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

DIGNITY FIRED

Author: Sopo Japaridze

There are many ways to kill a person.

When I was a teenager, I read this novel where one of the main characters, a doctor, was blacklisted from all jobs due to his political affiliations being different from the ruling party.

Those around him, narrate the psychological decline he goes through, wasting away and alienating his family and friends while he suffers from being barred from his profession.

I remember this moment so sharply since having very little experience of my own in life, I had never thought that a person could be killed in more ways than physical death. Of course, I realized this through literature, but if I had just looked around, I would have seen my mother going through something similar as an immigrant woman in her forties forced to start over in a foreign country because her country had collapsed, where her medical and biology degree didn’t mean anything. She was considered less skilled than an 18-year-old American student who recently graduated high school. With the gracefulness and self-sacrifice of so many women immigrant women, she worked jobs–and many jobs–below her skills and qualifications for her children and family. My mother also wasted away even with her unlimited charisma and intellect, and eventually, it led to her untimely death.

Last month, I was overwhelmed with the feelings I had suppressed within me but came flooding out when doctors who were let go from the Iashvili  Children’s Hospital, many of them who had worked there from the opening day of the clinic, over 40 years ago. Though they had “survived” the immediate breakdown of the Soviet Union as many did not, by keeping their work and overcoming periods of no pay and severe medical supply shortages, they didn’t manage to survive the onslaught of libertarian commercialization of every part of life. This free market political cancer found its home with the least resilience towards capitalism, the post-Soviet space where inexperienced and irresponsible “dissidents” were celebrating the defeat of the great evil, USSR.

They were so busy detailing the wrongs of the Soviet Union, they never questioned the wholesale acceptance of capitalism–the freer, more private, the better, they thought! These doctors are the latest victims of this unregulated free market euphoria and of the standard treatment of the past as something to be dismissed completely.

As someone in her 30s, I am hopeful about my future not because the future seems hopeful, but that I have time to fight alongside others into making a better world for my child, and others. I was born in the decline of the USSR and the transition didn’t destroy me like it destroyed so many people close to me. I grew up in an era where everything is precarious. I never lived in a country, neither the US nor Georgia, where the government and society ever cared about me or anyone else besides business and the rich. I have been told from the beginning that nothing is guaranteed, not a career, not a house, not healthcare, not clean air, not food, nothing. I have always felt disposable because I grew up in capitalism, savage and raw that is both in the US and Georgia. I have never felt the care of the moderate welfare states of Europe nor the guaranteed economic security of the USSR. My expectations from governments and corporations were too limited to ever be disappointed.

But what of the people who lived most of their lives and careers in the place where they had things like guaranteed jobs and careers, housing, dignity at work? After being a doctor since the 1970s, new private owners (who happen to be Bank of Georgia) can come in and lay you off without justification, without any regard for who you are, and pay a measly sum of compensation–all within the law.  How do you treasure all the moments of being a doctor for forty years, the good and the bad, the memories we take with us to the grave, with such an ending? When your entire identity, being, experience has been a doctor and that has been infringed at the capstone? How does one deal with the humiliation and degradation as the final days of one’s career?

How painful it is to end one’s career and life at such a horrible period of Georgia. The joy workers and people in many parts of the world must have felt in the 30s and post-World War II when they know life was going to get better for them. They were going to have better job security, increasing wages, decent pensions, etc… All those people that had struggled for decades were going to get their relief, how amazing that must have been for them. A better tomorrow did come for millions of workers. In the last thirty years, it has been the reverse trend. People are ending their lives with little dignity.

There are many ways to kill someone. Most of the professionals nurtured in the Soviet Union are deemed obsolete. There are myths told of them that they aren’t really qualified, that they are all corrupt. They are treated like relics from the past, not to be treated seriously or with dignity. Their livelihoods and meaning in life can be taken away carelessly, without a second thought. Every time they utter dissatisfaction of the current socio-political system, someone accuses them of propagating Russian propaganda or nostalgia for the USSR.

Jobs and careers aren’t something to be taken so lightly, they are often tied up with the whole being and experience of the person. Disrespecting people who have been working for decades through first internal humiliations like moving them around to different department, disregarding their knowledge and dismissing their input, and then finally laying them off without any explanation is the reality most of the professionals raised and trained in the USSR are ending their lives here.

11 Feb

INDEBTEDNESS IN GEORGIA

Author: Revaz Karanadze

Meanwhile, the government along with the dominant economic scholars push for economic logic that frees the finance from almost all the social responsibilities. Moreover, the complete deindustrialisation and focus on the foreign investments of the service economy are not delivering stable jobs. On the contrary the jobs are few, low-skilled and low-paid. Ergo, employees work over 60 hours and get paid, for example, ₾400 or €141,5 per month, which was supposed to be for 40-hour work week per month. According to the labour code of conduct in Georgia, the employer must pay overtime for work over 40 hours at a higher wage than the regular compensation (Parliament of Georgia, 2010). For a salary of ₾400 a month, a 60-hour work week schedule should have the respective salary of no less than additional ₾200 which would be equivalent of no less than ₾600 a month. Thus, formal sector produces what can be certainly called an unpaid overtime work as “Wage Theft”.

The low wages invoke the low consumption. This is an underpinning for the diminished production that itself would guarantee the dormancy of the state economy.

