U.S. Solidarity Economy Network Forum

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March 22, 2009 by Jason Brown

Hey Mormon Workers! I just got back from the US Forum on Solidarity Economy; hosted at the Center for Popular Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The conference was four days of wonderful talks, tours, and workshops on all the inner workings of the Solidarity Economy Concept. Though an exact definition remains uncomfortably nebulous; everyone can pretty much agree that imagining a more just, compassionate and equitable economy should not be too difficult.  A Solidarity Economy seeks to build on the values of cooperation, equity, justice, and compassion and tame the utility maximizing behemoth of Global Capitalism. Though the alternatives were pragmatic, the theoretical critique is sophisticated and has been developed over the past several decades in France, Quebec, and Latin America. The participants represented a broad range of political affiliations, economic ideology, and institutional strategy. Worker-Owned Cooperatives, Community Land Trusts, Credit Unions, and building a strong social and environmental movement were at the forefront of proposed actions and alternatives; but there is much debate about what the endpoint might look like. Can a Solidarity Economy be achieved by reform, and if so, would it take the shape of a repentant form of Capitalism? Or is capitalism so fundamentally flawed that an entirely new economy must be invented to replace the old one through? There was vibrant and passionate discussion about all of these issues and many wonderful current alternatives were articulated and highlighted.

In addition, many members of Hugo Chavez’ so-called Bolivarian Revolutionary Socialist Movement were present, highlighting the virtues of what is being called “Socialism for the 21st Century.”  Despite criticism of Chavez’ increasingly heavy political hand, much praise has been given to the government’s efforts to promote worker-owned cooperatives which have received lavish funding under Chavez. Another element of the Chavez model which seems to differ from state socialist models is the concept of “Popular Power” through empowering Communal Councils to participate in municipal budgeting. Participatory budgeting, though not immune form political intrigue and party sectarianism, has allowed Communal Councils (neighborhood size districts of 200-300 families) to apply for federal funding for community-based enterprise and infrastructure projects. However, besides the Venezuelan model of state heavy socialism, there was little in the way of political alternatives proposed. Much praise was given to the above mentioned institutions, Latin American Populism and Social Movements such as Brazil’s Movimento Sem Terra (MST) and the Argentine Recuperated Factory Movement.

The mood at the conference was very optimistic with the recent regime change in the US, and the potential for the economic crisis to shake things loose enough to actually allow some of these proposed institutions to flourish.

Below are some of the resources that I picked up at the conference.

www.berkshares.org Local Currency

www.cdi.coop Cooperative Development Center, MA

www.cdsus.coop –Cooperative Development Services

www.clcr.org –Center for Labor and Community Research

www.commongoodbanks.com –Common Good Banks

www.conservationeconomy.net –Conservation Economy (part of Eco-Trust)

www.coopfund.coop Cooperative Fund of New England

www.coophousing.org –National Association of Housing Cooperatives

www.cooplife.coop –Cooperative Life (New England)

www.cooppower.coop –Coop Power

www.equalexchange.com  –Equal Exchange F.T. Co-op

www.ethicalmarkets.com –Ethical Markets

www.fabricasrecuperadas.org.ar –Fabricas Recuperadas Argentina

www.foodfarmsjobs.org Illinois Organic Food Task Force

www.gaiauniveristy.org Gaia University

www.geo.coop –Grassroots Economic Organizing

www.globaljusticecenter.org, www.justiciaglobal.net  Center for Global Justice (PAR)

www.greenworker.coop –Green Worker Cooperatives (NYC)

www.highlandercenter.org –Highlander Research and Education Center

www.ica.coop – International Cooperative Alliance

www.jubilee4justice.org –Jubilee Economics Ministries

www.livingeconomies.org –BALLE Business Alliance for local living economies

www.mondragon.mcc.es –Mondragon Cooperative

www.nasco.coop –North American Students of Cooperation

www.natfed.org – National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions

www.ncba.coop –National Cooperative Business Alliance

www.ncdf.coop –North Country Cooperative Development Fund

www.ncfc.org –National Council of Farmer Cooperatives

 www.nwcdc.coop –Northwest Cooperative Development Center

www.onthecommons.org The Tomales Bay Institute

www.parecon.org –Participatory Economics

www.populareconomics.org –Center for Popular Economics

www.priven.org Prout Research Institute of Venezuela

www.prout.org

www.proutinstitute.org Prout Institute

www.ripessla.net , www.lux09.lu RIPESS International organization of Social Solidarity Economies  

www.sabbatheconomics.org –The Sabbath Economics Collaborative

www.thetake.org –The Take Documentary and resources

www.ussen.org –US Solidarity Economy Network

www.usworker.coop –US Federation of Worker-owned Cooperatives

www.uwcc.wisc.edu –University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives

www.valleyworker.org Valley alliance of Worker Cooperatives, MA

www.vclt.org The Valley Community Land Trust Greenfield, MA

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