Aurea Social

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"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.

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.

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.

‘People think public means it’s for free but it’s a public cooperative,’ she says. ‘You have to be involved in how this education system is going to work. This is what we are trying to do at Aurea Social.’ That applies to all who cross the threshold – even journalists. She explains: ‘If you want something – get involved. We don’t want to give people the mandarin already peeled. People love to be children and if there’s someone who’s a bit mother like, it’s very easy!’

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." (