In September 2014, the Commons Strategies Group convened a three-day workshop in Meissen, Germany, of 25 policy advocates and activists from a variety of different economic and social movements. The topic of the "deep dive": Can leading alt-economic and social movements find ways to work more closely together? Can there be a greater convergence and collaboration in fighting the pathologies of neoliberalism?
The activists hailed from movements devoted to the Social and Solidarity Economy, Degrowth, Co-operatives, Transition Towns, the Sharing and Collaborative Economy, Peer Production, environmental justice, and the commons, among others. While most came from Europe, there were also participants from Canada, the US, Brazil, Ireland and the UK. The workshop was organized by the Commons Strategies Group, which gratefully acknowledges the indispensable support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation (Germany) and the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation (France and Switzerland).
Before this workshop, roughly a dozen of the same participants had deliberated on the topic of "open co-operativism" a few days earlier at a separate gathering in Berlin. The report synthesizing those conversations, "Toward an Open Co-operativism," were released three weeks ago and can be found here.
Below, the Introduction to the report, "A New Alignment of Movements?" which synthesizes the salient points of discussion from the Meissen workshop. The 39-page report, by David Bollier and Pat Conaty, can be downloaded as a pdf file here.
Despite the deepening crisis of neoliberalism in Europe, no clear alternative critiques or philosophical approaches have emerged that could catalyze a united response or new convergence of movements. Indeed, the traditional left has not only not profited politically from the ongoing crisis, but, with a few exceptions, its popularity has actively declined. With the notable exception of the Greece, recent European elections have shown a marked move to the radical right among major segments of the European electorate.
But if the classic political expressions of resistance may be wanting, that does not mean that there have not been positive developments. Amongst these are the “growth”of the degrowth movement and other ecological/sustainability oriented movements; the emergence of a commons orientation amongst political groups in countries like Italy; the creation of thousands of alternative solidarity mechanisms in Greece and Spain; a revival of co-operativism as an economic and social alternative; ongoing work by the Social and Solidarity Economy movement; and movements ranging from Transition Towns to “shareable cities” to local food.
Interesting political expressions include the massive mobilisations of youth around the 15M “real democracy”platform in Spain, the success of left parties with a transformative agenda such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, the emergence of parties expressing digital culture such as the Pirate Parties (in more than two dozen nations), and platform parties calling for direct democracy like the Partido X in Spain. These efforts have been accompanied by many constructive efforts by precariously employed youth to create alternatives for their livelihoods, also expressed in the emergence of the “sharing economy.”
Is it possible to imagine a convergence of movement practice and goals – blending constructive, social and political movements –in ways that advance the idea of “unity in diversity”? Is it possible to imagine the reconstruction of socially progressive majorities at the local, national and European level?
This Deep Dive workshop is an attempt to host intensive forms of exploratory dialogue and cooperation among social movements. Participants were associated with movements dedicated to co-operatives, a Degrowth economy, Social and Solidarity Economy, peer production, Transition Towns, ecological/ sustainability, and the commons. In sharing the more salient developments in their respective movements, participants reflected on the distinct strengths and weaknesses of their movements, the broader challenge of contributing to systemic change, and strategies for fostering a collaborative convergence.
A key question posed was whether the commons paradigm could function as a shared discourse, critique and ethic to help convene the various movements around a shared agenda for change? The argument could be that as the relative political clout of the industrial working class steadily diminishes in Europe, we are losing the political equilibrium of forces and compromises that sustained the welfare state models in the first place. If we look at the newly emergent work culture of the precarious knowledge workers, along with the other popular sectors, we may see the emergence of a potential sociological and political coalition around “commons-oriented political transformation” – a proposition that has been vividly affirmed in Greece.
This strategic question gave rise to a second goal of the workshop – to explore the specific potential of the commons paradigm for helping to align and coordinate cross-movement collaboration and action. Are there other commonalities that could foster a convergence of social and political movements around joint goals? To address this, a third goal of the gathering was to explore possible vehicles for exploring and harnessing cooperative action in the future. What specific sorts of vehicles, projects, social or economic issues, institutional partners, and so forth, might play a constructive role? Moreover, how might this work be organized and supported over time?
Finally, assuming there was agreement on the above questions, the workshop sought to arrive at some consensus regarding next steps for achieving movement convergence. Is there some way to re-create a political and social majority for sustainability-oriented social change? How might we expand the capacities of each of our movements, unleash new synergies and offer new, more integrative solutions to the ecological, climatic, social and economic crises facing humankind?
Contents of the Report
I. The General Challenge
A. The Co-operative Movement
B. The Social Solidarity Economy
C. The Degrowth Movement
D. Peer Production
E. The Sharing and Collaborative Economy
F. The Commons Movement
II. Strategies for a Convergence of Movements
Do These Movements Overlap – or Not?
Notable Exploratory Projects
Strategies for Alliance Building
Suggested Action points for Moving Forward
Appendix A: Workshop Participants
Appendix B: Roadmap – 2015 Events that Offer Opportunities for Convergence