Towards A Solidarity Economy – by Kat Darling

Original published in STIR magazine’s Winter issue, now available here.

Kat Darling of the Solidarity Economy Association introduces the concept at the heart of her organisation, highlights its crucial role in this time of change, and explains how the CTRLshift summit can push forward this progressive agenda.

 

The past year has shown us – aggressively and repeatedly – why we need now, more than ever, to step up and address our society’s problems together. Trump’s inauguration at the start of 2016 in many ways set the tone for the year: the growth in populism, the sense of democratic powerlessness over the UK’s EU referendum result and the triggering of Article 50, the devastating storms around the world and subsequent lack of support given to communities like those in Puerto Rico, for whom the conversation about international aid quickly became about the scale of their national debt.

Whilst many Stir readers are becoming more familiar with the theory behind solidarity economics (see issue 18), it’s clear that it’s time to refocus on the practical things we can do in the UK,  following in the footsteps of our international counterparts to accelerate the transition to a solidarity economy.

What is the solidarity economy? A recap.

The solidarity economy is fundamentally about values. It’s a form of economic activity that embodies true democracy, participation, co-operation, ecological sustainability, and justice for everyone, particularly those marginalised by society. It’s an approach that recognises everything we do to meet our needs – from feeding and housing ourselves to gardening and exercising – is all connected economic activity. This interdependence is important as it is through taking responsibility for how we meet our needs and its impact on others, that we can start to act in solidarity with, rather than in competition against, each other.

The fact that these fundamental values are missing from our current dominant economic system is obvious. If our public institutions truly valued people, would, for example, the decision have been made to ‘economise’  fireproof cladding for the homes where hundreds of residents live? Records even show that Kensington Council made more money from the sale of two houses than they budgeted for cladding on Grenfell Tower.

Solidarity economics also provides us with a framework for approaching transition. In his comprehensive article for this magazine’s January Solidarity Economics issue, Canadian community activist Mike Lewis explained how the solidarity economy approach interacts with  three economic systems — private, public and social — and describes it as a  ‘relatively small circle cutting across all three systems.’ Forging allies across these three systems is vital if solidarity economics is going to be transformational, joining up global actors and movements to shift the economic paradigm.

It’s time for us to recognise the collective power of our movements and collaborate to bring about meaningful change. As author and activist Naomi Klein said in her speech to October’s Labour Party conference, there’s a very clear call to action to see ourselves not as individual organisations or causes, but as a movement of movements, and to collaborate across sectors on an unprecedented scale.

But how can we actually do this?

  • Identify our allies – across sectors, within movements, organisations, and authorities.
  • Appeal to our shared motivations – clearly demonstrate how cross-sector collaboration could help us to meet all our goals together.
  • Show how it can be done – provide practical examples of where shared vision has been achieved through collaboration.
  • Facilitate networks, coalitions, and movements – with a shared agenda and greater capacity for bringing about change.
  • Prepare ourselves for confronting different forms of power, and ‘contest’ each other’s solutions.

This is beginning to happen in some exciting areas, notably on an event to be held in Wigan early next year.  Activists, organisers, commoners, and entrepreneurs will meet at the CTRL-Shift event to develop a shared agenda to shift power over our democracy, economy and environment, from Westminster and multinational corporations, to people and communities across Britain.

There is another important element to consider, though. A lot of the information that exists about the solidarity economy is predominantly aimed at those of us already working in this area, written by and largely for academics, activists, or researchers. It uses language and draws parallels that are meaningful for us, but are often not understood by people who are not engaged in this type of activity.

As a movement we need to be thinking more about how we reach a wider audience, not just in the language we use and the way we frame our arguments, but in the ways we actually do cross-sector collaboration, rooting it in grassroots activity. A great example of this is the website belonging to Solidarity Economy St Louis, a network of individuals and organisations working together under the shared values of a solidarity economy for the city. They share practical examples from their members, like profiling specific food producers, to encourage others to support them. But they clearly show how these individual producers fit within the wider context of their food justice work, and show how an entire network of producers, consumers, educators, organisers and others are creating an alternative food system, which, in turn, is part of a much wider framework for an alternative economic system for the city.

