The Workers' Paradise A Discussion of Workers Cooperatives and Building the New Economy

October 19, 2009

#7 Solidarity

Solidarity, to me one of the most beautiful words in the English language, is not simply a cooperative value. It is a human value. To have a discussion about this value involves talking about so much more than the cooperative world, or of purchasing at the cooperative store. It involves talking about the key quality that creates societies and communities.

Of course, the first thing that must come to mind, upon hearing the word Solidarity, is the great labor anthem of the 19th Century that gave rise to the Industrial Workers of the World, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and Solidarnosc. Solidarity is a key part of other movements, specifically, the labor movement. The polish workers of Gdansk chose Solidarity to name their union because it is the hallmark of the labor movement from the days of the Knights of Labor to the democratic resistance in fascist Europe to the battles of the anti-imperialist movements of Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. It is about loyalty and the United Front.

Solidarity is a human value. It is what has allowed us to survive as a species. Sadly, upon achieving survival, we created economic systems that discourage solidarity and actively attack it through greed and avarice. A wonderful series called Ishmael and My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn discusses some of these concepts in human philosophical development. In her work, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein discusses how the fascists of South America (led by the Chicago Boys and Nobel Laureates Milton Friedman and Henry Kissinger) specifically attacked solidarity as a means to break the resistance to their new economy. Solidarity is the anti-thesis of ne0-liberals. It runs absolutely counter to the anti-value of self-interest expressed by Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and, to a lesser extent, Jeffrey Sachs.

Solidarity is a major part of the human experience, so nailing down its meaning can be quite difficult.

One of my favorite songs from my youth, Solidarity by Black Uhuru, explores this value:

“Everybody wants the same thing don’t they,
Everybody wants a happy end
They wanna to see the game on Saturday,
They wanna be somebody’s friend.
Everybody wants to work for a living
Everybody wants their children warm
Everybody wants to be forgiven
They want shelter from the storm.
Look at me, I aint your enemy
We walk on common ground
We don’t need to fight each other
What we need, what we need
Solidarity.”

Solidarity is friendship within the community, within the society. A mentor of mine, Tom Webb, program manager for the Masters of Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions, recently made this comment on the nature of friendship: Friends are people who can be relied upon. They care about you and you care about them. Friends forgive each other when they ‘mess up’ or lapse into human folly. You know each other’s true worth. You know where they stand and as time progresses you even can imagine with some accuracy what they might say in the face of some event. It is with friends that some of the best things in life are done. If you are truly fortunate in life you get to work with friends.

Solidarity is about something bigger than the needs of an individual. It is about experiencing the rites of friendship not only with the individuals that we determine to be our “friends” but also with our fellow travelers or in the case of the identity statement, the group of people who, along with us, voluntarily choose to associate to support our common culture, aspirations, and needs.

The Background Paper on the identity statement talks about solidarity as follows:

“The last operational value is “solidarity”. This value has a long and hallowed history within the international movement. within co-operatives, this value ensures that co-operative action is not just a disguised form of limited self-interest. A co-operative s more than an association of members; it is also a collectivity. Members have the responsibility to ensure that all members are treated as fairly as possible.; that the general interest is always kept in mind; that there is a consistent effort to deal fairly with employees (be they members or not), as well as with no-members associated with the co-operative.

Solidarity also means that the co-operative has a responsibility for the collective interest of its members. In particular, to some extent, it represents financial and social assets belonging to the group; assets that are the result of joint energies and participation. In that sense, the solidarity value draws attention to the fact that the co-operatives are more than just associations of individuals; they are affirmations of collective strength and mutual responsibility.

Further, “solidarity” means that co-operates and co-operatives stand together. They aspires to the creation of a united co-operative movement, locally, nationally, regionally and internationally. They co-operative in every practical way to provide members with the best quality goods and services at the lowest prices. They work together to present a common face to the public an too governments. they accept that there is a commonality among all co-operatives regardless of their diverse purposes and their difference contexts.

Finally, it d to be emphasized that the solidarity is the very cause and consequence of self-help and mutual help, two of the fundamental concepts at the heart of co-operative philosophy. It is this philosophy which distinguishes co-operatives from other forms of economic organization. In some countries, the concepts of self-help and mutual help have been ignored by governments, and co-operatives have been organized through government initiative, sponsorship and financial assistance; the unfortunate result is movements controlled and managed by governments. It is essential, therefore , the at  the solidarity of co-operators and co-operatives, based on self-help and mutual responsibility, be understood and respected, particularly in developing countries, but in industrially-developed countries as well. “

It is hard to add to the the background paper. Certainly, Solidarity does not mean turning a blind eye to the actions of friends or allies. It does mean keeping the discussion of those actions inside the cooperative community. For a worker co-op, Solidarity means that we honor each other (and express solidarity) by focusing our discussions and arguments in pursuit of the greater good for the co-operative. This means making our agendas and personal interests public to those in our co-ops. It means examining our own actions and positions to determine if we would still support it if we were an uninterested outsider. It means, to some extent, publicly supporting the co-operative–not complaining about our issues when elsewhere (coffee shops, taverns, and the like). It means accepting the decision of the group (blocking consensus only in extreme situations).

Ultimately, solidarity is the recognition that a community requires more than one person’s viewpoint to be heard and agreed upon. It requires more than one bloc or segment. It is a mosaic or a Mandela of people’s cultural, social, political and personal histories. When we join a co-operative, we are choosing a specific team. We are choosing to be part of something bigger than ourselves. With that membership and choice comes the responsibility of making ourselves subservient to the whole. This might run counter to some people’s ideas of individuality–that is fine. For them, the majority of the economic world has been built around the promotion of the individual and they should feel free to explore it. For those of us who believe that our economic world should express our humanity, solidarity is a value that shines bright and baths all of us in its glorious light.


No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress