Economies of solidarity in spain: Red de Economia Alternativa y Solidaria

What would be the nature of a non/anti-capitalist economy today?  What characteristics would it possess?  How would production be carried out?  Would only socially necessary goods be produced?  And what is a socially necessary good?  How would distribution be effected?  And consumption?  Would such an economy be decentralised, local, or could it still embrace a possible global dimension?  What is to be the nature of work?  How is it to be compensated?  Should it be salaried?  And if not, then how is the distribution of goods to be managed?  How or who will make the decisions regarding all of these matters?  The questions seem to mutliply without end.  If private ownership of the means of prodution and re-production is perceived as a problem, should property then be simply collectivised (which does not imply its destruction) or abolished?  Should the primacy of commodity exchange-value over use-value be circumscribed or overthrown?  Should salaried labour be limited or abolished?  Should there be money, or none?  Should we even continue to talk of “economics” in this context, when economic practice is invariably a form of government, of social control?

What seems evident is that there will never be any purely theoretical answers to these questions, for the satisfaction of human needs and the ways that this may be done depend as much on contingency as on thought, and thus carry with them an irreducibly experimental dimension.

What does seem fundamental is the need to eliminate ways of satisfying needs that are fundamentally nonegalitarian (the satisfaction of the needs of some is accomplished through the deprivation of others from doing so, usually the many) and therefore oppressive (nonegalitarian ways of satisfying needs depend on the control of those who will not only be deprived of the means to satisfy their needs, but also invariably forced to labour for those who can enjoy the benefits of social productive activity).  The commodity form, as analysed by Marx, is only the lastest, though the most voracious, form of economic oppression and exploitation.  But then liberation from it cannot come through any simple State led reform, for what is at stake ultimately is the struggle to find ways of life in which the ethical horizon is freedom and equality, something with which States have little concern.

In this context, critical observations regarding small scale local initiatives are easily made, but perhaps blind to the fact that no overall scheme or plan exists for overcoming capitalism, and that it is perhaps precisely in these micro-economic/political experiments that paths can be found beyond State-Capital.     

What follows is the translation of an article that appeared in Periodico Diagonal (22/05/2015), describing the development, at the national level of spain, of a social economic market, under the auspices of the Red de Economia Alternativa y Solidaria (Solidarity and Alternative Economy Network), an initiative that intentionally seeks to develop economic relations beyond capitalism.

The Social Market, another economy is possible

Until very recently, the closest thing to a social market was the occasional encounter with displays of crafts, fair trade goods or green food items. After years of work, the Red de Economia Alternativa y Solidaria (REAS) and other similar organisations have succeeded in generating a nation wide structure, the Red de Mercados Sociales, that goes beyond the diverse and changing activity of the social economy in each region.

The REAS itself and its travel companions – Coop57 (ethical and solidarity based financial services), Fiare (an ethical bank), CAES (collective and ethical insurance) or Som Energia (renewable energies) – develop their strategy at the inter-urban level, but the Mercado Social goes further than any spatial dimension.  “It gives visibility to consumption as a transforming and political act, investing in relations of proximity and confidence between producers and consumers”, according to Fernando Sabín of the governing council of the Mercado Social of Madrid.

The creation of the REAS in 1995, with more than 300 enitities and companies organised in 13 territorial areas of the spanish state, served to consolidate an almost experimental economic tendency, but with also deep roots in other projects.

In truth, history is rich in experiences in which the management of labour is understood as radically collective.  For example, the self-managed factories in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, the collectivisations in Spain of 1936, or the recuperated factories in Latin America, of which recent examples can be seen in Argentina.  Furthermore, the number and legal strengthening of cooperatives has increased, a formula ignored by different governments, even though numbers have demonstrated their capacity to generate wealth in times of crisis.

REAS shares with these projects the belief that wealth is the goods and services that satisfy the needs of society, beyond their profitability on the market.  For this reason, against the idea of competition as the nucleus of economic activity, this kind of economy is comprised of projects that have as their objective to place solidarity and cooperation at the centre. “The social markets are inovative tools that are born of a collective intelligence”, says Sabín, who furthermore shows himself to be convinced that “not only is it possible to transform the economic model”, but also that “it is necessary”.

