Solidarismo is a form of worker organisation that serves as an alternative to trade unions. It originated in 1947 with an idea of Alberto Martén and it is particularly associated with Costa Rica, where it has grown strongly through and since the 1990s. By its critics, it is often referred to as a boss’s union because it responds principally to the economic interests of profit maximisation held by businesses, owners and managers.

Despite its name, the movement does not seek to generate solidarity within the working class. Its aim is to create harmonious relations between work and capital in the workplace; and in the long term, … the promotion of a form of ‘popular capitalism’.[i]

Solidarismo is a philosophical technique, like a movement with an evangelical route rather than a worker’s union. The concept suggests disputes between workers and bosses can be resolved through Christian principles and ‘arreglo directo’ (direct settlement) – a means of collective negotiation. Solidaristas contend that injustices and social inequalities are not the result of capitalism, but of unequal access to property, and that by becoming owners workers will start to share their boss’s aim of increasing the productivity of the company. Solidarismo also has a financial aspect to it which in Costa Rica is supported by law. People in solidarismo associations are often plantation administration staff, and the movement helps them to build their personal savings accounts by allowing frequent payments from wages to be made, and money to be loaned.

The methodology, however, is often abused because the three committee members of arreglo directo are supposed to be selected by plantation workers, but more often are put forward by the company and thus most disputes have a one-sided outcome. This is a way around collective bargaining and avoids the formation of unions which companies perceive as threats.

Today, the solidarista movement represents a serious challenge to unions throughout Central America.

[i] Equipo Envío (2009) ‘Solidarismo: nueva arma contra los sindicatos’, Revista Envío.