The shadows of the future that are no longer. The social reconfigurations of hope in the deindustrialized city of Errenteria, Basque Country

Reception: April 14, 2020

Acceptance: June 6, 2020


Errenteria has historically been one of the main Basque industrial centers, which in the 1960s and 1970s allowed it to achieve full employment and job stability, especially male industrial employment, until the transition governments in the mid-1970s they began to restructure industries, supposedly to prepare for entry into the European Economic Community and the challenge of free market competitiveness. The loss of thousands of jobs was followed by a deregulation of the labor market that generated a greater precariousness of living conditions, which was intensified by the financial crisis of 2008 and the austerity policies. In this article I propose to show how, for the younger generations of this city, past futures continue to cast shadows in the ways of contemplating now a future marked by growing uncertainty. In that sense, I dispute the common sense of "going backwards", pointing out that going backwards seems to allude not only to the achievements of past generations unraveling, but to a confusing reconfiguration of what they can now expect from the future.

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The Shadows of Futures Gone By: Social Reconfigurations of Hope in Deindustrialized City of Errenteria, Basque Country

Errenteria has historically been one of the main industrial cities in the Basque Country, which helped it reach full employment levels and job stability in the sixties and seventies, particularly regarding male industrial jobs, up until the mid-seventies, when the transition governments began restructuring industries, allegedly to prepare for the entry into the European Economic Community and for the challenge of a free market. The loss of thousands of jobs was followed by a deregularization of the labor market, which led to a great decrease in the standards of living, which was intensified by the financial crisis of 2008 and austerity policies. This article aims to show how, for the younger generations of this city, past futures keep casting shadows on the ways of viewing a future marked by an increasing uncertainty. In this sense, I discuss the common sense of “going backwards”, pointing out that going backwards seems to allude, not only to the crumbling of the achievements of past generations, but also to a confusing reconfiguration of what they can now expect of the future.

Keywords: hope, structural adjustment, uncertainty, prosperity, deindustrialization, temporality.

What happens when the future is not shaped in the way that was expected and planned? This article explores how the people of a deindustrialized city in the Basque Country reconfigure their hopes for the future while experiencing downward social mobility. My hypothesis is that the transition from a social organization based on socioeconomic stability and security to one based on uncertainty and precariousness has been reflected in the production of current hopes, while there is a tension between personal expectations, the possibilities of designing life projects and the real possibilities of carrying them out. Feminist economists such as Amaia Pérez Orozco (2014) or Mona Motakef (2019), among others, have described this as a “generalized precariousness of life”,1 with the intention of describing the insecurity in the sustained access to the resources that are needed to live meaningful lives (notions of well-being that are always defined historically and socially), which generates loss of agency and of the capacities and possibilities to consider and do future plans.

To do this, I rely on an ethnographic research between 2017 and 2018 in Errenteria, an old industrial city in the Basque Country, today deindustrialized, having become, like other old industrial bastions of Europe, peripheral within the circuits of accumulation and distribution of globalized capital. Today Errenteria is a city of services thrown away from the Donostia-San Sebastián belt, which located in the north of Spain and a few kilometers from the border with France, had, in 2019, 39,471 inhabitants. Currently, the majority work outside the city, and Errenteria occupies, more than other cities, the lowest scales of the labor market, with one of the lowest labor incomes in the territory and where half of the salaried workers are already temporary (Eustat, 2016). The feeling of political and economic marginalization of the population is a palpable result of a long dynamic linked to the dismantling of industrial capitalism and the emptying of the Fordist welfare model, which has produced, using the terms of Raymond Williams (1977), a “Sentiment structure” of social abandonment of a city that until recently was synonymous with prosperity and an economic miracle.

Illustration 1: Arrival in Errenteria by train. Photograph taken during the 2017-2018 fieldwork. Author: Uzuri Aboitiz.

It is this moment of material and ideological transformation that I want to capture in the article. What I am arguing is that, today, contemporary lives are caught between the semantics of the prosperity of industrial society and the experience of current uncertainty. And it is that, as Susana Narotzky and Niko Besnier (2014: 58) point out, although uncertainty is not something exceptional and rather has been the norm in most historical, cultural and social contexts, the truth is that it has collided with the period of stability experienced in Europe since the Second World War. But in addition Nauja Kleist and Stef Jansen (2016: 375) add that the present framework is characterized by an intensification of uncertainty and unpredictability for broad social layers, either by the feeling of risk (Beck, 1992), by the perception of uncontrollability generated by speed (Bauman, 1998) or by the weakening of the modernization project (Escobar, 2010), among other factors.

For all this, I wonder about how hopes are being reconfigured in this moment of transformation, paying special attention to temporal reasoning. And, as David Zeitlyn (2015: 399) says, “past futures”, those that were once possible and today are no longer possible, or not at least with the same certainty, cast “shadows” in the forms in which people can and dare to calculate and wish. In fact, at this very moment, people are deciding which beliefs, assumptions, truths or reliabilities forged in the previous economic model to rescue and which to leave behind.

To address the reconfiguration of hopes, I rely on the fifteen-month fieldwork in Errenteria, in which I studied the “frames of opportunity” and the “frames of significance” by which the neighbors pursue lives that they consider “ worth living ”.2 Inspired by the methodological device of “ethno-accounting” by Alain Cottereau and Mokhtar Mohatar Marzok (2012), the field work consisted of sharing the living space and relationship with the neighbors, living in the same house with some of the them, and following step by step as far as possible and with different intensities depending on the bond built, the ways of evaluating that people had in the achievement of their vital projects. In other words, the objective was none other than to look at the ways in which people act and strive to lead what they consider to be a "good life" in a given economic setting. In short, observe in the situation what is important in life, in all its aspects and through the use of various techniques: accounting notebooks, field diaries, uses of daily time, in-depth interviews, life stories or work trajectories and residential. In total, I conducted forty-four formal interviews with twenty-seven neighbors. Even so, informal conversations and group discussions in informal contexts are more and are invaluable in this research.

Specifically, in this article I show the case studies of three children of families related to industrial work, with whom I maintained a close relationship, as well as with their families and friends: Ana, a fifty-two-year-old woman, used to make a living with jobs that last just a few months; Álex, a forty-two-year-old man, a cooperative member for more than sixteen years; and Eli, a thirty-seven-year-old woman who has received social assistance for more than ten years. The dialogue between the three cases, which live in diverse configurations of uncertainty, I believe allows us to obtain a broad vision of the production and reproduction of current hopes in the city of Errenteria.

The end of the Little Manchester

Errenteria's industrial expansion was one of the earliest in Spain, and already in the last third of the century xix It had a diversified industrial activity that included metal, paper, textile and food production. Thus, by the beginning of the century xxErrenteria began to be known as “little Manchester” due to the number of factories, chimneys and workshops that filled the city, and along the port of Pasaia became one of the main Basque industrial centers (Barcenilla, 1999: 38-39 ). One of those mythical factories, which filled the city with its aroma, was the Olibet Cookies factory (illustration 2).

Illustration 2. Empacadoras de Olibet. Source: Joxeba Goñi (1969). History of Renteria. San Sebastián: Municipal Savings Bank of San Sebastián.

However, this industrial development was slowed by the Spanish Civil War and did not take off again until the 1960s, when the Franco dictatorship broke with its policy of autarky and began a new developmental period (1959-1975) (Palomera, 2015 : 17). It was then that Errenteria and many other cities lived a second boom industrial. Thus, despite the repression and lack of freedom of association of those years, Errenteria lived in a time if not full employment, but abundant employment, where socioeconomic stability was a reality, especially for men who were employed in the industry. The city went from having 12,000 inhabitants in the 1950s to over 46,000 in the mid-1970s. And it is that, in a very short time, the city became the horizon of thousands of people from neighboring towns, as well as from rural areas of central and southern Spain who had the hope of a better life linked to industrial employment. As we can see in the following image (illustration 3), entire neighborhoods were built out of nowhere to accommodate the thousands of people who came to Errenteria in search of a better future.

Illustration 3. Construction works in the working-class neighborhood of Capuchinos in 1973 and 1974. Source: Municipal Archive of Errenteria A015F201.

However, the so-called miracle years were interrupted in the mid-1970s, when the system of international mechanisms that had supported patterns of capital accumulation in the preceding decades began to crumble. Beyond the much mentioned oil crisis, the factors that led to this situation are many, and as Jaime Palomera (2015: 25) mentions, they highlight the end of the Bretton Woods agreement, the increase in competition in the world system with the emergence of new players, the problem of excess industrial capacity or falling profit rates. As a consequence of all this, the industry went into crisis, and with it the socioeconomic model based on the centrality of employment as a guarantor of social protection and as a mechanism for stable and ascending life trajectories was broken.

In the Spanish context, the crisis of the seventies coincided with the death of Franco, and therefore, with a historical moment of rising hopes for a better life, no longer dictatorship. However, the transitional context was used to create a speech in which it was insisted that the road to democracy required peace and stability, for which the working classes were asked sacrifice. Broadly speaking, the idea was consolidated that to get out of the crisis, wage moderation was needed, since in this way companies in crisis would increase their profits, reinvest them and create more jobs. In return, the State began to develop welfare structures in all areas, internalizing in a certain way the growing conflicts between capital and labor, and according to some authors such as Bibiana Mendialdea and Nacho Álvarez (2005), containing social unrest and possible revolutionary processes.

Shortly after, and with the aim of getting out of the crisis, the first of a series of agreements known as the Moncloa Pacts (1977) took place, in which, following the guidelines of the fmi and the oecd, the main political forces and the two largest unions in the country signed a treaty by which, according to Miren Etxezarreta (1991), they said goodbye to the Fordist model in favor of liberal ideas that were taking center stage. Y
is that, as Jaime Palomera (2015: 29-30) states, the horizon of full employment was left behind and the end of economic policy was reduced to the search for growth, productivity and competitiveness, setting the international integration of the Spanish economy through liberalization. This was the way, he told himself, to reach the welfare standards found in other European states.

For this, the Moncloa Pacts aimed at two processes of liberalization and deregulation. On the one hand, there was a partial liberalization of the financial system. On the other hand, they sought the restructuring of the labor market, deregulating some of the rights that had been acquired by workers and reinforcing forms of workforce management. Now, what is interesting here, as Elsa Santamaría (2009: 74) points out, is not that these forms of flexibility were novel, in fact, they were not previously unknown, but that they began to be expanded and legitimized in the context of social change.

