Solidarity Economy Alternative Emerging Theory and Practice

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1 And those with the public duty to understand the shortcomings of the financial system, most notably the leadership of the US Federal Reserve, were blinded by a mind-set shaped by the assumption that financial markets, as supposedly ‘free markets’, regulated themselves. In his Congressional Testimony, Alan Greenspan, the man on whose watch as chairman of the Federal Reserve the process of financialisation gathered pace, and a champion of the efficiency and self-correcting characteristic of free market competition, famously admitted that he had made a ‘mistake’ in assuming that banks would do what was necessary to protect their shareholders and institutions. (That was) a flaw in the model that defines how the world works.”

2 I write one week after the passing of a bill which will provide a legal and institutional framework for the dismantling of the National Health Service which has been taking place in practice ever since Margaret Thatcher made it her target in the 1980s, in spite of opinion polls indicating overwhelming majorities for keeping the health service public Leys and Slater 2012).

3 The trade union organisations in the factories of Lucas Aerospace responded to the threat of closure and redundancy by involving their members – who were involved in every aspect of production, from the most sophisticated level of the design process to sweeping the floors – in developing a plan including prototypes of the kinds of socially required products (transport, health and energy products for example) that they could produce. This became the focus of a powerful national campaign and bargaining strategy to stop management’s plans for closures and ‘rationalisation’.

4 The same could be said, on a different basis, of orthodox Communist Parties whose attitude to production was almost exclusively focused on a change of ownership rather than any change in the nature of the production process itself. Indeed, in the Fordist era, production processes and technologies in Soviet industries emulated those of the West.

5 As is well known, it was swiftly repressed by a notably – but not exceptionally – brutal alliance led by the US government with US corporations and the Chilean military, and became the laboratory of neoliberal shock doctrine (Klein 2007).

6 Discussing in her diary how public institutions should be run, Beatrice Webb summed up this presumption of cultural superiority when she said: ‘We have little faith in “the average sensual man”. We do not believe that he can do much more than describe his grievances, we do not think he can prescribe his remedies. ... We wish to introduce the professional expert’ (quoted in Wright 1979).

7 Indeed, at least in the case of Anglo-Saxon social democracy,. the capitalist market became in the context of financial globalisation the object of awed defence as the goose whose golden eggs were, moderately, redistributed to sustain the welfare state (Brown) (McIvor).

8 Partial, because the new technology markets continue to thrive – witness Apple, Facebook, Google, and the whole mobile communications industry.

9 In other words, capital proved far more nimble in finding new ways of both gaining from and containing the new energies and aspirations stimulated by the critical movements of the 1960s and 1970s than parties of the left, for which these movements could have been a force for democratic renewal. This point needs to be made to sharpen the challenge now posed for the solidarity economy.

10 In the UK government’s free-for-all over the spoils of the public sector, ministers are playing fast and loose with the concepts of co-operatives and mutuals, hoping to soften the path to privatisation. The extent of corporate capture of the British state, encouraged by both governments of all the main parties, has meant that privatisation has gone far. In opposition to a Tory-led government however, the well-resourced, widely connected Co-operative Movement working increasingly closely with the trade unions, and increasingly open to collaboration with new environmental and cultural movements, is making it difficult for Tory ministers to raid the lexicon of the libertarian left quite as easily as they expected (Davies 2012, Whitfield 2011).

11 For example, UK Uncut.

12 This could be called ‘performative politics’ rather than – or as well as – ‘participatory politics’ because the latter stresses opening up the political system to greater popular participation. The two could be complementary, but whether and in what form has yet to emerge. ‘Don’t just demand, occupy!’ might be a more accurate summation of how this directly creative politics works most effectively in practice (Iannuzzi 2013).

13 Indeed, these researchers would argue that there has been a fundamental flaw in the experience of participatory budgeting in many Brazilian cities.

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