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

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.

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.

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.

 

September 16, 2013

AFL-CIO-NGO-TBD?

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.

 

 

March 26, 2012

A Big Day in Pittsburgh

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 9:12 am

For those of you who may not get the emails, the long awaited announcement by the USW and Mondragon will be made at 11:00 am EDT in Pittsburgh, PA. I haven’t really heard much about this project other than it will involve a modern industrial operation that will blend the concepts of worker ownership and collective bargaining.

I know a few of the people that have been part of an advisory group that will only say that this is a very incredible project. Unfortunately, the press conference is not be web cast (they cited the cost, but it seems that some form of a web cast could have happened with GoTo Meeting or other software). In any event, the press conference will be recorded and loaded up to Youtube–so you my want to keep an eye out for it this week.

I can’t wait to learn the details. For no other reason than this will shape my dissertation; however, I see this as ushering in a new form of worker cooperation. In the US, we already have the traditional model of the US Federation member coops (collectives and hierarchies), we have the WAGES model that focuses on specific socio-economic groups, and  then there is the Cleveland Model. The Mondragon-USW will be yet another way of figuring out worker cooperation. The difference is that it will be teaming with the traditional industrial union movement from the design stage and not as an after thought (see Cooperative Home Care NY). It will be interesting to see how the labour union interacts with the principles of cooperation. Will “managers” be excluded from collective bargaining? Will managers be excluded from co-operative membership? If the answers are “yes”, what will this mean in terms of Agency? If the answer is “no”, then how will the collective bargaining work?

Today is an exciting day in the history of worker ownership–stay tuned!

 

June 6, 2011

Wisconsin Workers Aren’t Going Away

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , — John McNamara @ 4:58 am

I spent last Friday night with the Canadian Industrial Relations Association. They were holding their 48th annual meeting in Fredericton and asked me to be part of a panel about the attack on public sector unions. It was clear to me that given the recent elections in Canada, that these professional HR practitioners, labor leaders, and academics see Wisconsin as the “canary in the mineshaft”. It gives them hope, I think, to see that the people of Wisconsin aren’t giving in. It must also be giving the Walker administration and his cronies heartburn to see that the protests haven’t stopped. In fact, this week, they are escalating with the official establishment of Walkerville ringing the State Capitol.

Over 20,000 recently showed up at the Capitol to protest the next budget which includes attacks on Wisconsin micro-breweries (at the behest of Miller/Coors), attacks on Credit Unions (at the behest the banks who donated heavily to Walker) and further attacks of private sector unions. The last one is interesting, if unsurprising. Throughout the protests in February, right-wing hacks kept claiming that they had “no problem” with private sector unions but even “FDR didn’t think public workers should unionize.” So, why take away the prevailing wage language? Why not continue a time-honored practice of requiring those who contract with the state to pay the prevailing wage?

This has turned into a battle with many fronts. The Governor continues to be followed by a truth squad which even managed to show up at an annual fishing trip:

In addition to the marches, protests and Walkerville, people have also brought the civil disobedience back to the capitol. Meanwhile, the Republicans got caught on tape discussing how to run a fake democrat in a recall race!

Wisconsin Workers aren’t sheepishly going back to work. They continue to stand up for their rights. They news trucks may have gone away (especially since they realized that we aren’t going to throw rocks at the People’s House), but Wisconsinites still stand against the corporatist take-over of the State. July 12th is coming. The sad part is how much damage this group of kleptocrats will do before the day of reckoning.

Wisconsin, know that the world is still watching.

March 15, 2011

Why Public Workers Need Labor Unions

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

Yesterday, on Facebook, one of my reactionary friends argued the tired argument that public sector workers shouldn’t be unionized because they are essentially organizing against the public, the tax-payer. This argument has been thrown around a lot lately (even citing FDR’s belief that public sector workers shouldn’t organize). It made me realize that no one has really taken up the challenge to discuss why public sector workers need the protection of the union.

Part, if not all, of this argument rests in the belief that the role of unions is to maximize wages and benefits for their members. This simply isn’t true. Unions are not parasites. They exist to protect workers (and ensure that workers receive fair compensation for their labor). I would argue that the primary role of a labor union is to ensure a safe, humane and equitable workplace. Yes, they are also going to help their members get a fair wage and benefit package. So far, everything that I have read, has correctly pointed out that WI pensions were deferred wages and that Wisconsin is right in the middle for pay and benefits.

