Citizens organising solidarity across borders is nothing new. Speaking merely of recent history in Europe, we can think of workers' internationalism, feminism, the fight against fascism and totalitarianism, anti-colonialism and the struggle for racial equality among others. To this, we can add the rising awareness and activism on environmental issues, global poverty, human rights and anti-discrimination, as well as support for refugees. Also within the European Union we find many expressions of this transnational solidarity activism. On this site, we wish to present some of these initiatives in order to draw lessons from their activism and provide suggestions about the way of organising transnational solidarity more effectively. While citizens encounter several impediments in organising across borders and in influencing the direction of events, we should not conclude that such attempts are futile, even utopian. The EU-funded TransSOL project has provided systematic data on citizen engagement in support of transnational solidarity in several fields of activity (unemployment, disability, and migration/asylum), and has thus evidenced that hundreds of citizens' groups and organisations are committed to struggling for deprived groups, advocating for their rights and working towards social and political changes. In particular, we have taken a closer look at exemplary cases of citizens’ initiatives effectively engaged in organising transnational solidarity. This has allowed us to identify lessons about good practice and paths towards improved activism. In particular, we have looked at the experience of the Transnational Social Strike in their attempt to organise workers transnationally in the gig economy; we have looked at the initiatives, run by several European municipalities, to develop transnational networks to welcome migrants; and, finally, we have looked at the development of Krytyka Polityczna, a cultural and social NGO operating across Eastern Europe. Additionally, we spoke with several initiatives, whose testimonies we include in video material.
- 1 What seems to work best when organising solidarity transnationally
- 2 Transnational Civil Society Solidarity Initiatives
- 3 Best Practices
- 3.1 Why are these organisations effective at promoting European solidarity?
- 3.2 How should transnational activism be organised?
- 3.3 How can cooperation and momentum be generated between organisations and their activists?
- 3.4 How can cooperation and momentum be generated between civil society and state actors?
- 4 Interviews
- 5 Links
- 6 References
- 7 Further Reading
What seems to work best when organising solidarity transnationally
- Transnational symbols are powerful and build solidarity: more and more people are aware of how crucial political issues cross borders are but feel powerless. Even small initiatives across borders that show some success can generate lots of enthusiasm for this reason.
- Think about your interlocutor: who are you asking for what?: an effective advocacy campaign needs to identify who it wants to act and its exact demands. Very often, an issue is transnational because multiple authorities need to act.
- Act locally in a network across countries: Most likely other people across Europe are already concerned about the issue you are concerned with, and may already be active. Look, learn and connect with them and quickly you'll have a transnational network.
- Keep formal organisation to a minimum, but work to build new institutions over time! Creating a formalised organisation too quickly creates overheads and personnel issues which might not be necessary at that stage, and too often maintaining organisations becomes an end in itself. Instead of thinking of a new organisation, it is often better to think of a new institution or way of existing actors working together, taking decisions together and relating with authorities.
- Reach out to different ages! Solidarity also needs to be expressed between ages, and modes of organisation of campaigns often shut out otherwise enthusiastic participants (whether they are older and less active on the Internet, for example, or have caring responsibilities which make some forms of activism more difficult)
- Don't talk about, talk with! Nothing undermines a campaign more than not giving voice to the people it claims to represent. So that your activism does not become part of the problem rather than the solution, you have to think about how it empowers others and establishes new solidarities.
- Translation is a crucial tool - turn diversity to your advantage! Instead of seeing many languages as a disadvantage, see it as a resource: content that can be translated, ideas that can be spread and natural curiosity about others that can be brought into the activism. Translation can turn your activism into a rich process of learning as well as political change-making.
- Digital and physical meetings must go together and be sustained! It is all too easy to think that the Internet solves our problems, when in creates as many barriers as it breaks down. Physical meetings are indispensible for real understanding, building trust and long-lasting relationships.
- Regional specificity can be a starting point for further expansion! Instead of aiming to be active across Europe immediately, it can be an idea to start bringing together contexts with similar historical experiences, cultures or languages, and use that strong base to develop further.
- Long-term partnerships across countries can yield the best results - invest in them! Getting organisations to work together requires patience and compromise, but over the long run the benefits are often much more than could be imagined at the beginning: In a changing and complex political landscape, there are always new reasons for mutual support, solidarity and common action.
- Use all the possibilities already opened up by the EU to build transnational networks and actions: freedom of movement, ease of setting up associations, funding and the different legal avenues opened up by the EU all provide significant and underused advantages for civil society acting across borders.
Transnational Civil Society Solidarity Initiatives
Transnational Social Strike
The Transnational Social Strike began in 2014 with the aim of linking diverse movements of precarious workers, migrants and the unemployed. Rather than an institution like a trade union, it is a network of communication for the exchange of knowledge and tactics across borders. In particular, it addresses the question of how to withhold labour as a form of effective activism. The group holds regular international meetings and publishes material in several European languages.
