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Solidarity Economy

Solidarity Economy is a form of production, consumption and wealth distribution (economy) centered on human beings appreciation and not on capital.

 

Despite Brazil’spotentialities and resources, there are many indicators that reveal a situation of inequality and social exclusion, in which most Brazilians are unemployed, have precarious working conditions or are not qualified to seek for better opportunities.

For decades, many sectors of society call attention to the need of reviewing production relationships, as well as consumption and work organization, aiming at recognizing the integral value of human beings and the environment, rather than overvaluing financial capital.

In the perspective of fair societies, the Solidarity Economy movement has gained strength as one of the alternatives in response to the economic and employment crisis, as well as to facing social and environmental instabilities. The importance of promoting solidarity economy enterprises is confirmed with the creation of the Solidarity Economy National Secretariat (SENS) by the Brazilian government in June 2003. It is connected to the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MLE), which has been promoting Solidarity Economy in Brazil. In parallel, municipal governments also created other Programs and Departments that foster Solidarity Economy, such as the municipal government of Sao Carlos that created the Department of Solidarity Economy Support, connected to the Municipal Secretariat of Sustainable Development, Science and Technology, which has been working for two legislative periods.

 

One brief definition of Solidarity Economy, according to professor Paul Singer, current national secretary of Solidarity Economy, is that it is: “(…) a set of economic activities – production, distribution, consumption, savings and credit – organized in self-managed ways, that is, by capital collective property and democratic participation (one head, one vote) in the decisions of the members from entity that promotes activities”¹. (Economia Solidária em desenvolvimento, 2003).

In general, Solidarity Economy constitutes another economy in relation to Capitalist Economy, mainly as a possibility of generating work and income for excluded segments of society and also as another way of social and cultural production and organization. Solidarity Economy has as fundamental values: members’ voluntary and clarified admission, democratic participation in decisive processes, self-management, cooperation, intercooperation, human development promotion, solidarity, concern about nature, concern about the community, the production and ethical consumption. In contrast, Capitalist Economy, the dominant way of production and work organization, has as central characteristic the distinction between who is the owner of production or service delivery means (or controls these means), that is, who owns the capital and who works producing or serving. The effects of this type of work and production organization are, in general, social inequality and exclusion of broad social segments, not only from work market, but also from minimal conditions of life and citizenship.

The most well-known type of solidary enterprise is the cooperative. However, not all cooperatives are, in fact, guided by these principles. Some of them are just arrangements to benefit from special conditions (for instance, the employer does not have to pay social contributions), exploring workers and showing precarious working conditions worse than in formal jobs. These are commonly known as fake cooperatives. It is important to draw a dividing line between cooperativism based on Solidarity Economy and the agroindustry traditional cooperativism. On the other hand, cooperative enterprises that, even without meeting the requirements of the outdated law that is in effect according to the Brazilian constitution for cooperatives (for example, minimum of 20 associates), are organized in accordance with the principles and characteristics of Solidarity Economy, are considered part of thisfield of human activity. Currently, new laws for cooperativism are in debate in society and in the responsible instances.

In the past years, Solidarity Economy has been identified as a movement that has the participation of several instances of civil society and government organization, support institutions, besides the enterprises that present essentially popular basis. In the recent Solidarity Economy mapping, these enterprises total 14.954 initiatives distributed in 2.274 Brazilian cities, 14% of them are in the southeast region of the country².

 

 

 

 

Solidarity Economy had a great boost after the World Social Forum that took place in Porto Alegre in 2003. From that moment on, the basis of this movement was constituted by the creation of Solidarity Economy Municipal, State, Regional and Brazilian Forums. These organizations are also part of the movement: Public Centers of Reference in Solidarity Economy; support association and institutions as Unisol (CUT), Cáritas, Fase, Anteag;University Incubators Network of Popular Cooperatives (University Network of TIPC and Unitrabalho) and others.

 

¹MINISTERIO DO TRABALHO E EMPREGO. "Economia Solidária em desenvolvimento". Brasília: MTE, SENAES, 2003.

² MINISTERIO DO TRABALHO E EMPREGO. Atlas da Economia Solidária no Brasil 2005. Brasília, DF: MTE / SENAES, 2006.