A decade of consecutive crises in Greece has generated three grassroots movements of solidarity and resistance. The first emerged in 2011-15 as part of the larger political struggle against the Troika’s supervision, austerity and structural readjustment programs. The second grew in 2015-16 to support the waves of refugees reaching Greek shores. The third appeared last spring with the rise of Covid-19 and the imposition of lockdowns.
‘Social distancing’ and the curtailment of public space due to Covid-19 challenged the relational foundations on which solidarity practices had been underpinned. They had to adjust in novel sociospatial conditions and develop a new imaginary of their political and transformative potential. The former has proved easier to achieve than the latter.
Where possible, many of the pre-Covid-19 solidarity structures moved activities online. Other projects initiated local campaigns for aid provision and organised sessions for psychological support. At the same time, new mutual aid networks emerged in both physical and digital spaces. Some were built at a neighbourhood level while others organised among various affinity groups and communities (for example, queer, disabled people etc). Some platforms also functioned as a space from which health workers, solidarity activists and others launched joint demands and protest actions. A remarkable attempt was made by one platform to coordinate the production of protective gear for health workers and hospitals through the cooperation of available 3D printers, open-source designs and know-how.
Simultaneously, informal self-help initiatives took off, from small family workshops to entire blocks of flats. As well as organising care and support to vulnerable groups, they embarked on localised, informal and sometimes individual production of masks for hospitals, local people and refugees. A survey by the Research Institute of Retail Consumer Goods (IELKA) found that 8 per cent of the population had taken care of neighbours during the first lockdown while 39 per cent looked after family members. Such findings confirm the often-overlooked potential for the development of solidarity politics and economies, especially in countries such as Greece with still-active memories of communal (often pre-capitalist) relations and affective networks.
The pandemic has undoubtedly disrupted the process of neoliberal globalisation. At the same time, it has accelerated the consolidation of a digitised model of capitalist restructuring and accumulation. It is in this context that we should locate the solidarity movement and read its experience, as a contribution to a process of strategic, radical and vital social transformation.
Inclusive and participatory forms of self-organising rendered solidarity a gesture of personal and collective empowerment. They allowed local, idle and overlooked knowledge, skills, networks, resources and sectors of the population previously marginalized, never before involved in political and social movements, to become protagonists. Women, pensioners, precarious workers, immigrants and refugees, people with ‘low cultural capital’ and non-academic credentials formed the backbone of this grassroots movement, alongside countless social left activists who offered organisational experience and facilitated effective communication.
The solidarity movement has prefigured both a public sphere of and from (those) below, and of self-managed economic production and exchange. In that sense, solidarity networks can be viewed as means of providing an infrastructure for a people-managed political and economic sphere. They illustrate the possibility of building up ‘extitutions’ that consolidate the necessary (and creatively resistive) social and material power to advance collective sovereignty, emancipation, socialised economy and distributed restructuring of power itself.
Christos Giovanopoulos and Andreas Karitzis are founding members of Komvos (Hub) for Social Economy, Empowerment and Innovation
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