Sunday, March 22, 2009

US Solidarity Economy Forum

Hey Mormon Workers! I just got back from the US Forum on Solidarity Economy; hosted at the Center for Popular Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The conference was four days of wonderful talks, tours, and workshops on all the inner workings of the Solidarity Economy Concept. Though an exact definition remains uncomfortably nebulous; everyone can pretty much agree that imagining a more just, compassionate and equitable economy should not be too difficult. A Solidarity Economy seeks to build on the values of cooperation, equity, justice, and compassion and tame the utility maximizing behemoth of Global Capitalism. Though the alternatives were pragmatic, the theoretical critique is sophisticated and has been developed over the past several decades in France, Quebec, and Latin America. The participants represented a broad range of political affiliations, economic ideology, and institutional strategy. Worker-Owned Cooperatives, Community Land Trusts, Credit Unions, and building a strong social and environmental movement were at the forefront of proposed actions and alternatives; but there is much debate about what the endpoint might look like. Can a Solidarity Economy be achieved by reform, and if so, would it take the shape of a repentant form of Capitalism? Or is capitalism so fundamentally flawed that an entirely new economy must be invented to replace the old one through? There was vibrant and passionate discussion about all of these issues and many wonderful current alternatives were articulated and highlighted.
In addition, many members of Hugo Chavez' so-called Bolivarian Revolutionary Socialist Movement were present, highlighting the virtues of what is being called "Socialism for the 21st Century." Despite criticism of Chavez' increasingly heavy political hand, much praise has been given to the government’s efforts to promote worker-owned cooperatives which have received lavish funding under Chavez. Another element of the Chavez model which seems to differ from state socialist models is the concept of “Popular Power” through empowering Communal Councils to participate in municipal budgeting. Participatory budgeting, though not immune form political intrigue and party sectarianism, has allowed Communal Councils (neighborhood size districts of 200-300 families) to apply for federal funding for community-based enterprise and infrastructure projects. However, besides the Venezuelan model of state heavy socialism, there was little in the way of political alternatives proposed. Much praise was given to the above mentioned institutions, Latin American Populism and Social Movements such as Brazil’s Movimento Sem Terra (MST) and the Argentine Recuperated Factory Movement.
The mood at the conference was very optimistic with the recent regime change in the US, and the potential for the economic crisis to shake things loose enough to actually allow some of these proposed institutions to flourish.
Below are some of the resources that I picked up at the conference. Local Currency Cooperative Development Center, MA –Cooperative Development Services –Center for Labor and Community Research –Common Good Banks –Conservation Economy (part of Eco-Trust) Cooperative Fund of New England –National Association of Housing Cooperatives –Cooperative Life (New England) –Coop Power –Equal Exchange F.T. Co-op –Ethical Markets –Fabricas Recuperadas Argentina Illinois Organic Food Task Force Gaia University –Grassroots Economic Organizing, Center for Global Justice (PAR) –Green Worker Cooperatives (NYC) –Highlander Research and Education Center – International Cooperative Alliance –Jubilee Economics Ministries –BALLE Business Alliance for local living economies –Mondragon Cooperative –North American Students of Cooperation – National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions –National Cooperative Business Alliance –North Country Cooperative Development Fund –National Council of Farmer Cooperatives –Northwest Cooperative Development Center The Tomales Bay Institute –Participatory Economics –Center for Popular Economics Prout Research Institute of Venezuela Prout Institute , RIPESS International organization of Social Solidarity Economies –The Sabbath Economics Collaborative –The Take Documentary and resources –US Solidarity Economy Network –US Federation of Worker-owned Cooperatives –University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives Valley alliance of Worker Cooperatives, MA The Valley Community Land Trust Greenfield, MA

No comments: