Transnational Social Strike (TSS) meeting, Ljubljana, 19-21 May

Last weekend, Rog hosted the fourth meeting of Transnational Social Strike (TSS). This platform has emerged in order to connect workers (locals and migrants) as well as unions and activist groups throughout Europe, who fight against exploitation. Due to the fragmentation of the production process and the divisions created between workers, labour struggles need to be carried out by adopting new approaches. Since processes of exploitation don’t stop at the borders of nation states – that is, occur transnationally – these processes can only be deconstructed through transnational and social strikes.

The meeting in Ljubljana took place under the name ‘From Balkan to Europe: Confronting divisions’. As is the case for all countries which were part of the so-called ‘Balkan route’ or ‘Balkan corridor’, the way the Slovenian authorities have dealt respectively deal with migrants, shows that ‘a transnational process against exploitation and neoliberalism today needs to deepen the connection with the mass movements of migrants and face the ongoing political reorganization of the European space’.

In the opening session on Friday evening, it was stated that migrants are at the core of attempts in recent years to challenge neoliberal policies by the EU and its member states. Especially in the Balkans one can see that, although the repression by authorities is extensive, migrants keep pushing through and striving for a humane treatment. ‘Europe’ is thereby obstructing processes, by on the one hand tarring the countries in Southeast and East Central Europe with the same brush, and on the other creating differentiation between them. It was therefore stated, that Brussels keeps treating the Balkans ‘only as periphery’.

Another core player in actions against oppression are women. An example is the mass protest last year by Polish women against a proposed abortion ban. In the context of TSS, this year’s Global Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day (March 8th) was detected as an even more noteworthy and crucial event. Both women and men, and both people who hitted the street to speak out against domestic violence and the decomposition of the welfare state, mobilized. It emphasised once again, how closely connected striving for women’s rights and opposing neoliberal values – as patriarchy – are. This is the core of TSS: attacking exploitation in all its forms by intensifying the renewed presence of strikes. Actions by Amazon and Deliveroo workers and strikes against the reform of the ‘code du travail’ in France are other revealing examples.

Workshop ‘Freedom of movement and the right to stay’

On Saturday, in several workshops which took place in Social Center Rog and Živko Skvotec, specific topics were addressed. In the workshop ‘Freedom of movement and right to stay’, several representatives of organisations in Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, and Sweden, shared information about the situation in these countries. All of these countries are involved in dubious acts of ‘push backs’. A representative of no border serbia emphasised, that the big majority of the 7000-8000 refugees which are currently in Serbia, tries to cross the Serbian-Hungarian border. In Belgrade, they have been confronted with the poisoning of their barracks. Besides that, tents have been destroyed. If refugees refuse to register in Serbia, they are pushed back to Bulgaria or Macedonia.

Hungary was termed a special case, because the media are almost under total control by the ruling party Fidesz. This results in far-right rhetoric in the biggest media outlets of the country. In Slovenia, the ‘violence is becoming less brutal, more systemic’. Activists in Italy have recently been criminalised. They have been termed ‘friends of terrorists’, and therefore it’s even more difficult for them to offer migrants help. In Sweden, attacks on solidarity movements by the far-right have occurred. A new law is proposed, which would introduce a special minimum wage for migrants. What follows out of this, is that the initial political solidarity in Sweden now belongs to the past.

After the reports, the discussion brought about, that acts by migrants question the legitimacy of nation states throughout Europe. They should therefore be seen as protagonists instead of victims. For example in Italy, migrants are the main actors in strikes in recent years. By cooperation between the different groups involved in TSS, the EU member states and other countries involved should be forced to take their responsibility. The observation, that finding and formulating the political connection between the actors participating in the workshop is needed in order to be able to implement a transnational approach / action, was an important outcome of this meeting.

‘Logistics labour’ workshop

*Logistics is the organization and implementation of a complex operation. In general, logistics is the management of the flow of things between the point of origin and the point of consumption. The logistics of physical items usually involves the integration of information flow, material handling, production, packaging, inventory, transportation, warehousing, etc.*

In this workshop, logistics were being considered as something more than solely the logistics sector – the definition of which is outlined above – but instead as a strong driving force transforming the way in which production and labour are organized across boundaries in a transnational and neoliberal manner. Therefore, it is crucial to understand logistics in order to counter neoliberal reforms and disrupt infrastructure projects, especially in regards to the Balkan route which is being developed for global trade and exploitation, and in concern to the ever increasing exploitation of migrant workers as their presence in the labour market expands. In a widened context of logistics’ workers organizing, the situation of Amazon and Deliveroo employees transnationally in Europe was also addressed, as well as other sectors involved in the re-organization of labour and production in the rising gig economy.

Beginning with the organization of workers who are exploited, there is a need for a platform in order to address the social and also political conditions of employment as more companies expand transnationally through neoliberal discourse, which of course means the reliance on exploiting cheap labour in local areas. It was highlighted that whilst platforms used by companies to organize workers, this same platform was also then developed by workers to organize themselves in some instances. However, this did not immediately result in political power to fight the conditions of labour, and these struggles have a political limit especially in terms of migrants.

