|SolNets are new to this country, but have had some success in the US|
The following article is due to be published in the new issue of Nerve magazine:
A group of activists in Liverpool are starting to set up a solidarity network. Unless you’re already involved, you’re probably thinking one of two things now. Either 1) ‘that sounds boring, what is the next article?’ or 2) ‘what the hell is a solidarity network?’
Well, as the name implies, it is an interconnected collection of people intent on offering support to each other when they need it. While the word ‘solidarity’ is often used in terms of workplace-based struggles, a solidarity network’s focus is generally different. In most cases, the case will involve a complainant who has received bad treatment from some kind of authority – be it a big business, the council, the government or even a landlord/housing association.
But the focus is still on the exploitation of working class people by ‘the system’. Solidarity networks are not consumer watchdogs. They take on cases because they understand that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’, and if a landlord is able to take advantage of one working class person (for instance by charging illegal ‘admin fees’ as happened in Glasgow), then all landlords feel more confident to take advantage of all working class people. Of course, the reverse is true. If working class people – acting through a solidarity network – are able to defeat the exploitative landlord (as eventually happened in Glasgow), then they feel more confident to take on bigger and bigger exploiters, in all areas of their lives.
This is why SolNets organise collectively. For example, in that Glasgow case, their blog reports:
“The first action took place mid December 2013 with thirty people walking into the letting agency’s premises on a very rainy and stormy morning to support the pair in the handing-over a demand letter asking for the fees back and giving them until the new year to pass them back before further action was taken. The delivery went very well, in good spirit, and attracted people who never had participated in anything like this. It was also fantastic to experience the coming-together of people who had never met the couple – an injury to one is an injury to all. Everyone was pleased with the action – everyone apart from the letting agency staff! The manager was so unhappy about the visitors that he decided to hide in a little room off the main office and let his colleague deal with the situation by herself.
“However, the agency did not return the money within the deadline set in the letter. The Network, together with the two affected people, then planned the next step in the ‘escalation process’. It was decided that the bad news from the agency should be met with bad reviews online, and so a week of action was organised via this blog, Facebook, and personal contacts.
“Success was almost immediate. The “Bad News Gets Bad Reviews” action started on Monday. On Wednesday morning the letting agency manager contacted their ex-tenants and offered the immediate return of their money. The manager stated that the agency had lost business contracts worth over £2000 because of the reviews. GSN called for an end of the campaign as the manager’s assurance was deemed trustworthy. Indeed, the cheques arrived in the post two days later. Victory!”