As Mike Lewis points out, solidarity is much more than a concept; in the context of solidarity economics, it is ‘a framework for the co-production of strategies that strengthen the resilience of communities, regions and societies; it is a call to advance the common good together, rather than alone’. This means that if we are truly going to co-create strategies, from the community level to the global, then we need to find ways of communicating the solidarity economy to a broader audience, and to empower everyone across educational boundaries.  

Truly collaborating across movements will not be easy. We all prioritise political and economic causes, and have limited resources, and even sometimes conflicting motivations. But we do have a responsibility to address the things that are holding us back and to show how, by playing an active role in creating a solidarity economy, we have the power as citizens, workers, consumers, and as human beings to create a viable and just alternative.

 

What we can hope to achieve at the CTRLshift summit – by Naresh Giagrande

Co-founder of Transition Town Totnes, and member of our summit steering group, Naresh Giagrande shares his thoughts on what he hopes we can achieve at this crucial event.

We all want the same thing – to create community and real solidarity between very disparate organisations with very different ways of working, and working in very different sectors. And I think we all share the same overarching goals of bringing folks together, working out how to work together and finding a way to gain greater visibility; in other words all the things we have agreed as the aims for this event http://www.ctrlshiftsummit.org.uk/programme/.

I am sure we also all have slightly different emphasis, but enough agreement on what we are wanting to achieve to work together.

However I think we sometimes have very different ideas of how to achieve those ends and what is possible in the 3 days we have together, and how to get the best possible results. I think we also have very different ideas of our starting point (or the starting points of the different organisations and people representing them).

I will set out what I think the tensions are and what I think are the best possible outcomes.

And, by the way, tensions are good, as long as they are out in the open and worked with respectfully, tensions lead to growth and change. They can bring us together. Unexamined, hidden tensions however can pull us apart, or create fertile ground for power plays – which is another way of saying the same thing!

The starting point

I am assuming that virtually everyone attending http://www.ctrlshiftsummit.org.uk/ knows at least enough of some of the issues we are facing to agree that we are needing deep, far reaching systemic change to our social, economic and political systems. Some of us have been working in political arena and some on the economic, and others in various forms of well being. Which will mean we are seeing different aspects of our systemic failures. However, a similar broad brush agreement around systemic change is, I think, enough to take us forward.  One tension I expect, will be some people’s needs to tell stories of the many difficult problems.  Therefore my hunch is not to spend much time on ‘the problems’ but go very quickly to ‘so what are we going to do about it’.

Another tension might be very divergent ideas of what this change might look like and very divergent ideas of where we are headed. For instance to take one area, our economic system. Are we wanting: capitalism 3.0? post capitalism? solidarity economy? – and what do all of these mean anyway? There are probably many different interpretations. We might have some ideas of discerning potentially fruitful ways forward. However ‘the solutions’ are at this stage often speculation, unless they have been tried and tested in real world situations. It is my feeling that time spent discussing theoretical solutions will be largely wasted. However sharing what is working and finding ways to learn from each other should be a centre piece of this summit.  

So what is the best way of using this time together?

Some of the ideas put forward and which we are experiencing other tensions are:

  • Do we concentrate on creating manifestos?
  • Do we discuss barriers to change?
  • Do we focus on content such as discussing why there are so many coops in Italy and so few in the UK and how to change that?
  • Do we discuss the cardinal questions?
  • Do folks tell their story?- to everyone or in smaller groups?
  • Do we try to move together as a group? Or do we accept that there will be competing needs and create a structure that accepts that we will be doing different things at times and coming together at other times to compare and take stock?
  • Do we focus on how to work together, creating common narratives, and finding enough common ground so that a platform is created that we can build on?
  • What is realistic to think we are going achieve over this time?