The social economy continues to grow at the hand of different actors, but the Mercado Social provides a network, new hopes and also numbers.  A few weeks ago, the Mercado Social of Aragon published its social balance for 2014, which can serve as revelatory example: some thirty companies, cooperatives and associations in Aragon created last year 453 jobs and moved more than 9.5 million Euros.  Among the active organisations, workers cooperatives stand out as one of the principal tools of the social economy, which today makes up 36.7% of this economy, and explain in great part the success of the Mercado Social in most the whole country.

The balance, which analyses a series of economic, labour, ethical and environmental indicators, is a tool that allows for evaluation, continuity and communication with society about the behaviour of all of the organisations of the Mercado Social, as well as serving “internally, to diagnose, plan and establish mechanisms for the continuous improvement of the management of these entities”, as explained by MesCoop Aragon.

The juridical form under which they operate is nevertheless different in each case.  In Euskadi and Navarra, it is REAS that supports the project.  The Mercado Social of Madrid, which is also soon to present its first annual balance, constitued itself as a mixed/integral cooperative at the beginning of the year.  In Aragon, it appears as a services cooperative, and in the Balearic Islands – with the heavy role of NGOs – it has the form of an association.

In Euskadi, with a long tradition of small companies of social-labour integration, cooperative networks and projects of ethical finance, REAS gathers more than 60 entities, and half have already joined the Mercado Social.  Catalonia and Madrid contribute a futher one hundred each.  But it is a very recent process to which have been added organisations from the Balearic Islands, Murcia, Andalusia or Valencia.

As the number of organisations and the complexity of their initiatives have increased, it became necessary to create a more open and broader space of interconnection, where suppliers and citizens who desire to be more than clients could interact.  In this way, in 2012, the process developed with the creation of the Mercado Economico Social, a structure which brings together solidarity based companies, ethical savings and investments and consumers who demand an active role in the economic model.  In this space, one can acquire and exchange goods and services in areas as diverse as food, transportation, education, savings or graphic design.

The companies of the Mercado Social share a number of elements: a catalogue of goods and services on the portal,, a system of certification by providers, a social balance and an image recognisable to the general public.  But this network is developed through nodes, and thus the interest to know and interact with the rest of the actors of the Mercado Social has given rise to different encounters that show the importance of further deepening the social relations of the network: in 2014, the fairs in Barcelona and Madrid attracted more than 200 participants, 20,000 visitors and moved more than 50,000 Euros in a social currency.  This last is an alternative currency which is in part based on bonuses to consumers with each purchase and discounts in sales for the provider.

The ecosol (Catalonia), the ekhi (Euskadi), the boniato (Madrid) or the eco (Valencia) are some of the examples of this kind of currency that reinforce local exchange and its networks.  “They have been created by companies and organisations that act according criteria of sustainability, economic democracy and equality, as well as serving to support responsible consumption for consumers”, César Gómez  explains, coordinator of the fair of the Mercado Social of Madrid.

The relation between the social markets and public institutions is for the moment modest and is essentially vehicles through the REAS in each region, even though “we begin to be recognised as a market tht functions according to criteria desired by citizens”, adds Gómez.  The relations begin to establish themselves due to the facility of contracts with providers, though the intention is to amplify this institutional presence, “investing in the transformation of the relations of governance”, he continues.

The solidarity economy is living a very special moment.  The Mercado Social is a tool that was missing to generate synergies and learning that foster his economic model.  It is also the response of citizens ever more committed with other alternatives, before a scenario of economic, social and environmental crisis.  Definitively, it is already possible to produce, work and consume in an economy that breaks with the paradigms of neoliberal capitalism.


We also share below a tanslation of the Charter of Principles of the REAS. 



The solidarity economy is an approach to economic activity that takes into account people, the environment and sustainable development, as its primary reference, above other interests.

The solidarity economy in its various forms is a way of life that encompasses the integral nature of people and subordinates the economy to its true purpose: to provide in a sustainable manner the material bases for the personal, social and environmental development of the human being.

The reference of the solidarity economy is each subject and the communities created through social initiatives, so that it is not identified by the material benefits of an initiative, but is defined in terms of the quality of life and well-being of its members and of the whole society as a global system.

The solidarity economy, in the context of the tradition of the social economy, seeks to incorporate into the management of economic activity the universal values that should govern society and the relations between all citizens: equality, justice, economic fraternity, social solidarity and direct democracy. And as a new way of producing, consuming and distributing, it is proposed as a viable and sustainable alternative for the satisfaction of individual and global needs, while aspiring to consolidate itself as an instrument of social transformation.

