The Catalan Integral Cooperatives …

The Simpler Way revolution is well underway!

Ted Trainer

28.6.2015

 

This is an extremely inspiring movement in Spain, now involving about 900 people in what I regard as a marvelous example of the TSW transition strategy … which is primarily about going underneath the conventional economy to build our own new Economy B whereby we organize collectively to meet community needs, turning our backs on, and undermining, the capitalist system. 

 

Before looking at some detail, consider this extract:

The Barcelona headquarters of the Catalan Integral Cooperative since February 2012 ---  past the sliding glass doors and the reception desk is a hallway where products made by members are on display—soaps, children's clothes, wooden toys and bird feeders, a solar-powered reflective cooker. There are brochures for a hostel and wellness center…. Beyond, there is a small library, a Bitcoin ATM, and offices used by some of the 75 people who receive stipends for the work they do to keep the CIC running. On certain days, Aurea Social hosts a market with produce fresh from the Catalan Supply Center … the distribution warehouse in a town an hour or so to the south, which provides this and the cooperative's other markets throughout the region with about 4,500 pounds of goods each month, most of which come from the cooperative's farmers and producers.

Each of the enterprises … operates more or less independently while being, to varying degrees, linked to the CIC. At last count, the CIC consisted of 674 different projects spread across Catalonia, with 954 people working on them. The CIC provides these projects a legal umbrella, as far as taxes and incorporation are concerned, and their members trade with one another using their own social currency, called ecos. They share health workers, legal experts, software developers, scientists, and babysitters. They finance one another with the CIC's $438,000 annual budget, a crowd funding platform, and an interest-free investment bank called Casx. … To be part of the CIC, projects need to be managed by consensus and to follow certain basic principles like transparency and sustainability. Once the assembly admits a new project, its income runs through the CIC accounting office, where a portion goes toward funding the shared infrastructure. Any participant can benefit from the services and help decide how the common pool is used.

Affiliates can choose to live in an affiliated block of apartments in Barcelona, or at Lung Ta, a farming commune with tepees and yurts and stone circles and horses, where residents organize themselves into "families" …

 

The CIC’s stated objective is “…to generate a self-managed free society outside law, State control, and the rules of the capitalist market.” It is focused on collective self-sufficiency… people organising their existing resources to meet their collective needs, independently of the mainstream economy. “The priority is to arrange for necessities: food from farmers, housing in squats and communes, health care by natural and affordable means.

Activities include “… consumer and labour initiatives such as education, mechanisms to create a cooperative basic income, eco-stores, collective stores, meetings and events, and a legal structure to help the formation of eco-networks and other similar projects in Catalonia." “People associated with the Cooperative cover many of their basic needs, brings together various eco-networks that function throughout Catalonia, connecting them and providing a legal structure.

In Spanish the term “integral” means holistic, complete. Thus these cooperatives are not focused on single issues but at concerned with “every single facet of life.”

Stated principles, and practices.

Note that this not just a list of future goals or ideals, it is mostly a list of practices and structures that they have built and that are functioning today.

General:

Concern for common good and for one’s own good.

Getting rid of materialism.

Cooperation and solidarity in social transformation.

Day-to-day social transformation and getting closer to making utopia a reality.

Direct relation between practical action and theorization.

Inclusive and cooperative ways, encompassing the whole of society.

Social justice, equity, diversity.

Self-realization and mutual support.

Addressing the needs of people primarily (i.e., as distinct from enabling individual prosperity or economic growth…)

Everyone contributing according to their means.

Non-material living standards. Sufficiency. “Not seeking accumulation as an end.”

Economics.

Encouraging non-monetary forms of exchange, including “free economy, direct exchange, communal economy”.

Establishing economic relations between producers and consumers: the cooperative regulates the estimation of fair prices based on their costs, its own needs and those of the consumers.

The cooperative informs the producers of consumer needs to regulate production.

Thus social control over their economy, deciding, planning setting up systems to meet community needs.

A local currency, the ECO, which can not be converted into euros. ”Accounting takes place both in euros and in ecos, the CIC's native currency. A simple mutual-credit network. Anybody with one of the more than 2,200 accounts can log in to the web interface of the Community Exchange System, see everyone else's balances, and transfer ecos from one account to another.”  The currency is not just a medium of exchange; it's a measure of the CIC's independence from capitalism."

There is a “Social Currency Monitoring Commission, whose job it is to contact members not making many transactions and to help them figure out how they can meet more of their needs within the system.

Interest is non-existent … No interest is paid on loans.

De-growth and sustainability, permaculture.

“Collective ownership of resources to generate common goods.  The collectivization of lands by means of cooperative purchase, or by donation from the individual owners.’ (Presumably participants retain their private property, but also “own and control” the collective property.)

 “Developing common properties for the whole CIC, which are managed by a sovereign assembly for every project. … We promote forms of communal property and of cooperative property as formulas that, to us, seem to enhance the self-management and self-organization of individuals, and which provide a great deal of strength to overcome the state and the capitalist system,”

The CIC has “…buying centers (spaces to store the collective purchases that reduce the costs of products by cutting out intermediaries). It owns a collective bus, and is establishing a venture to cater to “… the basic need for housing.”