I would love to do it all but I know this is unrealistic. So what might be the minimum we might achieve that would satisfy us and provide a springboard to further meetings, collaborations and set the ground to find a common voice and ways of working together?

My person feeling is to ensure that we create really good process, rather than fill ourselves up with lots of content. Hence we have not relied on keynote speakers to pull folks in. Instead I feel that those of us attending in an innovative and creative atmosphere will be what is attractive about this summit. We will need some content as a way of seeding – throwing bread on the water – some story telling for instance, and  honouring what has been achieved. This should create enough food for thought to get us inspired and moving.

Then we will focus on building the platform for how to collaborate at this event and beyond

To do this the main activities that will need to attend to are:

1) building relationships  

2) Finding the good ways of working well together.

3) Creating and agreeing common values and maybe even a common narrative.

4) Finding a some quick wins to give us some inspiration and confidence that out of this community of practice  we will create enough synergy and ‘greater than the sum of the parts’ to make the effort worthwhile.

I think the different tensions we have surfaced on how to achieve outcomes, while demonstrating a tremendous lot of good will and each of us holding the bigger picture to not allow our differences and niggles to derail the process, is what is making co-creating a programme so difficult. We just have different ideas of how to get to what I think are common goals and outcomes. So that is another tension we are holding and working with. We are gradually resolving these tensions as we work together. This careful process of attending to and resolving tensions is setting the scene for a successful summit. I  appreciate the care and good will that we are embodying as we create this summit. And I have great hope that whatever comes out of our time together in these three days in Wigan will be transformational for us as individuals and also the organisations we represent.

Naresh Giangrande

Steering group CTRLshift 2018

Meet our new partners

We’re delighted to welcome a whole raft of new partners onboard for CTRLshift: An Emergency Summit for Change. Our fantastic co-organising team have been working non-stop to ensure that the right organisations will be represented in the room at the event in March. Each partner brings a new perspective to the table and will contribute massively to the work taking place.

A selection of our new partners can be found below:

Cooperatives UK Logo

Co-operatives UK is the network for thousands of co-operative businesses worth £36 billion to the economy. Our mission is to grow the co-operative economy and together we work to promote, develop and unite co-operatives across all sectors, from major high street retailers and large agricultural businesses to community owned pubs and credit unions.

Find out more: uk.coop

Real Farming Trust Logo

 

The Fund for Enlightened Agriculture is a project of the Real Farming Trust (RFT) a charity concerned with food sovereignty and sustainable farming (in particular, the practice of agroecology). The mission of RFT  is to enable the growth of farming and food production practices that are economically sound and democratic, socially just, humane to animals, and promote the long-term protection of natural resources. RFT organise the annual Oxford Real Farming Conference each January.

 

Finance Innovation Lab Logo

The Finance Innovation Lab incubates the people, ideas and movements building a financial system that serves people and planet. We work with innovators developing new business models, campaigners calling for change in the rules of the game, and mainstream professionals who want to change finance from the inside.

We’re also grateful for the financial support of the Solidarity Economy Association, Shared Assets, Co-ops UK, Shared Futures CIC and Transition Billinge and Orrel in helping make this event happen!

You can see our full list of partners confirmed to date using the slider below, with more being added every week!

If you want to be involved in this emergent process for change and whatever comes out of it, make sure you book your place at the Summit today.

[smartslider3 slider=5]

Explore The Edge in Wigan

The Edge, Wigan

The Edge is the home of Today’s Community Church, Postcode Coffee House, The Edge Conferencing & The Edge Arena. It’s located right alongside Wigan Pier with easy access to the motorway network of North West England.

The Edge is a contemporary conferencing venue with excellent facilities and a great range of spaces. The name itself invokes strongly the theme of this Summit, where we will be exploring the fertile edge of our civil society.

