27 May

Those Who Do Not Move, Do Not Notice Their Chains

Conference

Tbilisi

June 1-2, 2019

Caucasian House

20 Galaktion Tabidze St.

Saturday June 1st

2:00 pm

Georgia: Long Term Political Alternative as the Vehicle for Fundamental Change

Beka Natsvlishvili, Sopo Japaridze 

Moderated by Neno Charkviani

Georgia has yet to reach the economic indicators it had before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unemployment, poverty and inequality have become perpetual problems plaguing the country. The dominant ideology of small government and free trade – presented as a fair and effective mechanism without any alternatives – hinders real changes. Every influential government and civil institutions are being used to cultivate and disseminate this perspective. It’s important to break this cycle and offer a viable political alternative which will be based on the participation of a wide spectrum of society with organized workers at the forefront.

Demobilization of social movements globally coincides with the NGO-ization of politics thereby creating expertization of political mobilizations. The links are vertical coming from top to the bottom, thus people aren’t developing horizontal links with each other. Often the “experts” are getting directives from outside forces to push a framework and work on issues often designed to contain societal mobilization instead of strengthening it. One of the tasks of building a political alternative is to create the space for large part of society to be able to join and be part of the creative process of liberation with each other without the dictates of donors, experts and technocrats.

4:15 pm

Global: The State of Social Movements and Forces in the Global “Center”

David Broder, Elena Bezrukova

Moderated by: Giorgi Kobakhidze

Since Georgia is part of the periphery, it is by default subjected to the politics of the center. The interest of all those who struggle for a better future in Georgia must also support the struggles against capitalism in the center since the victory of socialist forces will signal better objective conditions for us in Georgia. Success in Georgia is not guaranteed by the changing politics outside of us, but it does give us leverage. Georgia’s political, social and economic landscape is wholesale adopted from directives, recommendations, and funding from international organizations, EU and US – after all, the thriving libertarian and neoliberal politics are sponsored by US and EU right wing think tanks. At the same time, the geopolitical limitations put on us by the politics of the Russian government is constantly shaping  domestic and foreign policies. It’s easy to see how changes for the better in the center can have a tremendous influence on Georgian progressive forces, Georgian society and our global integration. The future of Georgia is interlinked with advances socialists make in every other country.

6:30 pm

The Failure of Liberal Democracy in the West, the Capitalist Utopia of Eastern Europe/Post-Soviet Countries and the Way Forward

Mark Bergfeld, David Broder, Beka Natsvlishvili 

Moderated by Sopo Japaridze

The social-democratic promise of social justice and equality in the West has remained just an unfulfilled as the conservative promise for the law and order and economic stability. Meanwhile, the post-1968 left finds itself engulfed in crisis as well. The contemporary crisis of ideologies has its roots in the 2008 financial crisis. This has opened up the environment and the issue of migration as new arenas of contestation through which so-called ‘new’ and old actors define themselves and articulate new political fault lines.


Meanwhile, proponents of left-populism, the so-called ‘alt-right’ and movements such as FridaysforFuture protests present themselves as alternatives to the political status quo. Whether these movements and their ideologies will recompose the political landscape in the long-run remains questionable. One thing however is certain that they point to alternative futures which would have been unthinkable before 2008.


Soviet Union was the balancing ideological force of the West. After its collapse, neoliberalism came to dominate the entire European continent and the world. These laissez faire economic policies took on the most radical forms in Eastern Europe, post-Soviet and post-communist countries. Right wing reactionary forces, which have gotten stronger both in eastern and western Europe against the backdrop of the liberal democratic crisis, cannot be the counterweight of liberal elites. We need a counterweight force to capitalism for the most simplest of reasons: to save humankind.

Sunday June 2nd, 2019

3:00 pm

No Progressive Alternative to Capitalism without Feminism and Environmentalism

Giorgi Ptskialadze,  Mariam Vatsadze, Etuna Nogadieli, Salome Adamia

Moderated by Khatia Tkheshelashvili

Recently we often hear the question as to why climate activists and environmentalists are talking about issues such as workers’ rights, social justice, feminism, and anti-capitalism. It could be said that it would be impossible to succeed any other way since the environmental pollution and climate change is the result of the existing capitalist system. This is the same system that is built on the exploitation, oppression and fleecing of workers. To view ecological issues without mentioning the roots of the problems and focus instead on combating the symptoms will never solve the most important problem – climate change. Climate change will make life hardest for the working class, expensive and unbearable. Exactly because of this, the existing green parties of the world are on the whole eco-socialist since climate change is a left issue. 


