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The Solidarity Economy: Towards a people-driven economy

 

South Africa, 21 June 2017

Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET) introduced the concept of the Solidarity Economy to the informal trader organizations that we work with, in 2012. The Solidarity Economy is a key theme of our work with informal traders. One of the key achievements of our work on the Solidarity Economy is the formation of 11 women’s worker cooperatives and a women’s business association in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, comprising women informal traders, in 2014. We are currently building capacity in these cooperatives that will enable women to run productive collective enterprises. We are also providing political education to the women’s cooperatives in order to raise critical consciousness of the structural causes of poverty, unemployment, precarious work, and gender-based violence. We have also been encouraging informal trader organizations to form bulk-buying and saving and credit cooperatives that are operated by informal traders themselves.

 

While the Solidarity Economy cannot resolve all the problems of the mainstream capitalist economy, it does provide a platform for building an alternative economic culture to the neoliberal capitalist culture of aggressive competitiveness, individualism and insatiable profit-making, resulting in the commodification of human needs. A Solidarity Economy approach to economic activity promotes solidarity between producers/workers and consumers, inclusive economic development, social cohesion, collective and democratic management of enterprises, and self-reliance.

 

We consulted with a wide array of organizations in Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia, and South Africa about how to build a solidarity economy movement in the SADC region, between March 2017 and May 2017. The organizations included cooperatives, informal trader organizations, youth organizations, trade unions, church organizations, small-scale farmers’ organizations and other support organizations or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The objective of the consultation meetings was to set in motion a sufficiently inclusive process to promote the solidarity economy and build a grassroots movement in the above-mentioned four countries through collective action and systematic political education. The meetings were preceded by several one-on-one interactions with informal trader leaders aimed at soliciting the support of their organizations and assistance in planning the consultation meetings.

 

The chief outcome of the consultation meetings was the establishment of coordinating committees in each of the four countries to facilitate ongoing engagements between the organizations that participated in the meetings, and to coordinate the production of action plans and their implementation. The action plans will guide the movement-building process in the different countries.

 

Some of the salient issues raised in the discussions were that the Solidarity Economy promotes new networks of production, consumption and finance based on popular ownership, and it fosters self-reliance. Most of the participants expressed the need to ground their organizational practices in the values (co-ownership, self-management, participatory democracy, money for needs not profits, etc.) and principles (caring, sharing, self-reliance, honesty, equality, etc.) of the Solidarity Economy. They also agreed on the need to build alliances of solidarity between marginalized social actors in their different countries, and to connect various social struggles in their plans of action.

 

ESSET will organize a meeting for members of the coordinating committees, in June 2017, to discuss the idea of forming a regional Solidarity Economy Network, among other things. The regional Solidarity Economy Network will be a platform for information-sharing, consultation, strategizing and reflection. In other words, the network will connect the discourses and actions of the participating organizations in the different countries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Solidarity Economy Networ