Dialogue for Solidarity - Solidarity through Dialogue


In November 1999 shipyard workers throughout Europe organized a demonstration against the "dirty competition" from Southkorea.

Suddenly,the workers were standing side by side with the managers protesting "against these foreign competitors". The Korean unionists were extremely annoyed at what they saw as a "lack of solidarity" on the part of their European counterparts.

These events gave rise to the following considerations and the proposal for a "Kiel dialogue":


The need for solidarity - and the complications of solidarity

Marx and Engels had every reason to sound out their call: "workers of the world: unite!". The fact of the matter back then, as ´now - more than 150 later - is that while everybody may know and agree with the phrase "international solidarity", it has remained only a phrase. There is indeed a deep division and a merciless competitive struggle between workers of different nations and states, especially if they work in different sectors within the global division of labour.

At first sight, this fact need not rule out the propects for international solidarity, for example in the case of struggles going on in other countries for higher wages, shorter working hours, for better working conditions, to put a stop to child labour or to implement certain social standards in general. But these instances can be fully reconciled with the logic of competition over plant locations, a concept brought into being by capital.

Even if they are in bitter fight with their"own" employers, the unions still keep an eye on any possible advantages gained by their colleagues in other countries through direct or indirect subsidies that might make the respective location more competitive. What appears to be a dependence on jobs is in reality a manifestation of labour´s dependence on capital. It is precisely this dependence that causes labour organisations to turn to their "own" governments and to their "own" employers with their demands for counteraction.

These international divisions are just the surface layer of the thousands of divisions running through every capitalist society: the divisions between men and women, between the "hard-working" and the "lazy", those deemed to be "healthy" and those "disabled", young and old, productive and unproductive, natives and foreigners, white and black, those still in work and those already out of work.

All these divisions enable capital to function. They fuel our fears, which are a fundamental characteristic of relations of domination, they increase our dependence and hence deepen the divisions.

But is it not the case that this kind of competition is a genuine constraint, an objectively existing structure? However, there is no such thing as objective social reality without subjective actions. Competition always implies ideology. Viewing competition as nothing but a straightforward fact if life is an expression of skewed perception, of a false consciousness. To do this is merely to provide ourselves with a justification for practising competition ourselves instead of looking at it in a critical and pragmatic way.

Capital is no longer just an external force: in a long historical process that has impacted us all, we have internalised the principles that allow the system to work. Because of this, it is useless to struggle against something external to ourselves. It is not the system as such which brings about divisions. but the actions of all those involved which effectively keep the system going.

It is possible that people in a number of countries might be victimised as a consequence of the neo-liberal offensive. It is possible that we will wake up just before the imminent and final disaster strikes. But: do the "objective" circumstances actually force us to carry on as before right up until the disaster is upon us?

We want to try to show that it is possible to stop and think before it is too late. However, such a decision cannot be made on an individual and isolated basis; it requires communication. Is it possible to abolish competition by talking about it? Surely not, but on the other hand lack of communication is an decisive feature of competition and lays the foundation on which competition and the way we act under conditions of competition can continue as before. By engaging in an in-depth exchange of ideas and feelings, we open up and make ourselves vulnerable, something we cannot afford to in the face of such fierce competitive conditions. And for this reason communication within a competitive context is not real dialogue but a subtle form of confrontation, open at best and in most cases hidden. This kind of subtle aggression is often the motivation for speeches on "internationalism". Instead of hidden confrontation we need communication based on dialogue. The grand talk of "internationalism" is itself an expression of lack of awareness, a condition that prevents reflection on what we are actually doing.

What we are trying to do here is initiate a dialogue in order to break down this kind of lack of awareness, to stop and think, to get some distance on this seemingly factual reality and to regain our capacity for action. If we participate in this dialogue, we can gradually gain a different and new attitude towards the reality of competition, and this new perception will inevitably bring about a reorientation towards a new reality. In this way we will assume our own responsibility for working on this system of division.

The purpose and tangible consequence of solidarity is that fear and stress will subside, the fear, that is, of losing the competitive struggle. The social struggles can thus gain a new "moral" strength. In this way we would also overcome any victim mentality we might have.

Solidarity is the only thing we can use to counte the logic of capitalism.

Once we have recognized this, the question then becomes: what would this kind of dialogue in solidarity look like? We must simply try it out. There are no tried and tested recipes.


Proposal for dialogue in solidarity.

In order to come away from the capitalistic logic of division and competition, we have to get a clear picture of the reality in which we are living:

We ourselves are a part of this aggressive competitive society, even if it is this that we want to change fundamentally. That is why we are no "better" than the rest of society. If we do not take responsibility for working on changing this society, we will merely end up reproducing conditions lacking solidarity, namely competition.

On the basis of these considerations we can then engage in dialogue in solidarity with those who also strive for solidarity as a means and as an end. The preconditions for such a dialogue is then no longer a judgement or even condemnation of the "others" but rather the following principle:

There is no "truth" that we have come to and thus have the right or even the duty to impose on others. Truth is based on experience, and experience is a subjective thing. Everyone engaged in dialogue has their own truth in the first instance.


But what can we do in concrete terms?

Time and again we find ourselves in situations in which we - as individuals, groups, but usually as entire workforces - are apparently made into competitors with other workforces or nations. As individuals we can attempt to overcome the speechlessness and isolation by engaging in direct dialogue. If it is another workforce that is affected, though, this seems to be more difficult. If we are unable to meet directly with our "competitors", perhaps because they live and work on the other side of the globe, why don't we collectively write them an open letter?


Our attempt to have a "Kiel Dialogue"

In Kiel we will have the opportunity to clarify the events of the last few months in a spirit of solidarity by having a direct discussion between Korean and German colleagues in the shipbuilding industry. Moreover, shipbuilding workers from the Southern United States have also agreed to participate in this discussion. We propose on the basis of the comments above, that this discussion be held by adhering to the following formal rules in order to have a dialogue marked by solidarity.

Each person should speak about the things that affect them directly, including how they see their own situation, that of others, and the connections between the two. So they basically stick to presenting their own situation. The dialogue is initially just this, then. It is open. Talking and listening should happen in equal proportions, as far as this is possible. People can also remain silent. No one fires off questions like at an inquisition, no one interprets what the other person has said, no one insinuates that anyone has said anything they may not have said, no one forces anyone else to declare their position or to draw any particular conclusions, no one throws accusations at anyone.

Whoever is speaking can finish what they are saying, they can also remain silent if they wish. We must let everyone have time to think about what they want to say.

This arrangement is unusual. The fact that this is a serious attempt to enable solidarity to grow becomes clear to us once we understand that the reasons for accusations, attacks, interruptions, declarations of truth, insistence on being right etc, are an expression either of guilt feelings or feelings of victimization, both of which are, after all, reactions based on fear of real social processes. Such reactions in turn provoke defensive reactions. Those are precisely the mechanisms which keep us caught up within the capitalist system.


SOLIKOR, Berlin 29.02.2000


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