Solidarity Economy in Brazil
"Brazil has one of the most advanced solidarity economies in the world, though it has received little media attention outside of Brazil for this, partly because of the language barrier (Portugese).
To give some context, the solidarity economy movement emerged in Brazil when the country was hit by a recession caused by the liberalization of capital markets in the late 90's. Many businesses closed and traditional employment opportunities shrank significantly. Then in 2003, the Brazilian Forum on the Solidarity Economy was established, formalizing the movement. That same year, the Network of Government Policymakers on Solidarity Economy first met and the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy was established under President Lula. In 2004, the first National Meeting of Solidarity Economy Enterprises took place. Today, there are more than 120 local solidarity economy forums and 27 state forums held on a regular basis. Working groups communicate with the forums and government and develop technical plans and operational aspects of the movement.
Here are the values of the solidarity economy, as cited by the National Secretariat of Solidarity Economy of Brazil:
- Democratization of the economic relations
- Co-operation instead of forced competition
- Valuing diversity. Human beings are more important than profits
- Valuing local knowledge, constant learning and training
- Social justice and emancipation
- Protection of the environment
Many networks, associations, forums, governmental entities, and grassroots organizations now exist to support the development of the solidarity economy including community banks, microfinance, complementary currencies, cooperatives, fair trade, and nonprofit enterprises. The list is inspiring and numbers over 22,000 social enterprises,  now mapped online to connect entities, promote to consumers, and develop integrated solidarity economy commerce chains. A large percentage of these entities are cooperative enterprises. The architecture of the movement is large and complex, and according to local activists, emerges mainly from the grassroots while integrating with elaborate government initiatives." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/brazil-blossoms-as-solidarity-economy-beacon)
"I was lucky find a translator who has many contacts within the Brazilian solidarity economy. Through translator Miguel Hirota, I was able to interview Luigi Verardo, a consultant at ANTEAG (National Association of Workers in Self-managing Enterprises). Below is our interview."
"What is the current state of Brazilian Solidarity Economy?
Currently Solidarity Economy is going through a redefinition process. It was built up with a social organization by the people and also with an institution (Brazilian government’s public policies). The relationship between these two entities hasn't fully matured. So there’s a need to work for autonomy and to deepen their characteristics.
- What are some of the most exciting or important recent developments?
Among what has happened recently, the 5th National Plenary of Solidarity Economy (09th to 13th December 2012, at Luziânia, Goiás: see http://e.eita.org.br/vplenaria for the final report in Portuguese) and the 2nd Solidarity Economy Social Forum (11th to 14th July 2013, at Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul).
- What tools do you use to strengthen Solidarity Economy?
The tools to strengthen are: holding plenaries, forum activities, communication between participants, mappings, trainings and funding.
- What are its major accomplishments?
We have many accomplishments.
- Holding and broadening of forums (national forums, state-level forums all over Brazil regional and local forums).
- Having achieved, by way of the petition to the Letter to then President Lula, the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy (SENAES) and appointing the Prof. Paul Singer as its secretary.
- Linking Solidarity Economy with self-management. Defining Solidarity Economy’s principles.
- Having set up a social network and movement beyond political parties.
- Doing activities that combine the policies of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum (FBES) with that of SENAES by way of mapping existing Solidarity Economy practices in Brazil.
- What are its major challenges?
We can point out, among other challenges, the problem of segmentation due to the fact that Solidarity Economy has been built up from three segments (public policymakers, different organizations and businesses) with a policy to put businesses as main players. As a perspective to get over this picture, there’s a need to deepen the characterization as a social movement with policy and culture to promote necessary autonomy for its development.
- What enabled the movement in Brazil to move so fast and be so successful compared to other countries?
The movement’s organization has been developed quite quickly thanks to the following reasons:
The fact that the FBES organization was born as a fruit of the activities at the 1st World Social Forum which took place in Brazil in 2001. The fact it was held in Brazil promoted a significant impact among Brazilians who could join directly or indirectly. First of all a working group, the Brazilian Working Group of Solidarity Economy, was set up with the mission to diffuse and organize state-level forums at different regions, which turned into FBES in 2003 with representation, at that time, in almost every Brazilian state.
Solidarity Economy’s proposal found, especially in the first five years of the last decade, a fertile context - at that time there used to be a high level of unemployment, precariousness of the labor market and little social mobility.