In the past two decades, labour has become both more flexible and more precarious. The introduction of online platforms in the labour market in the last few years have reshaped and accelerated these processes, giving birth to the so-called ‘gig economy’, a system in which working activities are completed through a series of tasks facilitated by online platforms. The food delivery industry is the sector which has the most significant cases of organisation. Young adults riding on bicycles while carrying boxes marked by the logos of companies like Foodora, Deliveroo, Justeat, Glovo, and so on, are a common sight in most European cities. Customers order food from a restaurant of their choice through a website or an app, and riders deliver it as quickly as possible. Their forms of employment tend to vary significantly across countries and companies as well as the way is which they are paid. What they have in common is the fact that they are not considered to be regular employees of the food delivery platforms, but instead free-lance workers that perform a series of ‘gig’, thanks to the service provided by platforms.
The Transnational Social Strike has increased its activities in the past few years. The Transnational Food Platform Strike Map built by French activists shows three protest events for 2016: the protest in front of the Deliveroo headquarters in London in August, the strike of Foodora rider in Turin in October, and the protest of Deliveroo rider in Bordeaux in December. For the following year, 2017, the same map reports 40 protest events, in 8 different countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom). This group is gaining in momentum, and linking activists across European countries.
Cities of Solidarity
What European Alternatives researchers have called Solidarity Cities confronts the limitations of migration policies put in place by single national governments. Civil society has been organising in innovative ways, with numerous associations and networking experiences springing up all across the continent. These organisations focus on migrant reception, education and placement in the labour market as well as facilitate social integration processes. These initiatives meet, in a significant number of cases, with a willingness to cooperate on the part of local and municipal authorities.
These organisations have required the cooperation between self-organised migrant groups, informal associations and structured NGOs, on the one hand, and City governments on the other. At the same time, such cooperation has fostered new transnational networks, with relationships and connections built between single cities, with the aim of presenting shared proposals for asylum and migration policy and coordinating practical efforts in solving daily and long-term problems in the reception and social inclusion of migrants.
Krytyka Polityczna is a Warsaw-based civil society organisation engaged in transdisciplinary activity spanning Central and Eastern Europe and Ukraine. The organisation is involved in several initiatives, the centre of which is a journal and independent news platform. In addition, the network runs a publishing house while managing over 20 social clubs across the country. The organisation is a good example of ‘horizontal’ or geographical solidarity among and between the V4 countries and beyond, but also shows vertical political solidarity with local grassroots initiatives, bridging the divide between intellectuals and the public.
Krytyka Polityczna’s efficacy as a model is best demonstrated by its capacity to maintain cross border initiatives like these over a long period, to develop intellectual ideas not only in short individual projects but over several years at a global level and, just as importantly, at a level well-defined politically within Europe.
Why are these organisations effective at promoting European solidarity?
When TransSOL researchers looked into reasons people join CSOs (civil society organisations) in the fourth work package, the team received answers which confirm the notion that there is in fact already solidarity across Europe. Our exemplary cases of these three networks reflect a motivation to join based on both personal and political interests. But motivation is not enough: organisation matters. Lessons learned from the three case studies provide insights on the way activism should tap into the motivation in order to momote longer-term coorperation across European countries.
How should transnational activism be organised?
For the experience of Krytyka Polityczna, there are general lessons to be drawn regarding the internal organisation of a civil society organisation.
First of all, translation should be seen as a vital political tool. As Krytyka Polityczna demonstrates, polyglot communication can facilitate much more than just the sharing of neutral information in new contexts. If framed effectively, translated materials actively build cultural spaces, and forms of cultural cooperation.
Secondly, the use of digital and social media, as well as other pan-European infrastructures, can enable communities to develop both in concentrated moments (such as real-life events) and prolonged communication (online groups). The two, however, need to be held together. Democracy 4.0 is a good example in which several real life meetings were organised to reflect on the digital tools themselves. The lessons learnt resulted in precisely those tools being used to create further action on the street, in squares and other public spaces, as well as for reinventing AGORA. Digital technologies, we might conclude, only bring solidarity when they facilitate new political meeting points.
Further, regional specificity can act as a spring-board for larger scale solidarities. One of the reasons why Krytyka Polityczna’s pan-European initiatives have been so successful is that they were conceived in gradual terms. They began with an emphasis on the Visegrad region and developed into something larger in scale. Even in processes of transnational communication, then, local and national experiences continue to be grounding forces.
In addition, our cases show that specific long-term partnerships yield the most fruitful results. The case of the Ukrainian partnership demonstrates how years of prolonged communication and community building are essential to building effective transnational structures. When the dual national institution was founded in 2010, participants were not aware of the various turning points that would come in the following years and how mutually beneficial the structure would prove to be. With this community already in place when shots started, however, they were ready to respond to unexpected challenges rising from the conflict with a sustainable institution that was resilient to the unfolding events.
