From Commons to Commonism, a report from the Solikon 2015 solidarity economy conference

A Conference Report from Birgit Daiber:

“Since some years the „Forum für solidarische Ökonomie“ ( is organising national conferences on solidarity economy in Germany. This year it took place in Berlin (10/13/9) under the headline “Solidarity Economy and Transformation” ( While in the past it was more or less a commemoration of veteran performers, there was something different this year: a new generation of young motivated people is experimenting with cooperative initiatives and commons, organising alternative festivals, free-software-cooperatives, workers’ controlled enterprises, classical ecological farming coops, community housing-projects, alternative Finance-circles, even projects promoting utopian economic relationships by a culture of donation – without any fixed exchange of goods or money – were presented and during the three days conference about 1 500 people were attending the events.

And another new element in the organisation of alternative conferences in Germany finally appeared: For the first time European and South-South-initiatives were genuine part of the conference – and the Forums were translated in the main (western) languages.

In more than 190 Forums, workshops and panel sessions activists presented their projects and discussed further strategies. The connection between classical solidarity economy and the international development of commons-networks as well as in at least five workshops issues of the international Commons-debate were discussed (see below).

Specific workshops were dedicated to solidarity-economy and commons in Greece.

Following is:

1.) a short report on some events concerning solidarity actions with Greece and

2.) a report on some of the workshops on commons.

* 1.) Solidarity4all-Network Greece

(No plan B or C – just participate in the developing solidarity economy and commons in Greece).

In Greece many creative resistance initiatives developed under the threat of the European austerity-regime. The 2012 from Syriza-Activists created network and funds „solidarity4all – is a appropriate platform to develop solidarity activities. 2015 already more than 800 social and solidarity enterprises exist. They are active in all kind of fields: Agriculture, Media, New Technologies, Consumer Cooperatives, Distribution Services, Cafes and Bars, cooperative Tourism and others. They defend public spaces, create self-managed social centres, no-pay-initiatives, about more than 400 solidarity projects already exist today. Including solidarity kitchens, collective farms, agricultural cooperatives of all kind they distribute their products and services without middlemen markets – social groceries . And already well documented are the 48 social clinics and pharmacies.

Three examples:

In the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko are working more than 200 volonteers. The clinic receives donations from fellow citizens all over Europe. See:

The project PERKA is an urban gardening-project in Thessaloniki on an abandoned military space of 16 ha. Since 2011, residents of Thessaloniki have been occupying part of the former Karatsou military base, located in the Pavlos Melas district in the north of the city. The Perka project, as a periastikon kalliergeion (Urban farming ) gives this name to each of the 7 plots maintained by a group of volunteers who grow plants and crops individually or collectively. Based on the principles of collegiality, self-management and equality, the general operation seems simple. The gardeners only practice organic agriculture (biodynamic for some), and comply with several requirements established as a charter.

VIO.ME. The workers controlled enterprise in Thessaloniki still needs massive international solidarity – not only by developing chains to distribute their product,, The workers of Vio.Me., a building materials factory in Thessaloniki, Greece, which was abandoned by its owners, have been unpaid since May 2011. By decision of their general assembly they have decided to occupy the factory and operate it under direct democratic workers’ control. After a year-long struggle that has attracted attention and solidarity in Greece and worldwide, they were kick-starting production on February 12, 2013, after 3 days of intense mobilization. Meanwhile the workers lost two existential cases at Court but still occupy the factory and produce biological cleansing agents and soap – distributed by solidarity chains through Europe.

In a separate meeting between Greek and German activists possibilities of cooperation were discussed. The Greek activists proposed Memorandum of Solidarity to be developed soon. German activists asking for opportunities to cooperate presented their ideas and discussed it with the Greek activists: To build solidarity chains for the distribution of ecologically and socially produced goods ( Olive Oil) in German Fair-Trade-nets and shop; To organise public events and use Media to counter the political terror and black-mailing of the EU-Council against Greece; To build local cooperation networks – and, as already started in Berlin (see: initiatives to motivate local authorities to create city-partnerships with Greek communities.

* 2. From Commons to Commonism

At least five workshops concentrated on Commons. There was a remarkable participation of European and International activists in these seminars. Various Presentations of projects in Europe, Canada, USA and from Brasilia, mostly concerning common Land- and Housing-Trusts, urban gardening and agriculture as well as the Digital Commons were followed by more theoretical debates. In all workshops the common understanding was: commoning and commons are the appropriate method to confront the destructive capitalist system with alternative paths of development.

The Land- and Housing-Trust initiatives show the necessary new relationship between public and commons: Commons need to be protected institutionally and there is a new relationship between public and civil society partnerships arising: Instead of Public-Private-Partnerships Initiatives create Public-Social-Partnerships.

To give an impression about the presentations and debates here some rather arbitrary examples of the Land-and-Housing-projects presented in the workshops:

The Island of EIGG/Scotland: the citizens bought the small Island (belonging to the Inner Hebrides) together and built up a common autonomous system with renewable energy-sources.

The Champlain Housing Trust (Burlington/Vermont in USA) comprises about 2 300 houses to rent or to own.

Similar success-stories were reported from Brooklyn/NY: They started squatting houses in NY, united equity houses and created homes for people with low income. Then they developed other common activities as food-cooperatives and local credit unions.

The „Evergreen-Cooperatives“ in Cleveland a Community Land- and Housing-Trust helps people with lower income to secure their social situation and develop other activities as there are locally centred services and goods and credit unions, kindergardens and ecologically based food-cooperatives. One participant of the seminar called the spirit of commoning “a common weel”.

The LILAC-project in Leeds/UK is a pioneering project trying to respond to three key-issues: the financial crisis, the threat of global warming and the breakdown of local communities. The plot comprises 20 dwellings with shared gardens. The houses are completely built with ecological materials and use solar water heating. Services like childcare, group meals and others are already working. „All this contributes to reducing the inhabitants’ environmental and economic footprint“.

The „Mietshäusersyndikat“ is organising activities of small communities living in rented houses to avoid speculative rents. Already 98 projects in Germany take part in these activities.

With the French SCIC (Sociéte coopératives d’intérêt collectif a legal form for solidarity economy) founded so far 486 projects/enterprises all over the country and general information is provided on

Besides these reports a more theoretical debate took place too. Pat Conaty from NEF (New Economic Foundation) refered to Elinor Ostrom and calls Commons-theory a relation-theory. He differentiated three functionary levels to create commons: the resource level, the institutional level and the social relationships.

Pat Conaty and Mike Lewis from CCCR (Canadian Centre for Community Renewal) asked politics to provide the right conditions to make communing easier and said, each of the commons needed to be protected institutionally.

The main slogans of these workshops where:

– Transform the system and make it democratic.

– Provide the conditions to make commoning easier: Commons need to be protected institutionally.

– Commoning allows to create a new kind of public-social-partnership

– Starting with one activity, communing very often is going on creating very different common activities.”

Source: CommonGood mailing list, written 25/9/2015

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