Trade Union Support for Labour Cooperatives: An Experiment in Cooperation between Brazil and Canada

Article excerpt

The Confederation of National Trade Unions (Confédération des syndicats nationaux - CSN) in Quebec, Canada has promoted the creation of a group of autonomous organizations aiming at socially responsible economic development. The mission of these organizations is to provide technical managerial services and financial products in order to maintain and create jobs, giving priority to support for solidarity economy enterprises, including labour cooperatives.

Meanwhile in Brazil, the Metalworkers' Union of the ABC, an affiliate of the Central Union of Workers (Central Única dos Trabalhadores - CUT) in the Säo Paulo conurbation, has been supporting the salvaging of bankrupt enterprises by labour cooperatives since 1997. In these salvaged firms, as well as other experiments with self-managed enterprises, lie the origins of the Cooperative and Self-Managed Enterprise Centre UNISOL (Central de Cooperativas e Empreendimentos Solidarios), which has become a major grouping of labour cooperatives and solidarity enterprises right across Brazil.

With the participation of the Inter-Trade Union Department of Statistical and Socio-Economic Studies (Departamento Intersindical de Estatistica e Estudos Socioeconómicos - DIEESE) and the financial support of the Bank of Brazil, a partnership was built up between UNISOL in Brazil and Développement solidaire international (DSI) in Canada, aimed at developing an original analytical approach to supporting social economy enterprises and solidarity enterprises in Brazil and laying the foundations of a service and counselling bureau for collective entrepreneurship. The prospects are good for inter-union cooperation between the CUT and the CSN, via their partner organizations, in order to build a financial and technical support network for the Brazilian solidarity economy.

This article describes the solidarity cooperation action between the organizations within the trade union movement in Quebec (Canada) and Brazil with a view to assisting groups of workers to set up labour cooperatives aimed at maintaining and creating jobs. Concretely, this assistance consists in offering financial products and technical services in support of management, governance and economic efficiency aimed at facilitating the achievement of the social aims being pursued. These goals are the maintenance and creation of jobs, participative management of the workplace and access to collective entrepreneurship. The Brazilian and Quebec trade union movements have thus been instrumental in the creation of autonomous technical and financial instruments that are close to the trade unions and in harmony with their values. They chose to work together in order to share their experience and develop best practices that serve their members.

Capitalism in crisis, trade unionism and collective entrepreneurship in Brazil

The origins of the Metalworkers' Trade Union of the ABC (Sindicato dos Metalúrgicos do ABC - SMABC) in Brazil's Säo Paulo conurbation date back to 1933. This union experienced strong growth from the 1950s onwards at a time of industrial development, particularly in the automobile industry. From the 1970s, when its President was Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva (19751980), the SMABC played an important part in the struggle against the military dictatorship and in the gradual return to democracy. Mobilization against the rise in the cost of living, strikes and factory occupations culminated in the general strike of 1979, the first mass demonstration by Brazilian labour since the military coup of 1964. Its major contributions to the political and trade union life of Brazil, notably the creation of the Workers' Party in 1980 and the main Brazilian trade union confederation, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) in 1983, have made the SMABC a real beacon of social progress in Brazil (www.smabc.org.br). To this day, the ABC metalworkers' union has remained one of the most influential trade unions in the country. …