International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development
September 1st, 2007
Message from the Editorial Team
A US Network on Solidarity Economy is born during the 2007 US Social Forum
First International Meeting on “Workers’ Economy”
Faculty of Philosophy and Letters – University of Buenos Aires, July 19th -21st, 2007
Message from the Editorial Team
With this issue, we are beginning the fifth year of publication of our newsletter. Indeed, since the first number appeared in November 2003, which was only in French and in English, we have added Portuguese and Spanish versions with the help of new volunteers.
We wish to thank our subscribers for their faithfulness. We have approximately 200 subscribers, who often transmit it to their own entourage. Therefore, we count approximately 600 readers. In addition, we wish to express our gratitude to Léo Dayan who uploads all versions of our most current newsletters for downloading on the APREIS website: http://www.apreis.org/. We wish to note that the audience for the newsletter is growing. It is relayed on several websites and regularly disseminated to their members by networks in various countries or regions of the world. This increases the persons reached by our small publication to a significant degree.
Lastly, we wish to reiterate our thanks to our volunteer translators without whose collaboration, we could not continue our publication.
In this issue, we are reproducing two articles which were conveyed to us. Moreover, we wish to reiterate our interest in receiving texts from our subscribers. However, our capacity for translation is limited. As we received the second text already translated in all four languages of publication, it was easy to insert it.
The first article concerning the birth of a new network, the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN), was written by members of the working group of this network. The enthusiasm shown in this article testifies well to the climate, which prevailed at the time of the meetings of U.S. Social Forum held last June in Atlanta, at which Yvon Poirier participated. It is necessary to understand that the prospect of creating a broad network in the United States, after so many years of “great darkness” in this country dominated by neo-liberalism offers a stimulating glimmer of hope. Now, there remains for these militants to channel their enthusiasm in the construction of a solid network. Most would agree that this is not an easy task.
The other article comes to us from contacts in Latin America. The Argentine experience of self-managed companies seems to us appealing, and obviously creates much interest. This is why we thought it worthy to share this information. However, we point out that the English and French versions are a little bit different than the original version in Spanish. Even if we did not have enough time to prepare identical versions, we prefer to publish anyway, since they are essentially similar. We extend our regrets for this mistake which is entirely ours.
U.S. Solidarity Economy Network is Born at the U.S. Social Forum 2007
Most of the over 10,000 people who traveled to the first-ever U.S. Social Forum, in Atlanta last June 27-30, would consider ourselves activists, and most are acutely aware of the many systemic problems that our country faces, from increasing inequality and persistent poverty to environmental degradation, from a corrupt political system to an unjust war, from the continuing struggle with racism and sexism to the intolerant policies enacted against immigrants and gay / lesbian / trans-gendered people. We know these issues are present, but we tend to prioritize some over others, sometimes missing opportunities to form alliances with activists with similar values and different issues. Often we lose sight of the fact that “we are all in this together”.
The concept of the solidarity economy has the potential to unite these many progressive causes, not just annually in a certain physical location, but as part of a larger movement that recognizes the necessity of all types of transformative practice. At the first ever Social Forum in the United States, the Solidarity Economy Working Group for USSF2007 coordinated a track of workshops, and also convened caucuses to try to find ways to unite our common causes, and to build systemic economic transformation and strategic cooperation from the grassroots. The term “solidarity economy” is barely on the lips of activists in the U.S., even though the concept has inspired significant activism on all other continents. But the solidarity economy, which is more of a framework than a model, has great potential to link our many concerns about structural change, and to also strategically link organizing groups that are already engaged in transformative practices. The solidarity economy is held together by common values, such as cooperation, democracy, equality, justice, ecological sustainability, community, and respect for diversity. Ultimately, it is economics where human needs, human development, and solidarity form the center, instead of unfettered competition and an insatiable drive for profit.
The “Economic Alternatives and the Social/Solidarity Economy” activities at the U.S. Social Forum represented the culmination of months of work and collaboration by the Solidarity Economy Working Group. The Working Group involved a diverse coalition of academics, economists, grassroots organizers, and activists in the worker cooperative movement. Emily Kawano, Julie Matthaei, and Ethan Miller took the lead in the Working Group: Emily directs the Center for Popular Economics in Western Massachusetts, creating participatory workshops on neo-liberalism for activists; Julie, a professor of economics at Wellesley College, also works with Guramylay: Growing the Green Economy; and Ethan, from Maine, is involved in both Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) and the Data Commons Project. Dan Swinney, from the Chicago-based Center for Community and Labor Research, works to promote the high road in business, government, and labor, and is co-founder of NANSE (North American Network for the Solidarity Economy). Another member, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, teaches at the University of Maryland, is affiliated with GEO, and additionally works with the Democracy Collaborative. Melissa Hoover directs the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and Heather Schoonover works at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Yvon Poirier of GESQ, Quebec’s Solidarity Economy Network, represented the Canadian experience in the group.
The Solidarity Economy Working Group organized a Solidarity Economy Caucus to which they invited activists from a broad range of organizations involved in economic transformation. The first caucus meeting, on the very first day of the Forum, was a time to meet one another, develop a shared knowledge base of Solidarity Economy concepts, values, principles, and practice, and then discuss some of the challenges and opportunities involved in creating a solidarity economy network in the United States. A key part of this meeting was presentations from Latin American and Canadian leaders about their well-established and vibrant social/solidarity economy movements, including Michael Lewis (CED, Canadian Community Economic Development Network), Éthel Côté (RIPESS, International Solidarity Economy Network), Nancy Neamtan (Social Economy Workshop/Chantier de l'économie Sociale, Quebec).
