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As the time come from the end of mutual ignorance? Already largely revived by the discussions on the content of sustainable development, this question is at the heart of the strategy of the fight against a global economic, environmental and social crisis.
In the early 1980s, Reagan, newly elected, proclaimed that the state was not the solution, but the problem. Thatcher, for her part, added her refusal of any social policy, since according to her, there was no society, just individuals. This was the era of “Greed is good”. A sinister recasting of “Green is good” of the environmentalists’ about the systemic climate crisis. And the “crisis” has occurred. According to the runoff theory, the more rich people there are that make profit, the more it will drip from top to bottom. This is false, the richer have got richer and the very poor have got poorer, and the famous middle classes who were supposed to stabilize the system, were able to benefit at first, but thanks to credit, and were later disappointed ; see “subprime” in the United States.
The two central questions are then the production and the distribution of wealth. Yet social economy is not generally identified as another model, but either as a residual sector for industry in crisis or as a utopia. As for human rights, they are witnesses to history, but not actors of the future.
The same political philosophy?
Thus condemned together by the dominant policy, social economy and human rights seem to share the same fate, that of the loss of meaning. But isn’t this common fate justified? Because social economy has never had as much social usefulness as … during crises! And despite the condescending disregard, we always need defenders of rights. We could reason differently. What if their common identity as political philosophy that made them subject to political power relations?
At a time where economic liberalism is no longer triumphant, the challenge is to make a new conception of the world.
It is, therefore, appropriate to return now to the common foundations of this shared political philosophy. And this identity of view is ancient the five principles on which social economy is based (freedom of association, democracy, equal distribution, autonomy and solidarity) correspond to the foundations of the promotion and defence of human rights, their indivisibility and universality, which make it possible to ensure their effectiveness.
On the test of criticism
The debate around these common foundations is not serene. Because we must note that over and above ignorance, in fact the first enemy, there are many critics as to the existence of an autonomous social economy as a specific sector. And the language is extraordinarily virulent. The rapprochement with the usual criticism of human rights, treated as a soft ideology for times of truce in the class struggle, is not irrelevant. It is extremely common to see them criticized, as foundations of bourgeois democracy for some, an alibi to rally to political liberalism for others…
The interest of criticism is to test the concepts on which we build our activity. Three of them currently in use do not seem to be well stabilized as yet:
- social and solidarity-based economy is a commonly used formula, in a way that does not differentiate it with social economy, and more rarely with solidarity-based economy. If there is recognition of a sector of the social economy, the addition of solidarity-based economy is problematic. Is it a sector? Is it a political statement? Aren’t we mixing a function and an orientation?
- the term “stakeholders“ is increasingly present in these debates. What place can it hold in the organization of the social economy sector? In the Anglo-Saxon debate, there is the opposition between “stakeholder” and “shareholder”. In the French debate, it reminds us of the debates on “participation”. And we can really see the implications that it entails. At what level? To do what? Which democracy? And the modernization of the term of “stakeholders” has not exhausted this question.
- participatory democracy appears more as an intention than a political principle. It is currently experiencing an undeniable proliferation. one only needs to consider the multiplicity of its forms to see that it is a structure in full evolution, which holds to the application of the law, but not only. But what place should it have? And at what levels? Is it in opposition to representative democracy that it finds its place or in the continuity by the establishment of a continuous democracy?
Social economy and human rights have a proximity and complementarity full of potential for the purpose of the economy. The climate crisis and the economic and social crisis with show this If it is a systemic crisis that goes as far as the question of the survival of the Earth and its living species, the purpose of production becomes the only essential question. What do we have to produce? For whom and how? Considering that we can no longer consume more than the planet can give and that we should consider reducing the energy consumption by 4 ; human rights become a guarantee for all and a strategic axe everywhere. And then there is the question of products, their nature and their usefulness: we must go towards a “joyful sobriety”. Not only is the type of production and its methods at stake, but also the role of the companies. They will have to take charge of the entire process as part of a social responsibility that would effectively prohibit delegating to the community the responsibility to deal with its harmfulness and its negative effects on the environment. They will have to design a resource-efficient mode of production, respectful of the women and men workers. The conception of a company ruled only by its own development and careless of the consequences is no longer viable. In a nutshell, what economists call “externalities” no longer appears as an acceptable representation of responsibilities. How ? This is where, perhaps, the proximity between social economy and human rights gains strength : if the crisis is systemic, vulnerability is differential, as the consequences of all natural disasters regularly show. Katrina, in the richest country in the world, has made it possible to “clean” New Orleans of its poor and black populations … The stake is such that proximity, the community of vision and people between the actors in the social economy and human rights activists are no longer sufficient. The central question is to make it a strategic axis and no longer a possibility.
Convergence between SSE and human rights
Social and solidarity-based economy is therefore an issue for human rights. Cooperatives, mutual insurances, associations: the future of social and solidarity-based economy is at the heart of the changes brought by the current global upheavals under the spur of European policies. This sector is confronted with the extension of the commercial domain and with incessant economic and legal reforms. Its future is conditioned by long-standing social, economic and political debates, which are taking on a new importance today, and by the investment of a growing number of actors – some social and some not. It is part of the debates on alternative solutions, aiming at an enlarged citizenship that adds, to the civic and political domain, economic and social dimensions.
Rights’ advocates and citizenship promoters need to think about possible ways to undertake, work, produce and diffuse differently. Entrepreneurship, not to accumulate profits, but to work together whilst respecting the right to work, equality at work, the rights of all “stakeholders”, giving priority to the person and the sense that she gives to her professional activity. The actors’ role and involvement must be understood differently: managers, employees, volunteers, users, beneficiaries and consumers. For what purposes? To free the system of the consubstantial constraints which subordinate rights and liberties to profit; free initiative, freedom and creativity today stifled by profitability constraints far removed from the needs to be met; finally, to respond to the challenges posed by the systemic crisis to a finite world, to resources threatened with exhaustion.
Activists of the social and solidarity-based economy, — particularly those of mutual insurances and cooperatives – and those of the defence of rights have long lived and worked separately according to their priorities. This neighbourhood relationship, marked by ups and downs, is today unsatisfactory. Faced with the ambitions of the market to decide for society by itself, in the face of its attacks against all that is socialized and which escapes it – retirement funds, public services, health and education budgets – the status quo is perilous. It’s about standing together and doing it well.
This convergence between human rights and SSE is evident to rebuild a collective and political power of intervention on certain economic and social choices, to make territories live and develop, to guarantee ever greater equality and effectiveness of rights ; to finally help to break the gap between the economic and the political and the submission of the social to the economic, which has always allowed the maintenance of the established inegalitarian order. At the heart of these common approaches, there is the defence of rights, the maintenance of the social bond, the fight against discrimination and, in the face of social fragmentation, the development of constructive and warning practices of a society of solidarity.