Argentina's co-operative sector continues to grow

12 Mar 2013

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During 2012, the number of worker co-ops in Argentina increased by 239 per cent. 

According to a study conducted by La Nacion, 6,024 new co-operatives were created throughout 2012. This represents an increase of 239 per cent on 2011.

Although most of these new co-ops are in the capital Buenos Aires, other areas have also witnessed an increase in the number of co-operatives, with 367 new co-operatives in José C. Paz, 63 in Córdoba, 110 in Santa Fe, 58 in Mendoza and 125 in Capital.

The same publication mentions that the increase was primarily determined by the support co-operatives have received from the government, particularly from Alicia Kirchner, the Minister for Social Development.

A more in-depth analysis of the growth of the co-op sector is provided in a report by the International Labour Organization’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean. The report explains how, due to the emergence of the economic crisis in 2001, co-operatives started to be regarded a more resilient enterprise model. 

Following the 2001 crisis, more than 60 per cent of the population of 37 million were below the poverty level and the unemployment rate reached 25 per cent. In this context, the number of worker co-operatives and factory takeovers by the workers increased considerably. In the first five years following the crisis, 6,938 new co-operatives had been created, according to the National Institute of Co-operation and Social Economy (Inaes).

Most of these are worker co-operatives offering unemployed young people the chance to join efforts and start their own social enterprise.

Before the emergence of the crisis, co-operative ownership was mainly regarded as a viable alternative to bankruptcy. The ILO’s report estimates that 95 per cent of the companies that managed to save themselves from bankruptcy between 1998 and 2000 have become worker co-operatives.

Patricio Griffin, President of Inaes, said: “The legal framework existing between 1976 and 2000 favoured neoliberalism in which co-operatives were considered simply the ‘salvation of bankrupt companies’, but later on a new legislative framework was created that changed this situation with, for example, the Law of Bankruptcy, a very important development for us. Now we need to do more."

From 2003 onwards various public policies were aimed at promoting co-operatives and enabling co-operative development. The Argentinian co-op movement has continued to develop, currently including 20 million co-operators and five million members of mutual societies. The National Confederation of Co-operatives of Argentina (Cooperar) comprises of 45 federations across various sectors. Among these some of the most important are worker co-operatives. There is also a co-operative food chain involving 1.5 million people across 4 provinces.

In the rural areas of the Buenos Aires province co-operatives provide 95 per cent of the electricity. The government has worked with co-ops on various development programmes such as Capacitación con Obras (Training on site), which enabled the development of 351 projects of urban infrastructure throughout 14 provinces, generating more than 15,000 jobs.

Housing co-ops also make a difference to the local communities, having built 25,000 new houses across various regions of the country. There are about 90 housing co-operatives in Argentina and they plan to build another 7,000 homes in the near future.

Co-operatives and mutuals also offer healthcare services to 2.5 million people. Cooperar is also active in tourism, banking, insurance, education and media.

Photo: Patricio Griffin, President of Inaes.