"There is a lively debate about the extent to which social movements should work with and through the state. The Zapatistas represent one end of the spectrum, rejecting the pathway of seeking state power, state support, or even engaging in voting. The Zapatista movement has been inspirational and influential throughout the world, but it is also heavily beleaguered both internally and externally. On the other end of the spectrum is Venezuela where the state is actively promoting the social solidarity economy and has massively expanded the cooperative sector, community councils and other forms of participatory democracy.
If the solidarity economy is ever going to contend with the dominant economic system, it needs to expand into mainstream sectors of the economy, including complex, high skilled manufacturing. Ultimately, we need policies and institutions that support the solidarity economy. In the U.S., for example, the $125 billion in corporate tax breaks and subsidies would be better spent on enterprises that put social and environmental aims front and center. The $265 billion that the government spends each year on goods and services could likewise be channeled towards producers in the solidarity economy. While one of the strengths of the solidarity economy is that it doesn’t wait on the government to provide solutions, at the same time, the state should be obliged to create an environment that not only doesn’t undermine solidarity economy, but supports it. To ignore the role and power of state is to leave it in the pocket of the biggest and most powerful corporations and wealthy elites. The solidarity economy as a movement in N. America, and particularly in the U.S. is operating on a shoestring. Again, this is in part due to the newness of the concept and we expect that this will change over time as awareness and public support grows. At the same time, we face a chicken and egg problem of trying to raise awareness and engagement largely on volunteer time. Many SE practitioners and activists are also quite stretched for time.
We have heard from some cooperative worker-owners that they have their hands full just running their business and don’t have time to engage in building a larger social movement. In the long run, strengthening the solidarity economy means helping the cooperatives, the social enterprises, credit unions, green businesses, land trusts and so forth scale up and move from the margins into the mainstream. Still the immediate pressures of survival can absorb the time and energy of practitioners.
Many progressive social movements are quite aligned with the principles of the solidarity economy. In the U.S., however, there has been a divide between the social movements which have focused more on protest and those engaged in building the solidarity economy. While there is still a considerable gulf, there is an increasing openness on the part of social movements to integrate elements of economic development partially driven by the survival needs of their constituency. For example, an immigrant rights group in Arizona is organizing against draconian measures to deport undocumented immigrants, but is also looking for ways to survive in an increasingly hostile world – forming cooperatives, establishing community gardens, farmers markets and community banking. Those social movements that are not engaged in economic development, but that focus on protest or advocacy, also have an important role to play in pushing for common goals of social/ economic justice and sustainability. Equally important, they have a role in holding SE practitioners accountable to these principles. In Canada, the social movements have been closely involved with the development of the social economy and have been able to push and aid social economy practitioners to improve performance in areas such as sustainability, gender equity, or community accountability. In conclusion to this paper, both authors feel that the opportunities for building another economic approach are greater than ever. More and more people, in most parts of the world, realize that neoliberal, or elite globalisation, has shown its limits. Global warming, the energy crises, the food crises, get people realising that another approach is not only needed, but has become an absolute necessity. We are convinced that the solidarity economy approach already has answers that are working. As we have shown, this economy already exists, but it needs to grow in scale and become a full fledged answer to problems in communities, in countries, and in the world."