked pickers» by the Zrenjanin Social Forum Workers Video Club and during the symposium a mini book fair was organized with publications from all participants.
At the concluding session, the Minister of Labor and social affairs in the Republic of North Macedonia, Mila Carovska, came and expressed her good intentions in improving the situation of precarious freelance artists and cultural workers.

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