The neoliberal promise that increased corporate profits would create more jobs soon turned out to be a mirage. With the liberalization of the economy and the attenuation of commercial borders, the local industry could not compete with cheaper productions from other countries. In fact, the old factories of Errenteria continued to specialize in traditional sectors with little added value, based on the extensive use of labor and with a technological development full of deficiencies.

This is how, in the eighties, the deindustrialization process began under the euphemism of "industrial reconversion". The reconversion was nothing more than a set of financial, fiscal, labor and techno-organizational measures directed by the State and aimed at the modernization of the mature sectors affected by the crisis (Torres, 1991: 166). The idea was to move towards a value-added industry, with smaller companies with good export capacity. However, in practice these policies meant the dismantling of a large part of the heavy industry that the public powers had given up for lost. Thus, if in 1975 there were 10,003 manufacturing jobs in Errenteria, in 1986 there were 5,726, which represents that between 1975 and 1986 more than 300 manufacturing jobs were lost per year (Picavea, 1988: 21).

In the middle, hundreds of people displaced to other places, early retired or laid off who impassively saw the end of a way of life (Valdaliso, 2003; Barcenilla, 2004; Lacunza, 2012; Olaizola and Olaberria 2015; Ruzafa, 2017). Those laid off returned home with no job expectations whatsoever, observing a labor market incapable of absorbing thousands of surplus workers in the new productive conditions. In this way, the city went from a situation of practically full employment in the mid-1970s, to an unemployment rate of 28,66% in 1986, which is equivalent to 4 500 unemployed people, or what is the same, an unemployed of every 2.48 people (Picavea, 1988: 19).

However, behind that unemployment were not only industrial workers who had recently lost their jobs. On the one hand, the young people of the baby boom they found a job market with no opportunities for them. In fact, in 1986, half of those seeking employment were people who had not worked before (Picavea, 1988: 19). The industrial crisis also hit women, and unemployment among them reached 30% in 1986 (Picavea, 1988: 23). Many lost their stable jobs in the factory under the argument that there was no work for everyone, that it did not mean otherwise that men had greater legitimacy to access and maintain industrial work and employment. family salary.

Susana Narotzky (2016) says that in the face of the strong structural unemployment that was experienced in the eighties, all hopes were placed on the imminent entry into Europe. However, the incorporation in 1986 to the European Economic Community (EEC) turned out to have a high price, while the governments of other countries saw the lower wages in Spain as a threat to their industrial and agricultural sectors, for which they demanded that the Spanish government, on the one hand, stop subsidizing the national industry and, on the other, to open the way to privatization. The idea of "not missing the train of Europe" and modernity was repeated by the political, economic and union elites as an argument in favor of the restructuring of the industry and the adoption of a particular economic model that was increasingly neoliberal.3 (Narotzky, 2016: 26). In fact, as Miren Etxezarreta (1991) points out, the incorporation resulted in a marginalization and subordination of Spanish industry to the specific interests of large European multinationals, while at the same time directing the country's economy to financial and real estate strategies.

The incorporation to Europe represented for Errenteria the definitive end of “little Manchester”. More factories closed due to the difficulties of competing in the international market, and the rest were practically acquired by European capital. In fact, part of the deindustrialization of those years was the consequence of relocation. The closure of the large factories again unleashed a chain reaction: with their closure, some workshops and shops were lowered. The city began a race towards outsourcing; not because employment in this sector rose, in fact it also decreased, but its relative weight rose (Picavea, 1988: 23).

Little by little, and as different indicators from the Basque Institute of Statistics show, the labor reforms began to bear fruit, and managed to create some employment (from 1986 to 1991 the employed population of Errenteria grew by almost 2,000 people) based on in the expansion of short-term contracts, with an increase in the unknown temporary, or at least not officially registered until then, which grew in that period 244%. But in addition, the creation of temporary employment went hand in hand with the destruction of permanent employment. In the same period, more than 1,000 permanent contracts were lost. Thus, if at the end of the eighties 90% of the salaried population had a permanent contract, at the beginning of the nineties the figure dropped to 60%. It was becoming clear that in the new model, the market was unable to absorb a salaried population as it had done. “The dual labor market” began here, while, as highlighted by Elsa Santamaría (2009: 75) or Jaime Palomera (2015: 35), the fragility of the salaried form of work on which the social order was based became visible , which erased the border that separated protected workers from unprotected workers.

The agony came to households when unemployment benefits began to run out. In fact, at the end of the eighties a report prepared by the Basque government ruled that just over a fifth of Basque households were in a situation of poverty (Basque Government, 1987: 77), due to the aforementioned unemployment created during those years and the expansion of casual and precarious work. Indeed, as Bibiana Mendialdea and Nacho Álvarez (2005) show, the flexibility policies carried out during these years led to the emergence of the working poor or working poverty, that is, people who despite a normalized employment relationship are below the poverty threshold, which expresses the break with the Fordist period that put poverty into a corner in those groups that did not participate normally in the process of salaried work.

