The article introduces the concept of foundational economy - i.e. the activities providing the economic infrastructure of social reproduction – and analyzes it focusing on the transformation of work in the foundational sectors (e.g. food production and distribution; water and energy supply; waste management; education; health and social care; public transports). In recent decades a neoliberal approach, based on value maximization and financial accumulation, has spread in the foundational activities which should be driven by the idea of collective well-being. This profound transformation consistently affects workers as well as consumers. In fact, the pursuit of extra profits takes places also through the suppression of unprofitable services, the lowering of quality standards and the reduction of fixed costs related to the labour force. In this scenario, however, we also observe a number of innovative experiences opposing the value extraction process in the foundational activities. These practices propose alternative forms of production, organization, and distribution, aiming to place the role of labour and the workers at the heart of the economy.
Keywords: Foundational economy, social citizenship, neo-liberalism, value extraction, financialization, economic regulation