Welcome to Precarious Europe, which launches today. Since the three of us decided to found the project, it has been shaped by friends, supporters, contributors and by openDemocracy, which has agreed to be a project partner.
We had the idea in a crumbling old mansion flat in Stamford Hill, North London. Two of us, Niki Seth-Smith and Yiannis Baboulias, had just returned from Athens, where we had talked to weary but hopeful young Syriza activists and listened to anarchists and members of the queer community speak of street violence at the hands of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn, the majority of whose activists are young men.
Jamie Mackay had just returned from Italy, with the unexpected news that he had quit his fully funded PhD. He informed us that he could no longer write about the Five Star Movement, austerity and the emergency of the ‘precariat’ in an academic world being stifled by privatisation and its own narrow mentality.
He was already writing a book on precarious labour and mental health. So many of our peers in London seemed to be psychologically struggling. Niki was at the time fighting to get pieces into the UK national press on Scottish independence and the British state, arguing that this was about social movements and that the young and voiceless could sway the vote, a fringe view at the time.
The European election results had just come in, confirming a polarisation of citizens, particularly the young, to the far right and what was being called the ‘populist’ and ‘radical’ left. We decided something had to be done.
So, what is the project? Precarious Europe (see About) will aim to help document the perspectives and experiences of our generation, who are shaping a new political landscape in Europe. We will be writing and producing video and audio, while building a network of contributors from across Europe, prioritising those aged 16 to 35.
Under 35s have led social movements demanding and enacting direct democracy across Europe and creating self-governed spaces and communities of all kinds. Pan-European austerity has hit mainly the young, partly because we’re discounted as ‘non-voters’. But this idea is coming to an end: In Scotland, Spain and Greece, the young are the main supporters of a new radicalism, fuelled by technology and a “think global, act local” attitude. At the same time, rising unemployment and precarious futures leave under 35s particularly vulnerable to new and resurgent forms of politics founded on resentment, hatred and fear.
Young people are increasingly living precarious lifestyles, unemployed or in temporary work, choosing or forced to migrate within and across borders. We will examine the way in which such movement helps to build solidarity and promote the open mindedness and interconnectivity our generation will need to solve the big problems of our economy and climate.
Against this, however, the brain drain of a generation from South to North has far-reaching implications for our generation’s ability to build a stable future. We will talk to the young diaspora, and report on the increasing numbers of young migrants forced to leave their countries of origin, often to a life as second-class citizens or illegals.
This is us, the young precariat, “the new dangerous class” as professor Guy Standing called us in his book of the same title. You don’t have to see precarity as a whole new class, though, to acknowledge that generational divides are opening up in our everyday and political lives and will be drivers for phenomenal change within the next decade.
Precarious Europe aims to help this heterogeneous group of young people to speak on its own terms. We are launching the web platform today, which will publish reportage, features, blogs and multimedia content. In six months’ time, we will begin preparing a book, to bring these trans-national perspectives into a collection with a legacy.
We are grateful to have openDemocracy as a partner, and will be working particularly alongside the Can Europe Make It section, which has proved to be one of the few media platforms with a grip on the profundity of the crisis the European Union is now experiencing, and a willingness to publish diverse voices. We look forward to sharing content and ideas.
Media across Europe is in crisis, dependent on free and intern labour that forces those without external support from family or other sources of income into precarious working conditions, or to give up a media career entirely. So much exceptional work by precarious young people sinks with barely a trace, because the funding and institutional support is not there. On our web platform and book, we will ensure that contributors are paid a fair return for their labour.
Not everyone is enjoying the fruits of innovation, and this is where the traditional media structures have failed not just young people, but the public in general; the stories of those who don’t have a loud enough platform or the necessary skills to blog, are never told. We will be looking for these people on the ground, and engaging with the stories they want to tell.
Precarious Europe is not about three young journalists, editors and activists making their way through a world changing rapidly, although it is also that. We are setting up a platform that must gain its own life and voice if it is to succeed. Crucial to this will be providing translation and editorial guidance to those without a voice. We are starting today from Scotland, Italy and Bosnia. We will continue from where the road takes us and from where you are.
It’s going to be a heady journey.