Logistics translate into global chains of labour and due to this a link between the local and transnational is created. This is represented in the development of ports as being connected entities, the ports of Koper and Rijeka are examples of this, where service ports for production chains are outside the local area and goods produced are not in the hands of the workers or distributed within the local area. Despite this connectivity and transnational ties, the communication between workers employed in the ports is very low and there is little organization. However, focusing on the Koper port, there has been a strong presence of a radical trade union over an extended period of time that is opposed to the privatisation of the port, whose presence and actions are of heightened importance in contemporary times due to the involvement and interest of foreign governments in neoliberal reforms of the Koper port. There have been numerous strikes and blockades from the workers, and effectively from the crane operators proving to be very successful as they hold an influential position to stop global production chains. The Koper port trade union also connects and coordinates workers on the ship, harbour and warehouses, which is a successful strategy to address not only the exploitation of workers on different yet very much connected levels, but also to attack and disrupt the logistics of global labour chains, and to confront the flow of commodities in relation to global capitalism.

Another topic that was discussed was the connection between trade unions and political collectives and how to politicize a social struggle, as social, economic and political issues are inter-related. This is especially so with the destruction of welfare infrastructure whilst isolation is present in terms of closing borders throughout Europe. Politicising struggles with the aim to expand and connect European port workers who are organising outside of trade unions was deemed necessary as trade unions can be rejected by governments (Sweden was used as an example, whose port workers are employed in precarious situations), as well as the presence of governments appropriating production and blaming strikers for harming the economy as a way to fight against or reject politically organised workers. The need to find a common ground between transnational workers is imperative, possibly in the form of politicising struggles and by demonstrating the connectivity of capitalist logistics across work places, and then in turn the effectiveness of shutting down of these capitalist logistics through economic transport infrastructure such as ports, harbours and borders in a collectivised manner, namely by using the weapon of strikes and blockades. However, due to the increased presence of precarious labour many workers are afraid to loose their jobs, therefore trade unions must find a way to include precarious workers (the outsourcing of workers within the postal service in Slovenia was used as an example).

Finally, the automisation of labour was briefly described as a tool to fragment workers, as well as Amazon workers collectivizing (differing nationalities addressing global companies organization and discourse through a network operating across borders in the form of transnational workers meetings). However, this is not the case for the majority of Amazon workers, that due to the very nature of their work and how the workplace is structured, have little communication with trade unions or political collectives, especially so since many employees are migrants in precarious labour.

Workshop ‘Global Women’s Strike’

In the workshop ‘After the Global Women’s Strike: struggles against patriarchy, capitalism and precarization’ was dealt with the question how the aforementioned success of the strike on March 8th could and should be given a decent follow-up. The workshop was opened with the stories of three women, who came from Afghanistan to Slovenia last year. By sharing both their experiences so far and fears about a potential forced return to their homeland, they made clear that changes are needed, and quickly.

These women experienced extreme violence towards themselves and their families, and fled Afghanistan to escape oppression comprising no right to work, no right to education and no freedom of movement, only to be met by equal circumstances in Slovenia. The view of many European governments, among which the Slovenian, that Afghanistan is a ‘safe country’, is the result of wrong information or the incorrect interpretation of sources. This has serious implications for refugees (men, women and children) from Afghanistan, whose status is continuously rejected on these grounds, despite the violence experienced and perpetuated. It was stated, that the first thing that is needed, is a stop of the deportations to countries that are unjustly seen as safe, as well as the creation of a transnational platform for refugee women across Europe in order for their voices and dangerous situations to be heard. It is also worth mentioning that refugee spaces, such as that of Second Home in Rog, are often male dominated and women do not feel safe in such spaces, especially since their children are often with them. The introduction of an ‘unconditional European residence permit’ was mentioned as a goal.

Regarding the connection between women’s rights and neoliberalism, emphasis was put on the fact, that exploitation of men contributes to wishes and attempts to dominate women. That is, patriarchy and neoliberalism go hand in hand. It is therefore needed to address these issues together as much as possible.

General assembly and critical analysis / criticisms

In the general assembly on Saturday evening, the conclusion was, that completely fragmented working conditions are at the core of issues regarding the rights of actually all human beings, which are confronted with exploitation. In this sense, focusing solely on a certain exploited group, is not the best strategy when it is attempted to change the current state of affairs. However, this is easier said than done. Because of fragmentation – which is the result of neoliberal practices – the struggle to change this might be more tough than ever. That’s why we’re urged to address the challenges together.

Despite the overall positive goal shared by all who attended the workshops and meeting of countering neoliberalism, exploitation and patriarchy through collective processes, it’s also worth mentioning or highlighting some issues encountered.

Primarily, the issues of language exclusivity and how meetings were structured became an obvious problem, as the language and discourse used across all topics did not allow for the inclusion of a variety of perspectives, especially from those who were not directly involved in groups present from the formation of TSS. Some refugees stated that they did not attend the event as they viewed the weekend as intellectuals pushing out migrants and refugees in order to focus and implement their own political agenda. In regards to this issue, the structure of the meetings in terms of how open or closed they are, needs to be assessed. The presence of a hierarchy in relevance to outsiders or newcomers to the meetings and those that, as mentioned previously, had been there since the beginning, was also noticed.

Secondly, no concrete actions were discussed or organised in the final assembly, despite what was discussed in the Global Women’s Strike March workshop in regards to the precarious and extremely dangerous present situation that refugee women are confronted with, and despite the fact that the need for a unified, transnational action, report or campaign was repeated in the assembly.