If there is an emblematic cooperative of immigrants in Spain, it is the restaurant, store and catering service from Madrid, Subiendo al Sur, which is more than 25 years old and has constantly changed and adapted to circumstances, including the crisis.
The cooperative is emblematic because it was born as a company that helped in all directions. It was established in 1997 by immigrants who had the intention of sending money to southern countries, mainly from Latin America, with sustainable and fair trade products.
The worker cooperative has enjoyed close links with social movements since its creation. Formed mainly by Peruvian immigrants, it was created with the support of NGOs working in the fair trade sector. Fran Dafur Díaz, the Peruvian director and promoter of the company, has cooperative culture in his DNA. He was raised under the uniquely Inca system, in which the so called “Minkas” are a kind of cooperatives and operate on a community basis between neighbors. Today, the company has four employees/members and two recently hired employees who, according to Fran, will become members if everyone agrees that they have a good relationship with the rest of the cooperative. Fair trade is the main tool of “Subiendo al Sur”.
They use fair trade products at the store as well as in the catering services and the restaurant. Fran had the dream of creating an import cooperative, but the crisis has made this impossible for the time being. "The most important thing for any cooperative is equity", said Fran a few years ago in an interview with Empresaytrabajo.coop, a newspaper published by the Spanish Confederation of Workers Cooperatives, COCETA. His dream was that other people could take over from him and that the position of director could be rotated amongst the members. "Everything can change and I hope that another person can manage the cooperative.
We want to train people to make this possible", he said at the time. But the crisis was stronger than he thought. Many of the events to which the cooperative provided services were organized by NGOs or institutions that no longer had money to spend on catering. An additional problem is that many of the immigrants who were in the cooperative at the beginning have returned to their country. Nevertheless, Fran is still happy. "We are pleased that we have managed to survive”, he says today. “Here we are, fighting, despite everything”. Immigrants who leave Spain Indeed “Subiendo al Sur” is a survivor compared with many other workers cooperatives created by immigrants.
For example, before the crisis, in Valencia, the Federación Valenciana de Cooperativas de Trabajo Asociado (FEVECTA) had reached an agreement with an association of immigrants to help them create cooperatives. Today, of the 17 cooperatives created by that agreement, only four are still alive and active. For immigrants, the negative economic situation is another incentive to return to their country, since in Spain they have to deal with the burden of rootlessness and the disadvantages of adapting to a different culture.
The crisis has driven many immigrants out of Spain; as explained in the Alternativas Económicas magazine, 231.000 foreign nationals left Spain in the period 2012 to 2014. As well as th economic difficulties faced by cooperatives, a further issue which has had an impact on their life and has led many immigrants to feel that they are being “invited” to leave the country, is the implementation of the “Real Decreto Ley 2012”, which was driven by the People’s party and which denies immigrants access to the health service. If an immigrant living in Spain today were to wish to unite his family, for example by bringing his parents over to Spain, they would not have access to public healthcare and would also be turned away from the private sector because health insurance companies refuse to cover the elderly.
Even though some cooperatives continue to survive, as is the case of Subiendo al Sur, if the pay is not sufficient, immigrants feel that they have no roots in Spain, that they cannot bring their loved ones over and ultimately they feel that the best thing for them to do is to go back home.