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Organizing and Governing the Commons: A Coop-Commons Multilevel Dialogue with Municipalities and Labour

In this rapidly changing world, existing systems are being weakened, resulting in risks as well as opportunities. The global economic crisis has degraded people’s working and living conditions but has also raised questions about the legitimacy of financialized capitalism.

The development of digital technology has produced new types of precarious jobs, but it has also opened new ways of understanding and changing our society in more participatory ways. As the history of crises has shown, people and people-based organisations react against the devastating effects of changes and persist in the search for innovative solutions. New ideas and practices have been proposed; there have been experiments with new forms of organizations and ways of working. Some of them, such as the “sharing economy”, were immediately captured by emergent, digitally-based capitalist companies, but others created more ambitious and innovative initiatives. In recent years, certain concepts and experiences have interconnected with one another and existing initiatives. New forms of solidarity, reciprocity, property and collective governance are being analyzed, reimagined and promoted through the logic of the Commons, Platform Cooperativism and the Social and Solidarity Economy.

The Commons, as defined by scholar David Bollier, is a shared resource, co-governed by its user community according to the community’s rules and norms. Claims to the commons are built on the legitimacy of the right of access to goods and services, or to their preservation, as means of satisfying equity goals and long term resources involving cooperation and sharing. Natural (agriculture, housing, co-working…) and immaterial resources (software, database, IT infrastructure) may be involved.

These “commons” strengths are marginalized by capitalism and are subject to capture by the collaborative economy’s large digital platforms. They share values and methods with the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), including cooperatives, in order to build a more democratic and inclusive society. They interest cities and trade unions.

In this context, a conference focused on Fair Sharing economy and Platform Cooperativism was organized jointly by La Coop des Communs, SMart, Confrontation Europe, the P2P Foundation, CECOP-CICOPA Europe and Ouishare, with the support of the European Economic and Social Council in Brussels on 5 December 2016. The conference highlighted diverse models of commons-based solutions, the relationship among various actors in the production chain, their roles in the creation of value and ways that value is distributed.

Reaching an understanding between Commons, Coops, Unions, Cities and Labour

The organisers and main panelists of the conference decided to continue working together to deepen the understanding of the issues being raised. Although they came from different fields, such as the commons movement, the cooperative movement, the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), cities and regions actively working with the SSE organisations and the labour movement, they agreed that they would benefit from a better understanding of each other through developing a dialogue and working together.

Cooperatives are inspiring models, as well as organizational resources, similar to other forms of social and solidarity economy organizations based on non-capitalist structures that give power to members and not to capital, are not-for-profit oriented or limited profit, indivisible reserves, etc. Are these models sufficient, particularly for commons that do not create market value and do not sell products on the market? Are there other social and solidarity models that suit them? If not, what would these be and how should we define and describe the needs to be addressed? Reciprocally, what can the commons bring to cooperatives, cities and unions ?

The aim of our project is to generate reflection and create links and possible convergences between several cultures and stakeholders, cooperatives, social and solidarity economy, commons (and open source and collaborative platforms), cities, trade unions. Creating a dialogue and understanding among these stakeholders is a prerequisite to any common reflection and common action such as concrete projects, advocacy, etc.

(L-R) Louis Cousin, Bruno Roelants, Pat Conaty, Hyungsik Eum, Nicole Alix, Lieza Dessain, Erdmuthe Klaer, Guillaume Compain, Stacco Troncoso, Julien Lecaille, Alison Tate, Alex Pazaitis, Thiébaut Weber. Image by Sarah de Heusch.

In this respect, we met in a deep dive encounter near Brussels, Belgium on 11 and 12 July 2017. The expected outputs were:

  • A better understanding of our respective goals and methods, especially on the commons, by clearly identifying the points of “common interest”, “common understanding”, incomprehension, and diverging views.
  • A position paper about the range of needs and focal issues to tackle together.
  • A collaborative inventory of the experts and structures working on specific categories (e.g. legal experts, labor experts, etc.) that would provide an accurate mapping and help identify relevant collaborators for our future work.
  • A glossary of commonly used terms, noting differences in various languages and contexts.
  • A list of already-overcome problems and remaining challenges.

The commons and peer to peer, in relation with cooperation and unions

Presented by Stacco Troncoso (P2P Foundation) and Alex Pazaitis (P2P Lab)

Introduction to the Commons and P2P

The Commons, cooperatives and unions are ways of managing the complexity of the world. New forms of community organizations are emerging to manage a necessary worldwide transition towards new ways of creating and distributing value. Commons, cooperatives and unions are all involved in collective action to transcend the shortcomings of capitalism where the Commons are always a component, even if not identified as such.