The city was submerged in a deep crisis that spanned the entire 1990s. Stable jobs continued to be destroyed with the continued closure of factories, and although slightly, the storm was also reduced. Industrial ruins shaped the urban and emotional landscape of that time. The population began to decline until it fell below 40,000 inhabitants. Errenteria went from being a horizon of life to becoming a city without a future.

However, in the mid-1990s, the light at the end of the tunnel began to appear in the form of huge amounts of public money for the development of public infrastructure and facilities, largely from the aid that came from the European Union. With this, a constructive maelstrom was entered. Public works became a key economic element of this period. Modernity had arrived. In Errenteria, the city council reconverted the land, which went from industrial to urban and revalued the square meter like foam, and with it the industrial ruins made way for parks, squares, parking lots, houses and new public, commercial and cultural facilities (Benito , 2007: 46). In the following images (illustrations 4 and 5) you can see the old Niessen factory, which gave way to a space made up of a plaza, a shopping center and various cultural spaces.

Illustration 4. Former Niessen factory in the 1970s. Source:, accessed April 14, 2020.
Illustration 5. Current Niessen Cultural Center. Source:, accessed February 19, 2021.

Thus, the late 1990s and early 2000s saw an economic expansion that considerably reduced the dramatic unemployment rates. With this, Errenteria went from having almost 30% of unemployment at the end of the nineties to 11.8% in 2001 (Eustat, 2016b). There are many factors that could explain it, closely linked to the outsourcing of the economy, among which the boom in construction, transport, commerce, hospitality or real estate services stand out, as well as the strengthening of the public sector and the consequent increase in public employment in all areas. But generally speaking, there are two main reasons behind this economic expansion.

On the one hand, and as studied by Pablo Lopez Calle (2018: 6), thanks to the financialization of the economy, linked in part to the indebtedness of households derived from the difference in their reproductive needs and their conditions as a workforce . A financialisation that temporarily sustained levels of consumption that did not correspond to the wages of their jobs, which gave rise to an employment and consumption bubble. On the other hand, and as Jaime Palomera (2015: 35) maintains, due to a greater precariousness of work supported by successive labor reforms. And it is that, although these economic transformations gave rise to new professions thanks to the mass access to universities of the new generations, which in turn was reflected in a change in the occupational structure with a growth of qualified jobs, it is also true that at the same time precarious, temporary and partial jobs spread together with the needs of the new emerging sectors.

In this way, the labor market was segmented by a class of workers with fixed and stable contracts, on the one hand, and by workers chained to temporary contracts and underemployment on the other. In 2001 in Errenteria, 66% of salaried persons had a permanent contract, compared to 34% with a temporary contract (Eustat, 2016). Errenteria, with training levels visibly lower than those of the territory, fed this segment to a greater extent than the province. The “reserve army” of this last segment, key in the economic expansion of those years, was basically made up of women, young people and non-EU migrants who arrived en masse in the city from the first years of the new century and occupied the worst positions of the labor market: as porters in the port of Pasaia or in the logistics chains of transport companies, as laborers in construction, as shop assistants and waitresses in large supermarkets, as well as as domestic workers.

The financial explosion of 2007-2008 showed the fragility of this expansion, based on the real estate bubble, household debt and the precariousness of working conditions. Although the crisis generated in Errenteria was unparalleled with what had happened years ago, nor did it resemble the dramatic reality of other places dependent on tourism and construction, the unemployment rate also skyrocketed in the city, reaching 15.8% in 2015 (Eustat, 2016b). But in addition, austerity policies based on cuts in public spending, privatizations, restrictions on social assistance or labor and pension reforms, among other factors, intensified the precariousness of the living and working conditions of broad sectors. social. This, together with an intense moralization that they had “lived beyond their means”, would come to redefine the political frameworks of redistribution forged by the Fordist Keynesian state and to reconfigure the horizon and the hopes of the middle class in passing.

Illustration 6. Boy playing in the working-class neighborhood of Capuchinos. Photo donated by an interlocutor from Errenteria.

The generational break: of the prosperous past and the precarious present

Ana, Álex and Eli come from rural families who came to Errenteria with the hope that industrial work would guarantee them a better life. Attracted by the rapid industrialization, the abundance of work and the economic growth that the city seemed to experience, they saw in Errenteria the way to prosper and live with dignity.

Ana came from a rural family in central Spain that ended up becoming one of the leading families of the first migratory flow of the century. xx towards Errenteria. His mother, marveling at the life that her sister said to enjoy, who had migrated to the city in the fifties, convinced her partner a few years later to start a new life project in the north. Within a few years, he got a job in one of the big factories in the city, and she took it upon herself to raise the three children they had.

In the same way, at the beginning of the sixties Álex's mother left her small rural town in the north at the age of seventeen, following so many other neighbors who began to be employed in the large industries of Errenteria and Pasaia. There she met her future husband, a young man from a neighboring town who was passionate about the countryside, but turned into a bricklayer. Alex's mother worked in the factory until the aforementioned industrial reconversion He finished expelling her, and since then the family relied on the money that the father brought home. She raised their four children, and he worked in construction on his own until he took early retirement in early 2000.

Eli's mother also pinned her hope that industrial work would make a better future possible. That is why in the seventies he came from a neighboring town to work at the large factories in the city. However, as Alex's mother, with the reconversion She also retreated at home to take care of her two children, while her husband worked as an administrative officer until he took a good early retirement. Both she and Álex's mother did not return to employment until years later, when the children had grown up, already as a precarious workforce in the service sector. In any case, in one way or another, they all followed what Jane Lewis (2002: 332) describes as the model of social organization that supported the reproduction of the Fordist Keynesian welfare model, which gave man the responsibility to provide for the family and defined him as “the man who won the bread”, while the woman defined herself from the vocation to domestic work to configure herself as a “housewife”.

In short, for these households access to employment was not a serious problem, and in principle, if one wanted, it was more or less feasible to have the same job for life. The problem in any case was the bad salary, or that the well-being and the life projects were linked to the narrow margins of the family. An "ethic of work and industry" was at the base of these life projects, which justified the sacrifices that had to be made, at work and at home, to achieve better living conditions. In other words, these daily sacrifices sustained and made sense in relation to future projections. In addition, union struggles and their continued strikes were making substantial wage increases possible that improved future prospects. All of this provided a degree of certainty to establish lasting and consistent life projects, a power to think ahead as an economic unit. But it was also a power to look to the future with peace of mind, taking retirement or social protection for granted, especially for those that Luis Enrique Alonso (2007: 100) calls “working citizens”, that is, citizens who are within of salary reality, while it highlights that a good part of social rights pass through the contribution to the labor market. In fact, this model guaranteed decent pensions, especially to those who were employed in stable jobs in the industry, while they had access to adjusted and precarious pensions to a greater extent. Finally, it was a power to look to the future through ascending aspirations, where material progress, yes as an economic unit, entered the calculations of households.

In this way, Ana, Álex and Eli often compared their lives with the standards reached by previous generations in similar stages of their lives. All three considered that their families had managed to become those middle classes that possessed a certain security, stability and comfort. They insisted that their parents started from humble conditions, but ended up reaching middle-class standards in the end. All of them, for example, were made at one time or another from a second home, something unthinkable for them. Hence, when assessing their life trajectories, the three claimed to feel an involution of their biographical expectations. In particular, they focused on their work experiences, which, far from being linear and ascending, were characterized by being fragmented, reversible, flexible and precarious trajectories to confirm said setback.

Eli, for example, dropped out of school at an early age to work as a caregiver in the late 1990s. At the age of nineteen, he began to live with his partner, an electrician who worked informally. Two years later, with the arrival of their first child, the couple agreed that Eli would dedicate himself to taking care of the baby and the house. These were the boom years of construction and with the money he brought home they managed to live. Ten years later, in the midst of a financial boom and with a second child in her arms, they divorced. Eli then found that he only had high school studies, had no money of his own, and hardly any work experience. What do I do now? He wondered; And it is that with the end of his marriage the economic model on which he based his confidence also fell. Eli went to social services and within months he accessed the "Income Guarantee Rent" (rgi), a monthly financial benefit from the Basque government that was created to respond to the Fordist crisis and which currently represents the most advanced coverage or protection system in the entire Spanish State.

Thanks to this social benefit, Eli was able to move forward with his life and that of his children, not without a few "juggling" (Villarreal 2017: 92), since the money he received every month was never enough to live.

For Álex, the sense of backwardness that his generation experienced was too evident. "The good times", as he used to describe the good times, had passed and now they had fewer opportunities and would have to face harsher living conditions than older generations:

I think we had gotten into the collective imagination that we would live better than the previous generation, right? I also received that message from my parents. They had to work hard for it. My father did not go to school, and my mother did and wanted to continue studying, but could not. So that's it, right? Being able to give those opportunities, not having to work so hard to enjoy life. And in some things, yes (that we have been able to do), but in other things ... or maybe we did, even when I went to university, there was that socioeconomic context, but then I realized that to achieve a house or having another level of well-being would have it more difficult.

For him, the promise of upward social mobility proved false within a few years of finishing his studies at the university. Really, the university had for him a sense of personal growth rather than work, although he was confident that a university degree would open the doors to a better life in an economy that seemed to be oriented towards skilled work. Even so, in early 2000, after working for a few years as a fellow in research projects at the university and tired of not making ends meet, he switched to hospitality. Without great job hopes, at the age of twenty-six he was offered a job in a cooperative, and although that job was not related to his studies either, Alex accepted. He started with a few hours, combining it with work in bars, and in less than five years he became a cooperative member. At that time the rotation of workers in the cooperative was great, since the salaries were not much. But then came the crisis of 2008, what in early 2000 was denounced as a bad salary began to be seen as an acceptable salary. That is to say that being a mileurista,4 While being young with studies and languages, with a salary around a thousand euros and in jobs that were not in accordance with their training, it did not seem so much drama, and with the drop in expectations, the rotation of workers decreased. Sixteen years had passed since he joined the cooperative and Alex was still there. However, he had imagined that by now his financial situation would be considerably more comfortable and stable, which in turn influenced increasingly descending aspirations:

Hey, let's see. At the age of twenty, I have had better living conditions than my parents. At forty he is being similar. And with sixty I have my doubts. I believe that I will have fewer opportunities, fewer resources than my parents.

A secure and stable life was never something Ana sought. Although she grew up from those frameworks, and her parents “expected her to be a minister at least,” Ana and part of a generation that lived as a youth between the eighties and nineties they built their lives in opposition to these semantics and these middle-class horizons. His generation was the cannon fodder of the flex market. First they were configured as “the lost generation” and found themselves with a labor market that was difficult to access. As Victoria Goddard (2019: 12) portrays, deindustrialization interrupted work cycles and forms of life transmitted intergenerationally in these cities, thus losing the credibility and effectiveness of the life projects built by the previous generation. This generation lived with unemployment and with temporary jobs or “currillos”, short-term jobs, poorly paid and generally tasks less valued and with less status than industrial employment, with which it was configured as the cannon fodder of the flexible market and precarious. In fact, a part of this generation perceived the flexible market as a sign of freedom, far from the rigidities of their parents' ways of working and living. Moreover, many found liberation in the non-future, as a lack of concern for it. It was an uncertainty imposed by the framework of opportunities, but also in a certain way desired, sought and shared:

In other words, I want to tell you that I am aware that I could have had more pasta (money), that I could have had a job (job) for sure, but I don't know. I have chosen a different kind of life. How to go to Mexico and set up the La Habanera cultural center. If I had had a mortgage, a family, a permanent job, I would not have set up La Habanera. And we wouldn't have danced like that.

In fact, Ana was perceived by many as a "hustler", seeing her always changing from one job to another to earn a living despite advancing in age. And it is that, in these others Marcos, work should only guarantee today, that she would give "enough to live" was what she was looking for, as she defines it "to eat, to have a few drinks, to smoke and little else." And indeed, it was possible. And in this context of labor abundance, that jobs were not sustained over time, for whatever reason, was not a problem. In fact, Ana always made a living with jobs that lasted from one to three years. Usually without a contract, Ana has worked in more than 20 “currillos”, mostly in the hospitality industry, but also as a transporter, insurance agent, caretaker or watchman.

However, this life project had become especially vulnerable in recent years, with the decrease in the job offer and the devaluation of wages driven by successive labor reforms. "I've always had a lot of access to work shit, and you see that now there is no shit," she complained when assessing her career path from 2011. With the last financial outbreak, Ana began to notice that they no longer offered her not so many jobs, not in the conditions of before. In the last three years he had had four consecutive jobs and had alternated them with four other "currillos", and each time, he acknowledged, it was becoming more difficult for him to keep a job over time. Added to the short duration of their jobs was the fact that lately the months of unemployment were lengthening.

Hence, Ana began to feel that she no longer had the energy that this lifestyle required. That most of the people with whom she shared that way of life had, as she says, “grown up”, “settled”, made her feel more and more alone, vulnerable and misunderstood in their way of life. "Everything was easier before", when I was young and that life project that embraced short-termism had an economic model to sustain itself and a group of people to share it.

In fact, when I met them in the course of fieldwork, it seemed to me that uncertainty was running through their livelihoods in very different ways. The consideration that there were no monetary resources in the immediate future, or not knowing what they would be like in the medium term, entered squarely into the daily calculations of all of them. Either because of the lack of future guarantees, or because of the budget shortage itself, the fact is that their economies only seemed to be able to cover, at best, the imminent. All three consumed their income per month and had little chance of generating monetary savings.

Ana, at fifty-two, had just been called from a program for women in danger of exclusion from the local government, offering her a sheltered job. With this, he left the kitchen of a bar where he worked twenty hours on weekends. With this new job, Ana would work full time from Monday to Friday for 900 euros a month. However, this new job also had an expiration date, since it was a job offer for six months and he would not be able to apply for it again for three years. And yet Ana accepted; later, as she said, she would seek her life.

On the other hand, Álex, although he felt the security of having a guaranteed job, was still anguished that his salary was subject to the hiring of services, as when he started. In other words, at the age of forty-two and with more than fifteen years working in the same cooperative, Alex did not know what he would earn, or the hours he would work year after year, which created insecurity and anxiety. In addition, since the second year of the financial outbreak and until just three years ago, Alex had had his salary frozen due to declining clients and adjustment policies that cut subsidies for cooperatives like his. His salary when I met him was around 1,280 euros. In addition, his anguish about not knowing what he would earn intensified two years ago, when he decided to use all his savings to access a mortgage and buy a small house, because once again the salaries began, although slightly, to grow.

And Eli was still ten years later the recipient of the rgi. He was then thirty-seven years old and had three children under the age of fifteen. He lived with his current partner and their children in a house whose mortgage they had just acquired. The social salary, together with the maintenance of the father of the first two children, also in a crisis situation after the construction stopped, had a monthly income of 940 euros. In addition, he had access to some other social benefits during the year. And although the money received was not enough to move forward, and juggling was always necessary, what weighed the most for Eli during these years was the institutional control that he had to endure in order to maintain the aid. And it is that the restrictive trend in social assistance that can be traced since 2012, and whose last expression was the reform proposal of 2018, in addition to intensifying the restrictive measures had a clear disciplinary vocation, since it legitimized the permanent and reinforced control of those who they received the benefit. With this, the debate about who was deserving of the social wage was polarized. “I have the feeling that I am asking on my knees, please give me,” Eli explained to me to emphasize how expensive it was vitally and socially for him to maintain the social benefit, so that in recent years and whenever he could, Eli had opted for to secretly carry their status as a recipient in the new social circles, whether they were neighbors, parents of the school and so on.