In addition to these all, the abandonment of the safety regulations in the labour code of Georgia, the number of dead and has dramatically exacerbated since 2006. For instance, the number of dead and injured on industrial sites by 2011-2015 constitute 285 and 691 respectively.

For decades the Georgian governments have been pushing for the deregulated profit-based economic operations in the transnational trade and finance. These policies have taken their toll on local labour, decimated the middle class and established the monopoly of the banks. Evidently, the mode of the ineffective government policies affected the macroeconomic growth, the political power of the state, the foreign and domestic indebtedness of the state, the wages, the employment and the industrial relations.

The deficiencies of this logistics can be depicted in the upsurge of the free trade agreements and unregulated finance that limit the social market, thereby stipulating the plummet of the welfare and the curbing of the bargaining power for the working class. Consequently, these value-loaded policies result in the greater inequality with GINI coefficient as high as 41 by 2014.

This absurdity is to be halted!

11 Feb

Land Politics

Author: Sopo Japaridze

I remember the film by Ioseliani “Giorgobistve” made in 1966 which begins by showing the traditional– timeless–wine harvesting done in the village only to contrast the rest of the film that occurs in a Soviet wine factory where standards are lower and mechanized.  The winemaking process in the vineyard shows the agency and dignity of the winemaker, whilst the factory is reduced to workers lazily shirking their duties as the management is politicking to meet quotas and please upper management for further promotions.

The protagonist of the story becomes a hero when he disregards all the politics and follows his conscience. He saves one barrel of wine by dumping gelatin and forcing it to not be bottled for a few weeks giving it time to mature thus hindering the possibility of bottling an inferior version of Saperavi. It’s a very small act but nevertheless heroic. These heroic acts and consciousness was the moral justification of the demand for self-determination that took off in the 1980s.

No matter the pitfalls of the national liberation project, nor the incorrectly perceived origins of these Georgian values, the moral of the story is correct or shall I say, the moral of our story, our Georgianess, is correct.  For me, the Georgian claim to self-determination is the need for respect to our farmers and our environment that can yield immense economic, social and food security benefits while also fighting climate change and restoring soils, self-sufficiency and the environment.

Today we are living in a Georgia which has politicians, political parties and media “experts” who convince us that the free market is good; Georgian traditions either should be marketed well to sell a product in an efficient manner or fall by the wayside. The recent debate on the land paragraph in the constitution highlights the anti-Georgianess of the most fundamental free-market fanatics like GIRCHI and European Georgia who want to introduce unrestrained selling of land in their mistaken belief that large-scale industry in private hands is.. the most efficient way to reform agriculture which to them is the most backwards. Some of them espouse even more radical development plans in which Georgia should just import all of our food products which today’s reality is close to that since we import 50-80% of our staple foods.

These politicians who claim the sacredness of private property are the first advocates of dispossessing the poorest of private property as shown by their uncritical support for selling off the land. The reveal themselves as not protectors of private property for all, but the protectors of the rich and powerful using private property to exploit the poorest.

Georgian Dream has halted the land sale to foreigners for now in the constitution not because they agree to the paragraph but they are afraid how “emotional” Georgians are about land. Since coming to power Georgian Dream has taken steps to revitalize agriculture and have shown improvements though the policies are still too new to judge them accurately. The fundamental problem remains with these programs from the onset, is that it is oriented towards export especially to the EU market. They miss the most important part of the agricultural development which is to provide food security and respect to farmers who continue Georgian traditions. The objective of agricultural reform is not to increase export sales for the few better off farmers but to substitute our imported staple foods. It is to give the countryside the respect that it deserves, it is to make every farmer’s life dignified and restore our land.

Being dependent on imports for main staple foods is especially dangerous in our vulnerable country where the lari is constantly devaluing in relation to the dollar thus increasing food prices. Most people also have cars, loans and mortgages in dollars through a new law of “larization” is supposed to bring some relief, families have been squeezed every month to pay for their increasing loan payments from the non-increasing household income thus leaving even less for subsistence while at the same time mostly imported food is increasing in price. In effect, Georgians are being squeezed from both sides thus engendering insecurity and food quality intake decline thus increasing vulnerability.  This drives families to take out even more loans.

We can not only save Georgian agriculture thus Georgia, but we can make it thrive. Restoration of food security and farmer dignity is possible through small-scale farming combined with agroecology. Agroecology is knowledge-intensive. It is not “wide” like industrial farming but “deep.”  It encompasses a wide variety of practices, which are coherent with key principles of environmental preservation, social fairness, and economic viability. Agroecology combines parameters of sound ecological management, like minimizing the use of toxins by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging endogenous solutions to manage pests and disease, with an approach that upholds and secures farmers’ livelihoods.

It may be in many countries, agricultural resources for becoming self-sufficient with a well-fed population is objectively lacking but in Georgia, food insecurity is man-made and it can be unmade. The problem is the political will and not as they would have you believe economic. We will never be independent, we will never have self-determination if we cannot control our own environment, our food supply, and respect our farmers. I will repeat again, just as the dream before the breakdown of the USSR was strengthening and protecting our values, land and people, this dream is even more danger now than it ever has been. Georgian quest for self-determination cannot be realized unless we respect our farmers and our environment that will, in return, yield immense economic, social and food security benefits while also fighting climate change and restoring soils, self-sufficiency, our environment and most of all, our dignity.

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.