The Commons have three main features: a resource or a gift (what), activated by a community (who) and rules/protocols set and used by this community and also for future generations (how). They are a social process, a mode of production and a way to see the world.

  • What: We need to address the dwindling of natural resources and the privatization/commodification of socially productive knowledge. Enclosures are an historical process. Capitalism has led to commodification, not to commoning. Currently, natural resources are used as if they were unlimited, while knowledge is being enclosed through copyright laws and patents. These trends need to be reversed and the commons offer an alternative model for doing so. It is a question of human design. While the state and the market are here to generate capital, the commons have another logic: empowering the community.
  • Who: There are potentially 4 billion people worldwide creating commons in fishery, hunting grounds, and more and more through digital commons. These commoners are neither producers nor customers; they form a novel category. Although commoning often takes place in the periphery or outside the state/market nexus, the commons can interact with both, reversing their logic away from control and accumulation toward enabling the capacities of civil society.
  • How: Different types of organizations have emerged to counter the phenomenon of enclosures (mutuals, coops, trade unions, etc.) They all fight for decent work and for people to reap the value of what they produce as communities.

“Peer to peer” (or P2P) is a relational dynamic, a sort of transnational logic of relations inside and among the Commons. It is based on openness, transparency, the right to share and the right to hack (understood as repurposing existing systems for things they were not designed to do). P2P systems are highly efficient, which makes them very attractive to capitalism. If P2P becomes a dominant mode of production, how can we prevent capitalism from exploiting it? How we take control to prevent the extraction of value? How can we promote, not an extractive, but a generative economy?

P2P production is commons-based and commons-oriented.

Links with the state and the market

Peer to peer allows direct and distributed interactions between individuals or organizations. It helps crystallize collective power, more in a logic of a network than of a federation.

Commons-based peer-production is not designed a priori and from above. It is open to anyone who wishes to contribute (non-discriminatory, permissionless) and is anti-rival (the more people contribute, the higher the value). The P2P Foundation sees peer to peer as a model of global connection between nodes of commoning.

New technology

Digital tools allow us to scale up group dynamics; these are the new technological capacities that enable such production. The transaction costs are falling along with coordination costs (see cooking recipes).

Platform and Open Cooperativism

Platform coops and open coops share the same values. They overlap but have different narratives:

  • Platform coops are about democratising the ownership and control of the digital platforms that mediate our day-to-day activities. The commons are not a core part of this message, but something additional.
  • Open coops are supportive of Platform Coops and the urgent need they address, but in general they are more future-oriented. Open Coops can be described by 4 non-prescriptive patterns:
  1. Oriented towards the common good and not only to the members interests; it is included in the statutes
  2. Multi-constituent, they seek to enfranchise all those present in the value chain.
  3. Actively co-producing commons and giving back to the commons.
  4. Transnational in nature.
  • Open coops can advocate for filters on the use of a commons. An example is the Peer Production License: depending on certain criteria, you may use a commons freely or you may need to pay a monetary fee. The idea of open coops is not to make it transnational from the top, like Mondragon did in Spain, but to replicate it locally (mainly through open source) and perhaps confederate later.
  • Could these 4 patterns be added to the 7 ICA principles and be a field for negotiation?

Debates and reactions

  • Who can be part of the community? These are the commoners who determine who is part of the community, it is more about equitable access (according to some criteria) than about strict equality. Yet, there is a risk that the rules set are discriminant against those perceived as “the other”. “This is the dark side of commoning” (Stacco).
  • What is the true meaning of openness? Openness in a commons is more about transparency, replicability, and the right to share than the fact of being open to everybody. It is more about people being able to understand how things work.
  • From a union’s perspective, commons look like collective action but not formally organized. Yet with Ostrom, we see that there are rules, and they are more agile and flexible.
  • Commoning can take the shape of an institution. The division between the state and the market is a social construct. Commoning plays around and between those two worlds.
  • It’s hard to find resources for commoners. This why commoners need cooperatives and ethical market vehicles. They need to ensure their own social reproduction away from capital..
  • Commons is a sexy word and it can ignite the imagination, but it can also be coöpted; we have to be cautious.
  • What brings us together is an effervescence of solutions to the global socio-environmental crisis. ‘Commons-cooperation union’ could sum up our meeting. “The shared mission of our organisations is to help those who contribute to the creation of commons get recognized, paid, and be able to defend their rights and interests”. (Stacco)

The Cooperative Movement

Presented by Bruno Roleants (CECOP-CICOPA Europe)

What is a cooperative?