"We will live worse than our parents": the perception of setback and disorientation about tomorrow

David Zeitlyn (2015: 399) says that past futures, including remembered hopes and fears, interfere in some way with the real future. They do it because contrary to common sense that the past is something fixed and immovable, it is meaning and felt as many times as needed. Indeed, as Magdalena Villarreal (2008: 102) points out, time is not so much an external evolutionary framework within which social relations take place, but it is also constructed and, as such, it is signified and used. But in addition, Zeitlyn pays attention to the fact that affective dynamics are like the sensations that produce vertigo, stagnation, enthusiasm, anxiety or disorientation, and points out that they are central when it comes to understanding the processes of social change.

Hence it can be assumed that as life trajectories have been transformed the temporary experience of relentless economic progress has also been distorted. Now, as Daniel Knight (2016) found when examining the consequences of prolonged austerity in the Greek context, the ethnographic material collected in Errenteria also shows an intense moment of confusion and “temporary vertigo” in the Basque context. In particular, the structural adjustment policies, and especially the reforms in the Public Pension System, had placed the future in the present and made explicit the bankruptcy of the
social reproduction. How to provide materially and care in
old age was something that generated unease and confusion. For example, Eli, on the one hand, was scared that he had not had years of contributions, but anyway he said that he did not trust that the pension system would last either: “The only thing that has worried me has been not to contribute for retirement. But hey, then I also think that retirement is going to disappear. So, total: I don't know, I don't know ”.

For Álex too, although he consciously avoided thinking about the future and retirement, the worry and anguish were always there:

The other time I also think I told you. It worries me a lot, well, I don't have it in here –and he touches his head–, because otherwise it would overwhelm me; But when we retire, I don't know what will become of our lives. I don't know if we will have a pension, or what the pensions will be like, why will he give us that. And then I see in those things that we are going backwards. That we will live in worse conditions. Which at the same time is not true, because I, of course, have been able to go to university, and that for my parents was unimaginable.

It was a disorientation that sometimes also had to do with the speed with which conditions changed, making it difficult to even draw strategies for the future, or as Ana said regarding her future plans, that she had “too many and none”.

In fact, although certain political alternatives had raised promises of improvement and social change, many were relatively disillusioned by a feeling of uncontrollability and limitation when it came to improving living conditions, what Marina Garcés (2017: 16) calls "The new experience of the limit". In doing so, hopes for a good life were formulated as individual family-centered strategies. Far from the ideal of self-sufficiency homo economicus And in the face of the latent dismantling of the welfare state, the idea of needing the help of the family to start and sustain one's life projects and generational expectations was increasingly accepted. In this way, what James Petras (1995: 28-29) calls “the family welfare system” was configured, in the sense that the lives and expectations of these precarious people were sustained thanks to past prosperity, either through housing in mortgage-free property, savings and good pensions especially from the "bread-givers". And I would add, for the continued service of "the grandmothers" in caregiving tasks.

Illustration 7. “Pensioners and factories”. Photograph taken in the field work 2017-2018. Author: Uzuri Aboitiz.

However, the vulnerability of life projects and the need to rely on the family were experienced by the majority with some frustration, as they understood them as an involution of life projects and a loss of autonomy of what life had to mean adult. This was especially visible in Eli and Alex. For example, Eli was frustrated by finding himself on a daily basis asking his parents and partner for favors to make ends meet, at the same time that he demanded from the family their duty to help as a natural moral responsibility of family ties. To Álex, who had always tried not to need help from anyone, the dismantling of the welfare state and the "rehome"5 sustaining life made him feel deeply unprotected. "Who will take care of me when I grow up?" He once said to me in anguish, he who did not intend to have a partner or children. The future looked vague and hopeless:

I believe that crises are coming, and they will be more and more followed, I am clear about it. What will happen to our pensions? What will we do when we get older? What do we do, continue working? I imagine it as a black hole. I imagine like in America, all full of homeless streets. It's something that worries me a lot.

Ultimately, the promises of a life of boundless enjoyment, enjoyment, and opportunity were fading. Possible futures dwindled, dreams dwindled, and aspirations dwindled. In his youth, Álex had imagined a determined life in his old age, in which he would go back to university for pleasure, while his needs were met. Now, however, he felt that he had to settle for less, and he recognized that some of his dreams for the future were beginning to come to pass:

I remember when I was younger, at university, I went on Erasmus6 and i met a swedish girl. Back then, I used to say that when I retire I would go back to university and go back to Erasmus. We both had that plan. Now I realize that this cannot be.

However, periods of crisis also open temporary windows where past, present and future are rearticulated in unique ways, opening new paths to hope. In fact, despite lost futures, unfulfilled promises, devastated plans, and setbacks experienced in every social and material way imaginable, many of the people I lived with hoped to maintain and sometimes even improve their lives. standard of living. This belief in a better future manifested itself repeatedly as a lack of concern for her. However, this should not be confused with the absence of ideas about what they know the future may hold, but rather as a deliberate way of not being overwhelmed by the future.

