Policies for a City of Solidarity: Observations

Solidarity City is a media project by Cooperative City Magazine to promote and strengthen social and solidarity economy practices throughout Europe. Taking Vienna as its starting point, the project mapped initiatives that focus on social inclusion, participation, citizen-led urban regeneration, ecological transition, sustainable food systems, ethical consumption and responsible tourism.

 

As our articles demonstrate, most solidarity initiatives are born from personal experiences: they build on the commitment of engaged individuals who often went through the process of marginalisation themselves or were confronted with the changing fortunes of others. Nothing can separate these initiatives of the personal touch: on the contrary, most solidarity practices continue to bear the marks of their founders even after years or decades of institutionalisation.

 

However, such initiatives, despite being fuelled by personal engagement and volunteer energies, can easily run into obstacles in an unfavourable legal and regulatory environment. Alternatively, a supportive framework can help them thrive and use their capacities in an efficient way. This is why policy matters: when regulations take into account the experiences of those on the margins, they can help those who are working at the forefront for these marginalised groups to concentrate on the most important aspects of their actions. Furthermore, supportive policies can help these initiatives relate to each other and constitute stronger, more cooperative civic tissues.

 

Besides the stories behind solidarity initiatives, Solidarity City also explored the policies that support or obstruct them. A key policy issue evoked by many of our interviewees is the work restrictions imposed on various marginalised groups. Vendors of the newspaper Augustin have a limit to their income, otherwise they lose other support services. Asylum seekers, in turn, have no work permits until their residence status is clarified: they are often left in a legal and psychological limbo for years, without any legal means to earn their living. This “suspended” state works against the integration process: Initiatives like Nut and Feder or magdas HOTEL advocate that asylum seekers should be allowed to work from the day of their arrival or after they have spent some time in Austria.

 

While ecological and regional production like Nut and Feder’s woodworks enjoy some tax advantages like a temporary exemption from municipal tax, further incentives such as reduction in corporate tax or value-added tax could help environmentally conscious production methods be the new standard. On the other hand, eco-social companies, like Wiener Tafel often face the same obligations when running a food bank as large supermarket chains. Exemption from liabilities related to food distribution, like in many other countries, could help food banks and other social projects accelerate and expand their operations. 

While more and more solidarity initiatives like Superar work in a cross-sectorial way, grantmaking organisations are often reluctant to recognise hybrid forms of activities located in-between culture, ecology and social services, or to reflect the growing diversity of the society they need to support. Organisations working with marginalised groups like refugees and migrants, as experienced by Ois In An, are often overlooked and not considered as eligible for public funding. Larger-scale projects such as the Zukunftshof that act as important actors in certain Viennese neighbourhoods need a better position in urban transformation processes: they could genuinely participate in urban design and development competitions.

 

Community-led solidarity projects have proven to be, in many cases, essential welfare services for marginalised members of our communities. From the 2008 economic crisis, through Covid-19 and the various refugee crises, solidarity practices being developed by civic initiatives were often more agile and flexible to react to quickly evolving emergency situations and well as to slow-burning crises than their institutional counterparts. To tackle these challenges with the help of the social and solidarity economy, it is essential for city administrations and research institutions to recognise how to work together with these solidarity initiatives.