The organizations that participate in the solidarity economy movement in general and in the REAS – … share, for the development of our mission, the following themes:

Autonomy as a principle of freedom and as the exercise of responsibility.

Self-management as a methodology that respects, involves, educates, equals opportunities and enables empowerment.

Liberating culture asthe basis for scientific, alternative and creative thinking that helps us to search for, investigate and find new ways to live together, produce, enjoy, consume and organize politics and the economy at the service of all people.

The development of people in all of their dimensions and capacities: physical, mental, spiritual, aesthetic, artistic, sensitive, relational … in harmony with nature, above all unbalanced economic, financial, military, consumer, transgenic and anomalous growth, as is advocating on behalf of a “fictitious” development.

Compenetration with Nature

Human and economic solidarity as the principle of our local, national and international relations.



We believe that equity introduces an ethical principle of justice or equality. It is value that recognises all people as individuals of equal dignity, and protects their right not to be subjected to relations based on domination, whatever their social status, gender, age, ethnicity, national origin, ability, etc.

A more just society is one in which all people recognize each other as equals in rights and opportunities, and takes into account the differences between people and groups. For this reason, a society should meet equitably the respective interests of all people.

Equality is an essential social objective the absence of which implies a lack of dignity. When linked with the recognition and respect for differences, we call it “equity”.


We believe that work is a key element in the quality of life of individuals, of the community and of the economic relations between citizens, peoples and states. Therefore, from the perspective of REAS, we place the concept of work in a broad social and institutional context of participation in the economy and in the community.

We affirm the importance of recovering the human, social, political, economic and cultural dimension of work that allows the development of the capacities of people, producing goods and services, to meet the real needs of the population (ours, of our immediate environment and of the community in general). So for us, work is much more than a job or an occupation.

We find that these activities can be carried out individually or collectively, and can be paid or unpaid (voluntary work), and the working person can be hired or assume ultimate responsibility for the production of goods or services (self-employment).

Within this social dimension it should be emphasized that without the contribution of the work done in the field of care for people, mainly done by women, our society could not sustain itself. This work is not yet sufficiently recognized by society nor equitably distributed.


We believe that all our productive and economic activity is related to nature, thus our alliance with her and the recognition of her rights is our starting point.

We believe that our good relationship with Nature is a source of economic wealth, and good health for all. Hence the critical need to integrate environmental sustainability in all our actions, assessing our environmental impact (ecological footprint) permanently.

We want to significantly reduce the human footprint on all our activities, moving towards sustainable and equitable forms of production and consumption, and promoting an ethic of sufficiency and austerity.


We encourage cooperation instead of competition within and outside our organizations linked to the Network, seeking collaboration with other organisations and public and private bodies …

We intend to collectively build a model of society based on harmonious local development, fair trade relations, equality, trust, responsibility, transparency, respect …

We presume that the Solidarity Economy is based on a participatory and democratic ethos, which aims to promote learning and cooperative work between people and organisations through processes of collaboration, joint decision-making, shared accountability and obligations, to ensure the maximum horizontality while respecting the autonomy of each, without generating dependencies.

We believe that these processes of cooperation should extend to all levels: local, regional or autonomous, national and international levels and should normally be articulated in networks where these values are lived and fostered …


The economic model we practice and follow has as its aim the integral, collective and individual development of persons, and as a medium, the efficient management of economically viable, sustainable and fully profitable projects whose profits are reinvested and redistributed.

This “no – profitability” is intimately linked to our way of measuring the balance of results, which takes into account not only economic factors, but also human, social, environmental, cultural and participatory and the end result, together are the intehgral benefit.

This means that our activities intend the potential benefits to go towards the development or expansion of the social purpose of the projects and to the support of other solidarity initiatives of general interest, thus participating in the construction of a more human, solidarity based and equitable social model.


Our commitment to the environment is embodied in participation in the local and community sustainable development of the territory.

Our organizations are fully integrated in the territory and social environment in which they operate, which requires involvement in networks and cooperation with other organizations in the immediate social and economic fabric, within the same geographical area.

We believe that this collaboration is a way, so that positive experiences and concrete solidarities can generate processes of transformation of structures that give rise to inequality, domination and exclusion.

Our commitment at the local level leads us to invest in broader dimensions in order to find more global solutions, interpreting the need to continually move between the micro and the macro, the local and the global.


A parallel development in spain of considerable interest is the constitution of a network of what are called integral cooperatives.  The oldest is the Cooperativa Integral Catalana.  For further information, click here.


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