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Skyscraper Squatted: the Precarized Cognitariat Rises in Milano

| mercoledì 9 maggio 2012

by Alex Foti (written for net-time)

Last Saturday a momentous event occurred in Milan: hundreds of young
people working with art, theater, video, cinema, design, publishing,
education and the like took over the Galfa Tower, an abandoned
33-floor skyscraper, strategically located close to Milano Central
Station, next to the Hilton and the Sheraton, symbolically positioned
in between the Pirelli Tower, hq of regional government, and the newly
built Lombardy Palace, monument to the arrogance and corruption of the
Lombard governor, a reactionary catholic who has been ruling Italy’s
most populous and wealthiest region since 1995, by privatizing
medicine and striking dubious real estate deals (most of his junta is
now behind bars or being investigated for embezzlement).

As the night progressed, thousands of people of all ages and classes
flocked to the skyscraper, which was soon alighted in blue, a
beautiful spectacle you could see from far away – it was like a
lighthouse saying: come here o impoverished creative worker, o
alienated youngster, o writer and musician in search of your people no
matter the kind of celebrity you have. Everybody who matters in Milano
felt compelled to come to MACAO, this the name of the new occupation,
including the current city alderman for culture, the archistar Stefano
Boeri, who expressed praise for what is after all an illegal
occupation of private property, while assorted popstars and novelists
mingled with the crowd. Everybody danced ‘til the crack of dawn..

What’s noteworthy about MACAO is its magmatic creativity, its
mushrooming teams and committees, its crowded assemblies, and the many
concerts and theater performances (e.g. Motus) that has managed to
stage in its first four days of existence. Every day and night it’s
packed with people (so far the first two floors have been colonized,
while the third is a sleeping space). The skyscraper has been
abandoned since 1996 and its interiors were scrapped (to remove
asbesto). It’s property of Ligresti, a Sicilian real estate mogul who
pretty much had his way in the 1980s and 1990s and reshaped the whole
city, before running into financial trouble when the asset bubble
burst in 2008. His financial holding is currently undergoing
bankruptcy proceedings.

Finally the spirit of the 99% is hovering over Milano, thanks to the
mobilization of the creative precariat impoverished and made
unemployed by the crisis. What didn’t seem possible before the Great
Recession, i.e. the generational unity of all precarized workers, and
especially the radicalization of the creative class, is now apparent
for all to see. Consequently, MACAO has become the talk of the town.
Bifo’s cognitariat is finally coming into being in the spaghetti city
that hosts the country’s most important universities and creative
industries. Its activation depends only in small part on the
contribution of movement activists: most of the faces are new and
politically inexperienced. ZAM, MilanoX, San Precario are among those
active, but the dynamic of the place is not determined by them, but by
an Occupy-style mobilization of hitherto passive people, a horizontal
chaos generating new radical democratic forms.

As the good news from France and Greece are finally cracking the armor
of Merkel’s austerity, let’s hope many of those who squatted the
skyscraper will join next week’s Blockupy ECB protests in Frankfurt.
The epicenter of austerity and neoliberal policies is there. It’s time
to show Europe and the world how unpopular the bank of bankers and its
gospel of cuts to services and jobs has become. They are gravediggers
of society and enemies of European democracy. It’s time to stop zombie
neoliberalism and its financial oligarchy from inflicting yet more
harm. In Milano, the creative class has finally realized what is at
stake.