For young co-operators, Covid-19 – like previous economic crises – makes the unsustainability of our social and economic system more visible. The inequalities strike us and, more than ever, solidarity is seen as the answer.
This period has witnessed many initiatives which could lead us to think that finally, in post-Covid era, the time will come for the social and solidarity economy (SSE). When one reads some mainstream newspapers, one would think a co-op system might soon replace the capitalist one.
But the capitalist tycoons are cleverer than we are: they have played the crisis game time and again, only to profit from it and get stronger. They grasp the moment as we do – and use our words and ideas to distort and empty them while keeping their privileges.
Striking examples include the text signed by the 100 wealthiest French private companies disseminated in Le Monde, calling for a greener finance. Signatories include several French banks, which still invest billions in fossils. Such actors want us to believe they are evolving so we may be convinced that we do not need to change the rules to get the system to change.
In this way, big companies try to convince us that they share our analysis: that we need a sustainable economy, less inequality, strong solidarity. But our societies need radical change and this will not come with the tiny changes such companies would offer us. The decisions we should make are not compatible with the development, and sometimes even the existence, of those capitalist companies.
At such a moment, we need the co-operative and social economy movements to be very strong and true to their foundations. We stand for a different way to run businesses and organise the economy: solidarity and sustainability are not a marketing strategy for us; they cannot be reduced to the whims of important executive managers and shareholders who suddenly find enlightenment – or pretend to find it – during lockdown.
We are part of something special: forms of organisation which allow people to extend their citizenship to the economic sphere. These are sustainable because they are people-led, owned and human-centred. It is precisely because we put citizens in charge instead of financiers that we can work toward the changes that are needed.
This requires us to be more ambitious: we must lobby governments, which promise a better world, to take strong decisions to help the SSE grow.
Some interesting propositions are being discussed in France, for instance by the CJDES association, which gathers young workers, leaders and activists from the SSE. Ideas include measures to end speculation in fields such as health and care, and make sure these areas are properly regulated and managed. A nursing home should not be used to accumulate profits, for example.
We also need to act on our own. Even weakened, as all economic actors are, the co-operative and social economy have a role to play. We must be united to develop our services and solutions, in response to recent developments.
Many people have discovered during the pandemic a different world, an idea of a post-consumer society: we need to be there to share our tools and ways to act with them. Now is the moment to reconnect our movements to their roots and actively contribute to social change.
This moment has also brought to light how important cashiers, delivery men and maintenance technicians are. We must keep on supporting co-operative market stores and delivery services which provide decent work for these tough jobs
We have experienced how crucial efficient and local health services are: let us develop multi-stakeholder health co-operatives, in which patients, nurses, doctors and local authorities work together to ensure access to healthcare.
This is not just about developing businesses and providing services: it is about building relevant services and organisations in which one is regarded, as a stakeholder, as a member, as a citizen. Such a citizenship is a powerful force.