The starting point in the commons is the resource; in a cooperative, it is the community.

Cooperatives were created when the modern enterprise and the modern state were emerging. Since the beginning, a cooperative is:

An association of persons that have specific roles, common needs or aspirations. The persons are the stakeholders, which is why they make an link between the needs and the stakeholders. The needs are collectively identified, but the persons who create the coop also represent a wider community.

An enterprise, not a club. The enterprise is instrumental for the association of persons with 2 criteria: joint ownership, and democratic control.

The cooperative movement has been able to define itself and is now recognized by governments, trade-unions, people. This is the reason why cooperatives hesitate to change this definition, not to have to give new definitions to their partners.

Principles and Relation with the external world

The cooperative is by no means the final purpose of its members; it’s an instrument to reach a common goal.

There are 7 International Cooperative Principles:

  1. Open and Voluntary Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Members’ Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives
  7. Concern for Community

Some clarifying points:

Autonomy: A cooperative must be a private structure, independent from the State, which means that a public authority can’t retain the majority of the cooperative.

Openness: A cooperative must give access to persons who are eligible (eg. farmers) but it does not mean that any unemployed person can go into a workers’ coop in search of immediate employment.

Cooperation between cooperatives: This principle can create bridges between cooperatives and may be applied to open coops and/or commons.

Relations with the community: You must plug into a wider community. This principle, formerly implicit, officially became the 7th ICA principle in 1995.

Democracy: the principle one person/one vote can be adapted, by giving the possibility to have several delegates to the general assembly, who have each one voice.

Financial aspects:

Each member has to participate in contributing to the capital. Remuneration is often strictly limited and calculated according to the volume of transactions. The surplus made by the cooperative can be distributed among members according to the volume of transactions made with cooperatives.

Moreover, a certain part of the surplus must be reinvested within the coop as an indivisible reserve, which is non nominal. This often represents an important percentage of the equities. There are 2 opposing views on this crucial point:

  • The reserves must be shared if the members decide so (UK, North of Europe)
  • The reserves are indivisible and must be devoted to a similar organization or to the State in case the cooperative terminates.

Connection with the Commons:

  • Contrary to the Commons, cooperatives start around communities, not resources.
  • The multi-stakeholder coop model seems to be thriving, eg. the social coops model in Italy or the SCIC model in France. They are oriented towards general interest services.
  • Three facts seem to have put more emphasis on the commons recently: shifts in property law, the rise of technological innovations, and a growing ecological concern.

Debates and reactions:

  • How to connect the commons with employment rights?
  • Can indivisible reserves be considered as commons?
  • Can human capital be considered as a commons? See the education principle.
  • The multi-stakeholder form of cooperative seems to be a structure facilitating commons (but multi-stakeholder coops are usually not a commons per se).
  • New tools of open democracy are very interesting, but:
    • How can we lead good negotiations online?
    • How can we be aware of the stakes when we belong in several organizations?
    • How do we protect the weakest in open discussions, so as to avoid silencing people or taking decisions without someone’s opinion?*

The Social and Solidarity Economy

Presented by Nicole Alix (La Coop des Communs)

The Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) includes all the private legal bodies with activities in line with social economy principles: social goal, democratic governance, and profit (if any) mainly put toward the development of the enterprise, non-divisible assets, etc. They mostly include associations, cooperatives, mutual societies, or foundations.

SSE is an umbrella concept for different kinds of organizations, which all need institutional recognition.

The statutes are important and so are the rules and tools for managing and governing. Isomorphism can result from management tools.

There are different national cultures regarding the SSE. For example, recently, French law recognized social enterprises organised as commercial societies in its scope, which is not the case everywhere in Europe. And as regards unions, they are not much involved in the French social economy because social services in the working world have traditionally been assigned to works councils.

There is a trend towards a higher recognition of the SSE in Europe. CEP-CMAF, which was created in 1989, has become Social Economy Europe, which creates a list of standards very close to those of the cooperative movement. The European Council took a resolution on the SSE in 2015, as did the European Parliament also; many national laws recently took the same direction. Right now there is a trend towards institutionalization of the SSE, which helps regulation and legitimization, as opposed to, for example, the woolly or unclear concept of social business.

SSE has always been involved in services of general interest, the defense and promotion of which have been a great fight in the EU for nearly 30 years now. General interest and common good are always the result of hard negotiations. Making a stand for common goods is essential.

