The Solidarity Economy is a values centred, alternative economy. It is a grassroots economy built by the people, for the people, and the planet; and that is distinct from Capitalism, State Socialism and the Mixed Economy of party political Social Democracy. Most of its values are drawn from the co-operative movement: self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity; but it takes a deeper approach to democracy and is more associated with the inclusive and self management ethos of multi-stakeholder and worker co-operatives then the more passive democracy found in many consumer co-ops.
It rejects consumerism and materialism, but in a positive way, focusing on quality, rather than quantity. It rejects measures of economic well being like GDP, as they drive unsustainable development, fail to register so much of the activity that it values, and gives high value to so much activity it sees as destructive. It includes much of the informal economy, from migrant savings clubs to unpaid child care circles.
It is beginning to be supported by some governments, but practitioners are very wary that reliance on government support can ‘undermine its autonomy, prioritise efficiency over equity, and cultivate institutional or managerial cultures that are more hierarchical and less democratic and inclusive’. SE activists believe that system change is essential and not possible without engaging in political struggles for radical changes to our political, financial and commercial systems. While they have chosen to make economics the focus of their work, they recognise that a ‘Just Transition’ requires close co-ordination and solidarity with other social movements.
A major activity of SE practitioners is the defence and creation of the Commons, taking inspiration from movements like the Libre Software and Creative Commons movements that have driven innovation well beyond the frameworks inherited from the co-operative movement.
There is no consensus as to what role markets should have in a Solidarity Economy. Many focus on approaches that change how producers and consumers relate, be it through the creation of multi-stakeholder co-ops or Community Supported Agriculture schemes. But many believe that markets can be managed to be ethical means of co-ordinating production and consumption like via fair trade supply chains and solidarity markets.
The SE is not a blueprint for the future. It is a ‘movement of movements’ that share values but with many approaches to building alternatives. It’s a place where those constituent movements converge, share, build mutual understanding and begin to co-create the future.