»We think the best tactic for practicing solidarity is to be aware of the various instrumentalization mechanisms at play in each situation where solidarity is given and received.«
Digital Solitude: What is your understanding of solidarity and how does it translate into your practice?
Simona Dumitriu and Ramona Dima: To answer this, we could circle back to a conversation on similar topics, between Simona and Malmö-based artist Kah Bee Chow, published by Rupert centre in Lithuania. There the discussion held central the idea of »structures of support« – as something a bit more intimate than the universal idea of solidarity. But showing support, and showing solidarity, is not that different. Solidarity can be both political or more abstract, like a declaration of intent, or a manifestation of beliefs – like in the expression »in solidarity with« movements that one does not necessarily belong to. Support always translates into something concrete, like money, space, time, presence.
Our relatively sporadic artistic practice is low-key and situational, and when we do write or make videos, it is aimed to bring support to some very specific fights – like the queer struggle in Romania and in Eastern Europe. To us, the dimension of calling out is important: to unjust situations we’ve encountered, to various political agendas, to elements from our own personal histories and so on. We do that because of the public forum we believe art is – however limited.
In A Zero Hours Worker’s Fate we speak about the act of solidarity more than we have done in previous projects. We are trying to push forward an agenda about the need to organize at work and between workplaces, however abstract and poetic the end result may be. A Zero Hours Worker’s Fate claims that it is important to unite more workers in Sweden (in our case) who only have temporary jobs, or zero hours contracts, since those contracts are extremely problematic and, because of them, people quietly suffer various abuses in their workplaces. But that being said, we speak from personal experience in this project, and the topic has a much bigger dimension to call out, not nominal, but definitely a call out to the countless restaurants, museums, shops, and so on that did or are doing things to their employees that are similar to what we experienced.
Digital Solitude: Can you speak about the research you did for your Web Residency? How did you inform yourselves about the legislation and the questions around zero hours working contracts and the abusive patterns that come with them? What is the outcome of the research so far?
Simona Dumitriu and Ramona Dima: We started to inform ourselves long before this project, in connection to our own struggles, and trying to make sense of them. Online legislative sources, as well as media sources, are numerous. Ramona compiled and selected the various resources we included in the website of our project, from a sea of information. We also used the resources of our union, and other situations they have encountered, to document ourselves.
We started to read Swedish work legislation and articles on the precarious situation and gray-area interpretation of zero hours contracts when both of us lost our jobs at the beginning of the pandemic. As naïve as it may sound, we had thought that these contracts were »real« and safe – and they are, in some parts: social taxes are paid by the employer, and the employee, depending on the company or institution, has some rights, such as the theoretical right for sick leave compensation for the days they were scheduled to work. With the exception that this right never covers the first day of illness (it only did so during Corona, for obvious reasons), and if you combine this fact with the situation that zero hours workers are often scheduled to work intermittently, what results is the reality that a lot of people go to work sick.
There is no promise of duration in these contracts, even if the jobs that both of us did, for instance, were necessary, not sporadic but often up to 100 percent, and predictable – all characteristics specific to regular, monthly-based contracts. There are many safeguards in the Swedish work law – such as the right to preferential employment, and the right to receive fixed positions after two years of such consecutive contracts, for instance – but no one is checking to see if the employers actually apply the law as it is written. For instance, we know people who have been working on zero hours contracts for five, seven, even more years.
One outcome of our research is the resource document – it is a synthesis that aims to give people a start in their own research for solutions and action. If you recognize yourself in some of our descriptions, check the resources and ask for help from your union to get a more secure form of employment.
Digital Solitude: Looking at the European Union, where do we stand today when it comes to the exclusion or inclusion of the working class and their ability to create pressure upon political representatives?
Simona Dumitriu and Ramona Dima: This question would be much better answered by a workers’ union representative; our combined experience is quite limited to the issue that we are speaking about in the project. But one thing we can definitely differentiate. There are so many working classes within the EU: the working class in Sweden, if we are to speak, for instance, about LKAB workers, or woodworkers, or electricians and so on, is quite differently organized and differs in power, income, and economical position from the working class in Romania. And then, the hundreds of Romanians picking up and packaging salad in exploitative conditions in Swedish factories are a totally different working class from the Swedish industrial workers, for instance. They live and function in parallel worlds. And further on, migrant workers from outside the EU and North America, who are often undocumented, are yet another working class. For instance, former prime minister Stefan Löfven in Sweden was a representative of the working class, a »union man« turned to be a politician who definitely had the plea of one working class at heart. But maybe not the plea of all working classes. Nevertheless, in Sweden the mechanisms of organizing are well in place, even though bigger unions rarely get involved in fighting for migrant workers, for instance, which our union does. We think that the best answer, and an essential read, is to be found in Shahram Khosravi’s article, Stolen Time, published online here.
We have already mentioned the list of resources on the topic on the A Zero Hours Worker’s Fate website – cases, legislation and so on, which are also important to read, because they shed light on some of the abuses behind zero hours contracts.
»In a way, foreseeing pain seldom means finding strategies to not have that pain happen to you.«
Digital Solitude: Besides the political axis, the project has a strong personal scope. Through text informed by tarot readings, personal experiences and specific references come into play that you want to share – for this you have said: »We are reading our past, which is the present of many now and many to come.« Can you unpack your interest in tarot?
Simona Dumitriu and Ramona Dima: One of us has a very long history with tarot. The other is just impervious to all this stuff. So it makes for a good balance. We are also both quite funny and ironic, so we also make a lot of »haz de necaz« (which is too specific of an expression to translate, but it’s something like »laugh at trouble«). And we make a lot of »mișto« (an expression similar to making fun). Those are our mechanisms for facing life. And one of us can both read and influence fate, but that is another story. From all these stories, we often discuss about how stuff that we expect to happen, happens, then it becomes a tragedy or a comedy, then it becomes the past – but also that we both knew it would happen (from previous life experiences, abilities to read social behaviors and clichés) and had no power to prevent it from happening. In a way, foreseeing pain seldom means finding strategies to not have that pain happen to you. Which, seen from an angle, is quite funny. Politics of LOL, we call it.
Going back to A Zero Hours Worker’s Fate, we do use tarot in a quite coded manner, because this gives the reader the chance to look at each text containing tarot card names and interpret them, just by online searching the meanings if nothing else, and thus connects our stories to their own fates.
Digital Solitude: From your experience, what are good tactics for practicing solidarity among us nowadays? What are the virtues but also limitations of solidarity?
Simona Dumitriu and Ramona Dima: We think the best tactic for practicing solidarity is to be aware of the various instrumentalization mechanisms at play in each situation where solidarity is given and received. Solidarity, if we are to think about it in terms of action, not words, is always negotiated on some level, be it emotional or activist – it’s the same as when political parties make alliances. It is a political tool and needs to be assumed as such, meaning that it brings forth responsibility and accountability.
Digital Solitude: One last question. What can people expect to encounter on your Web Residency project page?
Simona Dumitriu and Ramona Dima: A blessing or a curse. In your future, it may become clearer which you have encountered.
Denise Helene Sumi (Digital Solitude) conducted this interview in collaboration with Anca Rujoiu