At the same time, feminism is indispensable to fighting the gendered oppression that reifies and reproduces the capitalist system. Though gendered division has existed in other social systems, the ways capitalism divides workers according to paid and unpaid labor according to gender is essential to capitalism’s continuation, capitalism needs to have free and cheap labor ready at hand in order to limit wages paid and social services offered.  Feminist critique of capitalism as the division of social reproduction and production is even more relevant today in how Georgia is incorporated globally. Georgia has become a source of exporting cheap labor for the social reproduction of the West: providing care for children and the elderly of the developed countries’ middle classes who achieve their middle class status by being able to have the social services met through cheap labor coming in from countries such as Georgia. Domestically, Georgian women have become high demand for surrogacy for couples unable to afford the rates in their own countries. At the same time, there is little productive work in the country, mostly low waged service sectors in tourism which is yet another social reproductive – servicing the resting and leisure of the surrounding regional middle classes. Global “comparative advantage” has deemed Georgia as the provider of social reproduction for the middles classes.

5:30 pm

Organizing the “Whole Worker” and the Importance of the Strike Weapon

Neno Charkviani, Mark Bergfeld

Moderated by Nona Zandarashvili

We are often severely handicapped by the current economic and political structure in strengthening and building workers’ movements in Georgia, yet there seems to be little thought as to how to find our way out of objective constraints as well as over reliance on outdated and inane solutions taken abstractly from other countries experiences that had a far different experiences that led to those institutions. Despite the obstacles faced, unions must consciously adopt organizing in order to embrace worker involvement, and take the time to build connections from the workplace to the community. Every effort has to be made to win through strikes, workers’ mobilization, and organizing instead of reliance on cutting deals. 


Since the mid-1990s, trade unions have been developing ‘organizing’ as one means to renew the labour movement. Organizing has been counter-posed with the servicing approach which has been dominating the union movement and contributed to its long decline.

 

Organizing involves identifying strategic targets, building committees, mapping workplaces, identifying potential leaders and building workers’ class consciousness through action. Yet, too often ‘organizing’ has simply been equivocated with membership recruitment, campaigning, and activism.

 

If the labour movement is serious about renewing itself, it needs to organize workers and involve them in collective bargaining with the goal of restoring worker power through sectoral agreements. Only these can stop the race to the bottom and rebuild a union movement that changes the balance of power.

Full program:

06 Nov

Quick Highlights of 2018

 

Solidarity Network is an independent union in Georgia who fights for a democratic workplace, better transportation, neighbourhoods, and healthcare. The worker isn’t only at work. They are everywhere and so are we.

This year, we are proud that our local union in the professional college, Spektri, developed a new program for labour inspection and environmental defence. It’s the only program of its kind in Georgia that is free and open to everyone. We also had free English and German lessons for our members and others beginning of this year. Recently, we launched our new website, please take a look http://solnet.ge/en/.

Read More

14 Apr

LAUNCHING A LOCAL TRADE UNION AT THE PUBLIC COLLEGE SPECTRI

The members of our organization established a local trade union at the public college Spectri. Our cooperation with the college began by holding workshops on labor relations for the students. We are glad that now the teachers of the college became our members and founded a local union. We will strive together for the better working and economic conditions.

22 Feb

A MEMORANDUM WITH GLDANI VOCATIONAL TRAINING CENTER

LEPL Community College Gldani Vocational Training Center and Solidarity Network – Workers’ Center have ratified a memorandum of cooperation.

In the frames of the memorandum Solidarity Network – Workers’ Center has already planned a meeting with the students of the community college. The meeting will take place on May 17th.

The main objective of the memorandum is to support the vocational education, to raise awareness about the local labour market, to promote labour rights and to educate students about labour relations.

LEPL Community College Gldani Vocational Training Center provides the student with various vocational programmes. The college also offers the students capability to learn necessary skills. After attaining the professional knowledge in a specific field the students are awarded a diploma. The college is open to all people including those from the regions, the people with social vulnerability, people with disabilities and people with the need for special education.

12 Feb

OUR FIRST CHAIRPERSON IS A FEMINIST WOMAN

The chairperson of our alternative trade union is the feminist Sopo Japaridze. We believe that it is necessary to increase the role of women in trade union activities.  

“We have commenced building a democratic, independent and effective trade union. For us a democratic union incorporates the idea that all the members can vote to elect a chairperson and it should not only be an indirect right reserved only for some delegates. Additionally, the term in office for the chairperson should be defined. We are held accountable to our members.

We deem that it is not enough to pursue struggle only at a workplace in order to improve the labour conditions in the country. We consider that attention should also be given to the following vital issues: debts, high percentage credits, housing, increased prices, limited budget, minimum wage, pensions and retirement, healthcare and insurance, unemployment and etc.

The most important thing is that we a have different strategy of struggle. Our main objective is to integrate the workers in in this process.” –  Sopo Japaridze

12 Feb

MONTHLY MEETING WITH THE MEMBERS

Solidarity Network – Workers’ Center organised another monthly meeting with their members on 28th of November. We discussed the issues concerning labour in the frames of today’s the political and economic crisis.

We are cordially happy that our canvassing and talking to the workers on their workplace was a successful strategy. We are glad to see more and more new members joining us.

These assemblies are significant. On the one hand, the workers are introduced to the Georgian Labour Code and they are given the information about their legal rights, so they could be well prepared to tackle the legal issues concerning their employees. Furthermore, our talks focus on the political process that determines their labour problems. The politicisation of their everyday problems helps for the workers to commence thinking about collective struggles in order to solve their problems.

On the other hand, these assembly meetings endorse the high level of internal democracy of the organisation. The members do express their opinions about the positions of the organisation about various topics. The members do also make suggestions and create the future plans of the organisation collectively. Henceforth, it is to be underlined that this process invokes the sense of solidarity among the workers and at the same time it provides a prerequisite necessity for the organisation to avoid the bureaucracy.

Join us for the next meeting to continue the struggle for the decent work and better life!

 

11 Feb

WHY WE AREN’T ACTIVISTS: DEEP ORGANIZING

Author: Sopo Japaridze

Tbilisi Solidarity Network has created about a year and a half ago in the hopes of establishing a new organizing culture in Tbilisi and to the rest of Georgia. Our organizing approach is based on overcoming prior failures and a deep belief that people can transform themselves collectively. It’s true there hasn’t been a long history of organizing in Georgia, but the forms of “resistance” imported from developed countries have given organizing a distinctly “activist” flavor. Activists are at risk of being trapped in a cycle of reacting to media-driven agenda by focusing on issues that the media deems important instead of figuring out the priorities of the people they represent.The other danger is fulfilling the demands of donors thereby bypassing deeper organizing due to pressure from showing quick and measurable outputs. Material conditions have created this defective dynamic dominated by money from donors and personal ambitions that become almost impossible to curb when media lavishes disproportionate attention. Even though we are going to reserve the problem of donors for another article, we would like to offer our thoughts on deeper organizing and introduce the historical basis for Tbilisi Solidarity Network’s work.

Here is an example that Tbilisi Solidarity Network faces every day in organizing employees. Under Saakashvili, the labor code of conduct was one of the worst in the world. In 2013, through new regime change, involvement of union leadership, and demands for European Integration, a much better labor code was introduced. The changes were virtually kept from the entire county’s employed population. They were never asked to meaningfully participate, they were never involved nor did they have any idea of the process; therefore, the improvements in the labor code are barely relevant to most employees since they have no recollection of its existence nor how to effectively use the laws. What legal rights should workers defend when they aren’t aware of having any rights? When there are demands by unions, NGOs and other activists to create a viable labor inspection which would enforce the labor code, most employees cannot comprehend the significance of the demand since they don’t have a framework. If a new government came in tomorrow and reversed the labor code to the pre-2013 level, probably most employees wouldn’t fight against it.

Let’s imagine a different scenario: Through slow and deep organizing, employees would have been included in the drafting, the advocating, and disseminating of the new labor code that might have taken a longer time to become law, nevertheless, the internalization of being part of the fight and understanding the process would have cemented a much stronger base armed with experience and a framework to first know the improvements in the law, then to actually force the employers to comply with the law, and finally to make more demands from the state to create labor inspection.

Deep Organizing in the Delta

“We have plenty of men and women who can teach what they know; we have very few who can teach their own capacity to learn.”

JOSEPH HART

In the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the organizing structure resembled the family and social structure of christian black community which was clearly demarcated on the lines of leader and follower: the Shepherd and the sheep. Through working within these boundaries for decades, this model found some challengers who saw its limitations. They went on to found a new organizing tradition that was based on the developmental style which stressed the importance of developing self-determination and efficacy. The school that was formed in 1930s to organize unions in the south, Highlander Folk school, turned into a training and sharing ground for civil rights organizers where ideas and experiences of building movements were exchanged and strengthened. The emphasis on developing others was crucial to Highlander’s conception of leadership. According to the cofounder of the school, Horton: “We debunk the leadership role of going back and telling people and providing the thinking for them. We aren’t into that. We’re into people who can help other people develop and provide educational leadership and ideas, but at the same time, bring people along.”

The prominent Civil Rights group led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was guilty of reinforcing the power of men over women and of the educated middle class over the uneducated and lower classes. Not surprising, most of the opposition to this type of activism were women who were the main organizers of SCLC and other prominent organizations like NAACP.  The main challenger was the best organizer of the Civil Rights Movement, named Ella Baker. Through decades of organizing for black rights, she had time and time again reached the same conclusion that people must actively participate and take responsibility in their own liberation. When people aren’t strengthened on the ground, where they live, once the great charismatic leader is gone, the entire progress made is gone. If the ability to learn, grow and fight for one’s rights is not internalized and left at a shallow level, the changes aren’t transformational and can be taken away quickly by another leader.

Ella Baker was critical of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where she worked for decades because it was focused on a tiny minority of middle class blacks focusing on legal battles of Civil Rights leaving out majority of the members and the black population at large. The role for the people were to just cheer legal victories from the sidelines. Ella Baker wanted to strengthen the branches of NAACP, to host trainings and meetings to focus on issues that were central to that community, and do voter registration in rural areas that were entirely ignored. Ella came to reject her other organization, SCLC, that focused on big demonstrations led always by Martin Luther King, Jr. and media campaigns trying to appeal to middle class white people. She wanted to include organizing on all levels, from schools to rural cities and led by the locals. She stressed focusing on women and youth who had shown for years were the mainstay of the Civil Rights movement. Women did all the work of Civil Rights (churches was mostly run by women) and youth were on the frontlines of disobedience and risk-taking to challenge white supremacy. She was rejected by SCLC just like she was rejected by NAACP, and Martin Luther King, Jr. barely tolerated her. She said:

I have always felt it was a handicap for oppressed people to depend so largely on a leader,

because unfortunately in our culture, the charismatic leader usually becomes a leader

because he has found a spot in the public limelight. It usually means that the media made

him, and the media may undo him. There is also the danger in our culture that, because a

person is called upon to give public statements and is acclaimed by the establishment,

such a person gets to the point of believing that he is the movement. Such people get so

involved with playing the game of being important that they exhaust themselves and their

time and they don’t do the work of actually organizing people.

Ella Baker helped form a new organization, Students for Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “Snick”). SNCC came out of direct action campaigns of desegregating lunch-counters and other public places in 1960. Though there was division in the group whether to continue direct action or register voters in the South and the group almost split, it was decided to have both wings within the organization. Ella Baker knew that in the deep South, registering voters and direct action were not distinct, direct action was necessary for registration. SNCC went into the South especially in the  Mississippi Delta where the most repressive conditions were to be found, and where no other Civil Rights organization existed. The kind of work necessary to move the sharecroppers that were basically living in slavery and challenge white supremacy would require much more the kind of organizing that Ella was talking about. The long term, people-centered and participatory yet militant and uncompromising model were crucial to get black people registered to vote. We have to remember that the white supremacists killed black people for even registering to vote. Most of the black people living there had not seen black people who weren’t afraid of whites, who stood up and demanded their rights. Just seeing people like that was the beginning of the process of transformation. SNCC workers were violently beaten by supremacists, other civil rights activists were murdered, yet SNCC still defiantly continued registering people to vote. SNCC workers lived and worked alongside the people they were trying to organize, being completely immersed in their everyday reality.

SNCC through lived experiences even reconsidered the nonviolence of the Civil Rights movement over time. Though SCLC and other Civil Rights Movements had taken up “nonviolence,” in some of the deep south areas, being armed was the only way to survive. The nonviolent protest was developed strategically in order to use the media to show the violence of the whites that was already occurring in reality but not broadcast in hopes to appeal to middle class white people’s consciousness and keep the Civil Rights Movement from being decimated by police and white supremacists. But in the deep south where there were no media cameras, having a gun may have been the only way to defend your family in the middle of the night when racists came to burn and shoot your family. Many of the families SNCC workers stayed with would stay up all night in shifts with guns protecting them while they slept.

SNCC’s successes include setting up an alternative to the all-white Democratic Party in Mississippi, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that also led to more challenges of white-dominated politics, registering voters that broke the back of racist laws and ultimately forced the hand of President Lyndon Johnson, ushered and developed local leaders that were mainly women, inspired student activism for years to come, and most of all challenged the idea that through deep and slow organizing can one bring comprehensive change rather than protests and media appearances.

So the most fundamental part of making a long-lasting change, transformational change and in reality that’s the only change there is, is to organize deeply, that is to engage people at various levels and long-term. Tbilisi Solidarity Network was born out of these ideas. Though we don’t have to contend with the centuries-long brutal racist regime, we can take the lessons of SNCC and apply them to our context. Instead of focusing on legal battles, shallow one-time protests or developing movements around one leader, we can go deeply into the areas where people live, get to know their needs and potential and slowly yet steadily help teach them to organize without recreating the debilitating media and charismatic leader led culture. As Ella Baker mentioned that leaders aren’t actually leaders because they have ties to the people they supposedly represent but created by public attention, by media spontaneously.

What we do to lessen the chances of recreating this model is to include people on a daily level, we stress the participatory model where we do not take care of their problems for them, but encourage them to take responsibility for their own efficacy. We believe that with solidarity and support, people will find their own power within themselves and that internalization makes them stronger and resilient towards whatever challenges come their way.

This is the beginning of a series of articles we are going to write to shed light on our organizing and our political point of view. We hope these articles will resonate with many of you and would love to hear feedback in order for us to think wider about our work.