Finally, it is important to point out that solidarity is already being facilitated by the EU itself. Leaving aside criticisms of specific institutions, Krytyka Polityczna’s activities are a good example of how the EU remains a space with certain novel privileges for organisations working to build forms of solidarity beyond national and class-based communities. That such an innovative form of cultural activism has taken root in Poland against precisely such nationalistic and oligarchical forms of opposition, is testament to the democratic value of this pre-existing transnational political space. Freedom of movement and speech are today under assault from all sides, but the forms of solidarity pioneered by civil society actors across the EU demonstrate how much groundwork has already been done to defend and redefine these terms for the future.
How can cooperation and momentum be generated between organisations and their activists?
The case of the transnational strike reveals the important role of the media in building momentum. Social media provides a powerful tool, facilitating connections, at the communicative level, between actors that experience difficulties in coordinating their struggles. One might say that the same digital technologies used to exploit workers are then used to organise the struggle against exploitation. Nevertheless, it is true that the strategic construction of a feeling of shared belonging, of identifying as part of a growing movement, is a crucial aid for civil society organisations.
Furthermore, effective local collectives engaged in labour struggles seem to be substantially based on pre-existing activist networks with politicised activists inside workers’ collectives acting as brokers in the transnational sphere.
In general, the construction of concrete mechanisms of coordination of struggles between different countries is yet to come. Most activists are primarily focused on building their local struggle, accumulating strength, recruiting riders, and so on. Overcoming many of their challenges, however, would require a rethinking of EU funding mechanisms and legislative agendas. On the one hand, the resources to be dedicated to transnational connections are rather limited and, on the other hand, it is difficult to build a common transnational agenda when legislative contexts are different from each other. Workers and activists deeply feel the need to broaden the scope of their struggle so as to reach the same transnational level on which companies are placed. In the same vein, researchers point out that bringing the struggle to a transnational level may be much more fruitful than waiting for an intervention by policy-makers.
How can cooperation and momentum be generated between civil society and state actors?
What becomes clear through analysing the Solidarity Cities is that there must be a structural reform of the European and national regulatory framework, which foresees a modification of the current international Conventions on the right of asylum and a more supportive migration policy, sharing responsibilities and burdens on a transnational level. The European Commission and European Council should give political and financial recognition to the role of cities, and local authorities should have the broadest political and financial autonomy in migration matters granted to single national governments. The construction of stable and developed transnational networks between cities is necessary, providing for the strengthening of exchanges of good practices and models of reception and social inclusion, the possibility of negotiating with one voice in front of European institutions and national governments, and the possibility of developing autonomous city-to-city policies, bypassing the direct control of nation-states.
- The full report can be found at www.transsol.eu
- Guide to Transnational Solidarity
- WP6 Newsletter
- WP6 Newsletter
- WP6 Newsletter
- WP6 Newsletter
A lively debate and practice exists around transnational solidarity and activism that cross borders. For an academic overview, as well as in-depth versions of the case-studies we have touched on above, see the research outcomes of the European research project TransSOL: Transnational Solidarity in Times of Crisis :
- Integrated comparative report on the legal, socio-economic and institutional context of transnational solidarity
Report discussing the socio-economic, political, legal, and institutional context of transnational solidarity – the position and role of solidarity in legal systems of the eight TransSOL countries as well as legal and policy consequences of the crisis.
Report summarising the findings of an analysis of innovative practices of transnational solidarity in response to the crisis, focusing on citizens’ initiatives and networks of cooperation among civil society actors.
Report on the results of a large-scale representative survey, targeting individual attitudes and behaviour regarding solidarity.
Report targeting civil society organisations and their (trans)national organisation of solidarity in times of crisis.
Report summarising the findings of an analysis of claims in newspapers and Facebook comments regarding solidarity with refugees during the crisis.
The pilot study looking at three cases of solidarity in practice, on which this guide builds.
Several texts have been produced by the main actors of transnational actions and practices themselves. Among them, we recommend the following:
- Early on, after the onset of the economic crisis, economists were already arguing that Europe’s response was not right, see Manifesto of the Appalled Economists.
- A good summary of civil society proposals to address the economic crisis can be found in the ISIGrowth report How can Europe change?.
- The Citizens Manifesto brings together proposals for European reform devised through a participatory process of 80 citizens’ assemblies across Europe.
- The Charter of Lampedusa brought together hundreds of NGOs and social movements to craft an alternative European migration policy.
- For an inspirational example of migrants and artists jointly articulating a new global condition, see the Migrant Movement Manifesto.
- For an attempt at bottom-up transnational labour coordination, see the Transnational Strike Platform.
- There have been several attempts to rejuvenate political alternatives at the transnational level. Among them, the pan-European movement DiEM25 was launched in early 2016 with a manifesto for change.
- For an attempt to bring together social movements and left-wing forces in Eastern Europe, see the Democratic Left 18 Manifesto.
- For an overview of Europe’s new municipalist movement, rich with links for further reading, see Beppe Caccia’s introduction to Europe’s New Municipalism.