Wednesday, February 01, 2012

International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development

Newsletter #85
February 1st 2012


Masters of their own destiny

Editorial message

What can we wish our readers, given the heavy threats facing our planet and future generations?

The Rio + 20 Conference, scheduled to take place between the 20th and the 22nd of next June is very much at the fore of the civil society calendar. It will be a key event for steering in the right direction and regaining control of the helm: global warming, “Market” control, and the excessive control of oligarchies that reign heedless of democracy. What can we expect of the different States? Tetanised by their internal crises, they constantly put off the preparation here and now of a viable future sine die. The governing majorities are volatile in their behaviour, subjected as they are to the power of finance.

Our dearest wish for 2012 would be the success of the “People’s Summit of RIO + 20 for social and environmental justice”, scheduled to take place from the 18th - 23rd of June. A Brazilian group platform has created a facilitating committee to bring people together . It uses the diversity and the preparation aimed at concentrating gains to structure proposals and improve the balance of power so that the voice of international civil society can be taken into consideration in an independent space of democratic discussion. The event will run parallel to the official summit. We hope that the powers and proposals that are united at this event will manage to impact the path that is being steered, and establish the groundwork for a new international agenda that will steer us out of the current irresponsible course of events.

We are first and foremost field workers. We are realistic. The future is a long hard road to build and it involves taking new avenues into account in the dominant, monolithic mindset. We should not expect that all the work be done by institutions: they are defective and no longer appropriate for efficiently managing today’s issues. The testimonies that we have been publishing for over eight years enable us to clearly show that communities all over our world are continually succeeding in building economic, social and cultural conditions that place human needs and those of our planet at the centre of their concern. This is what inspires us to continue our publishing and analysing what we see, so that governance from local to international level may be built on reality and genuine potential rather than doing things back-to-front! The finality is for human activity to become organised around the concept of meeting people’s needs rather than short-term profitability.

Yvon’s article, based on his own experience is a forceful example of how little it often takes to renew the practice of solidarity in community life. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Generations past, including the Rochdale Pioneers and Raiffeisen banks in Germany in the 20th century all show us what is possible. We merely need to adapt these solutions, and extend them to wider regions or countries. This isn’t always easy to do, as we well know, but we are also aware that the capitalist system can no longer meet the needs of humanity. We need to prepare for the future!

In terms of citizens’ news, 2012 has been declared the International Year of Cooperatives by the UN. Our second wish is that this year may see the inclusion of all the positive ideas of past generations by those following in our footsteps, who are motivated and indignant, to help them become the change-agents in their own environment. Cooperation is a lesser means of asserting oneself in today’s power-based system, a system where we all stand to lose! It is up to us all to take responsibility for joining and spreading the huge potential of a people and community-based economy; thanks to Yvon for this testimony that links the past to the present in this season of greetings!

Editorial Team
Judith Hitchman
Yvon Poirier
Martine Theveniaut

Masters of their own destiny
By Yvon Poirier

In this article, the expression “Masters of their own destiny” refers to the title of a book published in 1939, as well as to the history of the community in which the author of this article was born and grew up.

This book (1) was written by William Coady of the Department of Adult Education of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish in Nova Scotia, an Eastern province of Canada. He explains how the “mass education” process enabled fishing and farming communities to use cooperatives as an economic tool to gain control of their own destiny, and become collective owners of the means of commercialising their fish, through credit unions and cooperative shops. Via study groups, some of which were women’s groups, people became aware that they could manage their own economic affairs, rather than allowing them to be controlled by capitalist interests that claimed to be the only ones capable of running companies. The book further served as a tool in study groups in the 1940s and ‘50s to found cooperatives in the three Maritime provinces of Eastern Canada – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. This community-based approach of taking control of their economic activities is still known as the “Antigonish Movement”. The success of this educational approach is internationally recognised via the Coady International Institute that has trained over 5000 people from developing countries since 1959: The author of this article has met several people during his travels, essentially in Asia, who spent a year studying at this Institute. “Masters of their own destiny” describes well how a small French-speaking community in the province of Prince Edward Island spontaneously adopted the cooperative formula, without any previous knowledge of it, as of 1862.

