This week La Universidad Obrera located in Mexico City hosted a conference on cooperatives in Mexico. During this three day conference representatives from over 20 different cooperatives convened to share various perspectives on the state of “cooperativismo” in Mexico. Members of the government likewise participated in this conference and became important voices in the debate surrounding legislation and legal support of cooperatives in Mexico.
The major themes discussed throughout this conference include, but are not limited to:
- the challenges of establishing unity and interconnectedness among the diverse and numerous cooperatives located throughout Mexico
- in this same vein, creating and developing avenues of collaboration, communication, and exchange between Mexican cooperatives
- extending this web of interconnection beyond national boundaries and establishing ties of solidarity on a global scale (here the language of economic solidarity was employed extensively)
- integrating youth and younger generations into the work of cooperatives; creating spaces for youth participation and inclusion in the decision-making process
- fostering government support of cooperatives in Mexico and implementing more legislation in support of alternative economies
- reassertion of the effectiveness of cooperatives as a powerful tool for combating economic inequality and rampant unemployment
- defiance of neoliberal economies that further amplify the gap between the rich and the poor
- celebration of autonomy, unity within the movement, self-sufficiency, self-actualization and self management (auto-gestión)
The following link includes video footage of some of the important speeches during this conference: Resumen del Foro
In addition to these speeches, the conference also provided a space for the participating cooperative to showcase and sell their work. This list is just a slight glimpse of the diverse forms of production being carried out by Mexican cooperatives:
- Cooperatives of Indigenous Women producing traditional craft-work
- Consumer cooperatives
- Worker cooperatives
- Food cooperatives
- Agricultural cooperatives
Types of products:
- Organic foodstuffs
- Custom-made clothing
- Traditional craft-work
Needless to say this conference gave us plenty of food for thought. Atena and I were both particularly struck by the debate surrounding youth participation. Indeed the notion of a generation gap heavily dominated discussion throughout this conference. Many participants expressed anxiety that Mexican youth were not involved in the cooperative movement. The older generation expressed that they had failed to reach out to the younger population. However, Atena and I both spoke to a young man involved in cooperative work and he said that the issue was not a lack of self interest on the part of youth, but rather that the older generation does not allow for youth involvement in the decision making process. He argued that there was an urgent need to include voices of the younger generation within the work of cooperatives and the economic solidarity movement. Several keynote speakers suggested that universities in Mexico need to begin implementing programs on economic solidarity in an effort to mobilize youth. Based on their reflections it seems that university curriculum lacks themes relating to cooperative movements and economic solidarity. We are excited to further explore this dynamic, which has surfaced throughout our time here in Mexico.
We also took note of the recurring theme of unity. Many of the keynote speakers lamented that there was not enough unity among Mexican cooperatives. However, Atena and I both questioned this idealized notion of unity. To what extent does imposing a singular, monolithic program, vision and/or agenda also restrict and limit the infinite possibilities of economic solidarity in Mexico? Is a social movement necessarily empowered when it is unified on a front/platform, or can it gain power in being multifaceted, nebulous, dynamic and ever-changing? The occupy movement was first criticized for not having a list of demands, but perhaps before trying to impose a finite list of shared values/goals it is better to organize in such a way that allows for autonomy, difference, multiplicity and pluralism…?
Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!