The commons are, in this respect, a response to the marketization of the SSE. There’s been a shift from a civic towards an economic conception of the social economy. Public procurements have changed the spirit of social economy: professionalization, concentration of structures, marketization… Civic and economic worlds shouldn’t be separated (e.g. the disregarded Third Sector). The commons have the advantage of merging both things. The common good can be a unifying concept for making coalition partnerships between public authorities, commoners, businesses, social economy structures. The commons can learn from the volunteering culture of SSE, for instance, some people are simply giving, but don’t ask for direct reciprocity.

The SSE principles oriented towards sustainability (asset locks, devolution of equities to a non for profit organization) can be helpful for the commons. Can the commons be part of the SSE?

Trade Unions

Presented by Thiébaut Weber (ETUC) and Alison Tate (ITUC)

In a sense, trade unions can be considered as commons: they steward the workforce, they form the community of workers, and they have a set of rules. They are not a productive entity but they ensure that the value created is remunerated fairly.

Would trade-unions be useful in a world of commons and cooperatives? Our social model is our commonwealth.

Unions are fundamental to keeping things together in order to allow people to make the best of their growing autonomy (enabled by digital platforms, for instance) rather than being exploited. They should also protect commons (skills, infrastructures…) to allow workers have the productive means in their hands.

Trade unions’ claims regarding the digital economy are focused on more information on the productive processes of platforms, better coverage of non-standard forms of employment or independent workers, openness of data. They want to accompany change in order to reach an acceptable digital transition in terms of working conditions. They challenge this new conception of work, ie. “we are all entrepreneurs”.

Workers and unions are concerned by the global supply chain: they do not want to lose what they have fought to get. Previous experiences of transition were not successful. The narrative on the commons have to focus on these preoccupations: protecting together the standards we have.

There are two good entrances to convincing unions to commit to the promotion of commons:

  • The sustainability of companies is more sustainable (the way the wealth is produced and managed)
  • The quality of jobs, how to manage the work forces.

Debates and reactions:

  • What brings us together is the quest of a better work (ILO’s “decent work”) and it goes through a revival of cooperativism, unionism…
  • We have to extend the range of work and social protection. According to SMart, getting out of the employer/employee relation is the only way to come up with universal security.
    It is also important to recognize invisible/unpaid work. For the moment, no one recognizes those who contribute to the commons because they don’t get paid for it. The issue of universal basic income, proposed by Guy Standing and supported by many unions, is a federating concept to that matter.
  • There is a need for alliances. Union coops have been successfully developed in the UK and the US. There is also an enormous field of collaboration to be envisaged at the ILO or at the European Commission.
  • In many cases, it is more the role of states to regulate, so it is complicated to find alliances between cities and unions in Europe, while in the US, for example, it is more on the city level that things like wages are negotiated, as shown by the campaign ‘Fight for 15’. But unions can bargain with cities when it’s appropriate.
  • Could unions use their pension funds to help? It is a longstanding discussion within unions but for now, nothing is happening. Pension funds of union trusts (essentially in the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian world) have investment criteria like tobacco disinvestment or labor conditions, but focus just a little on the social economy.
  • We have to be careful about the commodification of all sectors, like the care sector.

Unions and Cooperatives in the UK

Presented by Pat Conaty (Co-operatives UK)

Developed economy is becoming undeveloped economy. We see new enclosures of work, of social protection, of land. Precarious housing is accompanying precarious work.

British unions go way beyond their core mission of defending the workers’ rights: because precarious workers and social issues are intertwined, unions in the UK are supporting initiatives like housing coops, social coops, community land trusts, and try to create a synergy between those fragments of life.

In the Anglo-Saxon world, community development is very important (especially in the US with the Civil Rights Movement) for empowering marginal populations in community-based enterprises.

There are several unions that work tightly with coops to provide good employment to the community, eg. the musicians’ union in London, self-employed teachers; they somehow act as labor brokers.

A sectoral strategy should be considered.

In the UK, cooperatives widely resort to capital raising. Community shares have been issued in the UK (“cooperative crowdfunding” with equity) for land trusts, pubs, football clubs, etc.

Cities and Municipalities

Presented by Erdmuthe Klaer (Reves Network)

REVES is a political network bridging cities/regions and local/regional social and solidarity economy structures. The context of cities/regions is really specific depending on the country, culture etc. However, everywhere you see that more and more, they recognise the need to build partnerships with other local actors (social and solidarity economy, other community organisations, universities, etc.).

Regarding the digital economy, cities/regions might act from different motivations. In some cases, the link is by accident, for example, when there is an issue with a platform like Uber or AirBnb. Others might already have strategies for the development of the digital economy as the economy of the future – but not all link them to other objectives they might have in parallel, such as the promotion of the social and solidarity economy. In other words, a kind of overall vision linking both might not exist in a number of cases. Some cities have begun to develop these overall visions and consider the digital economy also as an instrument to promote SSE. Still others may wish to do the latter, but do not have resources and capacities.