The Working Group also organized a block of 28 workshops, and a list of 53 associated workshops, which it printed up in a program. The content of the “Economic Alternatives and the Social/Solidarity Economy” workshops was exciting and diverse. On the first day of workshops, there were roundtable discussions about economic transformation in the United States, as well as presentations on everything from green building, to ethical consumption, to worker cooperatives. Many of these workshops were interactive, and positioned the solidarity economy as a concrete alternative to low-road neo-liberal policies. On the second day of workshops, for instance, the Center for Popular Economics and Grassroots Economic Organizing hosted a session entitled “Building a Solidarity Economy from Real World Practices”. This workshop reinforced how intuitive, organic, and rich with shared meaning these solidarity values really are. After a basic introduction, descriptions of lots of different initiatives were circulated on index cards, and we discussed them in small groups. Aside from worker cooperatives, there were descriptions of non-profit groups, pushes for progressive policy initiatives, ethical consumption networks, and new sustainable technologies – constellations of different creative ideas from vastly different fulcrums of change. When it came time to construct a framework out of these practices and to name the implicit values, however, it was easy for the participants to intuitively grasp the concepts – words like cooperation, sustainability, and community kept being repeated over and over. Organizers Emily Kawano and Ethan Miller left the workshop reassured that the term “solidarity economy” could easily be explained and easily become a way to bring different groups together. (More information on these workshops, including selected transcripts and videos, is posted at TransformationCentral.org)
On Saturday, after the third and final day of USSF workshops, the second Solidarity Economy caucus was held. Enriched with some new faces, and energized by our first meeting and the content of the workshops, we concretely resolved to found a U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, SEN. We want this network to be a broad tent, linking institutions, networks, and individuals who share the values of the Solidarity Economy. SEN will be a place to exchange practice and theory, to offer support to one another, and to push together for transformation. The existing working group was charged to come up with a more concrete structure, and to plan for a meeting in the summer of 2008.
Through the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, we will continue the conversations and coalition-building that happened during the workshop sessions. The Solidarity Economy is all about building these connections; reminding us that, amidst our wonderful diversity, we are all related – as members of a society, as parts of an ecosystem, and, potentially, as creators of a new paradigm of economic life based on cooperation and solidarity as well as individuality and freedom. The Solidarity Economy activities at the U.S. Social Forum were an amazing first step at building these connections – bringing together people from all over the country and the world who are engaged in economic transformation in their own communities – and standing on the shoulders of the leaders of the Solidarity Economy movement in Canada and Latin America. The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network can help us further understand how our many ways of working towards economic transformation connect with and complement one another. It can provide us with opportunities to learn from one another as we strive to realize Solidarity Economy values. And, as part of RIPESS, the international solidarity economy network, SEN can help us make our dream of another, possible, solidarity economy a growing and thriving reality in the U.S. and across the world.
Jenna Allard and Julie Matthaei, Guramylay: Growing the Green Economy
First International Meeting « The Worker’s Economy »
Faculty of Philosophy and Letters – University of Buenos Aires 19-21 July 2007
Three highly active days of meetings brought together 300 participants from Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Columbia, Chile, Brazil, Germany, Croatia, the United States and Canada. The group consisted of workers, managers and activists from social and political organisations, research personnel and academics. There was huge discussion on economy-related topics, based on self-managing experiments such as the Argentinean companies that have been taken over by the workers and struggles of the working class movement in the context of changes in the world of work at the global level in today’s phase of neo-liberal capitalism.
Following the introductory speeches, various presentations were made on the themes of the meeting: 1) Capital economy today: a stage of global capitalism viewed by popular movements; 2) Self-managed economy: a debate on self-managing experiments in the era of global capitalism (worker take-overs, rural co-operatives, solidarity self-managing projects, co-operative movements, exchange networks, fair trade etc.; 3) The challenge faced by popular governments in terms of social management of the economy and the State; 4) Critical evaluation of the co-operative movement ; 5) New challenges facing the Trade Union movements: unions, workers’ groups, co-management and participation in decision-making processes.
The richness of the debate was also shown in the way the discussion space was shared between workers and research personnel from the different countries. Exchange is useful for developing political action and worker’s organisation, theoretical analysis, worker’s self-management, union struggles. The debate touched on the limits and possibilities of the process of self-management in the framework of capitalist economies and the possibilities of reconstructing politico-economic projects focussed on self-managed experiments. Another lively discussion was on the subject of what is called social economy. One aspect was on how to bring to life the project of social economy as the possibility of building economic alternatives to social exclusion. An alternative aspect, which outlined facts, without examining the underlying characteristics and possibilities for self-management as part of “an economy for the poor” that takes the precarious nature of work into account, as well as the new forms of overexploitation of the global economy. The representatives of the workers’ organisations insisted on the fact that these experiments form a part of the reconstructions of a politico-economic worker’s alternative; this was one of the important conclusions of the debates.
The high level of participation in the discussions following the presentations was remarkable, and the size of the programme reached beyond the organisers’ expectations. It proved necessary to implement strict time-management. Students from the Open Faculty (many of whom made presentations) also contributed a great deal of voluntary work, as did the Babels interpreters, thus enabling language barriers to be overcome.
The final speeches by the different organisations that took part showed an expression of interest in a follow-up process to this type of meeting.
Around 50 presentations can be viewed on the Documentary Centre of the companies that have been taken over in the Open Faculty Programme (http://www.recuperadasdoc.com.ar/).
Director of the Open Faculty Programme
Head organiser of the event
Secretariat for University Extension
Faculty of Philosophy and Letters
University of Buenos Aires
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Évéline Poirier from Canada for the English translation
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Michel Colin from Brazil for the Portuguese translation
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