By Patricia Manrique / Translation: Ocupar y traducir.
With several thousand people involved in two years, this project seeks to construct an integrated economic alternative. Its model is being spread in various parts of Spain.
The Catalan Integrated Cooperative (CIC) began two years ago; it now has 850 members and several thousand people who participate in debates and projects. Under the label "integrated," the Cooperative functions as a political project seeking to tie together consumer and labor initiatives "and many others, such as education, mechanisms to create a cooperative basic income, eco-stores, collective stores, meetings and events, and a legal structure to help the formation of eco-networks and other similar projects in Catalonia," explains its communication team.
The Catalan Integrated Cooperative is a step beyond consumer cooperatives, because it also seeks out the contribution of services, creating a network of trust that allows the people associated with the Cooperative to cover many of their basic needs, with a will to transform" explains Gema Palamós from the legal team. Legally, the CIC is a ’mixed cooperative’ according to Spanish and Catalan law, meaning that it doesn’t limit itself to any one activity.
The term "integrated" alludes to the Cooperative’s political project, although it’s not a second-level cooperative—a cooperative whose partners are also cooperative members. Rather, it’s a "first-level cooperative whose partners are physical people" clarifies Palamós. The project brings together various eco-networks that function throughout Catalonia, connecting them and providing a legal structure for the physical people associated with them. This legal structure benefits the CIC in financial and legal terms, as well as in labor matters. "If we all were conscious of the advantages of the cooperative model when it’s goal isn’t profit, but rather living from your work, there would be a lot more cooperative projects," points out Palamós.
An inclusive economic project
Angels Vendrells has been a participant in the CIC since its beginnings. She explained how she decided to cook for the eco-network of Montseny in her house, a result of a brainstorming session in 2009 between a group of people looking for a way to decide how they wanted to live. After this eco-network was founded, others were formed throughout Catalonia. In December 2009 they held a seminar on economics and from there began to work on the CIC, which was launched in June 2010. The CIC ties together all of these eco-networks and contributes legal protection for the exchanges between members as well as those in the whole movement," says Vendrells.
Today the CIC boasts buying centers (spaces to store the collective purchases that reduce the costs of products by cutting out intermediaries), an alternative currency called the eco, various people receiving a basic income in euros and ecos for their work, a collective bus and, recently, Ca L’Afou, the new project of a post-industrial, post-capitalist eco-colony that hopes to respond to the basic need for housing.
Anyone associated with the CIC can acquire products and services through a system of virtual community exchange (CES or Community Exchange System) as well as in fairs and barter markets. "I cultivate a garden and I hardly buy any food in euros: I acquire everything I need in the eco-network and through the CIC with the ecos I earn by selling my vegetables," explains Vendrells. Buying within the CIC allows others to live from what they produce. "While many people are excluded from the euro, that’s not the case with social currency because anyone has some abilities that they can offer to people and with that, acquire what they need." Currently they’re working on creating access to health centers through the use of eco.
A model for extension
But these fairs, markets, eco-networks, and the CIC that ties them together are also spaces to share life in. "Going to the markets and the fairs is like recreation, it’s meeting up with friends and family in a spiritual sense," reflects Vendrells. The fairs generally last one day, and are intermittent. In the markets, that occur less frequently, local associations also participate.
The political project of the CIC includes spreading the model. The members give talks about eco-networks, the cooperative, and social currency in various parts of the country. As a result there are seeds of integrated cooperatives en Basque Country, Madrid as well as in Valencia, where another integrated cooperative, Amalur, has been functioning since 2010. In Valencia, La Madrágora association has been organizing practical workshops on what the Integrated Cooperative is, and how to create one.
For Gorka Pinillos, a member of the CIC that works on spreading its ideas, the work of generating networks by means of integrated cooperatives is fundamental, but when these type of initiatives multiply, mutual aid among cooperatives will be essential. “In this moment, when they gain strength and expand," she points out, "the level of solidarity between these processes will be a very important form of protection against the possible interference of the State.
[This article was originally published in Spanish on October 25th, 2011]
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