REVES developed, tested and adapted the Territorial Social Responsability (TSR) method, with experimentation in Italy, Sweden, Poland and Spain. Starting from a territorial analysis of needs and a reflection on the vision of inhabitants of their community (via tools enhancing participation), principles are developed. These principles are used by public authorities, enterprises and organisations to review their practices and strategies.

Based on TSR, the Community Foundation in Messina was built. It works based on funds, fixed assets and knowledge shared and further developed by a broad alliance of local actors (including the social and solidarity economy) with the aim to serve the local community and well-being of all. In Poland, social policies were developed using the TSR method. In Berlin, the Pfefferwerk Foundation is a good example for community-based urban development.

Public procurement has to be rethought: is the government entitled to make all choices for the citizens? Is it good to put social economy actors in competition? In cities such as Brescia, they do not carry out public procurements, instead they are convening diverse local actors to discuss what the needs and potentials are, and the projects they should launch.

It would be interesting to define a bit better the relationship between these examples, open cooperativism, and commons.

Debates and reactions:

  • In Great Britain, a coalition of community land trusts acquired about 50 lands in several years without almost no help from public authorities. Maybe this model can be replicated, especially as physical spaces are much needed. Therefore, help from cities would be highly valuable.
  • Developing territories/real spaces is a key issue, because even digital commons need physical spaces. But let’s speak of spaces rather than of cities because otherwise we would forget rural areas, which are already marginalized.
  • We should consider the strategy of rezoning: when people favor local shopping, local development, rather than big brands and so on. It could be a strategy for the commons.

The experience of collaborative commons in Barcelona

Presented by Bruno Carballa (Dimmons, Commons Network)

The commons culture of Barcelona is rooted in a tradition of self-management, cooperatives and autonomy. The election of the Barcelona en Comu mayor can be partly explained by this ethos, and the city government is very local (≠ Podemos), coming from social movements, which can explain this cohesion.

There are many networks of common use in Barcelona and the digital commons mostly replicate the physical world interactions and are generally neighborhood-rooted. This policy is supported by the city hall. They have a sort of incubator for digital social projects: La Comunificadora, there are also research projects in line with this commons strategy (Dimmons for digital commons, IGOP for political science and urban commons). They bring knowledge to policy makers/actors and have a role of networking (eg. the Procomuns conference).

However there are downsides. Despite the city’s will, they don’t have much legal power to promote these initiatives, and some decisions can be contested at national or European levels. There is also a lot of wishful thinking, and they don’t have many resources. Another problem is that many initiatives happen but don’t mutualize.

Debates and reactions:

  • In Brussels there will be be a regional election soon and there is a movement that wants to push for a commons strategy. How to replicate the Barcelona example? Barcelona has a very territorial spirit that goes beyond political divisions (often people identify with their district’s name); there is also a Barcelona en Comu narrative.
  • There is a neoliberal independent party in power in the region so it’s hard to have a complementary strategy between the city and the region.

Territorial commons

Presented by Julien Lecaille (L’Assemblée des Communs)

After the festival Le Temps des Communs, which took place in Lille some years ago, they created the Commons Assembly of Lille.

Their activities include a mapping of the ecosystem (eg. coworking spaces), launching a territorial web search engine (Communecter), developing a General Political License, a Legal Service for Commons (free servers hosting community websites). They use a wiki.

They also work tightly with POP, a social enterprise specialized in the commons. POP has contracts with cities, businesses, etc. These contracts recognize the participation of commoners in the creation of services, and reciprocity agreements define how the company reinvests in the commons (tools, particular individuals, etc.).

In Tournai (Belgium) the Co-Construire event will take place from August 29th to September 1st, consisting of 4 days of workshops on writing a reciprocity contract, legal, fiscal implications and more.

Reflections on the Deep Dive Dialogue

These are the general reflections that emerged from the group’s dialogue, compiled by Guillaume Compain. They do not necessarily reflect any collective agreements, but more mutual understandings and a general train of thought to take our efforts forward. It is also important to note that the reflections were made on a personal level by those present at the Deep Dive and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the organizations or sectors they represent.

The commons as a paradigm shift

At once a system of regulation, a social process and a way to see the world, the commons offers a new paradigm in how to consider the production and stewardship of resources. In a commons approach, a community manages a specific resource and sets itself a range of rules for use, adaptable through time. The commons can be used to steward a physical resource, such as a fishery or a hunting ground, or a digital resource, like the knowledge pool Wikipedia, for instance.

