Work Together (Archive)

Worker cooperatives join forces with other organisations to create hubs for collective consumption

20 July 2016

The increase of the cost of a basic basket of goods in Argentina is having an ever greater impact on consumers’ pockets. As a response, worker cooperatives have joined up with other organisations to create collective consumption hubs in several different places. Basic goods such as vegetables, dairy products, or baskets of cleaning products are just some of the goods on offer.

The initiatives, all founded upon principles of food sovereignty, involve a variety of agencies, not just worker cooperatives: trade unions and associations, consumer cooperatives, social organisations, and inter-sectoral committees are all taking part.

The hubs work in different ways according to the region they’re set up in: sometimes taking the form of fairs, in other cases markets, and some provinces have set up round-tables. But one feature unites them all in spite of their differences: they are structured as networks.

In the Argentinian province of Córdoba for example, in the centre of the country, “there are at least four production and selling hubs, within a radius of approximately 100km, allowing goods to be transported at a low cost”, explains Daniel Zammataro, secretary of Acción Social de la Unión de Educadores de la Provincia de Córdoba (UEPC) (Córdoba Province Teachers Union Social Action, in English), one of the groups participating in the hub. “As organisations we must come together to make decisions about what we consume, and have our say in the market. Where food is concerned, big business has turned food into a financial deal”.

“We’ve formed a group called United Unions, made up of six unions who make a ‘deferred salary’ (part of our workers’ net salary is paid in the form of a basic basket of goods) by buying goods: working this way means we can get goods directly from producers to consumers”, explains Gabriel Aguinalde from the city of Laboulaye. “In the last operation around one thousand blocks of hard cheese and 150kg of honey were sold, as well as other foods”.

Patricia Doldan, UEPC General Secretary in the small town of La Carlota tells how “the initiative helps people come together to work on a common goal (…). The results are ideal, we never have leftover goods, everything is sold in each operation”.

In San Francisco, Villa María and Río Cuarto, all cities in Córdoba, similar experiences are being played out. President of consumer cooperative Mercosol de Río Cuarto, José Badellino, explains that they work together with cooperative members of the Federación de Cooperativas de Trabajo del Sur de Córdoba (CTF) (Southern Córdoba Federation of Worker Cooperatives, in English), unions, social organisations, local groups, educational institutions, and others. They now offer a basket of basic goods to be ordered in the first days of each month. “In June we sold 590 units” says Badellino.

In the small city of Villa Mercedes in San Luis province, a market has been set up, based on a regional Villa Merdeces project from the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) (General Work Confederation, in English). According to Luis López, the market’s President, the initiative prevents “not only the abuses taking place against consumers but also against producers”. They started with twenty basic products and now sell almost two thousand products. “We are working like a consumer cooperative”, adds López. “Colleagues even come from other towns in search of our food parcels. We supply between two and three thousand per month”.

Other initiatives are being set up in La Plata, a province of Buenos Aires, where they offer produce from cooperative members from the Federación de Cooperativas de Trabajo de la República Argentina (Fecootra) (Confederation of Worker Cooperatives, Argentina, in English), together with local producers and the Consejo Social de la Universidad Nacional de La Plata (La Plata University Social Council, in English). “We started a month ago and have already supplied over two thousand parcels. One sees the impact of the crisis and realises the need to get organised and offer quality produce at low prices”, says Tulio Halamboure, member of worker cooperative Cimientos.

“These experiences show the need for a joint framework between cooperatives, mutual associations, union and social organisations across the board, because it’s a task that needs to be scaled up”, say Fecootra. “It’s not just about organising consumers, but also about where products end up. The battle is in approaching this organisational leap both quantitatively and qualitatively, turning the initiatives into real hubs of enterprise”.