On April 27, 2021, the RENN.mitte coordination office Brandenburg invited to an online workshop. Representatives of trade unions and organized civil society came together to ask themselves:

Trade Unions and Civil Society in Lusatian Structural Change: 

Can we act cooperatively to foster sustainable structural change?

Fritz Walter moderated this “kick-off” for a constructive dialogue between two important groups of actors in structural change. The invitees and hosts were the non-profit associations Brandenburg 21 e.V. and Lusatian Perspectives e.V. and the civil society network Citizens’ Region Lusatia. A special guest was Prof. Dr. Klaus Dörre from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, who provided impulses and participated in the discussion.

Five theses on the transformation conflict in Lusatia

In his research, sociologist Klaus Dörre deals with socio-ecological transformation conflicts. He is co-author of the studies „After Coal” and „After Coal II„, published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation

Dörre opened the workshop by presenting and examining the opposing views on the Lausitz coal phase-out. He referred to interviews with LEAG employees and lignite opponents and proposed five theses on the “transformation conflict”, such as:

Regions do not exist without preconditions, they are made – and not by everyone, but significantly by individual actors and groups. 

This, he illustrated with another thesis: There is a contrasting image of the region and the lignite opponents are powerful in defining it.

Some workshop participants felt directly addressed and were inspired to reflect. A good start to a constructive exchange with each other.

Four lists to find consensus

Fritz Walter structured and led this exchange using „dynamic facilitation„. He chose a facilitation method that is particularly suitable for difficult, complex topics, such as:

  •     strategic issues
  •     conflictual or potentially conflictual issues
  •     issues that are „loaded” with rigid value judgments
  •     issues that have a hidden dimension
  •     intricate problems that hardly anyone believes can be solved anymore

With this method, all statements of the workshop participants were listed as „questions (and challenges)”, „solutions (and ideas)”, „concerns (and objections)” or „information”. None of the thoughts formulated around the relationship between unions and civil society were lost.

Three convergences for further joint work

The lists collecting questions, solutions, concerns and information made it possible to extract and summarize points of agreement among the participants. What ideas and starting points for concrete steps toward a „cooperative action capability” already exist?

  • The participants want to create more spaces for discourse and work out shared foundations. This involves questions that one participant formulated as follows: 

What common goals do we have? What does it mean to name the totality of conflicts? What are the possibilities?

  • Only through this discussion can trade union and civil society actors become able to speak together. In the process, those involved may question their own role as actors in structural change and practice mutual openness.
  • Some participants would like to see realistic and practical next steps – there is a tendency to think and talk too much and do too little. The idea of developing new models for business succession and job security in Lusatia is comparatively concrete. Cooperatives would be an obvious choice here. A related suggestion is to create support services for employees who want to use cooperative models in business succession.

It became clear in this workshop that direct dialog is a major concern for the representatives of unions and civil society and needs to be continued. It also became clear that the involved parties see it as their responsibility to intensify the involvement of citizens and to strengthen this involvement – especially outside the cities. The workshop participants see the growing number of interested and committed actors in Lusatia as an opportunity here. The bottom line, however, is that a concentrated exchange is important to them:

You can have big conferences every two years. 

What’s needed now are smaller formats like today.

In this sense, we are looking forward to the further dialog and are very happy to be part of it.

Valentina Troendle for Lusatian Perspectives, May 31 2021