The rationale of the commons is to take care of resources, not to extract value out through a process of commodification. It is a generative economy rather than an extractive one. The commons fight against marketization and enclosures, and in turn favor the openness of resources. At the same time, care must be taken regarding commons-washing (similar to greenwashing and sharewashing). A commons approach can be demanding and needs to have clear rules.

Promoting economic democracy

The commons bring a new perspective to economic democracy by introducing a new kind of regulation of resources, where the people are no longer in the dichotomy of producers or consumers; these roles are intermingled. Although it deals with a resource rather than with a need (as cooperatives do) commoners share with the cooperatives the vision of a democratic way to organize human activities. The commons are in line with the spirit of multi-stakeholder organizations such as the SCIC cooperatives in France, the social cooperatives in Italy, or the model of open coops promoted by the P2P Foundation, ie. transnational multi-stakeholder cooperatives contributing to the commons and oriented towards the common good.

All agree that the multi-stakeholder cooperative should be supported more deeply. The multi-stakeholder cooperative could even be a structure facilitating the commons (even though it can’t be a commons per se).

Empowering the community and favoring local development in new partnerships with public bodies

In recent years there has been a shift from a civic to an economic conception of the social economy. Notably, public procurements have changed the spirit of the social economy: professionalization, concentration of structures, marketization. Civic and economic worlds shouldn’t be separated (as it is with the disregarded “Third Sector” term).

The commons are a response to the marketization of the SSE and they can be a unifying concept to make coalition partnerships between public authorities, commoners, businesses, and social economy structures in order to enable participatory local development. This is in line with REVES’ strategy. REVES have tested and adapted the Territorial Social Responsability method to enhance citizen participation (eg. Community Foundation in Messina, Social Services Charters). For example, they push for a rethinking of public procurement whereby cities should convene a diversity of local actors to discuss what the needs are, what are the potentials and the projects they should launch. We should consider strategies of rezoning (local shopping, local development). The British model of community land trusts, acquiring urban spaces often with the help of cities, also seems to be an interesting option. Let’s also not forget rural areas, which are already marginalized.

The latest improvements of digital tools also help enhance the direct participation of citizens. P2P technologies, for example, allow the free collaboration of people, a new kind of collaboration, not designed a priori nor from top-down approach. Yet, developing physical spaces is a key issue even to support digital commons, because commoners need physical spaces for their activities.

A commons cooperative economy?

An economy where networks of cooperative organizations would use and steward shared commons can be envisaged. This is essentially the concept of open coops. The use of these shared resources could be based on certain criteria (socio-environmental purpose, openness, contribution to the commons) and through different mechanisms, like licenses.

Several territories are beginning to experiment with the development of an economy of networked organizations using commons. In Barcelona, the commons culture is rooted in a tradition of self-management, cooperatives and autonomy, and is now backed by the municipality (Barcelona en Comu, a left-wing government close to social movements) through some instruments like La Comunificadora (a sort of incubator for digital social projects) and two research projects bringing knowledge to policy makers/actors and having a role of networking (Dimmons for the digital commons, IGOP for political science and urban commons).

Yet, at the city level, they lack resources and legal power. Another example can be found in Lille with the Commons Assembly. Among their activities, they are doing a mapping of the ecosystem, launching a territorial web search engine (Communecter), developing a General Political License, and Legal Service for Commons (free servers hosting community websites). They also have an interesting interaction with POP, a social enterprise specialized in the commons, whose commercial contracts recognize the participation of commoners in the creation of services and define in what terms the company reinvests in the commons (tools, particular individuals,etc.). The Co-Construire event will take place in Tournai (Belgium) from August 29th to September 1st, with 4 days of workshops on writing a reciprocity contract: legal, fiscal implications, and more.

Supporting commoners and promoting decent work

Considering all the potential virtues of commoning for the empowerment of the community and economic democracy, there is a need to help those who contribute to the creation of commons get recognized, paid and able to defend their rights and interests.

First of all, it is important to find out how to connect the commons with employment rights. Unions were also worried about the role that would be offered them in a commons world. We have to extend the scope of work and social protection. According to SMart, considering access to social protection and labour rights outside of the employer/employee relation is the only way to overcome many current challenges. Multistakeholders coops and common based initiatives allow that frame, as participants are also owners.

It is also important to recognize invisible/unpaid work. For the moment, those who contribute to the commons aren’t recognized for their economic and social contribution because they aren’t paid, and aren’t paying social contributions. The solution of universal basic income, supported by some organisations, is challenged by others as too liberal. This issue has to be studied.