In Eli's case, the belief in economic recovery, or rather in the system's capacity for self-correction, made him understand the precariousness of the present as "a bad streak", which is why he pointed out that "better times will come soon". And so, although he was going through one of the hardest economic moments of his life, Eli was optimistic and hopeful and found in uncertainty the precondition for hope. Álex, on the other hand, placed his trust in the changes that the left forces could generate in the institutions. This faith that "God will provide," in the form of a confidence in the forces of change, reassured him and made him somewhat unconcerned about his limited chances of generating savings. While Ana put her trust in her ability to get ahead, due to past experiences in which she got ahead in one way or another, in that "I'll find my life". Eli also expressed it to me on other occasions:

I thought a lot about tomorrow, always about tomorrow, about tomorrow. And I have already started to think about today, today and today. And I know it is very typical, but it is true; You don't know what you're going to experience, and look: I've already seen many things, and you come out of everything except death, that's clear. So worry?

Ultimately, they were all exercises in trust. As Valerie Hänsch, Lena Kroeker and Silke Oldenburg (2017: 13) point out, trust is opposed to uncertainty, and perhaps in this way the future ceases to be somewhat uncertain in some way.

Family and individual responsibility for tomorrow

The ways of earning a living today in Errenteria are more individualized, unstable and uncertain than forty years ago, which produces material precariousness, social vulnerability, emotional anxiety and vital uncertainty in broad sectors of the population. In this sense, doing ethnography in a deindustrialized city like Errenteria allows us to get closer to the material and moral transformations that have occurred with the end of industrial society and Keynesian wealth distribution policies. And it is that, presumably, that the events that occurred at this time have already had a lasting effect on the way people perceive and articulate the past times of prosperity, the current era of precariousness and their expectations of rebuilding their future.

Fieldwork has revealed an idealization of the past and mythical reconfigurations of those memories, in which the precariousness and uncertainties experienced by older generations, especially women, are omitted. In general, the "good times" are imagined, remembered and transmitted as times in which it was possible to trace one's own future, through work and sacrifice. For most, those times ended in the 1990s with the deindustrialization of the city. It is from this significance of the industrial past that today the children of these working classes understand the feeling of retreat and their downward social mobility.

Illustration 8. On the way to the Galtzaraborda neighborhood. Photograph taken in field work, 2017-2018. Author: Uzuri Aboitiz.

However, the perception of regression can lead us to a somewhat simplistic idea of assuming a generalized feeling of hopelessness, rupture or refusal to build the future. And it is that, as has been shown throughout the article, the residents of this city, despite having seen their life trajectories altered and their promises of tomorrow, continue to fight to get ahead and even retain the hope of protecting , maintain and sometimes increase their standard of living and sense of dignity; which questions, at least, the perception of the current moment as an irreversible historical rupture. In fact, despite the daily uncertainties, my interlocutors continue to aspire to "be able to live in peace", which is nothing other than their idea of "living well" with some security and protection.

Now, that "being able to live in peace" is accompanied by assuming that it will be more difficult than it was for the previous generation, for example, while normalizing that it is necessary to work and endure more and in worse conditions, either in the employment or at home. On the other hand, success in biographical expectations is assumed as a basically individual or family responsibility, something that is in line with the privatization measures of the forms of social risk management given in recent years. In other words, in a certain way, the deprivation of responsibility of the State is accepted, which could suggest that the principles of neoliberal thought have been reinforced during this long dynamic, while, as Sandra Ezquerra (2012: 134) affirms, there has been a transformation in the expectations and perceived rights of the population regarding public services or common goods.

In short, it is widely accepted that there is an inflection in the expectations and life plans of broad social layers. The notion of life to which they aspired has diminished and some dreams and aspirations are beginning to be subordinated and postponed. "As soon as possible" becomes the catchphrase that follows many of the conversations about the future. And it is that the changes in the fields of opportunities have misaligned the expectations created generationally, producing a feeling of disorientation. When I asked my interlocutors about the future, most of them formulated dreams instead of projects. Indeed, when I observed the formulation of expectations closely, the vagueness and indeterminacy from which they were enunciated became visible. People find themselves moving between economic models and opposite moralities, rescuing what is useful to make their life project more secure. Or, as David Zeitlyn (2015: 399) would say, “past futures” continue to cast “shadows” over the lives, dreams and wishes of the residents of Errenteria.


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Uzuri Aboitiz She is a contracted predoctoral researcher (2016-2019) in Society and Culture, a field of Anthropology associated with the Group for Reciprocity Studies of the University of Barcelona. He has carried out a research stay in the 2018-2019 academic year in ciesas Occidente, under the umbrella of the International Seminar on Anthropology and Money (ade), associated with the same center and the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion (imtfi). In her doctoral research, she studies the reconfiguration of the frameworks of meaning and of the practices when it comes to moving life forward and building life projects that occurred in the transition from a Keynesian Fordist state to a neoliberal one.

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Encartes, vol. 4, núm 7, marzo 2021-agosto 2021, es una revista académica digital de acceso libre y publicación semestral editada por el Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, calle Juárez, núm. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte Norte, A. C., Carretera escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, núm. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, México, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, e Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, núm. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434. Contacto: Directora de la revista: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Alojada en la dirección electrónica Responsable de la última actualización de este número: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Fecha de última modificación: 15 de abril de 2021.

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