The Workers' Paradise

March 10, 2014

The Things We Know

Filed under: The Things We Know — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 7:00 am

This weekend I noticed a posting from a friend, colleague and mentor of mine: Tom Webb. He had found an old write up called The Things We Know. I am not sure of the source of this document, but if it comes from Tom, it probably has a rich history within the Canadian Maritime Cooperative Movement. I am sharing it today, but will spend the next few weeks, discussing each bullit point in more detail. So tune in, comment, and let’s have a great discussion about our coops (warts and all).

  • The successful cooperatives of the world are those that have grown out of the efforts and determination of the people themselves. It is not enough that coops be for the people, they must be of and by them as well.
  • The best coops are those that had dedicated and courageous leaders either in the very beginning or in their early) history
  • The capital created within the working of the cooperative is vastly more important than the financial resources of the members in the beginning
  • Coops make their best contribution to human welfare and social progress when they initiate policies and practices different from those of old line businesses
  • There comes a time in the development of every cooperative enterprise when it must have managerial ability of a high order
  • Coops that stand for something more than financial gains have amazing powers of survival in times of stress and difficulty
  • Coops that isolate themselves from other coops and refuse to join the bigger cooperative movement tend to shrivel up and die
  • Coops can withstand prolonged attacks from without, but they can’t survive weak or dishonest leadership within
  • Too much aid from government or paternalism of any kind will blight cooperative effort
  • Cooperatives with weak leadership resist change
  • There is no type business too big or difficult for the cooperative way
  • Too rigid a structure in organizational set up is a serious obstacle to progress in cooperative development, especially in a period of rapid change
  • Coops in which control narrows down to fewer and fewer hands tend to behave more and more like old line capitalism
  • A cooperative with no education program is in mortal danger
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February 24, 2014

The Big (Wide) Tent of Worker Ownership

Last month, I flew to Washington DC for a day to represent the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives as a member of the organization. The event was a series of meetings on Capitol Hill sponsored by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC)We met with staff from US Representative Chaka Fattah (PA-2), Senators Harkin (IA), Franken (MN), Warren (MA) and Bennett (CO) from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). We wrapped up the day with the main event: a meeting with Assistant Secretary of Labor (Employee Benefits Security Administration) Phyllis Borzoi. Along with me, representing my coop and the USFWC was Joe Rinehart with the USFWC, and representatives from Eileen Fisher, Dansko Shoes, and New Belgium Brewing. The latter organizations are all 100% worker owned Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) enterprises. We also had people from the National Coop Business Association and Mondragon USA.

It was, as the title suggests, a Big Tent for worker ownership.

It so happens that I am reading The Citizen’s Share (Blasi, Freeman and Kruse) right now. This book chronicles the varied and rich history of worker ownership in the United States from the earliest days of the revolution until today. It notes that 47% of US businesses have some sort of worker ownership from the 100% owned companies named above to Google and Microsoft in which all workers have the opportunity to participate in the risk of the company (apparently Bill Gates’ ownership stake is now only 6% of the company he founded).  The message of the day was to discuss the importance of worker ownership as a sustainable model for economic growth in the United States.

I enjoyed this group and the approach. Too often, the concept of sustainable business only gets used to discuss environmental issues such as climate change. The plight of modern day employees tends to be ignored. This allows organizations engaged in Union busting tactics to present themselves as good corporate citizens. I would argue that sustainability (both for the climate and the economy) can only occur if workers are treated well and get a share of the pie that they create.

ASBC’s role is to bring together the worker owned businesses and unite the ownership movement. One of the problems is that there are some bad actors that use the image of worker ownership without providing the benefits to the workers. This is not unique to our country, but the lack of Federal understanding of worker ownership and a corporation laws that vary from state to state make it difficult to understand when workers really benefit from worker ownership.

For example, the US government clearly recognizes ESOP, but has no understanding or definition for a worker cooperative. The USDA recognizes Producer Coops and this language tends to be used by the IRS to determine if a business is a cooperative for federal tax purposes. ESOP really aren’t a type of business as much as they are a retirement plan. That is an important distinction between and ESOP and worker cooperative (and an area where the two concepts could create a lot of synergy). Ass’t Secretary Borzoi remained skeptical from her experience policing ESOPs that have used the structure to evade the Fair Labor Standards Act, but was impressed with the group at the table.

In January, we began a discussion with the Federal Government about worker ownership in the modern economy. It was clear to all of us (at least in the practitioner world), that the Wagner model of industrial relations has become outdated. We need new rules and definitions that help guide a national economy in which cooperatives and ESOPs operate across state lines (thus triggering Federal oversight) and engage in worker ownership and control of the workplace. We need to create laws that address a large workplace in which the workers really control the means of production through a one-worker, one-vote method (regardless of the type of organization). We, in the coop world, also need to strengthen the social definition of worker cooperatives (promote the CICOPA Oslo Declaration) and raise our profile. We can’t and shouldn’t be constrained by the legal definitions of the individual states. A democratically run ESOP with 100% worker ownership (even with workers having different shares of ownership) is as much a cooperative as Ch. 185 coop in Wisconsin with only 60% of its workers as members.

My only disappointment was that we did not meet with any GOP connected staffers. I truly believe that our movement is non-partisan and resounds with all of the political parties in this country (major and minor). If we are building a big tent, it will be necessary to look beyond party labels.

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January 27, 2014

Block of Cheese–#AsktheWH

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 9:39 am

As legend has it, in 1837, President Andrew Jackson threw open the doors of the White House to invite the people to come sample a 1,400 pound block of cheese. Presumably, they also petitioned the government while they were noshing. For fans of The West Wing, it may be one of the top episodes.

On Wednesday, January 29, President Obama is holding a virtual “block of cheese” day. It is a day in which the public is encouraged to tweet or post on various social media questions for the President or his administration to consider. Using the hashtag #AshtheWH, and 143 characters, we have the opportunity to raise the profile of worker ownership and worker cooperation within the administration as it engages in its effort to affect the income inequality in this country.

To have any hope of an impact, however, our message needs to rise above the likely millions of tweets. This means using the phrase “worker ownership” or “worker cooperative” and (if there is room) noting the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives or another group, the American Sustainable Business Council.

I have come up with a few tweets that I am happy to share (in fact, I hope people take the opportunity to send them along):

  • Worker Ownership creates a sustainable economy, will POTUS make it part of the agenda? #askthWH #ASBC #USFWC
  • Washington and Jefferson used worker ownership to rebuild the cod industry, will Obama use it to build a sustainable economy? #askthWH #ASBC #USFWC
  • Worker ownership promotes income equity and a sustainable economy. Make worker ownership part of the economic agenda. #askthWH #ASBC #USFWC

Feel free to come up with your own, edit these, or what have you. Please post tweets here as well in the comments. The more of us doing this, the more likely that the idea of worker ownership might get noticed.

The Block of Cheese event isn’t going to change the world, or even change Washington. I certainly don’t expect any sort of sea change to occur because of this, but we need to do even the small things to raise our profile and this is one that all of our members can do from their phones, tablets, and computers.

 

Next Week: More on the American Sustainable Business Council and the Big Tent of Worker Ownership

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December 9, 2013

Education’s Role

Filed under: Uncategorized — John McNamara @ 5:52 pm

I recently celebrated (well, maybe “experienced” is a better word) my twenty-fifth anniversary at my cooperative. In 1988, I was looking for a way to make money until I hit grad school. I was seriously tired of bar tending (it really isn’t the job for an introvert personality and neither Madison, nor the bars that I worked at, we known for good tipping practices). Instead, I decided to drive a cab and further decided that I would like to see what a worker owned company was like. Obviously, since I’ve been there for 25 years, it can’t have been too onerous.

Worker cooperatives offer a lot. They are even enjoying a certain amount of prestige these days as they have been discovered by academics such as Richard Wolff and Gar Alperovitz. They success of worker coops across industry have renewed a debate in this country about work, liberty and democracy. We certainly deserve to be at the table. The ideal of collective ownership goes all the way back to Jefferson and his vision of the yeoman farmer.

I often wonder why we aren’t more numerous. In recent weeks, I engaged in a discussion on some of the cultural issues regarding this. However, there is more too it that that. Part of our problem, as a movement, is due to our own shortcomings. Primarily, we fail to educate each other. More so, we fail to push ourselves to challenge the way that we do business. What I mean by this is that we ultimately fail to engage in education of ourselves and our fellow members and too often simply adopt industry standards and “best practices” as the only viable means of running our business.

I don’t mean, of course, the larger movement. The US Federation, the Democracy at Work Institute, Democracy at Work Network, and Cooperationworks! have committed to education about the cooperative model. Unfortunately, too often those lesson don’t get inside the actual cooperatives. It is in the cooperatives that education tends to take a second seat (or third) to operations and the crisis of the moment. This may be a “big” coop problem (coops with more than 100 workers), but I think it is a general problem (and I recognize that some coops do have extensive education programs). People engage the coop model for our personal reasons (lifestyle, politics, etc), and cooperatives tend to bring people in for the needs of the organization. Hopefully, the more inspired coops see propagating the cooperative model as one of their needs.

Education in a worker coop should go beyond job training. It should go beyond a class to understand financial statements or the basic operations of the coop. It should promote the history of the movement. It should challenge financial statements as a means of perpetuating a particular economic model. Is health care an expense or an owner benefit? Terms such as “efficiency”, “productivity” and “quality of life” need to be broken down and redefined for worker owned business. What is the meaning of being an “owner” in a worker coop? I often hear members say that someone doesn’t have to attend meeting to be any owner just do a good job. What does “doing a good job” mean as an worker-owner?

We need to take the time to explore these issues. Otherwise, we fall into the trap of measuring ourselves against our competitors and the race to the bottom begins.

 

 

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November 25, 2013

Putting Your Money Where It Helps: Become a US Worker Coop Sustainer

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 12:29 pm

There is an old saw that “money is like manure, it only works if you spread it around!” Too often money gets conflated with “profit” and the idea of raising capital seems a bit wrong. As a result, worker movements have a tendency to live on shoe-string budgets and hinder their ability to effect change in the world. To this, I am reminded of the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life!” when Clarence proclaims, “Oh, we don’t have money in Heaven!” George retorts, “Yeah, well it comes in pretty handy down here, bub!.”

Our movement to create a more sustainable economy based on humane and democratic workplaces requires that we support our organizations and put our money towards building that world that we want to see. That is why I am asking you, dear reader, that you step up and support the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives by becoming a sustaining supporter. A minimum donation of $10 per month will go a long way towards help this apex organization represent worker coops, provide support to existing and new coops, and help build the worker coop community.

In addition to “being the change” that you want to see, you also need to fund it.

The US Federation has done a lot since its inception in 2004. It has produced four national conferences some of which included special volunteer actions (such as in New Orleans in 2008), created the Democracy at Work Institute and the thriving Democracy at Work Network of Peer Advisers. The USFWC has worked hard to raise the profile of worker cooperatives as a sector of the larger cooperative movement by nominating candidates for the NCBA board, demanding a worker coop seat on that board, participating in last year’s White House meeting on cooperatives, and attending conferences and apex level meetings through out the world. The USFWC is poised to begin helping to draft new laws to enhance and protect our movement. The USFWC provided leadership and support in the creation of CICOPA-North America.Almost all of this has been accomplished with half-time Executive Director and a Quarter time Membership coordinator. Our movement needs our support and that means that as individuals, we need to step up.

I realize that there are a lot of demands on our time and money. If you are in the position to send $10 a month or more to an organization that works to build a better, more sustainable world based on humane and democratic workplaces, please act on that feeling of solidarity hit the link at the top of this post and sign up today!

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November 18, 2013

Ian MacPherson ¡Presenté!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John McNamara @ 12:57 pm

This morning I, and the rest of the international cooperative community, received news that Ian MacPherson had passed on. The Canadian Association for the Studies in Cooperation (CASC) issued an appreciation of his life (see below).

I had the opportunity to meet Ian in 2007 at a combined conference of CASC, the Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE) and the ICA Research Committee in 2007. It was his last conference as chair of the ICA Research Committee. I also met and talked with him at the ICA events in Italy and Oxford. The appreciation by CASC covers his incredible work within the cooperative movement. I would add that his work as a board member of the ICA and specifically his work towards the drafting and approval of the Statement on the Cooperative Identity cannot be over appreciated. He managed to convince an international organization such as the ICA, the largest NGO in the world, to fundamentally change its core definition from the “Rochdale Principles” to the all-encompassing Statement on the Cooperative Identity.

I remember speaking to him about that effort. He told me that the discussion over the meaning of honesty (a cooperative ethical value) within the cooperative context spanned over eight hours. His background paper on the statement helps to suggest all of the nuance of the final document. Please hit the link and read through it–it should be required reading for anyone that wants to understand the cooperative movement beyond the Statement.

One of the qualities that I noticed in Ian right away was his sense of humor. He was a genuinely funny person who enjoyed a laugh. His humor was never cynical, but he also never seemed to allow himself or others to take “the cooperative movement” too seriously. He always had a gleam in his eye that suggested that however serious the topic on hand may seem, there was a humorous aspect to it. He would have been at home in the Democracy at Work Network which puts a priority on having fun.

Another quality that I saw and heard about over the years was his willingness to welcome new people into the group. Nobody needed to prove themselves to Ian that they belonged. He championed new scholars such as myself and others. I didn’t know him well, but he always seemed to enjoy learning from new voices. He made a point of reaching out to them and welcoming them into the group especially in the social settings where networks are created.

It has been a few years since I have seen Ian mainly because I haven’t been able to attend conferences or have the time at conferences that I would like to have for the socializing. He is a role model for all of us doing this work. Keep the humor, embrace the new folks, and educate.

Ian MacPherson. ¡Presenté!

 

UPDATE: A website in his honor has been established at  http://www.ianmacphersonmemorial.blogspot.ca/.

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November 4, 2013

Managing Old Industries: A lesson for aging coops

Filed under: Management — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 12:56 pm

Last week, Mondragon’s General Consul announced that it had decided to cease its efforts to stabilize the FAGOR Cooperative Group. FAGOR electronics makes kitchen appliances: stoves, ovens, refrigerators, and even pressure cookers. It is the original Mondragon cooperative that began life as ULGOR (an acronym consisting of the first letter from the last name of each of the five founders).

Mondragon, for those new to this blog, is a system of hundreds of individual worker cooperatives that link together vertically and horizontally to creation one of the largest corporations in the world. The Mondragon Experience, as they call themselves, includes manufacturing, transportation, retail, k-University education, finance, and even their own social security system that rivals that of Spain and other European nations. FAGOR, itself, is not a single cooperative, but made up of hundreds and it is one of the larger sectors within Mondragon.

When I visited Mondragon in 2007, the warning signs were already present. Mondragon had just negotiated the purchase of Brand Corp, a French “white-appliance” manufacturer. This purchase would make Mondragon the third largest manufacturer of kitchen appliances in the world. Even then, however, they realized that the nature of the industry would only leave room for two, not three.

Part of the problem arises from the aging of the industry of kitchen appliances. The oven, range, and refrigerator have not changed since their inception with the exception of various bells and whistles (self-cleaning, timers, and electronics that can tell you your milk is about to curdle). One could even argue, that the biggest advent in refrigerators occurred when we no longer had to put blocks of ice in the back for cooling. Likewise, the stove and oven’s biggest advance was being able to use electricity or natural gas instead of wood or charcoal. These advances happened during a different century. Old industries are hard to compete within. The main way of competition is reducing costs and the biggest costs are that of labor and transportation. Without a US manufacturing base, FAGOR has little options and spreading its workforce outside of the Basque Country runs against its mission and creates its own problems (as the strike in Poland during 2012 pointed out).

The second problem arises from sentimentality. FAGOR isn’t just any group of cooperatives in the Mondragon experience. It is, literally, the stuff of legends. It is the physical embodiment of the vision of spiritual leader Don Josê Marîa Arizmenidaretta and his five students. It created the foothold that led to the creation of the Caja Labora Popular. Without FAGOR, there would be no Mondragon.  In 2007, we met with members of FAGOR and they seemed resigned to their fate. They knew that the Brand purchase was treading water. I asked about the idea of re-tooling the plants for other products, but that is apparently not an option for reasons that I don’t understand, not knowing the manufacturing industry.

Under Mondragon’s system, each cooperative kicks in about 10% of its surplus to a solidarity fund that then assists struggling cooperatives. Over the last several years, FAGOR has accepted close to 300 million Euros (close to half a billion, US). It seems, from reading the press release, that Mondragon has finally decided to cease life-support for lack of a better word. This will likely bring a process of bankruptcy.

I am uncertain as to how this will effect the workers and their substantial equity in the organization. Each member invests 14,500 Euros. Membership also provides benefits through the system. Hopefully, there will be some ability for workers to move to other areas of Mondragon with their equity. In any event, this will be a painful time for the cooperative.

I also think that it will be an important time for Mondragon planners to learn. This will be the first, but not the last, time that they will need to effectively shut down a industry that has become too old to produce decent jobs. It might provide some lessons about how to transition factories from one industry to another, how to build economic diversity within cooperatives so that as an industry becomes too unproductive, it won’t have such a heavy effect on the group. Most importantly, it might be a good thing to let the founders finally become the past. Mondragon will soon celebrate it 60th anniversary. The retelling of the creation myth will be central to that celebration, but so should the future. Mondragon doesn’t need to rely on”borrowing” designs from other companies, they now have the ability to enter new industries and be a commanding force. Part of learning to let go, involves embracing the new. This might involve reconsidering how the Solidarity Fund is used. Instead of propping up an aging industry, it could be used to retool for the future.

Of course, these are my musings from America. Mondragon is famous for “building the road as they travel” and have a great track record of learning as they go. It will be interesting to see how this story develops.

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October 28, 2013

Circling Around to the Beginning?

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , , , , , — John McNamara @ 1:34 pm

In my studies over the last two years, I have learned a lot about American politics and the attitude towards labor in these United States. It is a very interesting dynamic and one that helps to make Foucault’s concept of Genealogy quite relevant. The role of genealogy allows an examination of the history of labor in the United States and elsewhere. The concept of work and the employee as known in 2013 is significantly different from that in 1963 and even more from 1863. However, this does not suggest, nor should it, an evolutionary transition based on modern progress, but a running debate between competing discourses rooted in the concept of Republicanism on the one hand and aristocratic control and domination on the other (see Roy Jacques’s Manfuacturing the Employee).

In the earliest days of the US labor movement, the call for national unions coincided with calls for worker owned factories. The idea of the “wage” system was seen exactly for the trick that it has become. The wage creates a schism between the output of a worker and their ability to do the job. It led to the scientific management motto of Fred Taylor “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay”. Of course, it is management, not the worker, who decides what each value becomes. The focus on wages then led to a small confined box for labor unions to negotiate: wages and benefits. This hampers the workers ability to negotiate conditions of labor and those conditions tend to be, with some minor exceptions, wrapped up into the rights of Management.

Now, however, after thirty years of destroying the power of labor union’s ability to provided living wages and benefits, we come back to the 1860′s and a greater call for worker ownership. However, there generally isn’t, except for the IWW, a call for abolishing the wage system. If we are going to create a better working environment for workers through ownership, can we do that by simply imitating the capitalist system?

The debate over worker ownership and the value of the worker has been occurring almost as long as the debate over the role of the federal government and the right of property owners. As we debate the sort of sustainable economy that we want, we should also debate the means of compensating workers for their labor. We should simply accept the wage and benefit system as the predetermined perfect way as it has barely existed for 120 years. If we are going to work in a different economic paradigm for the marketplace (cooperation), we need to consider holistic changes to our industrial relations.

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October 21, 2013

Can Coops Bring a Renaissance in Detroit?

Over the weekend, I had the honor of being part of a panel discussing worker cooperatives with the Southeastern Michigan Jobs with Justice organization. About 35-40 people ventured out on a cold rainy day to ask questions and listen to the experiences of myself, a worker from Madison’s Nature’s Bakery, two leaders of the New Era Worker Cooperative and a representative of The Working World.

It was a lively discussion as all three coops developed through slightly different methods, are of different sizes, and have different structures. Despite the differences, we all talked about the difference between ownership and control. There was a commonality in how workers engage as owners to move the business forward. A lot of the discussion focused on the importance of communication, education, and information.

I grew up in Toledo, Ohio which remains part of the larger auto industry. During my high school years, I would make a monthly trip to Port Huron in the summer with a scuba diving club. The members of the club were working men and women from the region (at the AMC plant, and other factories). A large number were union members and the ones that weren’t didn’t really talk about it. Making the drive up I-75 some thirty years later was more than depressing. Starting with the site of the old plant on Willy’s Parkway and all the way to the UAW Vote Center on Livernois Ave, it was a trail of broken concrete, vacant overgrown lots, and crumbling buildings that spoke to a different era of vibrant activity. It felt as if I was travelling through the ruins of a lost civilization.

Behind the scenes is the government of Michigan attempts to force bankruptcy on the City and steal the pensions of city workers. It is a city in a major crisis.

Can the worker coop model help? I think it is possible, but people will need to forget about the Detroit of the 1950′s and 1960′s. In using the cooperative model, the community should focus on the needs that currently aren’t being met (either because of the failure of the State and local government) or the lack of people willing to enter the market without a guaranteed profit. This might include groceries, daycare, and even charter schools using the worker coop model.

In some ways, Detroit provides a great opportunity to build a Mondragon-style” cooperative community. By starting small, and siphoning off development funds and solidarity funds along the way, the cooperatives could start building a larger development fund. With assistance from groups such as The Working World, Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, and other sources (perhaps some investor angles who don’t mind settling for a 5% return), they could rebuild Detroit as a truly Cooperative City.

One of the key concepts that we spoke about was building sustainable communities. This isn’t about maximizing pay, but creating a decent life with jobs that won’t be shipped to the lowest bidder. It means earning enough to be able to afford good, wholesome food, quality clothes and decent housing. It also means that this generation needs to make a sacrifice to get it started. As the president of the New Era Windows noted, he could have gone to work at O’Hare and made a decent wage, but this struggle is about more than wages, it is about  working with each other to build a strong community. In the end, that will benefit all of us.

 

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October 14, 2013

How Exceptional is “America”?

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , , , — John McNamara @ 7:00 am

The discussion over the last two weeks centered on the challenges of growing a worker cooperative movement in Anglo-Saxon dominated cultures. I split a bit further by focusing on the specific problems in the United States that further hinder the worker cooperative movment. At the same time, I have started reading Employment Relations in the United States: Law, Policy and Practice by Raymond Hogler. He offers a unique take on American Exceptionalism, a term coined in some sense by Alex de Toqueville in his still relevant work Democracy in America.

Too often, the concept of American Exceptionalism implies an attitude of superiority of the United States in comparison to the other 195 nations on the earth. That isn’t always the sense, but the rise of Reaganism and its attendant neoconservatism (as opposed to neoliberalism which seems more focused on economics than politics) proclaiming the US a “City upon a hill” as the beacon of all good things and leader of the world (free or otherwise). However, there is something different about the United States. Perhaps it is the combination of fifty unique states, the legacy of the Civil War in which the rights of those states to govern themselves remains in dispute or maybe it is the disposition of a country made up entirely of immigrants displacing indigenous populations (themselves often migrating with the seasons).

The concept of the “working class” has never fully taken hold in the United States as it has in other countries. While disputed, John Steinbeck, the great working class author, reportedly dispaired that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor never saw themselves as the proletariat as much as embarrased millionaires.”  Hogler uses the term American Exceptionalism to discuss the unique nature of the US labor system. This sytem, he argues, does not define people (workers)as a group united by class sentiment and common goals. It is a group that identifies as “American”. Hogler refers to Selig Perlman’s work of the early 1920′s that saw an American workers with the opporutnities that workers in other countries didn’t have. With the exception of women, non-slave workers had the right to vote in the United States and did not have to fight for suffrage. In addition, the abudnance of land that continued to expand throughout the 19th and into the 20th century meant opportunity for workers to stake out a claim on their own. This was simply not allowable in Europe and even England. Horace Greely’s exhortation, “Go West, Young Man!” was the mandate for young workers that if they didn’t like their job, they could move and create a new life becoming their own boss. The workers never coalesced into a finite social group because they always had other options.

This American Dream persists today. By the 1940′s the ideal of the American Dream and American Exceptionalism went hand-in-hand. Many of us, in today’s state of perpetual war, jobless economic recoveries, and shock doctrine capitalism may feel that the American Dream has become part of our past or a propaganda that never really existed. However, it has, over the years amassed a lot of power. It is the power of that dream that worker cooperatives can and should harness to further our movement in this country.

The Knights of Labor, for all of their faults, believed in the idea of workers managing themselves. They saw collective ownership as a form of the American Dream and won that would be attainable to workers. It would allow them better wages and give them the control over their lives that, as Americans, was their birthright.

One of the problems facing the worker coop movement is the same as that facing the labor union movement. Workers in the United States lack a class consciousness. There is a belief that through hard work and luck, we can all escape having to work for someone, hang our own shingle  and maybe even have people work for us. The lack of this class consciouness fuels an already dangerous sense of individualism that ignores the benefits of being part of a society or a community. However, worker cooperation can tap this energy. We can create a concept of achieivng that dream through collective ownership and decision making through the values of mutual self-help, solidarity and democracy. In doing this, we need to speak in the language of the American Dream, recognizing that in some way worker ownership is part of that dream.

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