The necessity of being inclusive

Moreover, new tools of open democracy, although very interesting, carry certain risks. Can we lead good negotiations online? How can we be aware of the stakes when we belong to several remote organizations? How do we protect the weakest in open discussions, so as to avoid silencing people or taking decisions without someone’s opinion?

The commons can learn a lot from the volunteering culture of SSE. For instance, sometimes people just want to give without asking for direct reciprocity, so measuring the contribution to a commons is maybe not always necessary, although recognition and acknowledgement of such contributions is always helpful.

A need for alliances within the social and solidarity economy

The commons are both a way to empower citizens and to strengthen the actors of the social and solidarity economy. Therefore, it requires and allows for stronger collaborations between coops, unions, cities, associations, etc. We have a large window of opportunity here, all the more as there is a trend towards a higher recognition of the SSE in Europe, that helps regulation and legitimization: the European Council took a resolution on the SSE in 2015, as did the European Parliament, and several national laws recently took the same direction. At a more micro level, self-help organizations like coops, mutuals and unions are appropriate answers to the shortcomings of our current social model.

The world of cooperatives can be highly valuable for the support of commoning. In the UK for example, cooperatives often resort to capital raising. This model could be expanded and used to support the commons. Another idea emerging from our discussion is to study to what extent the indivisible reserves of cooperatives could be considered as commons.

We have a wide field of collaboration between our respective organizations, notably at the ILO or at the European Commission.

The path to alliances with the unions

More than ever, unions are required to face the growing precarity of workers under the digital economy.

Union cooperatives have been successfully developed in the UK and US. In various cases, unions have acted as labor brokers and worked tightly with coops to provide good employment to the community (e.g.: a union supporting a musicians’ coop in London, another union supporting a cooperative of self-employed teachers). Community unions go way beyond their core mission of defending workers’ rights. Because precarious workers and social issues are intertwined, they support initiatives like housing coops, social coops, community land trusts and try to create a synergy between those fragments of life. A question is raised: could unions use their pension funds to help support this commons economy? It is a longstanding discussion within unions but for now nothing is happening. Pension funds of union trusts (essentially in the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian world) have investment criteria like tobacco disinvestment or labor conditions, but barely consider social economy. However, we can see that unions can be a precious ally in the promotion of commons and more cooperative models of organization for the future economy.

Two good entrances to convince unions to commit to the promotion of commons would be to show them i) how useful the commons can be to help the companies become more sustainable and ii) how it could impact the quality of jobs.

As a conclusion, we all agree that we should all join forces and go deeper in our common research, strategies and actions. Hence, a further reflection on the missions of our group is developed below.

Tentative Conclusions

Throughout the deep dive meeting, participants reached several common understandings as follows.

  • The idea of commons can be an umbrella concept of this encounter. It was agreed that the idea of commons which has been strongly promoted by the commons movement can be also found in the value and practices of the SSE, the cooperative movement and the labour movement. More and more cities and regions adopt the idea of commons for managing citizens’ common resources through more participatory and democratic partnership. New initiatives and experiments are put in practice across different fields.
  • To solidify the idea of commons, specific organizational forms in the SSE (in particular, multi-stakeholder cooperative model) might be one of the good frameworks. Certain parts of traditions and practices in the SSE and cooperatives may be renewed and reactivated in light of the idea of commons. For example, some practices such as indivisible reserves could be rethought as creating and increasing common wealth in the community across generations. The concept of general and collective interest which is one of the core missions of the SSE may be enriched with the idea of commons as well. It is also expected that the idea of commons and its innovative methods might counter the tendency of instrumentalization of the SSE by the State and by the market.
  • As a broader but more concrete field, the role of cities and regions in promoting the commons received special attention. With the experiments already practiced in many cities and regions, it was stated that cities and regions have a growing interest in the idea of commons for building participatory partnerships with other local actors, as well as for developing the digital economy as an economy of the future.
  • It should be noted that there are increasing concerns about new forms of work and employment in the changing world of work, in particular in the digital economy. Whereas the digital economy allows people to organize their work and life in different ways and to engage in the creation and promotion of the commons, it has also produced a significant level of precarisation and informalization of work and employment. In this regards, trade unions have focused on the protection of workers with non-standard work forms and an acceptable digital transition in terms of working conditions. Interesting experiences of union cooperatives, of the collaboration between trade unions and cooperatives for protecting workers with non-standard work forms, and of SMart as a specific form of cooperative for providing social protection and rights at work to freelancers were shared.

