Feb 8, 2005 | IPS
GN3 Editorial Comment: Many initiatives
around the world are seeking to reform the way the
economy is organized and run. These solidarity
(otherwise called social, compassionate, or people's)
economies are pointing towards alternative approaches
that build on inclusivity while meeting real economic
needs. The article below describes local efforts in
Argentina that are trying to scale-up and build a
local "caring economy" that maximizes solidarity
instead of profit.
BUENOS AIRES - A solidarity economy is being built by
thousands of workers in Argentina, in rural
cooperatives, worker-run factories and small
businesses linked by networks.
Now trade unions, universities and social, political
and student organisations are calling on the various
initiatives in the solidarity or social economy to
come together to debate projects that would build on
past experiences, as an alternative to the prevailing
economic model that they say marginalises large
sectors of the population.
In Argentina, there are many examples of organisations
involved in economic activities whose chief aim is not
maximising profits, and which have horizontal
structures and are run in a democratic, participatory
In fact, such examples "have existed in the country
for over 100 years," states a report by the Central de
Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA) central trade union.
Added to the "traditional cooperatives, mutual
societies and other forms of association are
microenterprises that operate on the basis of
solidarity, joint purchases and many other
alternatives that form part of the popular economy,"
the report adds.
After Argentina's late 2001 financial, economic and
political collapse that triggered the worst depression
in Argentine history, poverty and unemployment soared
and solidarity economy initiatives mushroomed.
These have included regional cooperatives of small
farmers, bankrupt factories that were abandoned or
closed by their owners and reopened by their
employees, self-managed companies, communities that
have come together to find solutions to meet basic
needs like health care, housing or food, and barter
networks whose members trade goods and services.
"The social economy changes the rules of the game,
which only seek to maximise the benefits for a few
based on the accumulation of capital, while it
attempts to improve the living conditions of workers
and their families based on getting needs met through
cooperation, solidarity and self-management," said
Soraya Giraldez with the CTA's Studies and Training
"These experiences mark the possibility of advancing
towards new forms of distribution of wealth," she told
Social economy initiatives find innovative ways of
meeting people's needs, give participants experience
in organising, and in some cases question key aspects
of the current economic model, by putting the means of
production in the hands of workers, for example.
The CTA and other institutions are attempting to
create mechanisms and tools for providing technical
assistance, training and support for solidarity
economy projects, while providing advice for setting
up trade and cooperative networks.
Working alongside the CTA in this effort are the
universities of Buenos Aires, La Plata and General
Sarmiento, the Instituto Movilizador de Fondos
Cooperativos, the Federación Agraria Argentina, the
Centro Nueva Tierra, the local committee of the World
Social Forum and a large number of non-governmental
These organisations are also helping the left-leaning
government of Néstor Kirchner to draw up work-fare
schemes for the unemployed.
In addition, they are backing workers in recuperated
factories in their struggle to obtain support from the
public and private sectors.
But the overall aim of these organisations is to
create links between the myriad initiatives, to help
them avoid isolation and to bring them together in a
unified political and social project.
So far, more than 20 productive and service endeavours
in Greater Buenos Aires have provided information on
their experiences, in order to set up a databank to
create links and facilitate communication.
For the CTA, it is essential to forge a space in the
IEF for offering training and technical advice to the
various projects, and to help facilitate networking
and exchange among themselves.
One key challenge is to identify obstacles to the
social economy, which usually involve legal aspects or
vacuums, since these projects create new forms of
association. Other problems arise from tax and credit
Matters on which the CTA and other organisations want
to focus their efforts are access to soft credit, the
recovery of companies that have gone under and public
spaces that have fallen into disuse, and the creation
of sales networks without middlemen.
The CTA also believes the state's commitment must go
beyond welfare, and should be based on spending aimed
at bolstering certain industries and reactivating
"The social economy is not an economy of poverty," but
an initiative that requires participation by the
state, "which must adopt measures that tend to reduce
the accumulation of capital in the dominant sectors of
society," argued Giraldez.
She pointed out that "until José Martínez de Hoz
arrived in the Economy Ministry (with the 1976 coup
d'etat that ushered in seven years of military
dictatorship), there were more than 200 solidarity
banks in Argentina, and there are practically none
According to the CTA, "the effects of the model of
exclusion" that has been applied in Argentina are not
only reflected in appalling socioeconomic indicators,
but there has also been a disturbing disintegration of
the social fabric.
Sixty percent of wage-earners cannot afford the
minimum basket of goods and services for a family of
four, and 250,000 have fallen into extreme poverty,
which means they cannot even meet their families' food
According to the National Institute of Statistics and
Census, 44 percent of Argentina's 37 million people
are poor, while 17 percent live in extreme poverty.
The richest 20 percent of the population receives 53.1
percent of all income, the middle 40 percent takes
34.7 percent, while the remaining 40 percent only
takes in 12.2 percent.
According to Giraldez, "a political actor must emerge
that is capable of generating proposals and has the
power to press for and achieve its objectives. In
other words, a collective that can bring about
Social economy projects are emerging in many countries
of Latin America, especially Venezuela and Brazil --
both of which are governed by leftist administrations
-- and Argentina should create links with these
initiatives, she added.
With respect to access to small loans from abroad,
Giraldez said that "if funds arrive, they will be
useful to the extent that the conditions are created
for the projects to become self-sustaining."
She also pointed out that not all social economy
initiatives can cater to foreign markets, due to the
difficulty of competing with large companies.
For that reason, said Giraldez, one of the keys to
success is strengthening the domestic market, still
depressed by high under- and unemployment, which
affect 5.5 million people, or nearly one-third of the
economically active population of 16.8 million.