The Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC) has been a great source of inspiration for a new generation of cooperative projects around the world, which want to build an autonomous (from the state and capitalist market) economy by adapting the ‘CIC model’ to their local needs. A characteristic example is the Integral Cooperative of Heraklion (ICH) in Greece, which has managed to establish itself in the consciousness of the local community of Heraklion-Crete as one of the most interesting cooperative projects in recent years.
ICH was born in 2015 through two local networking initiatives with an activist bent. On the one hand, the Platform for Autonomy, Self-Sufficiency and Equality, an intiative of people from the milieu of Autonomy, had been preparing the ground since 2013, propagandizing and agitating for the networking of productive projects on the basis of a framework of values inspired by the ideological principles of the CIC. During the same period, another networking initiative had begun to germinate in the bosom of the local movement of the Commons (dating back to the 1st Festival of the Commons in 2013), which was also influenced by the cooperative model of the CIC.
Τhe two networking initiatives came close through a CommonsFest event in April 2015: in the context of this event, three core members of the CIC came to Crete for a week of workshops and meetings with local projects, which gave a strong impetus to the idea of creating a local ‘integral cooperative’. The arrival a few months later of the self-exiled charismatic leader of the CIC (who is now the driving force behind FairCoop), Enric Duran, pushed in the same direction. A visionary himself, Duran showed great zeal in propagandizing the reproduction of the CIC model in Crete. And so, the ICH emerged through the processes (in the milieu of local projects) triggered by the visit of the CIC members to the island, which resulted in the informal founding of the ICH at an open assembly in Heraklion at the end of the summer of 2015.
From the moment of its launch two years ago, the ICH has been closely integrated with the local exchange network in Heraklion, the so-called ‘Kouki’, which the ICH set up with the aim of covering the daily needs of the community. As in the case of the CIC in Catalonia, the local exchange network is a structure embedded in the operation of the Integral Cooperative and one of the main ‘tools’ it offers its members. More specifically, through the ‘kouki’ the ICH provides its members with a marketplace where they can exchange products and services by using the alternative currency of the local exchange network.
In practice, the exchange network constitutes a self-organized marketplace for the local community in which its members can buy and sell locally-available products and services. The payment can take the form of barter exchange or if that is not possible, it can be made by means of the alternative currency of the exchange network. From a technical point of view, keeping track of transactions and of members’ credit and debit balances is done through the Integral CES online platform (which, though originally developed by the CIC for its own needs, provides a plethora of local exchange networks around the world with the ‘technological infrastructure’ required for their operation); to put it simply, it is the ‘tool’ that members of local exchange networks use to manage their accounts.
One of the most important things ICH has done to increase its visibility is the autonomous public market, which it has been organizing (in collaboration with the local exchange group) since April 2016. At this public market, which takes place once a month at Georgiadis Park in the centre of the city, members can set up their stalls and exchange products with alternative currency. In parallel, various events – such as talks by ICH members – serve the purpose of spreading the principles of the ICH and mobilizing visitors. As a true cooperatively-organized project, there is an open assembly at the end of every autonomous public market, with the aim of coordinating the tasks required for the organization of the next one after a month.
The reason why this public market is called ‘autonomous’ is because it has consciously chosen to operate without the relevant license from the authorities: in that way it demonstrates in practice its autonomy from the structures of the state and exemplifies the principle of ‘economic disobedience’, that is, the conscious refusal to strengthen the state by paying taxes.
After two years of hard work, ICH believes that the time has come to scale-up its activities. Its immediate plans for the future include the development of ‘common infrastructures’ (like the cauldron ICH members could use this autumn to distil alcohol) and the provision of support for ‘partner projects’ like the retail outlet for the products made available through the local exchange network that some ICH members plan to open in the city in the coming months. Another important goal of ICH for the future is the organization of the autonomous public market on a more frequent basis and its expansion outside the city, helping thus the ICH reach out to the agrarian population in the countryside.