An Introduction to our Campaign
CONTENTS: What is SEIZE? | What is an Incubator? | What is the Solidarity Economy? | What is a cooperative? | How will SEIZE create an incubator? | What is the fee-levy system? | Why are there two referendum questions? | Where will the incubator exist? | Who is SEIZE working with? | What happened when SEIZE went to the CSU? | Project history | Budget and Funding to Date | Philosophy of SEIZE
The word SEIZE is an acronym. It stands for Solidarity Economy Incubation Zone (you can say “for Entrepreneurs” at the end if you prefer perfect acronyms) and refers to both the campaign to create an incubator and the group of people actively working on it.
An incubator is essentially a business accelerator, meaning an organization that takes in groups of people with the ambition to create new businesses/organizations, and gives them the training, the networks, the funding, and the support they need to reach success. The institution of an incubator operates as a service provider, with operations that include hosting conferences and events, paid placements, research internships , and courses on the relevant information & skillsets, among other activities. Incubators are commonplace in universities across the country, but research that SEIZE has conducted in the past (funded by the Concordia Council on Student Life) shows that there is no Solidarity Economy Incubator in Canada. To view this research, please see our resources tab.
As part of our campaign to launch the incubator, SEIZE is currently running an 8-week pilot certified course (Fundamentals of the Solidarity Economy). This was also conducted in the previous semester of Fall 2018.
We received double our capacity in applicants for each semester, including both undergraduate Concordia students and community members. The course was funded via a grant from the Sustainability Action Fund (SAF). Should the incubator campaign be successful, we hope to offer multiple curriculum each semester, with both core courses on fundamentals as well as specific topics necessary for early stage businesses and organizations. For example, this would include hands-on non-profit board governance training, which would be conducted in collaboration with Concordia undergraduate’s impressive host of more than 20 different non-profit student organizations.
The Solidarity Economy is a model centered around collective ownership and democratic control as opposed to profit. That is not to say that the economic realities of a solidarity economy enterprise do not guide its decisions, as every organization that exists in our economy must become financially sustainable. What it does mean is that there is a fundamental difference between the culture of a business that is grounded in the collective ownership and democratic assembly of its community, and the culture of a business that will grow to be controlled by the detached and questionable motives of laisse-faire economics. SEIZE is advocating that we channel the talents and ambitions of student and community entrepreneurs into creating cooperative businesses built around solidarity economy principles, and in so doing help facilitate an economic transition into a post-capitalist society.
A cooperative we define as a business model that is built around collective ownership (multi-investor) and democratic control (one member one vote). Cooperatives are built on their membership and are typically formed in equal part to generate income for their worker members (jobs) and to fulfill a socio-economic need of a community. How members are defined in a cooperative determines what kind of cooperative it is. For example, if your business model demands that only the workers of an organization form its membership, you have a worker cooperative, such as with the environmental solutions coop SSG, the marketing coop Belvedere, or the chocolate producing coop Camino. Sometimes a cooperative is formed from partnerships between a variety of stakeholders and membership can come in the form of user members, support members, and worker members, in which case you have a solidarity cooperative, such as Concordia’s Hive Café.
SEIZE’s activities for this semester are focused on a campaign with the CSU to launch the incubator through the fee-levy system. We planned for this to be achieved through two referendum questions in the CSU general elections in the spring of 2019. The first question is about the creation of the incubator via a new $0.35/credit fee with the CSU, and the second is about sourcing that funding by reducing the SSAELC fund by $0.35/credit, as suggested by a former referendum question students voted on in 2015. Both of our referendum questions are outlined in further detail below. Before circulating the petitions, we presented the referendum questions to CSU council for consultation on October 24th, as per their regulations. We were not told of any plans for the SSAELC fund at this meeting. A month later, the CSU put its own referendum question to ballot asking to transfer $0.36/credit of the SSAELC fund into the CSU operating fund.
The first referendum question followed all CSU procedures as outlined in their bylaws and standing regulations. It was submitted on December 3rd, 2018, with a petition of over 900 signatures. The following three months were spent in dialogue with the CSU’s policy committee, answering questions, incorporating suggestions, and clarifying issues. This resulted in a unanimous recommendation of approval from the CSU’s policy committee (see our resources tab for the minutes) to the CSU council. CSU council still had to vote on whether or not this first referendum question went to ballot, however. The meeting details are outlined below.
The fee-levy system is a method of funding that is administered through the CSU. Students vote on whether or not they want to pay an additional cost per credit towards a given initiative, and if they vote in favor, these fees are automatically stapled on to their tuition payments with the university. SEIZE will be campaigning to achieve a $0.35/credit fee levy. Should students vote in favor of the first SEIZE referendum question in the spring of 2019, the fees will go towards the operating budget of a new incubator, which we hope to launch in the fall of 2019.
The incubator will be established if the first of the referendum questions passes, the one that specifically asks for its creation:
- Do you agree to pay 35 cents per credit indexed to inflation in accordance with the Consumer Price Index of Canada, towards the establishment of a Solidarity Economy Incubator as proposed by SEIZE, effective Fall 2019?
The second referendum question carries out the mandate that students voted on in 2015, and reflects our group’s intimate understanding of the fee-levy system, as well as our experiences directly within the CSU and other comparable organizations. This question ensures that, should students vote to approve the incubator, it will not pose a net increase to student fees. This will be achieved through reallocating existing CSU funds that have already accumulated considerable holdings:
- Do you agree that the CSU be mandated to amend Special Bylaw I and affect the collection of the Student Space, Accessible Education, and Legal Contingency (SSAELC) Fund fee-levy so that it be lowered by a total of 35 cents per credit, in interest of ensuring the SEIZE initiative’s incubator fee levy will not pose a net increase to student fees?
The above question is very specific in nature and requires a short explanation of CSU history: The CSU collects money from students to finance itself through the fee-levy system, and in 2003 students decided through referendum to create what was called the Student Center fund. It was a $1.50/credit fee-levy intended to allow the CSU to eventually purchase its own office building. Fast-forwarding to 2019: It’s been 16 years, and the CSU has yet to purchase a new office.
In the meantime, the Student Center fund, which is now called the Student Space Accessible Information and Legal Contingency (SSAELC) fund, now holds more than $10,000,000. Furthermore, after being invested into socially responsible investment (SRI) portfolios at the demands of multiple student campaigns in recent years, it also makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in investment returns (in addition to its fee-levy, which is currently $0.39/credit after being lowered by the CSU repeatedly over the years).
The second referendum question calls for the reduction of fees in the SSAELC fund (which also involves amending the accompanying CSU bylaws) in exact proportion to the requested fee-levy for SEIZE, and following the suggestions of the referendum mandate of the 2015 election. We consider this a responsible means of creating new opportunities for our fellow students and local community while being more efficient in the way we collectively allocate and organize our own resources.
Should the fee-levy be secured through the campaign in the Spring, the incubator will operate out of a to-be-determined office space in the downtown core. While locating and negotiating for an office space, we will continue to run the curriculum and other core operations through booking university spaces (classrooms, etc.)
SEIZE is currently working with:
- Sustainability Action Fund
- Hive Café
- Concordia University
- Sociology Anthropology Student Union
- Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation
- Tree Amigos Worker Cooperative
- Coop Beigne Oui
- Center for Continuing Education
- Woodnote Housing Coop
- Milton Park Community
- Tree Workers Industrial Group
- Sustainable Concordia
- Divest Concordia
On February 20th, members of SEIZE attended the CSU council meeting where council was poised to vote on whether or not the first referendum question (the one concerning the fee-levy itself) would go to ballot.
The members of SEIZE were confident at this meeting, as all the indicators for the vote were favorable. The previous referendum mandate, the 900 students who supported the project via a petition, and the unanimous recommendation from the CSU’s policy committee were all factors that we hoped would encourage the CSU to acknowledge we had followed all procedure and that the students deserved a chance to vote on our campaign.
Unfortunately, this is not how the meeting played out. There was a question period of approximately a half hour where councilors expressed a spectrum of opinions on the project ranging from support to outright contempt. The matter of procedure was barely discussed, despite constant reminders from the members of SEIZE, a CSU executive, and the CSU chair to remain on topic. After the question period, the councilors decided to vote on the matter in a secret ballot, where they would not have to disclose how they voted, and the total tallies would not have to be announced. The question of whether or not SEIZE’s referendum question would go to ballot failed,
- September 2015 – Working group established between student and community organizers on how to build on the sustainable economic models being cultivated in the Concordia community. A question is developed to be sent to referendum for students to vote on:
- Do you as a member of the Concordia Student Union (CSU) support the CSU employing its resources, including a portion of the Student Space, Accessible Education, and Legal Contingency Fund, to establish an autonomous Concordia based solidarity economy incubator that will primarily engage students through the support, development, study, and promotion of democratic enterprises?
- November 2015 – The referendum question passes with over 80% of students voting “yes”
- December 2016 – The incubator’s original bylaws developed by multi-stakeholder working group for an incubator. However, the working group becomes involved in the more immediate work of the time (Hive Café, Transform Montreal, Woodnote Housing project etc.), the membership of the working group undergoes a transition. A new proposal is developed.
- October 2017 – The new proposal is presented to the CSU asking for a grant to begin multiple pilot projects of the incubator. The proposal referenced the referendum mandate, the successful projects of the organizers, and research carried out in CSU surveys. It is rejected by CSU council.
- November 2017 –The CCSL (Concordia Council on Student Life, overseen by the Dean of Students Office), grants $4000 funding for the proposal.
- January 2018 – The CCSL funding is used to develop groundwork for the incubator, and conduct research into incubators around the country. The incubator working group forms a soft partnership with the Sustainability Action Fund (SAF). The organizers of the working group decide the most appropriate mode of operations would be to launch through the CSU’s fee-levy system.
- March 2018 – The incubator working group decides to name the campaign SEIZE, for Solidarity Economy Incubation Zone. The CSU and Community Action Fund (CAF) grant SEIZE $3100 funding for consultations and campaigns.
- April 2018 – SEIZE forms a soft partnership with the Hive Café.
- August 2018 – SAF grants $5000 funding for SEIZE’s curriculum series pilot.
- September 2018 – SEIZE launches the curriculum series. The course receives double the number of applicants expected.
- October 2018 – SEIZE develops two referendum question to put to ballot for the CSU elections for the following year, and presents them to CSU council. Little feedback is given.
- November 2018 – SEIZE begins to circulate the petitions for each referendum question.
- December 2018 – SEIZE sends in our application for a fee-levy to the CSU, along with an accompanying petition of over 900 signatures. Conversations begin between CSU policy committee and SEIZE.
- January 2019 – SEIZE launches our second curriculum series. We again receive twice as many applicants as we have capacity. CSU policy committee gives a unanimous recommendation of approval to CSU council concerning the submission of SEIZE’s referendum question to ballot.
- February 2019 – CSU council votes against this recommendation in secret ballot. The Hive Cafe and Sociology & Anthropology Student Union (SASU) immediately call upon the CSU to reverse its decision.
|FUNDING BODY||DATE||Amount ($)|
|CCSL (Concordia Council on Student Life)||November 2017||4000|
|SAF (Sustainability Action Fund)||August 2018||5000|
|CSU (Concordia Student Union)||March 2018||1550|
|CAF (Community Action Fund)||March 2018||1550|
|CoopZone (in kind)||February 2018||2000|
|CWCF (Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation)||October 2018||500|
|CCSL (Concordia Council on Student Life)||November 2018||1000|
|Concordia Continuing Education||February 2019||200|
If you study or work in business, the language you adopt when speaking of the environmental and social impacts of capitalism includes such phrases as “negative/positive externalities”, “triple bottom-line”, “corporate social responsibility”, and so on. There has long been a futile effort within our traditionally capitalist economy to make itself sustainable by finding a way to reconcile the incredibly detrimental effects it has had on our environment, society, and politics with its perceived economic efficiency.
The fundamental building blocks of the Western capitalist economy are private ownership and the pursuit of profit. If a business becomes successful and grows large enough, within a capitalist economy it near-invariably takes on structures and adapts to conventions that ensure conformity to these principles. Ownership and profit become more and more concentrated and each individual arm of the enterprise becomes alienated from its own local community. The general rule has been that the more profitable they become, the more a capitalist enterprise’s accountability is divorced from people’s lives, our global environment, and often the wellbeing of their own workforce.
The inconsistency between the imagination of capitalism and the reality of nature has resulted in an unprecedented environmental crisis that capitalist institutions, as the instigators, are clearly unequipped to resolve. We must transition into a post-capitalist economic system, and this is precisely the purpose of the incubator.
An incubator is not driven by profit, it is driven to provide a service, as a non-profit organization (NPO). The standard model of financing an NPO of this kind is to secure the support of a multibillion-dollar foundation. But the democratic and collective processes of the CSU provide a rare escape from traditional models, which gives us an equally rare opportunity.
With the backing of environmental and social research, the experiences and voices of a community of stakeholders, and the tenacity of students, we believe now is the time to seize the means of production.