by Alexander Kolokotronis
“Since the beginning of the Greek financial crisis, both the Right and the Left have advanced a narrow set of narratives, policy possibilities, and even political actors. One movement that has largely remained outside of the discourse has been the solidarity economy movement. A key organization within the solidarity economy movement is Solidarity for All. Solidarity for All is an organization that offers technical support, capacity building, and network-scaling for the various grassroots initiatives around Greece.
In a 2014-2015 report entitled Building Hope: Against Fear and Devastation, Solidarity for All draws attention to “the devastating effects of the radical neoliberal experiment on Greek society.” The report also sets out to highlight “another experiment: that of Greek society taking action through self-organization and solidarity, of people standing up and resisting their economic and political ‘saviours.’”
In the report, Solidarity for All cites statistics that are often unseen in accounts of Greece. For example, the organization notes that “If we include the economically inactive population…56.3% of the population are out of work.” Undoubtedly, this number has increased, as it is drawn from 2014 data. Between 2008 and 2013 the youth unemployment rate increased from 21% to 59%. With the increase in the unemployment rate, there has been dramatic reductions in unemployment benefits, both in terms of the nominal support provided, as well as the relative total of the unemployed who receive any benefit at all. While 58% of the registered unemployed received benefits in 2008, only 14% received (reduced) benefits in 2014. With healthcare tied to employment, at least 2.5 million people have lost “their social security status.”
The report goes on to cite skyrocketing increases in the number of people unable to pay their mortgages, taxes, as well as the total amount of overdue bills. With the foreclosure ban lifted in the midst of crisis, banks have been able to seize and confiscate property and homes. Together all these statistics, and many more, provide a startling image of a country that now sees the majority of its population living under the poverty line. It is for this reason that a UNICEF report has referred to this crisis as a “Great Leap Backward.” The economic cost is clear, but the psychological and social impact is immeasurable.
Nonetheless, as the report emphasizes, there are alternatives, and they are sprouting up throughout Greece. These include solidarity healthcare clinics, food solidarity structures and solidarity kitchens, “without middlemen” networks, immigrant solidarity networks and cooperatives. With the crisis bringing the capitalist mode of production into question, these democratic organizational forms are being sought out and created. As Christos Giovanopoulos – member of Solidarity for All – emphasizes in this interview, these alternative institutions are not simply about fulfilling a need, but about building capacity and ensuring all participants have agency within those same alternative institutions.
Thus, one finds a range of organizational designs and setups even with one type of alternative institution. As Solidarity for All states, “There is not one model of solidarity clinics, each one is unique, and the same goes for all the solidarity structures. While all solidarity health centers are self-organized, some are linked with local doctors’ associations and trade unions, some with local political groups, or cultural centers.” The solidarity clinics are nationally aligned in the Cooperation of Solidarity Clinics and Pharmacies. With Attica being the main site of alternative institution building, the region possesses the Coordination of Solidarity Clinics and Pharmacies of Attica. As the report itself states, the aim of these clinics is not to substitute for the state, but to fill a need and work in conjunction with existing health workers’ unions.
Food distribution has also taken different forms with solidarity food structures, solidarity kitchens, and “without middlemen” networks. Without middlemen networks connect food producers directly to consumers through mechanisms such as preorder. The result is reduced prices in food, as well as ensuring a higher income for producers. These networks also provide a framework through which socialization of production, distribution, and even consumption, can be steadily built and scaled. One example of this is that each producer of a given bazaar donating two to five percent of their goods, which are then distributed to families that cannot afford to purchase food.
In the case of cooperatives, the state put in place a social cooperative enterprise law. When I visited Greece in August, I was told approximately 700 enterprises are registered under this designation, however, many of these enterprises are not substantively cooperatives, and instead are NGOs. The real number according to the report, as well as a Social and Solidarity Economy volunteer in Solidarity for All, is between 300 and 400 cooperatives. This includes the high-profile workers’ self-managed firm VIOME, a recuperated enterprise that has endured frequent attempts by authorities to liquidate it and sell off its assets.
Also, expanding due to the rapid inflow of migrants and refugees is immigrant solidarity networks and structures. These have received increased attention in large media outlets, and have been noted for the inclusion of migrants and refugees in the decision-making processes and apparatuses of such organizations.”
This article was excerpted from here.