‘Solidarity for all’ is an organisation seeking to foster networking amongst the various social solidarity structures, which exist currently in Greece. By putting in contact independent solidarity structures, which promote alternative productive methods, health, educational and food structures, social cohesion is promoted. Such structures seek to ameliorate the living conditions of the social groups hit most by the crisis, such as the elderly, women, the unemployed, migrants and homeless people. Under such initiatives social cohesion is promoted as the burdens of the crisis that fall upon the underprivileged groups, the lower social strata and parts of the middle classes are lessened.
As different solidarity structures get in contact with each other and start collaborating on a common basis (e.g. productive structures, food, health, education), social cohesion is fostered. Self-organisation structures alleviate the burdens that have fallen upon the society since the collapse of the minor welfare state. People get to satisfy basic needs, instead of isolating themselves and feel helpless. The SFA acts as an umbrella for these, often local and relatively small, initiatives, facilitating communication, mutual support and exchange of know-how (through the creation of a register of initiatives, an internet site, the financing of concrete actions, the organisation of events etc.). Simultaneously, under such initiatives, the SFA runs counter to social exclusion that poverty and alienation may impose to a society under crisis. The SFA has been created in 2012 by members of the radical left party of SYRIZA (actually the major opposition party) who had acquired an important activist experience through their participation in the movement of the indignant in Syntagma square in 2011.
The broader sociopolitical goal of SFA is to promote the idea that self-organisation, resistance and solidarity are the means by which people can cope with the devastating social and economic impact of the crisis and austerity measures (Solidarity for all, 2014). Groups which are mostly hit by the crisis, such as the unemployed, young, migrants, women, pensioners and homeless are encouraged to form new structures and help each other. However, as our interviewee notes, this is not an easy task, as the crisis tends to increase individualisation:
“Self-organised structures and mobilisation become very difficult, especially as the time passes and everybody sinks more into their problems. It has become very difficult to make people believe in and trust collectivities”.
Economic issues per se are not a priority of SFA, except from the support of initiatives related to social economy.
The ‘solidarity for all’ initiative has the legal structure of a non-profit organisation, which facilitates the collection and distribution of money to the solidarity structures. SFA’s personnel includes 12 people working part- or full–time. Those who contribute with a full-time job get monthly salaries and insurance. Although SFA is based in the centre of Athens, its action is nation-wide as it fosters networking amongst the various solidarity structures that have emerged throughout the whole country. It is run by two bodies; the first one it the assembly that takes place once per week with the participation of all the members of the SFA, and the second one, the administrative board of SFA that consists of three members of SYRIZA’s central committee. The general assembly discusses on the main activity of SFA, such as the provision of help to solidarity structures and the organisation of new campaigns. The administrative board deals mainly with economic issues.
The economic resources of this initiative basically come from the SYRIZA’s deputies who offer 20% of their monthly salaries for the financing of the SFA. Due to the international campaigns that have been launched from SFA, donations from European countries have been added to the organisation’s economic resources. According to our interviewee, SFA’s monthly income is around € 35.000. This amount is used to cover the basic costs of SFA, to assist solidarity structures and organise campaigns.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Diversity is not an explicit priority of SFA. However, the organisation has a favourable attitude vis-à-vis diversity and considers that the respect of diversity is a central element of solidarity amongst the various social groups. According to our interviewee, the crisis seems to widen the importance and the scope of the term ‘diversity’. While solidarity initiatives of the 1990s and 2000s used to focus on migrants, the crisis created the need for mutual help between Greeks as well. Within this framework, diversity takes also the meaning of the different ways of experiencing the socioeconomic effects of the crisis. According to our interviewee:
“Some years ago, diversity would be about getting to know each other’s culture. In times of crisis this notion has to be differentiated, and unite people against those who deprive us from the right to a decent living”.
This may entail the amplification of the target audiences of solidarity initiatives (for example, whilst the social medical centre in Rethimno, Crete, was initially established for the migrant population, now it serves both locals and migrants).
Main factors influencing success or failure
A major success factor of the SFA is the quite balanced relationship of the organisation with the party of SYRIZA. Although SFA draws upon SYRIZA in terms of economic resources and personnel, it has applied a strategy of maintaining some autonomy vis-à-vis the party mechanisms. The members of the SFA are free to work and organise their activity independently of the party’s decisions (although they are monitored by the party as far as economic issues are concerned). This autonomy provides two advantages; Firstly, it permits a larger flexibility and adaptation of the organisation to the social reality, and especially to the dynamic field of movements and bottom-up initiatives. Secondly, it provides SFA with credibility towards the movements and grassroot initiatives, given the generalized distrust against the party system.
Another strategy applied by SFA in order to increase its credibility vis-à-vis solidarity initiatives is discreteness. SFA avoids self-publicity through the actions and the initiatives that it supports. This guarantees the ‘disinterest’ of SFA and facilitates the creation of bounds between the organisation and the various solidarity initiatives. The negative aspect of this strategy is that it impedes the communication of SFA’s activity to the wider public of the country, something that could serve better its general sociopolitical goals.
A major limitation concerns the range of the organisation (and of solidarity structures in general). According to the interviewee, the ‘beneficiaries’ of solidarity structures registered by SFA in the whole country (more than 300) could be between 20.000-30.000 people. This number is not negligible, but it remains restricted compared to the total population. It could be argued that solidarity structures serve a concrete sociopolitical space which consists of individuals who share common progressive values and activist cultures.
The SFA is a space of encounter and networking amongst collectivities, which promotes alternative structures on food, education, health and social economy. It embraces a widened idea of diversity, which covers not only ethnic differences, but also the variety of the ways people experience the socioeconomic effects of the crisis. Initiatives are often local and based on small groups of activists. SFA operates as an umbrella organisation that coordinates this fragmented field. As the SFA aims at playing a nodal role in the landscape of the numerous solidarity initiatives that emerge in today’s Greece, the innovative approach of this arrangement is consisted of the promotion of solidarity structures, which actively challenge the crisis. The main challenge faced by SFA concerns its relationships with the initiatives. As an organisation stemming from a major political party, it has to ‘reassure’ bottom-up initiatives that it does not seek to play a hegemonic role and to capitalize politically and electorally on them (something that will certainly become very difficult in case SYRIZA becomes a governmental force). A medium-term challenge concern is the relation of solidarity structures with the welfare state. Our interviewee argues that solidarity structures can provide basic social services only for a short period of time, while the major political goal must remain the reconstruction of the welfare state. However, considering the condition of Greece’s public finances, the reconstruction of the welfare state may be addressed in the long run.