It is also worth mentioning that these three provinces were a French colony since 1604 known as Acadia. After having fallen to the British crown, most Acadians were deported to Europe and the British territories further south by boat between 1755 and 1763, separating the men from the women and children. Some were destined for Louisiana which was a French colony at the time. This was before the American War of Independence. French-speaking Acadians are therefore the survivors of this “ethnic cleansing”, either because they escaped deportation or because they later returned. In the province of Prince Edward Island they account for a mere 4% of the population and can be found mostly in the “Evangeline Region”, where they form the majority of the population. They have their own institutions, including a French-speaking primary and secondary public-funded school.

The spirit of mutual help and solidarity that was built over centuries, enabling them to survive in a minority environment led quite naturally to their founding the first cooperative in 1862 (2). It was called a seed bank and was used to “ create reserves that would allow the majority to deposit a certain quantity of seeds to meet the needs of the poorest, when it was time to sow...” Other similar banks were founded in the region. It was only in 1946 that the first of them closed. Towards the end of the 19th and the early 20th century, many cooperatives were founded; some lasted only a few years, others stayed in business for longer. A cheese cooperative operated from 1896 until 1952, when it merged with other cheese coops in the province. There were potato coops, egg coops, coops for animal reproduction, a mill for the various cereal crops, etc.

After the Second World War, a new generation of cooperatives was born, inspired by William Coady’s writing. They can be explained by the drop in agriculture and the important development of the fishing industry especially lobster fishing. This led to the founding in 1954 of the Fishermen’s Coop, the result of the merging of two smaller coops. This cooperative is this working. It includes a processing plant, and is not only the biggest seasonal employer, but also one of the most important “private sector” employers in the whole province. During this entire period, the members of the community, frequently the same people created food coop stores, a credit union for savings and loans, to name but a few. Most members of the community were members of several cooperatives.

At the occasion of the blessing of the fishing boat's – August 31, 2008

Nowadays, in 2012, most economic activity in the Evangeline region is still cooperative, in spite of the globalisation of the hypermarkets and presence of major chain stores. As well as the fishing, food and financial sectors, a funeral cooperative was also opened. A new cooperative was recently created to support the integration of French-speaking immigrants in the region, including a family of refugees from Rwanda. The most important achievement in recent years has been the building of a home for the elderly, called «La Coopérative le Chez Nous»; it includes about 30 rooms.

The history of this region is close to the author’s heart, as it is where his roots are. After completing his university studies, he moved to Quebec City, over 900 kilometres away. Nevertheless he has always stayed in touch with his family, and frequently visits them. His childhood memories of going with his father to the various coops in the 1950s are still crystal clear. Following his father’s death in 1987, he found William Coady’s book, including his father’s notes, taken at a study group in 1946. And as chance would have it, his burial was organised by the founders of a new funeral coop, of which he was a member. Just as it is quite natural for his mother, now aged 95, to be living in the «Le Chez Nous » home for the elderly.

Even if he no longer lives in the region, his family and community upbringing encouraged and shaped his predisposition to continue on the path of solidarity to make the world a better place through committing to solidarity economy and a more just society for one and all.

1. Masters of their own destiny, M.M. Coady, Harper @ Brothers Publishers, United States of America, 1939, 170 p. This book, published only in English is available on request.
2. Historical information in this article is based on «Le mouvement coopératif chez les Acadiens de la région Évangeline (1862-1982) », Cécile Gallant, 283 pages

Online links:
Evangeline Region (Fr and En):

Acadians (Wikipedia) (FR) (EN) (ES)

About the Newsletter
This Newsletter is published in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, It has been produced on a totally voluntary basis since the first issue in 2003.

The Editorial team wishes to thank the following volunteers for their support in translation and revision: Michel Colin (Brazil) Paula Garuz Naval (Ireland) Évéline Poirier (Canada) Brunilda Rafael (France)
We also wish to thank the Policy Research Institute for the Civil Sector (PRICS) of Seikatsu Club in Japan for the Japanese translation.

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