Wigan Pier is a beautiful regeneration area, situated on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, and alive with fascinating history.

To contact The Edge directly about the venue itself, phone: 01942 244460.

Why Wigan?

When plotting this event, the initial co-convenors were looking for a location in one of the many ‘Brexit Towns’ – those places that voted strongly for Brexit. Our reasoning is and was that many of these represent places left behind. By good fortune, we found that 2017 marked the 80th anniversary of George Orwell’s classic tome, The Road to Wigan Pier, which was itself a journey through the post-industrial heartlands of England.

As it happens, most of those towns and cities Orwell toured through were also core Brexit voting areas which fitted perfectly with out intentions. We held our initial planning meeting with 20 organisations at The Old Courts in Wigan at the end of October 2017. Whilst there we also discovered that Gerrard Winstanley, the initiator of The Diggers Movement, was born and raised in the town, and that there is a thriving Wigan Diggers Festival to this day. His declaration ‘From the poor oppressed people of England’ seems a fitting backdrop to the work we wish to carry out in March 2018, over 400 years after his birth.

CTRLshift: Spread the Word!

CTRLshift: An Emergency Summit for Change

Date: 27-29th March 2018 Venue: Edge Conference Centre / Wigan Old Courts

We are in a time of great uncertainty and unfolding crises

The social, economic and environmental failures of the current system are being cruelly exposed by rising inequality, social division, increasingly precarious and insecure employment, loss of biodiversity, accelerating climate change and the inability of an increasing number of people to meet their basic needs for good food and housing.

Another Britain already exists

Across Britain individuals, organisations and networks are working together to create a future that is inclusive, collaborative, and creates shared benefits. We are creating affordable housing, local food, renewable energy, sustainable transport, and alternative finance systems from the ground up. We have the research and policy proposals, campaigns and participatory processes to support them.

But we lack voice and coordination

Whilst many of the people working for a more participatory, inclusive and sustainable future share a set of values, and are working towards similar goals, our work remains fragmented and siloed. We have yet to demonstrate that we can bring together the different components we are each engaged in to create an alternative sustainable system, and our advocacy and policy work lacks voice and coordination. We struggle to work across identities of class, colour, culture, nationality, gender, politics and religion, even where we share the same values and aspirations for the future.

In the departure from the European Union and its aftermath, there will be unprecedented opportunities to shape and influence the creation and direction of policy in the United Kingdom. Will our collective voice be heard, or will the alternatives we have developed be ignored?

Help us shape a positive post Brexit future

We believe that the best way to effect change is to bring together those working to reform the system with those actively building practical radical alternatives on the ground. We want to bring together activists, organisers, commoners and entrepreneurs to develop a shared agenda to shift power over our democracy, economy and environment, from Westminster and multinational corporations, to people and communities across Britain. By bringing these solutions together and mobilising people for local and regional action we believe we can make ‘taking back control’ a positive reality.

CTRL Shift: An Emergency Summit for Change

Over two and ½ days in March 2018 we will:

    • Share the successes and potential of our movements
    • Identify the opportunities for a power shift towards greater local and regional autonomy
  • Build new coalitions for collaborative and inclusive change

This is long term work – over the two days we can develop new relationships, and identify mechanisms and opportunities to work together more closely. We envisage that this will be the start of a wider process, one of a series of connected events and activities that will work together to create real change. Our departure from the European Union is a moment of significant disruption and presents us with an unparalleled opportunity to reshape the future. We hope you will join us in that effort.

Practicalities and an invitation to get involved

The event will be run on a cost of service / non profit making basis. Attendance to the event will be mainly by invitation, with the intention to bring together an initial group of 200 people with the agency and potential to follow through. If you are interested to get involved, please contact Dan Hurring at: events@permaculture.org.uk

Initial co-organisers include

The Alternative UK, Co-ops UK, Forum for the Future, People’s Food Policy, Shared Assets, Permaculture Association, Solidarity Economy Association, Social Enterprise UK, Stir Magazine, Unltd, Totnes REconomy Project, Transition Network, Shared Futures CIC, Coop Business Consultants, The Low Impact Living Initiative, Counter Coin.

A report from Wigan

By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of The Alternative UK

Have we been here before? Not in a reincarnated but in a cyclical sense: are all our problems the eternal challenges of humans trying to live together and progress? Or are they always new, unique to the moment and accompanied by unprecedented opportunities?

It’s a question – or an accusation maybe – we hear all the time when we express optimism about the times we’re living in. Giving a platform to all the socio-political initiatives we are witnessing in the Daily Alternative – displaying not only creative responses to dire circumstances but also a willingness to co-operate, a liberation of feeling for others – is often met by cynicism. What’s different, people say, from the 60s when ‘anything was possible’? Or the 90s, when ‘everything was attempted’?

But if human beings improve with maturity, surely, we should be able to say the same for our democracy? That doesn’t mean that institutions can only get better, but that society can always know more than it did before about how things fail.

This week we found ourselves plotting with a motley crew of organisations, each with its own network of collaborators. Amongst them members of the Permaculture AssociationTransition Towns, and the P2P Solidarity Co-operatives, who are coming together because they see a new convergence of energies that could shift us meaningfully away from environmental disaster. Not simply groups of people who want to save the world, but new dynamics of power and organisation that might make that possible.

In a nutshell, what they are pointing at is knowledge about alternative ways of growing food and harnessing clean energy matched with newly proven practices of self-reliance and co-operation at a local level. They are on the journey of taking back control – not simply from Europe but from any power, usually national, that is not doing enough to save the planet.

In an otherwise inspirational film, An Inconvenient Sequel, Al Gore was sadly bathetic when he answered the question “what do we ordinary people do to stop the planet warming?’ with “write to your MP”. Surely, Al, they could also devise their own energy policies? Of course, we are not yet at the point where local communities have become independent of the national grid altogether – but even that is now in their sight (and can be a pressure for reform of these larger grids, in a smarter and more equitable direction). With the revolution in communication, organising is much easier than before. And, perhaps more important to the cynics, hard-earned experience means human frailty is less likely to sabotage any group that begins to get it together.

I watched this constellation in process, successfully addressing difficult conundrums such as British versus English identity, why the terms Left and Right can be transcended and how emotions and logic are not opposed. I felt unusually grateful for the history of these movements – a past which nurtured these very-human beings and a future which may see their life-time efforts rewarded.

The most excitement however was reserved for new confluences yet to be tried. What might happen for example, when we bring together the wisdom accrued from Transition Towns and the energies released with the implementation of a Citizens Basic Income? Rather than do CBI trials in random places with no ready-made culture of engagement and inclusion, why not offer it to towns that are ready to receive and create value from people with time suddenly on their hands? That could mean growing vegetables in car parks, but it could also mean new ways to combat loneliness – Transition have thought of these things before.

In the coming age of automation, how might previously hard-working citizens be engrossed in play – not leisure as we know it, but experimentation with new personal and social activity that offers meaning and purpose? Some say it will be a highly entrepreneurial era, creating new markets of all kinds. Others that its highest achievement would be the enlivening of post-industrial communities, where the significant work of re-building social relations is no longer seen as a luxury we can’t afford. In both scenarios, we will begin to think about people in more than economic terms.

If only one of these experiments works well, it would offer an example of resilience that could be copied the world over. Would that not, in itself, begin the important work of countering the dystopian futures our media – and particularly film culture – seem committed to?

This is an editorial from the Alternative Weekly Newsletter (sign up here, and previous newsletters here) which begins to pull together the many strands of socio-political change reported in our Daily Alternative blogs and give some shape to the emerging politics of the future.

Partners

Read about our partners here