With Lula’s election for president, at the end of 2002, there were a lot of expectations and possibilities to promote the solidarity economy within the executive power.
- What role has government played? Has the government been helpful or resistant?
The government was both helpful and resistant.
There are difficulties for the government to work with social organizations. The State’s very structure is against promoting social organizations and movements. The executive power has its priorities, in the legislative power, the opposition parties created hurdles. (http://www.shareable.net/blog/brazil-blossoms-as-solidarity-economy-beacon)
Interview by the International Sociological Association, before his passing, 2018:
* When you became São Paulo’s Secretary of Planning, during Mayor LuizaErundina’s tenure (1989-1993), were the city’s anti-poverty policies related to Solidarity Economy? If so, how?
PS: Initially no, but it developed later. São Paulo is the largest city in Latin America, an enormous sprawling and unequal metropolis, and that government was the first left-wing one to rule the city, the first one with a woman as mayor. More than that, Luiza Erundina came from a poor family from a state in northeastern Brazil, Paraíba. She joined the Workers’ Party and became a leader very quickly. Of course, in her government, poverty was our main target since we had to overcome the 1980s crisis. I remember that the mayor, the workers’ unions and myself debated how to reduce unemployment rates. Later Lula said to me that the unions could not support the unemployed, because they did not know what to do with them. In his view, the unions could only support active members of cooperatives. It was very objective. The employers in their turn offered help in exchange for tax reduction, which was impossible because it would have affected the budget of basic services, such as education and health.
So it was a very difficult context. First we created a task force to carry out the first census of homeless people in order just to save them from starving! Later we created recyclable material waste-picker’s cooperatives. This was the beginning of the Solidarity Economy. Particularly with help from Caritaswe found out what Solidarity Economy was all about. We decided to adopt 100 percent of the principles of cooperativism, and by 1996 I was convinced that it was an expression of democratic socialism.
* GT&RO: In the 2000s, two important spaces to debate and plan the Solidarity Economy were created: the Fórum Brasileiro de Economia Solidária (Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum) and the Secretaria Nacional de Economia Solidária(Solidarity Economy National Secretariat, an organ from the Ministry of Labor and Employment). Could you tell us about the political context in which they were created? How do they assist Solidarity Economy at the national, state, and municipal levels?
PS: It was a context of high unemployment rates, though not as severe as those we had had in the 1980s. Cardoso’s government was strongly neoliberal in many ways. The most important thing for him was the fight against inflation, which he did by increasing interest rates, resulting in unemployment – which leaves workers with little bargaining power.
When Lula was elected in 2002, he was already sure that the Solidarity Economy would be included in his government program. The Workers’ Party adopted the Solidarity Economy, and it is still included in the party platform. As Lula began his term as President, the Solidarity Economy movements started to hold national meetings, pushing for the creation of a secretariat at the Ministry of Labor and Employment. This happened very quickly, in 2003, after Lula took office. We spent some months getting the approval from Parliament, but in June of that year the Solidarity Economy National Secretariat was finally created. The Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum was linked to the Secretariat because logically we would not introduce any policy without social movements. It would not make any sense. With the Forum, all policies result from an interaction with social movements, which provide live reports of the Solidarity Economy’s problems, claims, and demands.
Today, Solidarity Economy crosses the whole country, from the Amazon to the South. It is not as big as we would like, but it is not a small movement anymore. Besides the Secretariat, the same law created a National Council, most of whose participants come from the Forum.
The Secretariat uses its budget to promote and assist Solidarity Economy cooperatives. We did this especially during Rousseff’s first term, participating in the Brasil sem Miséria program. Five or six ministries were part of that program; the Secretariat was responsible for productive inclusion in urban areas, bringing opportunities to create cooperatives to whoever might be interested. Our estimate is that this policy helped bring around half million families out of poverty. But we were not the first country to have an official institutional support for Solidarity Economy. France was first. In 2001, at the First Social Forum, we met the French Minister of Solidarity Economy.
* GT&RO: In your view, what are the virtues of economic organization ruled by workers’ associations? And what are the challenges faced by the Solidarity Economy in Brazil today?
PS: I would say that the biggest virtue is democracy. People work together, respecting each other, without competition. Our Solidarity Economy map shows that in Brazil we have about 30.000 active cooperatives, involving around three million people. And we have support from important parts of society, such as the Catholic Church, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), and the universities. It is a very new and stimulating social experience.