Based on the 2-days discussion, the deep dive meeting participants agreed to maintain this community, tentatively named “Co-Communs” (COmmons with COooperatives, Municipalities and UNions) and to develop common actions for

  • research and knowledge
  • organization of meetings and events
  • political and legal advocacy
  • service provision

This nascent community is as still flexible and inchoate as the phenomenon it want to focus on. However, the participants of this community believe that in this way, diverse ideas, experiences and competences from different fields may contribute to the development of the phenomenon around the idea of commons and as a consequence, a broader alliance for making better and sustainable our society and promoting decent works in the digital economy will be constructed.

Appendix

List of Participants

Nicole Alix La Coop des Communs
Bruno Carballa Dimmons, Commons Network
Guillaume Compain La Coop des Communs
Pat Conaty Co-operatives UK
Louis Cousin Cooperatives Europe
Sarah De Heusch SMart
Lieza Dessain SMart
Hyungsik Eum CECOP
Erdmuthe Klaer Reves Network
Julien Lecaille La Coop des Communs
Alex Pazaitis P2P Foundation, P2P Lab
Bruno Roelants CECOP
Alison Tate ITUC
Stacco Troncoso P2P Foundation
Thiébaut Weber ETUC

What is the social mission of this group?

Deep Dive participants were encouraged to summarize in one sentence what the objectives of the group would be. Here are their answers:

Lieza: “Encourage cooperation between the networks and see what are the resources that we can mutualise in an ambitious way”

Sarah: “Analysing present, future and desirable organizations of human activities that make a sustainable society: particularly issues of visible/invisible work, participatory governance, institutions…”.

Erdmuthe: “Forming an alliance of organizations, able to create and spread a pool of knowledge and competences for sustainable and participatory local development and solidarity between territories”.

Alison: “To develop a platform to share experiments, experiences, best practices, and a knowledge base of democratic economy at local/village/city/regional/provincial/state/national/multinational levels”.

Hyungsik: “Maintain a network to inform and be informed of what each is doing on our common issues”.

Stacco: “If P2P/network dynamics are moving from the periphery to the center of the economic activity, let’s ensure the economic benefits are circulated towards the commons/production of social value and not absorbed by capital”.

Pat: “Develop effective union/coop partnerships to create good work in the solidarity economy and as commons”.

Nicole: “Using, through common activities, the commons framework and practices to empower ourselves and our organisations to transform us and the world in order to take care of commoning and prevent commodification”.

Bruno R.: “Better analyze and define the commons and its categories as well as the link between the commons and the creation and preservation of:

  1. decent and sustainable employment,
  2. local and regional development
  3. the preservation of natural and knowledge-based resources”

Alex: “From welfare to commonfare: promoting economic democracy, sustainable employment and livelihood”.

Bruno C.: “Provide expertise and do political advocacy to promote the development of the commons, SSE and new forms of ensuring decent work along with other similar organizations”.

Julien: “Contributing to the platform coop movement from a SSE, commons, trade unions and cities perspective”.

Guillaume: “Researching on and promoting (experimental) forms of multi-stakeholder cooperation (production or mutualization of resources) that include: a social mission, decent formal/informal work conditions, democratic governance and the stewardship of commons”.

What are the next steps?

As an emerging coalition, it is difficult to settle on concrete goals for the group. Certain directions emerged in the discussion, including:

Maintaining the community while helping and strengthening partner organizations by:

  • Mobilising our communities’ capacities (people, resources and underlying relations)
  • Mutualizing digital & physical infrastructures
  • Encouraging dialogue between our organisations
  • Collaborating with municipalities

Conducting research and knowledge work:

  • Pilot and quantitative research projects, studies, joint experimentations, support of experiences, mapping (Commons & Coops & SSE), European research projects.
  • Possible topics:
  • social protection, social insurance, model of decent work
  • good practices
  • data protection/digital rights
  • different models of commons

Organizing meetings/events

Creating an accessible online presence/narratives

  • Training
  • Pedagogy
  • Glossary & vocabularies

Pursuing political/legal advocacy:

  • Policy Papers
  • Outreach

Provide services:-

  • Funding base/access to fundings
  • Legal services
  • Training

These are all the possible directions the group put on the table, these must be prioritized and converted into specific actions.


This report was prepared by Guillaume Compain and collaboratively written by the workshop participants.

Lead image by Aaron Burden, other images by TODO, Chris Kay, Chris Lawton, Stephen Wolfe, Jaromír Kavar, Mercado Social Madrid, Marc Kjerland,Waldo Pepper, and the workshop participants.

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