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

September 25, 2015

Worker Development Brings a Better World

Filed under: Human Relations,Pensimientos,Reflections,Society — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 11:17 am

REFLECTION NO. 276

Work is the attribute that gives a person the highest honor of being a cooperator of God in the transformation and fertilization of nature and in the resulting promotion of human well-being. That people exercise their faculty of work in union with others and in a noble regime of cooperation and solidarity, gives them not only nobility, but also the optimal fertility to make every corner of the earth a mansion that is agreeable and promising for all. This is what work communities are for and it is them who are destined to make our people progress.


 

Work, in the modern era, may be seen as, and often is, as a drudgery. This is, I think, because work rarely has meaning for the individual (unless they are lucky enough to be in a profession). The effect of scientific managment (Taylorism) has been to deskill work to the point that there is little for workers to care about. It is an assembly line world and without ownership, it is no wonder that many feel like a cog in the machine. It places the individual worker alone and only motivated by self-interest.

Arizmendiarrieta saw work as an enobling act through worker ownership. It was a means to an end and the end was a fully developed human and community that would, in turn usher in world of peace and harmony. In acting in unision, collectively, people not only prosper but care for the environment in which they live. The pursuit of wealth includes a healthy ecological enviroment in which all prosper together. Lofty goals to be sure.

Today, Pope Francis, hit similar a theme in his speech to the United Nations. He said, “It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prduential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our pland and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women whove, struggle and suffer and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.” 

He also quoted his predescessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “The econoligical crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. the baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismangement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for walth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflction on man: ‘man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Mand does not create himself. He is a spirit and will, but also nature.’ Creation is compromised ‘where we ourselves have the final word. . . the misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognizes any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.'”

There are, of course, many contradictions within the Catholic church and the Co-operative movement. Despite the lofty values of solidarity, social responsiblity and caring for others, many co-operatives do not engage them. Even Mondragon, has its troubles from time to time. Likewise, co-operatives are willing to engage in unsustainable ecological practices as well.

The words of Arizmendiarrieta, on the hundreth annivesary of his birth, resonate today because his work is not done. As Pope Francis concludes his visit to the US, on the even of National Co-operative Month, it is worth taking into account the nature of co-operation and how our co-operative movment, especially the worker co-operative movement engages our values and principles. Are we just about “getting to scale” or do we want to create a just and ecologically sustainble world that allow workers dignity and opporutnity for growth?

 

September 24, 2015

We do not live alone, but in co-operation

REFLECTION NO. 42

There is something in the depths of the human spirit that is firm and eternal. And there is also something that needs to be moving towards a new and superior expansion, in consonance with the interior and social regeneration of human beings. It is for this reason that their social achievements must reflect this transformation.

 


I missed yesterday, but also took the time to read the transcript of Pope Francis’ speech to the American people through their elected representatives in Congress this morning.

In his praise of the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis said, quoting Laudato Si which he published this Spring:

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation an distribution of wealth. The right of natural resources, the proper allocation of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of the enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. ‘Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.’ . . . Now  is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and an ‘integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

Co-operation does seek to build financial wealth among its members, but it also strives for community wealth and social wealth. It operates within the values of solidarity and mutual self-help to build sustainable economic systems that bring all of the members of the community up together without destroying the physical environment upon which our collective economic and human lives depend.

I have seen many in the co-op world (especially in the worker co-op community) see the model as just another form of capitalism and that the only metrics that matter on the financial bottom line. However, co-operation is perhaps the most inefficient at maximizing personal wealth. Its aim, from the beginning, is to have a social bottom line.

The co-operative movement cannot stop at creating financial wealth, it must also reach the human and help them connect with their community to see that the financial wealth is, in our socio-economic model, a benevolent side-effect of the main effect of creating a community based on dignity for the human and respect for the world that provides its resources so that we can flourish.

September 22, 2015

Co-operation Isn’t For Everyone. . . (initially)

REFLECTION NO. 538

The radicalism of the cooperative proposal, in face of development, appealing to the economic, personal, communal and integral concourse of its believers, faces the alternative of success or complete failure. Cooperativism requires people with a strong spirit, or at least people who are willing to risk it all. Therefore, it is not a formula that fits everyone, but the biggest mistake that we could make would be to place our demands at the level of the weakest, since in such a case it would be impossible to reach higher levels.

From Reflections, the words of Don José María Arizmendiarrieta


 

Pope Francis has just wrapped up a papal visit to the island nation of Cuba. This country, long held under the sway of US foreign policy, has begun to reexamine its economic relationship with the world and with itself. For decades, it has followed the state-planned economic method but as the relations with the US thaw, and the demand of the contemporary generation for greater autonomy increases, the Cuban government looks to the co-operative economic model as a way to keep Cuba from returning to the playground of the US.

I think that this quote from Mondragon’s founder is quite fitting in that it bounces off of yesterday’s critique of radicalism by suggesting that the cooperative model offers a form of radicalism in that it forces people to reach within themselves and take responsibility for their actions and the actions of their organization. Co-operatives are not designed for followers, but for individuals who seek to express their humanity and identity while also engaging with others to create a synergy of the human experience that can only be obtained through interaction with similarly self-aware and self-responsible individuals.

We don’t often think of co-operation as an individual act (and it really isn’t of course), but it does require people who can engage it in a co-leadership manner. It takes personal strength to be able to co-operate and not everyone is up to the task as it will mean conflict. Hopefully, the co-operative has structures to create an environment in which conflict resembles more of a Hegelian dialectic than a kindergarten playground.

This shouldn’t suggest that co-operatives are exclusive to the already self-aware. Arizmendiarrieta speaks at length at the power of co-operation to empower people to develop their humanity and to create civilization based on the values that make us human. I think that the mistake that he refers to is to place people without these skills and qualities into positions of power and expect success.

September 21, 2015

Pope Francis and Co-operatives

Tomorrow, Pope Francis arrives for his first visit to the United States. This pope, hailing from Argentina, brings with him a message for all of us in terms of building our economies–the quest for wealth needs to be more than monetary. In this, the Bishop of Rome has found the co-operative economic model to be one that can go beyond materialism and help lift people up.

In March, as reported by  The Cooperative News, he spoke directly about the co-operative model:

“‘The leader of the Catholic Church also argued that co-operatives could enable people to achieve all their potential. He said: ‘A member of a co-operative must not be merely … a worker … but must instead always be a protagonist, and must grow, through the co-operative, as a person, socially and professionally, in responsibility … an enterprise managed by a co-operative must grow in a truly co-operative way, involving all’.”

This language resonates with those of us who have studied Mondragon and the teachings of Don José María Arizmendiarietta. It is the 100th anniversary of the Basque priest’s birth. In celebration of this centennial, I engaged his writings in my classroom. Each class, students were asked to bring a quotation from this collected musings Reflections” available on-line.

In the coming days and weeks, I wish to bring that experience on-line. The following is a quote from Reflections. I will add my comments below, but I encourage you, dear readers, to add your own reflections or to find quotes from the web site that resonate with you and share them here.

Let’s honor the visit of Pope Francis by honoring the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Mondragon’s spiritual founder and engage in a discussion about co-operation, values and the development of the human.


 

REFLECTION NO. 546

This experience corresponds to a new spirit of trust in human beings and in their capacity. It revives in this case the sense of freedom, dignity and justice, evidently accepted in the traditional and democratic institutions in our land, this acceptance being manifested in the idiosyncrasy of our people. One of our characteristics has been our practical sense, knowing how to act in the milieu of possibilities, without renouncing or being indifferent to our ideals. We have known how to muster and not waste our opportunities to improve the common good. Our processes of association are not viable without moderation and the consenting of all of our people, who usually have to sacrifice personal positions. Radicalizations are contrary to the human and social virtues as well as to the most constant qualities of our people.


I decided to start with a rather chunky quote and one that some might find a bit controversial. The first part that struck we was Arizmendiarrieta’s faith in the method (or experience) of worker ownership through co-operation. It is more than simply creating a job with slightly better pay or a retirement plan. Although those aren’t bad things in and of themselves, the current dogma or “getting to scale” with a focus on size and ESOPs rather than on worker control and teaching workers how to manage seems short-sighted to me and lacking the key thing that makes worker co-operation so exciting.

Co-operation must also be about creating new human relationships in which we learn to value each other as human beings, as individuals, even while engaging each other for our co-operative ends. It is about embracing the idiosyncrasies, being able to see disagreements as a pathway to development and consensus. Falling into the money chase and big is better camp seems counter-productive to me in that even if the organization succeeds as a business, it ends up looking and feeling just like any other large business. Co-operatives need to break up this isomorphism.

The second part of this quote counters calls for radicalization. I imagine many (regardless of political affiliation) will question the Don of Mondragon as the political environment in the US and many countries seem to have become polarized with calls for dramatic action (and even military action) to deal with political and economic frustrations. Yet, too often, the goals of these movements get co-opted by their leaders (see Greece for the most recent example) as the trappings of power for the leaders become more important than the cause of the followers. Is this because radicalism focuses on people frustration and anger instead of the human and social virtues? I think that is the message in this statement. Co-operation, especially that espoused by Arizmendiarrieta tends to avoid the limelight of the political debate and alignment with political factions by focusing on education, information, and communication among its membership. By focusing on humans, not as pawns for larger political moves, but as the central raison d’etre, co-operatives can keep plugging along even as the countries bounce from one ism to another (See Italy and Spain). A revolution of spirit is needed that sees all of us as connected–I guess to some that may be radical, but to me it is a key part of co-operation.

 

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