CICOPA Americas: Reaffirming cooperatives' role in the sustainable development of the planet

The III Cooperative Summit of the Americas will be held in Cartagena, Colombia, from 3-7 November. It will be the II gathering of the General Assembly of CICOPA-Americas since the restructure of the organisation. The focus of the summit will be a call to strengthen our commitment to the active role cooperatives can play in a globalised world seeking sustainable development, and it will also provide a forum for reflection and evaluation.

16 October 2014

Cooperatives of the Americas have proposed a series of themes for the summit, summed up by the slogan: "Integration for social change". Working with four core concepts, organisers have invited preliminary reflections from those representing organisations at a national level, and also from different sectoral organisations across the continent.

The situation the planet and humanity finds itself in has been highlighted by worker cooperatives.
At a global level, we are at a crossroads: there is now an urgent need for the world’s cooperatives to take decisive action and bring their values and practices to the wider world, above all democracy and solidarity. The figures cooperatives highlight speak for the shocking reality of the growing concentration of wealth: whilst over the last 10 years global wealth has increased by 68%, 4 billion people must survive on less than two dollars per day (UNDP) whilst the richest 1% accumulates almost half of total global wealth.

Making a case to change the global hegemonic model, CICOPA-Americas proposes a continent-wide definition for cooperatives: "Cooperative members and our organisations are an essential part of that construction: we came into being as a response to capital greed, willing to fight against it through the creation of alternative economies. And until now, in a sense, we’ve been like an ambulance picking up the casualties left behind by capitalism. We’ve grown, in spite of being in often hostile environments, and along the way we’ve come up with solutions, how to have a democratic economy in the service of the people.

Worker cooperatives in the Americas have demonstrated that if a different type of economics is practised at a business level, one in which the enterprise makes transparent and regular contributions to the society in which is operating, inconceivable qualitative changes are indeed possible. It demands a shift from an inward, self-centred perspective to taking action from the viewpoint of the business or movement. Cooperatives across the world have a responsibility to demonstrate to the rest of the world that there is a viable business and economic alternative with the potential to change the planet.

But such transformative actions can’t be taken lightly. This is not just a question of making decisions and coming up with catchy slogans. It is an ongoing power struggle between those who prop up, and benefit from, hegemonic structures and their expansion, and those of us who seek a democratic and united alternative at a global level. The backbone of the strategy is the construction of Solidarity Density. There are three aspects of its development: 1) an increase in membership,
2) integration at a political and institutional level, and 3) economic integration.

Amongst other things, CICOPA-Americas proposes a more frugal approach to their own events, instead prioritising active participation from cooperatives on the ground, especially the smaller organisations, and working on ways to solve the identity crisis faced by those cooperatives operating on the outside as capital societies.

The III Cooperative Summit of the Americas will be organised into four main conceptual themes as drawn up by CICOPA-Americas:

Concept 1: Integration and Social Cohesion

CICOPA-Americas proposes that the cooperative movement in the Americas makes a determined effort in coordinating actions and developing agreements amongst a diversity of social movements, all sharing common preoccupations and a common aspiration for change. In conjunction with the social and solidarity economy movement pioneered by cooperatives, the proposal is to also strengthen links and alliances with the labour movement, student movement, cultural movements, institutes for innovation and the development of knowledge, and organisations representing SMEs. "We can organise more equitable social markets and have production chains dictated by the products and services consumed by the population. With us, people power the economy." We must develop strategic alliances with other States, recognising that they themselves are an expression of a conflict of interests within our societies, and that not all governments share the aspiration of liberty that we, as democratic organisations, have. Cooperatives across the continent show, through their diverse experiences, that they are a powerful tool for inclusion and social cohesion, with the ability to tackle work issues and meet a good many human needs through democratic organisations. Whilst the State is committed to its own promotion and development without affecting its autonomy, these projects are powerful tools for the construction of civic responsibility.

Concept 2: Innovation for Social Transformation

In order to achieve social transformation, as put forward by our continent’s worker cooperatives, we need new cooperative models, functioning in networks, economic groups, and inter-cooperative associations. We need to develop alternatives that allow us to operate in markets, deepening our cooperative identity. "It’s about developing an upper level of organisation in the movement, going beyond trade. It’s about creating increasingly wider economic channels – led, or appropriated by, cooperative organisations following the principles of a solidarity economy."

"It shouldn’t be assumed that the only option cooperatives have in the face of competitive market pressures is to adapt, at the risk of sacrificing identity and values. Cooperative management and organisational models must adapt to the micro-economic and market reality in order to survive and develop. The movement must establish objectives, strategies and tools for the transformation of society in terms of bringing it in line with its values and principles."

Amongst the challenges outlined under the umbrella of innovation for social transformation, it is also important to note the fundamental role CICOPA-Americas assigns to the construction of subjectivity. Where possible, the strategy is to take some of the space occupied by the mass media, and reflect on the innovations needed to improve communications whilst remaining faithful to the democratic principles of SSE. It is also important to: "deepen reciprocal learning by comparing experiences (cooperative benchmarking), improving the process of sharing knowledge about particular cases, etc.”

Concept 3: Growth, Internationalisation and Identity

CICOPA-Americas proposes the expansion of cooperative internationalisation efforts. This activity is part of our construction of power. However, the ways in which such initiatives are developed are not neutral. A determined effort needs to be made for countries to work towards ways of internationalisation which respect cooperative principles, whilst strengthening development and solidarity at the same time. “Cooperatives, by virtue of the surroundings in which they were conceived, have unique and particular characteristics which must not be undervalued. Quite the the opposite, they should be looked towards as models for integration. Globalisation has brought about integration by way of the standardisation of social relationships – we instead must propose integration from a perspective of plurality and difference. With respect for one another and a common aim towards mutual growth, it is possible to take control of value chains."

Concept 4: New Society and a Cooperative Future

Time and again, humanity seems to drown itself in a combination of local and global conflicts, in spite of the development of human knowledge. Such conflicts are only comprehensible if we see them as highlighting the interests of those (not very well) hidden behind false, immaterial demands. In such a setting, these asymmetries are shrouded in a fragmentation of conflicts, objectives, interests, and national and religious standpoints, that hide the minimal capability the planet’s citizens have to define a shared destiny.

Ever stronger monopolies, with global reach, are defining the destinies of the planet and humanity within nation states and spaces for international articulation. Cooperatives must understand their role in the world and come to terms with the fact that at present we are facing a power struggle of a planetary scale.

We either achieve unity in political and economic action, or we face up to surrendering our flags of equality, democracy, fairness, mutual assistance and solidarity.

International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and
Service Producers' Cooperatives

Secretariat: C/O European Cooperative House - avenue Milcamps 105
1030 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 2 543 1033, fax: +32 2 543 1037
E-mail: cicopa[at]

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