Anyone associated with the CIC can acquire products and services through a system of virtual community exchange (CES or Community Exchange System) as well as in fairs and barter markets. "I cultivate a garden and I hardly buy any food in euros: I acquire everything I need in the eco-network and through the CIC with the ecos I earn by selling my vegetables," explains Vendrells. Buying within the CIC allows others to live from what they produce. "While many people are excluded from the euro, that’s not the case with social currency because anyone has some abilities that they can offer to people and with that, acquire what they need." Currently they’re working on creating access to health centers through the use of eco.

But these fairs, markets, eco-networks, and the CIC that ties them together are also spaces to share life in. "Going to the markets and the fairs is like recreation, it’s meeting up with friends and family in a spiritual sense," reflects Vendrells. The fairs generally last one day, and are intermittent. In the markets, that occur less frequently, local associations also participate.

Thus the economy is explicitly opposed to the capitalist economy and one determined by market forces.

            Government.

Direct deliberative, participative Democracy.

Self-management and decentralization. No bureaucracy.  Each cooperative project, working commission, eco-network or local group makes its own decisions.  Self organization and self-government of each autonomous project (be they community, productive projects, health nodes, etc.)”

Consensus decision making, in principle. no voting. “The decisions are preferably taken in consensus, to make sure the diversity of the opinions and the cohesion of the group are respected and for the optimal progress of the process. In case of a predicament, the proposal is reformulated until the consensus is reached, thus eliminating the minorities and the majorities. All previous agreements are revocable.”  “…the quality of the agreements is a great success, and there hasn’t been any major decision-making conflict in all these years.

Transparency.

Subsidiarity: deal with issues at the lowest level possible

Self-government via assemblies.

Fortnightly open assemblies.

“Working groups and commissions. Commissions propose actions and fields of work, develop them and present their current states and results during permanent assemblies.”

Spreading the revolution.

“The political project of the CIC includes spreading the model. The members give talks about eco-networks, the cooperative, and social currency in various parts of the country. As a result there are seeds of integrated cooperatives en Basque Country, Madrid as well as in Valencia, where another integrated cooperative, Amalur, has been functioning since 2010. In Valencia, La Madrágora association has been organizing practical workshops on what the Integrated Cooperative is, and how to create one."  In other regions of Spain and France examples of this kind of cooperative are being set up, following the CIC lead.

 To repeat, the CIC is “…an activism for the construction of alternatives to capitalism.”  "We can live without capitalism. We can be the change that we want!" “The idea is “… to help people out and radicalize them at the same time.”

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An example.

Aurea Social is one of hundreds of projects sprouting up under ‘la Cooperativa Integral Catalana’ or CIC, a sprawling, work-in-progress experiment in building alternatives to capitalism. My visit there was to meet some members including one of their number willing to translate a planned internet call with Duran, the man whose civil disobedience helped it all happen.”

"Barcelona’s Aurea Social seems too posh a place from which to plot a global revolution, let alone bring it into being. Less so when you find its occupants are under imminent threat of eviction. Tucked away near the towering spires of Gaudi’s Sagrada Família, the premises carry all the trappings of their intended design as an upmarket health clinic. The previous owners gave the keys to the cooperative before defaulting on their loans.”

“So, while there is plenty of yoga on offer, the classes are open to all and jostle for space with fresh produce deliveries, film and theatre nights, health clinics, political meetings and much else.”

“Carolina Zerpa, a Venezuelan mechanical engineering graduate, is busy sorting fresh vegetable trays in the foyer as I arrive. It’s part of her work, connecting the cooperative’s producers and consumers.”

“Before I know it, I’ve volunteered to be a journalist embedded in revolutionary construction, helping cook lunch as Carolina explains how the place works.”

“Carolina has been at Aurea Social for sixteen months, coordinating its mosaic of workshops in return for a basic income paid in euros and the cooperative’s alternative eco currency. She brings experience and inspiration from the Trade School in New York, a project where students barter with teachers in return for classes.”

“With nearly six in ten Spanish youth unemployed, bartering for skills offers a precious alternative to piling up student debt with scant prospect of getting paid work at the end. Learning how Aurea Social works is probably as important as the classes themselves.”

“Up on Aurea Social’s roof-garden terrace, with beds of herbs, late-season tomatoes and peppers all around, Gorka, a Basque native who’s spent three years as part of the cooperative, explains the variety and extent of CIC activities. He says they include 400 or so projects to grow or make things, fifteen to twenty community projects and the same again dedicated to trading within Catalonia. Layers of assemblies and working groups coordinate relations between the largely autonomous nodes. Participants fare better or worse depending on how well they grasp skills including self-management, self-organization and ‘direct democracy’ decision making.”

“What makes the CIC something of a cooperative with muscle is the preparedness of members to challenge existing power structures. That might mean illegally occupying buildings and land or pushing the boundaries of laws related to tax, currencies and cooperative legal structures. ‘We don’t accept the limits of the state and the market and the banks. We need disobedience if we want to overcome these limits,” says Gorka."

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