Alternative Economy in Catalonia

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Peter de Jong:

"It would be wrong to attribute the rise of alternative economy practices solely to the indignado-momentum. Much of the social infrastructure underpinning these projects dates back to long before 2011.

Ferrán Aguiló, an experienced, silver-bearded cooperativista, currently works as a cooperative consultant. But he has been active within the alternative economy sphere since the early 1990s. While confirming the 15-M effect, he places the current developments within the wider historical dynamics of Catalonia.

“The cooperative movement, which constitutes an important part of the whole of the alternative economy, has been present here for years,” says Aguiló, sitting in the meeting room at Can Batlló, a squatted factory site turned into a flourishing community center. “The neighbourhood of Sants, for example, has an long story of working class struggles and cooperativism stretching back to the early 20th century. These new projects are a result of various factors which have been around the city since the end of the Spanish Civil War.”

He draws a link between the clandestine neighbourhood associations which operated during the Franco dictatorship, though to the Okupa-squatters and, most recently, the indignados. “All these experiences have been consolidated at the level of the neighbourhood, and are now building towards the establishment of a more social economy,” he adds.

During and after the indignado-occupations of the Plaça Catalunya, Aguiló and members of groups such as Coop57, the XES, and the Cooperativa Integral Catalana participated actively in assembly meetings, sharing their experiences with the newest generation of change-minded citizens.

Didac Costa, founder of the Cooperativa Integral Catalana, a grassroots counter-power organization aiming to integrate alternatives in all sectors of the economy, describes their involvement: “Although we did not organize the indignado- protests, we were present at the squares. At the beginning, the 15-M movement achieved huge turnouts, but lacked foundation, substance and continuity. We were there to support the movement as ‘everyday professional revolutionaries’, talking to people about our ideas on the economy, legal issues, and sharing the histories of our own projects”.

When the squares emptied, this process of knowledge exchange continued within the neigbourhoods, in established community spaces such as the civic centers common across the Catalan capital. These continue to be the places in which people become politically active, in which campaigns are designed, debates take place, and new projects are born.

In the case of Som Energia, for example, the Barcelona branch regularly gives presentations on the project in civic centers. They also hold frequent cervezas energeticas (debate sessions among the members of local Som Energiachapters), open opportunities for local groups of co-op socios to discuss their positions on specific strategic issues of the cooperative." (