Mercosur's past, present, and future in a developing region

As well as announcing new postings and preparing for the 2015 Work Plan, CICOPA Mercosur is launching a new website with the aim of it becoming a regional reference point for the dissemination, promotion and advocacy of worker cooperatives.

11 December 2014

As a regional arm of CICOPA the organisation is itself the fruit of a former initiative: the Southern Network Project, led since 2009 by some of the region’s national Federations, with the support of COSPE (Italy) and other NGOs such as NEXUS, ISCOS and CIDEAL.

The aim of the Network Project was to work towards the consolidation of economic, social and political democracy in the region, promoting the organisations which together make up Mercosur’s Social and Solidarity-based Economy.

Two years on from the inception of the organisation its legacy continues. Worker cooperatives operating in diverse sectors regularly meet, giving them the opportunity to explore and put into practice a number of cooperative initiatives across the region, unrestricted by borders. The exchanges also give them the opportunity to learn about the different ways countries organise themselves structurally: how different sectors use boards or networks, or create federations according to the main areas they operate in.

Mercosur announced new postings to their board at the III Cooperative Summit of the Americas on 4th November (see article, III Cumbre de Cooperativas de las Américas: qué el mundo sea la cooperativa de todos, or III Cooperative Summit of the Americas: a cooperative world for all, in English) and are currently working on a new work plan for 2015.

The plan will address Mercosur’s challenge to ramp up the dissemination and development of cooperativism across the continent, reinforcing links with organisations currently in development in Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, and Ecuador amongst others. It will also reinforce their firm commitment to keep up momentum in terms of sharing experiences and information (facilitated by the Technical Office in Montevideo): to do so they have arranged working groups relating to communications; legal requirements; management experts; and a working group on finance schemes. They are also exploring the possibility of developing a certification system and a regional ‘brand’, at the same time as keeping their commitment to support and identify possibilities for regional inter-cooperative initiatives that could emerge from the different bodies they represent.

Perhaps the most powerful aim is still the ongoing need to encourage critical reflection on the changes that must be made on a national, regional and global scale: to guarantee a future of more equitable development for the whole of mankind. In the words of the former CICOPA Mercosur president, José Orbaiceta, "a cooperative world for all".

Past, present, and future in a developing region

CICOPA Mercosur was established in 2012 as a response to the need to bolster local and regional cooperative activities. It came from a context of political change in which the neoliberal model prevalent throughout the 90s had collapsed. The region’s new progressive governments found an alliance with social economies – especially worker cooperatives – recognising that this was a type of development with an emphasis on creating and distributing employment and wealth at a local level.

Although there is a long history of worker cooperatives in the region, dating back to the start of the 1900s when workers began to organise workers’ movements, the true boom in worker cooperatives came about at the end of the 1900s. The movement exploded in resistance to growing unemployment provoked by the heavy handed implementation of several policies: the relaxation of labour laws, the introduction of outsourcing, and privatisation, during three decades of military regimes.

It was then that workers began their well-documented takeovers of businesses, during a period of major crisis on all levels: socially (poverty reached unprecedented levels of almost 50%); economically (GDP fell by almost 50%); and politically (governments were unable to sustain themselves any longer than a few days).

The start of the new millennium saw changes in the region’s political parties and governments, with the new progressive authorities shifting away from long standing approaches to counter-cyclical policies, along with strong investment in social capital which had been so heavily eroded over the years.

Such policies gave rise to solid beneficial frameworks in terms of sector specific development, namely the creation of new public institutions such as the Secretaría Nacional de Economía Solidaria in Brasil (National Office for a Solidarity-based Economy, in English) in 2003; the Instituto Nacional del Cooperativismo in Uruguay (National Institute of Cooperatives, in English) in 2008; and new programmes and legal mechanisms (Ley de Cooperativas de Trabajo in Brazil (Worker Cooperatives Law, in English) in 2012; the creation of the Fondo de Desarrollo (Development Fund, in English) for self-managing enterprises in Uruguay in 2012; a number of finance and training schemes developed by the Instituto Nacional de Asociativismo y Economía Social en Argentina (National Institute of Associativism and Social Economy in Argentina, in English); an improvement in the regulation of worker cooperatives in Paraguay since the creation of the Decretos de INCOOP 7110 (INCOOP 7110 Decrees, in English); and the improvement in access to social security for members since the passing of Law 4933 in 2013; Law 26.684 (a reform of Argentina’s Ley de Quiebras, or Bankruptcy Law in English, in 2011).

The cooperatives themselves have also made major advances in the sector’s structural organisation, consolidating national representative bodies such as Argentina’s Confederación Nacional de Cooperativas de Trabajo/CNCT (National Confederation of Worker Cooperatives, in English) which brings together more than 30 cooperative worker federations from across the country.

Worker cooperatives in Latin America’s Mercosur region continue to show strong growth (both in terms of the number of enterprises involved, and the level of public visibility) reaching a total of over 20,000 enterprises and 350,000 workers.

Although the speed of growth varies between countries, the growing phenomenon of the development of social and solidarity-based economies is shared by the four founding countries of the regional bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay). The phenomenon is tied to the different social, economic, and political processes taking place in the region and there is little doubt that it relies on a strong relationship with the range of new public policies adopted by the majority of the bloc governments.

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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