Among the challenges to the Solidarity Economy in Brazil, the most important one is that the Solidarity Economy enterprises are somewhat fragile. Many of them disappear in five years. Generally, small enterprises have a short life. But, of course, not all of them are small. For example, we have the Fábricas Recuperadas (Recovered Factories), when a bankrupted factory is recreated and replaced by a cooperative. In Brazil we have 67 Fábricas Recuperadas and in Argentina you will find many more.
* GT&RO: How do you see the Solidarity Economy in Brazil compared to other experiences in Latin America and around the globe?
PS: I am still learning more about Solidarity Economy almost every day. At the local level, dealing with the fragility of enterprises is a big challenge, and the cultural element is also very important. Internal conflicts and disagreements between groups can be decisive in the success or failure of an enterprise. We must know how to avoid conflicts – and more than that, how to solve them. I am not sure how central the cultural factor is for the Solidarity Economy around the globe, but surely a comparison with other countries such as South Africa, Philippines, South Korea ‒ and many others from Europe and Latin America ‒ would be important to building a democratic work environment. We must learn from them." (https://ussen.org/2018/04/19/an-interview-with-solidarity-economist-paul-singer/?)
By Andreas Exner, Christian Lauk:
"How can the paradigm of a good life for all replace the growth paradigm? What we clearly need is a great social transformation. And, in fact, we can already find social innovations that might function as the basic units of this transformation. They start from the bottom and flourish in protected spaces where shared perspectives are developed, experiments and learning take place, and links to wider power networks are forged.
Two outstanding examples are the solidarity economy in Brazil and the global information commons.
The solidarity economy appeared in Brazil in the late 1990s as the country was hit by an economic crisis caused by the liberalization of capital markets.4,5 In the ensuing recession, many enterprises went bankrupt and poverty increased. Unemployment rose, while the prospects for reentering the formal economic sector shrank for a broad portion of society.
In this deplorable situation, a small group of socially concerned academics acted as change agents. They were engaged in a national campaign against hunger and had teaching positions at the National School for Public Health. This allowed them to support poor people’s cooperatives by creating solidarity economy incubators where cooperatives could learn to organize their workflow based on relations of equality and reciprocal support. Cooperatives were also supported in resolving the technical challenges they encountered. A considerable part of the learning process in the solidarity economy took place within incubators, in which experiences with cooperative success were assessed, shared, and further developed.
In addition, social networking between trade unions, universities, and cooperative associations strengthened the power links between this niche and the wider society and state. Finally, the solidarity economy even managed to establish a state secretariat that was instituted within the Ministry of Labor. The state secretariat further supported the cooperatives by starting a national mapping project to assess the state of solidarity economics in Brazil and allow for the specific allocation of resources and legal reforms.
In the case of the solidarity economy, we see a radical social innovation in the making. Wage labor is replaced by self-management, which is the solidarity economy’s core innovation—and not a small one. Indeed, cooperative self-management is a precondition for ecologically responsible production. There are two reasons for this: First, it is only through self-management that production can become oriented toward concrete needs (which are limited and can be satisfied), instead of shareholder value and profit (which are unlimited, can never be fully satisfied, and thus entail growing consumption of energy and materials). Second, equal cooperation within an enterprise is a starting point for cooperation with other stakeholders and society at large, further reducing the competitive compulsion to grow. For instance, a recent study found that members of cooperative enterprises are more socially and democratically oriented than the average worker. According to the authors of this study, this trend is not the result of selectively employing people who are already socially oriented, but is rather the effect of egalitarian labor relations on individual workers.
Thus, it is no surprise that in Brazil solidarity economy units often cooperate as networks by, for example, collectively marketing what has been produced independently. Solidarity economy chains that directly link different producers that depend on each other have been developed in some cases. The most prominent example is the textile cooperative Justa Trama. There, monetary income that is earned at the end of the chain is shared by all members who contributed to the production process according to their needs and living conditions. Because a solidarity economy is not primarily geared toward profits and often replaces monetary relations with direct cooperation, it does not promote growth but acts as an increasingly important safety net for people excluded from the capitalist sector." (http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/1143)
- Solidarity Economy
- Solidarity Economics
- the organizational structure of Brazil's Solidarity Economy, http://www.fbes.org.br/biblioteca22/Brazilian_Solidarity_Economy_Movement.pdf
- Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy