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

February 13, 2017

Our Worker Co-ops Have a Unique Role to Play

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 11:14 am

We are living in very interesting times.

It can be difficult to figure out a coherent strategy with which to negotiate the next 1,237 days (or more). We almost need an individualized strategic plan to manage all of the areas of resistance to understand when it is vital to be on the streets or in the workplace or with friends and family.

Worker Co-operatives have a key role to play during this era, but it will only be meaningful if they embrace their identity as worker-owned and operated enterprises. False co-ops, those who use the co-op label more for marketing while ignoring the principles, really aren’t needed. They do damage to the rest of us. I am talking about employer co-ops masquerading as worker co-ops or solidarity co-ops. Some of these, like cab “co-ops” that have only 3–4 owners and hundreds of workers. They use the co-op model to escape double-taxation and should really be Limited Liability Corporations. They don’t engage in the principles or values of co-operation.

The rest, the worker co-ops who strive every day to live their principles and values, to engrain the co-op ethics into the operations, to demonstrate the resiliency and power of worker control need to step up and do more. This is not the time to be insular and withdraw behind the doors of your meeting room. The nation needs to learn about worker co-ops, and more importantly, worker co-ops need to expand and build the movement.

Mondragon provides lessons for how to develop and succeed in a hostile political climate. I want to talk about two, that I see as key to navigating the new normal of the political landscape in the U.S.

The first lesson: control our capital and keep it inside the movement. Worker co-ops need to create full service banks owned by worker co-ops to support and develop worker co-ops. While credit unions have a role, they can be hampered by antagonistic legislation that favors banks. Let’s use that legislation to support co-ops.

The second lesson of Mondragon: expand the movement by investing in new co-ops and incubating them if necessary. Mondragon recognized early on that more worker co-ops would make their lives easier. With enough worker co-ops, the supply lines and financial support could keep the money in the co-operative sector and economies of scale could be reached in ways that kept the democracy alive in the workplace. When a co-op needs something that it doesn’t produce, and can’t find an affordable source aligned with its mission, it should create a new co-op to meet its need. This engages the intellectual capital and capacity of its membership. Larger co-ops may have people working for them because it is a co-op, not because they want to drive a taxi, provide home care, or engage in bike delivery. These members provide a great expansion opportunity for the co-op and the movement.

This might be a state by state, city by city effort with each community finding its own path. Some cities, such as New York, Cleveland, and Madison, are able to use taxpayer dollars to support and build a co-operative solution to meet city needs. Others cannot and need to find other methods. In either case, it is important for existing co-ops to step up and help create strong co-operative economic ecosystems.

Creating nodes of economic democratic organizations throughout the U.S. over the next four years might not be the showiest or strongest form of resistance, but it will build stronger communities that will allow more people to engage in other forms of resistance since they will have free themselves of wage slavery. It is a passive revolution of a sort, although it can easily succumb to the hegemony of the dominant capital model if the values and principles fall to the wayside of our work.

If we could quadruple the worker co-ops in terms of number and employees over the next four years and develop them into real economic democracies through strong governance strategies that overcome gatekeepers and philanthropic saviors, we would create not just an answer to Trumpism, but also to neoliberalism.

As we train our members to engage within our co-ops, we are also training them to engage within their communities. This will create leadership on neighborhood councils, city committees, county committees and even State boards and commissions. We can create a new form of community leadership to fill the current vacuum that only sees a dichotomy between the conservative and liberal factions of Wall Street. Some co-ops, of course, are already doing this and their efforts have paid off substantially (see New York City and Madison), but we need to make this a bigger and broader movement that reaches beyond traditional liberal strongholds and into cities throughout the country. By focusing on the values of co-operation and putting the practice of solidarity and cooperation among cooperatives into practice, we can build an incredible future that delivers on the American Dream.

January 23, 2017

The “We” Generation

Here we are.

The next two years will seem to bring to life the ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

The need for mutual self-help and self-reliance along with solidarity will be at the forefront for many of our cooperatives and we, whether as members, educators, or developers, must rise to meet the challenges presented.

The pendulum of human history has shifted once more from the individualistic to the communal. This can, of course, be a good thing. People working together for the common good has helped move our civilizations from the dictates of a single ruler to more democratic and inclusive governments (even if it doesn’t always feel that progress continues).

I don’t subscribe to the cohort model of generations. I don’t think that being born between 1946-1964 creates a certain type of world view any more that being born in the 90’s makes one a certain way. I follow instead an idea put forward by advertising guru Roy Williams (working off others). This pendulum concepts suggests that humanity cycles through a “me” and a “we” period with the switch around happening about every 40 years. Each period has an upswing and a down-swing and, there are always outliers looking forward to the equilibrium (when the down-swing of one becomes the upswing of another)

Today, we are about the same spot as 1936, 1856, and 1776. Those time periods all involved a period in which people coalesced around a common “we” (1842-1882, 1922-1962, and 1752-1792 respectively). What does this mean to the development of worker cooperatives and the labor movement at a whole. The common “We” works in sometimes contradictory ways. The groups of the 1930’s brought about strong unionism among the working class even as others used perceived racial purity as the defining virtue. Likewise, the power of “we” fueled both the democratically inclined Revolutionary War and the rise of the Abolition Movement but the genocidal war against First Nations peoples also dominated the nation.

According to Williams, the moment of the switch between the Me Generation and the We Generation occurred around 2002-ish and the Year of Hope with the election of Barack Obama mirroring the Me Generation’s Summer of Love. It is worth reading the book (it isn’t a heavy scholarly read at all) to get the sense of it.

The question for us, as worker cooperators, is how do we enter this rather polarized world of “we”. In some respects, it provides some advantages as people seem more likely to see solidarity and common purpose as positive traits. The values and principles of cooperation should resonate and help the Decade of the Co-op shine. However, there is also danger in the neo-tribalism of the “we” that separates people by false categories (race, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation).  Further, cooperatives (and especially worker cooperatives) have a tendency to overly focus on internal issues and ignore the larger movement. Even with the relative growth and rise of the US Federation, co-ops don’t always stay engaged in their community and the larger co-op movement.

As much as I respect the work of the Federation and its offshoot, DAWI, we can’t simply subcontract the sixth and seventh principles of cooperation to apex organizations. They have important roles to play at the national and international level providing information, support, and connectivity, but can’t really provide a one-size fits all game plan for every community. We are special snowflakes despite our commonalities.

It will be important for those organizations to engage at the national level, but co-ops (especially worker co-ops) cannot engage in isolationism. They need to create local partnerships with the local labor organizations (even if it is only an expression of solidarity and event invitation), local political leaders, and other cooperatives. They need to also encourage the regional and national coop groups to stand with labor and identify worker cooperatives as something more than simply an economic model akin to ESOPs.

Now is the time for us to embrace our movement and make it move (as Jim Hightower might say). We need to tell our collective stories and educate people about real worker ownership (that involves more than owning shares) and how through worker ownership and worker control, the American Dream can be resurrected and expanded to include all of us.

September 1, 2014

We Need to Reclaim “The Sharing Economy”

There has been a lot of discussion of late regarding the so-called “sharing economy”. This phrase refers, generally, to organizations such as Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and others that provide an on-line broker service so that people can monetize practically everything in their life. The term sharing economy is a great marketing ploy to suggest that this practice engages the voluntary actions of the participants who just want to earn a little extra money from their assets. On the face of it, it makes a lot of sense–if someone wants to pay me $10 bucks to use the lawnmower that I am not using, why not? If I can give someone a ride to work on my way to work and it pays for my gas, that is a great deal and I am helping out a fellow human who may need that ride due to lack of access to public transportation or a personal vehicle. However, that isn’t what these organizations are really doing and I would argue that the the people engaging in it do so because they are rather desperate in a late-stage capitalist economy taking full advantage of having largely crushed the labor unions.

The New York Times recently ran a “balanced” article chronicling the days of a couple of workers. In this article, the workers seem content and like the variety and hustle-and-bustle of the life of managing multiple phone apps, 10-14 hour days, and not being able to spend time with their family to earn about $10 an hour after self-employment taxes and expenses. They would probably be better off with a menial minimum wage job, but that would limit their total hours or require them to maintain multiple jobs such as the women who recently succumbed to fumes and died while taking a rest break in her car. The non-sharing economy doesn’t have a lot to offer to workers today either.

Maureen Conway, of the Aspen Institute, sums up the reality of this new effort by capitalists to avoid any responsibility to the communities from which they extract wealth:

“In the end, the sharing economy is nice words for what is really more of the same. More money going to business profits held by a few, and less money going to the labor income that is the primary means of support for most Americans. What we need is a sharing economy in which working people share in the wealth that their labor creates. Unfortunately, this version of a sharing economy does not promise that. “

The “sharing economy” is about workers “sharing” their labor and capital with venture capitalists for a percentage while also accepting 100% of the risk (expenses, accidents, taxes, etc). This isn’t a new effort. Last week, (August 27, 2014), a Federal Court finally ruled in a long-running dispute that FedEx improperly classified many of its employees as “independent contractors”. FedEx has tried to claim that its drivers were independent contractors mainly because it has shifted most of the expenses on to them (they have to buy the truck, rent the equipment to track deliveries, etc). I remember one argument that FedEx made in a similar case that is still to be decided that the drivers could use the truck to run other deliveries provided that they removed all the FedEx decals first and then reapplied them in time for their next shift. Seriously. Had FedEx won this case (and it might still go to the Supreme Court), it would have been a watershed moment that would essentially bring us back to the early days of 1800. What company wouldn’t love to reclassify its workers as independent contractors and immediately save on payroll taxes plus other items? However, that is essentially what the sharing economy is hoping to do.

There is a real sharing economy, however. It has existed (as an on-going concern) since 1844 and in different forms for many years before that such as the first mutual insurance company founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1752. Cooperation brings people together to share their capital for the common good. Instead of groups such as Uber or AirBnB in which people provide their labor and capital to provide wealth for a third party, the labor and capital provided to a cooperative benefits the users of the cooperative–the members. Further, in the true concept of sharing, democratic decision making allows the opinions of the different people sharing to be expressed on an equal basis (Uber, Lyft and others essentially present the terms of service to the workers and either they accept or quit working for them). Any surplus generated from the cooperative sharing economy gets distributed according to the inputs into the enterprise.

One thing that Taskmaster, Favor Delivery, Lyft, et al have pointed out is that a market exists for connecting people with others. This can and should be done in a cooperative format that doesn’t exploit the people providing the labor. Dane County Timebank has made a start, but seems to come up short. This needs to be national, it needs to be modern (phone apps), it needs to engage more than bartering. I realize that Timebank seeks to demonetize society as a key part of its mission–it is all about getting off of the currency addiction. Unfortunately, for many working people, money comes in pretty handy. Landlords don’t accept barter and neither do health clinics, gas stations, and a host of other places that provide vital goods and services. Until they do, a “sharing economy” needs to provide the means for people to earn a decent a living and maintain a quality of life.

Cooperatives need to reclaim the concept of the “sharing economy”. We need to help people struggling to find work, make ends meet, and otherwise seek their dreams understand that they don’t have to rent out their bodies and everything they own (is their a site where someone who likes parenting, but doesn’t want the hassle of a full-time kid, rent somebodies child for an afternoon?). Cooperatives (worker, consumer, producer and financial) need to challenge these profiteers by helping people combine their resources to create dynamic cooperatives that can provide the things that the “sharing” apps provide which is essentially services for people who need them.

There is also a role for labor unions. SEIU, CWA, USW have all been engaging worker cooperatives of late. This “new” economy offer them a real opportunity as well. Through the creation of a “union coop” of drivers, they could help Uber and Lyft workers negotiate better terms. This would be similar to the Campbell’s union drive in which Campbells’ claimed the farmworker’s conditions weren’t their responsibility since Campbell’s only contracted with the farmers and didn’t employ the farmworkers. Unions could also organize the “favor” workers to negotiate better terms. There really isn’t anything new in the “sharing economy” model, but it needs a response.

Sharing constitutes the basis of cooperative life and economics. As cooperators, we share our labor, our capital and our knowledge with each other to create a resilient and sustainable economy and environment. Over the years, many times, the selfish economy have borrowed our ideas to advance their personal goals. Today, the investor class corrupts the very concept of being a good neighbor by using the noble concept of community to extract wealth in a one-way relationship. Cooperatives have always offered an alternative to the selfish economy but have generally operated under the radar. We need to stop doing that. We need to quit being the world’s best kept secret. We need to claim the “sharing economy” as the “cooperative economy”.

August 14, 2014

Welcome to the Discussion

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , , — John McNamara @ 12:38 pm

There is a new blog about worker cooperatives entitled “Owning a Better Future”.  The focus of this blog, judging from the first couple of posts, will center on the growing “union coop” model. This model engages both traditional labor unions and worker cooperatives. The author, Rob Witherall, works for the US Steelworkers and has been a big part of the collaboration between than union and Mondragon.

Part of building the worker cooperative movement in the United States involves building our visibility. We need more of us to get our message out as best we can. We need a discussion about where the labor movement is heading.

I look forward to reading Rob’s posts and am glad for the company!

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.

September 16, 2013


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

At the recent convention of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization’s, the members spent a great deal of time surveying the reality of the labor movement in the United States and the significant changes since the last meeting of this group in 2009.

Not only has the number of households with a wage earner working under a collective bargaining agreement dropped, the full onslaught of the Koch Brothers funded war on labor has taken a dramatic toll on unions in the public service sector and new laws further restrict the ability of labor unions to function on anything resembling an even playing field. Unions may have been in an orderly retreat in 2009, today it might be better to call them scattered remnants.

Scattered remnants, however, can still be powerful and can be reunited into a stronger labor movement. On the plus side of life since 2009, the US Steelworkers have discovered worker ownership and partnered with Mondragon to establish industrial unionized worker cooperatives in the United States. The Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative has been working to get a number of projects up and running.

While I am really excited about the activity around worker cooperatives in the labor union world, I also realize that it isn’t enough. According to Gary Chaison, in his book Unions in America, labor unions need to recruit almost 1,000,000 new members every year just to account for retirements, business closings, and decertification campaigns. It is estimated that Unions add only about 20-60,000 new members each year right now.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka proposed a new strategy for this year’s conference: allow people to join the AFL-CIO who aren’t members of labor unions. This would allow organizations such as the Sierra Club and the NAACP to join the AFL-CIO as well as individual members. One the arguments for this radical proposal, reported in the New York Times argued that when a union loses a collective bargaining vote by 49-51%, why should the 49% of workers who wanted a union be ignored by the union? Shouldn’t the AFL-CIO find a way to keep in contact with those pro-union workers and help them build a majority?

A similar idea was put forward in 1985, but it didn’t go anywhere. The buy-in by locals wasn’t there and the reality is the the full effect of Reagan’s PATCO action and the looming effect of globalization hadn’t become evident. The unions were able to believe that the world wasn’t changing around them. Thirty years later and the number of labor leaders in denial about the state of the movement has dropped as fast as membership.

As the convention concluded, the proposal was limited to only allow organizations in solidarity, not individuals, the ability to join, but the delegates also passed a resolution stating: “The labor movement consists of all workers who want to take collective action to improve wages, hours and working conditions. Our unions must be open to all workers who want to join with us.”

I understand the concern of just letting individuals join without some structure or understanding what they are joining; however, I also think that the idea of a “solidarity membership” would be invaluable to the labor movement. I imagine that depending on the range of dues, millions might join and be a great resource to assist locals in their area by pressuring businesses to bargain in good faith and helping business owners and marketers recognize that treating workers well is good business, not just an expense line.

In the end, the challenges facing the labor movement won’t be wished away with new membership categories. The iron cage of the Wagner Act, written for a very different labor environment, and the over-regulation of the various amendments (Taft-Hartely, etc) have created a legal framework that hampers the ability of workers to organize. Of course, labor’s historic unwillingness to change tactics, embrace emerging industries, and spend resources on organizing have as much to do with a pathetic 6.6% union households (maybe just over 10% with public sector unions) as the actions of management and globalization. Nevertheless, creating alliances with social movements can only help labor unions if for no other reason than the AFL-CIO can gain allies in modernizing the National Labor Relations Act by connecting mass movements that often represent the same individuals.

In my mind, Unions in the US have spent the last 30 years in retreat and doing the one deadly thing in politics: allowing their enemy to define them. Hopefully that is starting to change. Although they didnt take the plunge to accept individual solidarity memberships, they have started to engage non-union movements. The movement that brought us the “weekend” and created the “middle-class” needs a re-boot and it looks as if the current leadership has learned a lot watching the people act over the last couple of years. It will be interesting to see where the AFL-CIO convention  finds itself four years from now.



April 16, 2012

Getting Back to Normal?

Filed under: Governance,Management,Movement — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 10:03 am

I am looking forward to the future! For the last nine months, I have been in the role of General Manager of my co-operative. It has been a very difficult time made more difficult by the ebbs and flows of a business cycle based, in part, on government funded programs and bad weather. This year, the money was mostly ebb with little flow.

The biggest lesson that I am walking away with is the realization that hierarchy in a worker cooperative is dangerous at best. Creating a “boss” and recreating the dynamics of the traditional workplace do not allow a worker cooperative to succeed. It creates a fertile ground for petty political maneuvering around personal agendas instead of open and transparent discussions about the value of cooperation. It causes the workforce to engage in a bizarre form of sibling rivalry in which the GM and the Board play the role of indulgent parents.

I am very happy that our co-op decided to get rid of our GM position and replace it with a council consisting of department leaders and senior workers. We have yet to see how this will work, but we have spent the last nine months practicing. Although I accepted the title of Interim General Manager, I attempted to diffuse as much power as possible to the various work teams. By a previous board decision, discipline and accountability issues had already been turned over to a Behavior Review Council-this made me the first GM without the authority to discipline.

It is an exciting time to be in the worker coop world. New worker coops are starting every day. Older worker coops, like mine, are reinventing themselves, and new energy is coming into the movement from the Steelworkers and Academia. Hopefully, now that my interim period is coming to an end, I can return to chronicling and commenting on the exciting energy that is out there!

I will be in Halifax for two months beginning May Day. I hope to return to my Monday postings, so please start checking. The world really is changing. After 170 years, co-operatives are finally coming into their own and we get to be a part of this incredible transition.

July 25, 2011

Excuse the Absence–and a quick word on structure

Filed under: Human Relations,Site News — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 12:51 pm

Has it really been a month since I last posted? Yikes! I am truly sorry to those who have been checking in on Mondays. I will get back to it. As some of you know, I entered a PhD program that condenses classes into an intense two-month session in Halifax. By the end of June, I felt like the intellectual version of veal. Students ahead of me warned that July is not a very productive month. Of course, to make matters even more difficult, I returned on July 2nd only to turn around and attend the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy and the USFWC annual meeting in  Baltimore on July 9.  I returned to Madison only to find that the General Manager of my co-operative took a job with another company and I was then named interim General Manager (my first official day is tomorrow).

So, it has been a busy month. I did manage to start on some of my papers, however. I am considering the research issues regarding bullying in the workplace. I’ve only scratched the surface of the extant research at this point (with another 20 or so papers to read); however, the interesting thing that I noticed is that the presence of hierarchy creates a environment that is more prone to workplace aggression. I haven’t gotten into the whys and wherefores yet, but I can see how a top-down structure encourages people to try and hold on to their place in the hierarchy by preventing others from moving up. Added to that is the overall culture of investor corporations that tells people to “move up or move out”. There are lessons here for our co-operatives, of course, but we should also be wary of simply saying “hierarchy bad, collectivism good”.  Hierarchy exists in two forms: formal and informal. It is relatively easy to dismantle the formal hierarchy, but the informal one can persist and will resist attempts to quash it. Part of this is cultural in that we have borrowed the idea of seniority from the labor movement as an unbiased means of distinguishing between people and part of it is social as we form friendships and relationships that might be risked if we challenge one another or stray to far from the organizational comfort zone in decision making.

No big conclusions today, just a few thoughts for folks to mull over. I am back and will continue on my Monday routine. See you all next week (if not sooner)!

March 29, 2011

No Business As Usual–Allen Ruff on the Battle of Wisconsin

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 2:44 pm

The following speech was delivered by Allen Ruff on the steps of the Capitol Building in Madison WI, on March 26, 2011 at the Co-operatives for Labor Rally. In addition to being a student of mass movements, he writes at Ruff Talk and has published several books including a history of the Charles H. Kerr Publishing House, We Called Each Other Comrade and a memoir of New Haven, Save Me, Julie Kogon. Please contact Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative for ordering.

A video of this transcript can be viewed on youtube: Allen Ruff (UNCUT)

Allen Ruff Speaking at Co-operatives for Labor Rally 3/26/2011

Why do I believe in coops? Because coops are the self-generating defensive organizations of people placed under siege by capital and that has always been the case. In the heart of the 19th century, in every country of the world where capital had it its claws, its talons, worker co-ops, consumer co-ops and producer coops rose up to defend the living conditions of people living under the monster.

Coops were not a gift from some benevolent middle-class reformers, handed down from on high, but self-generated from the bottom up, created by people determined to take charge of what they ate, what they consumed, what they bought and what they produced-a creation of the working class, and not some middle class movement.

Now, we have to understand. I am going to ask you a question here. What was Scott Walker’s campaign slogan? “Open for Business” They are saying to their corporate backers and investors that this state is open to maximize profits off of the backs, the sweat and labor of the entire state, of every working person, whether employed or underemployed, the unemployed and poor and disabled. All of us.

{People yell Shame! Shame!}

It’s not a question of moralistic guilt. I don’t want to hear “shame”! I say “out with the bastards!” We cannot shame them. They know no shame. So I don’t want to hear shame, shame from you–to hell with that.

Now—when they say “open for business,” they are saying “we will privatize schools and make them for profit”. That is why this has nothing to do with how much teacher’s make. It’s a fact that public education as a right and a guarantee can not be exploited and raped in the fashion that these bastards want to do.

When they say decertify and destroy unions, they are saying they want to get rid of unions because they are the one organized force of the working class in this state that has the capacity to collectively resist.

I said I am a historian. My entire adult life I have studied the history of mass movements from below. We have a lot to learn, to relearn to re-take, to regain, to re-educate ourselves on. On what generations ago people in this state, this nation and the world taught us about how to fight these bastards.

{Someone in the crowd yells something about the Robber Barons}

That’s right—they want to take it back to the 19th century to the age of the Robber Barons. We have to re-discover and re-learn the tactics of the popular movement that fought the robber barons. What are the tactics? The Strike, the Recall, Direct Action.

{someone yelled something about “recall”}

Somebody said recall. Understand that there is a direct relationship between the mass movement and initiative within the parliamentary electoral system for recall [of the Republican senators] It is the mass movement, this popular movement, that energizes that recall initiative. In the State of Wisconsin, what became known as La Follete Progressivism,  had it origins as a “push from below”. It wasn’t born of the geniuses sitting on top of Bascom Hill, but initially was one of the demands, a part of the platform of Socialist movement of Milwaukee. Wisconsin had the first recall legislation in the entire country.

What became known as the “Wisconsin Idea” that they are currently trying to dismantle not only had meaning in this state, but it set an example to the rest of the country. “Ah, the people of Wisconsin have a good idea!”

At a time when every legislature and statehouse in the country was run by boss political machines, bought and paid for by corporate interests, the good state of Wisconsin, the people of Wisconsin said “Hell, No! We are going to actualize, we are going to revitalize, we are going to give real meaning to “democracy”!

I said before that I been a student of popular mass movements. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life and I am so fucking happy!

Now listen very carefully because we are right on the cusp. These movements start at the level of protest. “Protest” means petitioning your government, your leaders for redress, for reform. We could cover this building with a million people, right, sort of like a swarm of ants a popsicle dropped on a sidewalk on a summer day and they, walker and his backers would say, “We’re not concerned. They’re not exerting power.”

Every serious movement that we know of that has called for redress and reform through the system, a change of the status quo, has been thwarted by the arrogant, the rich, and those who don’t give a damn. Every movement that we know of has called for redress and reform, for substantive change has had to move to a different higher level. That of “resistance.”

Resistance means actualizing the mass boycott of companies through direct action, through pickets. We must identity and get to know every corporate sponsor of Walker and his clique. And we tell them: “We not only say that we aren’t buying your crap, but we are going to shut you down.” The mass action, the pickets, the be-ins, the sit-ins, the occupations of corporate officers, of corporate headquarters of rapacious banks must go on. It will push and energizes the recall movement. It pushes the electoral movement. Remember that the good Democrats who did good  and honest and moral things in the past month and a half would not have done so without the movement, the push from below.

Now those you who are going to focus on recall-do what you must. Do what you must—we are all part of the same movement. Those of you who are serious about exerting real social and political power must move to a level of resistance. When they say “Wisconsin is open for business” we must say “No Business as usual.”

No Business as usual.

No business as usual.

Brothers and sisters, this not just about Madison, not just Dane County, nor just the State of Wisconsin. The entire nation and good part of the world is looking to see what we do here. And we say, “To Hell with you. To hell with you Scott Walker! To hell with you Scott Walker’s Darling, the Alberta Clipper! To hell with you the Boss Tweed Ring revived as the Fitzgeralds, poppa cop and his corrupt sons. To hell with Glen Grothman that pre-Enlightenment man. To hell with you and your corporate backers who will take everything, every last dime out of our hides and all those of who have a dime that they can rip off…

Let’s talk about those tax privileges…

How is it that at the same time that they give unimaginable tax breaks to the utmost pinnacles of privilege, those that already suck us dry, tax breaks to the very wealthy in this country, that they can blame all of us for the deficit.

Again, we must organize. We have to organize ourselves. One final thing and then I’ll shut up.

Big Bill Haywood, that great leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, the most militant working class organization of the pre-WWI era said two connected things: 1. “The brains of the boss are under the worker’s cap.” What he meant is that those who would exploit, and own and beat and jail and kill us if we resist—they don’t know crap. That everything that they know — not only do they render their wealth from our hides but they also extract the knowledge of the working class and expropriate it as their own. There are hundreds of thousands of public service employees in this state who hold the brains, the knowledge of the operations of this state under their caps. Haywood said a second thing that is real important for service sector, public service workers and those unions under siege the public sector — the teachers, technicians, the administrators of those offices that they aren’t currently dismantling. Haywood said that the most effective method of resistance for workers assailed by the boss and the supervisor or foreman is to fold your arms. Put your hands in your pockets. They think that they can pass regulations threatening that if you miss a day and don’t have some doctor’s legitimate excuse that you could get your ass fired. We say, hell no. We say, “Slow the shit down.”

No business as usual!

No business as usual!

No business as usual!

Thank you brothers and sisters.

November 1, 2010

Beginning a Thousand Mile Journey

Filed under: 2040,Human Relations — Tags: , — John McNamara @ 1:31 pm

Let’s forget about tomorrow. Not because, as the song goes, it never comes, but because the election that happens tomorrow will have little effect on the worker co-ops of 2040 (or even 2011 for that matter).

We need to think about our journey. I want to thank Mike for his generous comments and hope that other will join in once the election cycle ends and people can begin thinking again without the screeching of the 24 hour news cycle.

If you believe in a better world, a more sustainable world–a world in which the work of humans (and the human doing the work) has value and receives value from their community, then tomorrow is a day to feed your inner political junkie, but the day after tomorrow is a day to continue the journey that we have been on since the rise of Adam Smith.

Our movement is a movement of small steps with occasional leaps and bounds. A vision of our movement in 2040, whatever it may be, begins with how we all act tomorrow. Some of these steps can be easy, some will take some effort. All will take a focus on the larger vision: creating a co-operative world.

What steps can you take to reach that world?

1. Exchange your CD with a bank (or even a credit union) and invest it in the Northcountry Co-operative Development Fund’s Worker Ownership Fund–or if you are a bit more flush, just invest.

2. Make a point of introducing yourself to your Alderperson and other local officials. Let them know how important your co-operative is to you and the community.

3. If you really want to get wonky, follow the planning commission for your community, attend their meetings and interject your beleifs on co-operatives.

4. Shop co-op whenever possible.

These are only a few small steps, but the hardest part of changing the world is getting out of bed and choosing to do it. It has been said that if we don’t know where we want to go, any road will do. However, even if we do know where we want to go, we need to recognize that we will likely have to build the road as we travel.

Together, we can get there.

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