When I was at University, I worked at the Wisconsin Union. Students workers were exempted from the state’s labor law in 1972 (as a reaction against the organizing of the teaching assistants, Wisconsin Union workers and workers at Gordon Commons). We kept our union even though we could not negotiate wages. We did negotiate working conditions. We made sure that our workers had a fair and equitable workplace even if the money wasn’t great. This allowed a number of people to work their way through school by using their seniority to arrange a full-time work schedule around a full-time class schedule. It also meant that discipline was handled in a uniform and fair manner as well.

That is really the point of public sector unions. They prevent petty tyrants from ruling their turf in the civil service system as if it were their fiefdom. It protects workers from the capricious acts of bad managers. It protects whistle blowers when they expose fraud and waste. It allows, as MULO did, the union to suggest more efficient ways of working. These stories need to get out.

Right before my time at Union South, a manager decided that she need to control her payroll. Her decision was to dock 15 minutes from everyone’s shift after they had worked their shifts. Management ignored complaints until the union stepped in.

When I was a steward, I helped workers everyday with disputes between management and even between workers. The role of a union goes far beyond wages.

Another myth worth dispelling is that unions allow workers to slack off. They don’t. Unions ensure that the disciplinary process is both fair and equitable. This means that a worker should only be disciplined for “just cause” not “just ‘cuz”. Management is the only group that can direct workers actions in the work place–if they allow laxity, that is there choice as long as all workers get treated the same.

Unions don’t defend “bad workers”, they defend a “fair process.” Tom Clearly, the former Personnel Manager of The Wisconsin Union once told me that he supported MULO because it helped on two issues: 1) stopped wild cat work stoppages–which was of concern given the 18-22 year olds who made up the work force and 2) helped him identify managers who either more needed training or needed to be removed. Labor unions do not stop managers from disciplining or firing workers, they only stop managers from acting unfairly or inequitably.

By removing collective bargaining from public workers, the state is opening upan era of favoritism, bribery and a host of other vices into the workplace.

I would ask those reading (especially those on Facebook) who are public employees to post a note (either here or on your page) on how you have seen your union improve your workplace, protect a fair and equitable workplace, or even simply defend you.

March 14, 2011

A Wisconsin General Strike?

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 10:57 am

The following is a report of sorts on the energy that I am seeing towards a General Strike. However, I need to say, that the most important thing that Wisconsin can do will be to elect JoAnne Kloppenburg to the WI Supreme Court on April 5th. If we can’t organize to remove a justice to has already stated he will defend Walker, then what hope do we really have to manage or win a General Strike?

The energy for a General Strike in response to the attack on working men and women committed by the corporatist controlled government (as well as the attacks on their children and the environment that are being proposed in the budget). It isn’t just the radicals letting some really well made beer do the talking. Organizations are actively preparing for a complete shut-down.

The UW-Madison recently sent out a message to students regarding a general strike. This was aimed at a group that volunteers at area schools. Students were told that the program may shut down; however, if it didn’t that they should be aware that no one can force them to cross a picket line (i.e. threaten with a bad review of their work). Further, the volunteers were also instructed that they may not act in the place of a certified or licensed teacher (i.e., they can’t scab). I don’t know about you, but that sort of letter coming from the major institution in Madison says something more that just talk is in the air. Both Mayoral candidates have pooh-poohed the idea of the General Strike, but that it is even part of the campaign issues is remarkable. Last weekend, the IWW and a committee of the South Central Federation of Labor held a community meeting to discuss a General Strike (which SCFL has already endorsed).

Part of the reason that the General Strike has received so much support is that the bill Walker signed into law would prohibit municipalities and school boards from entering into contracts. This makes a strike against the school board or the city useless. A strike, if it takes place, has to be against the state government. The only way to do that is to shut down the entire state. Walker threatened to call out the National Guard on the day that he announced this bill, so we know that he is ready.

A month ago, I would have doubted that even 20% of the people at the protests understood the full impact of a general strike. However, the benefit of the protests has been that people have been educated and had their sense of class consciousness heightened. A lot of people who saw themselves as “professionals” a month ago, now call themselves workers. The knowledge of what a general strike is has increased along with the talk of calling one.

What should worker co-ops do in a general strike?

We own our capital and democratically control our labor. However, we are also part of our community and the labor movement. Unlike many of the labor unions, we don’t have strike funds (not that those provide for a lot). In some cases, we may not be able to get supplies to operate anyway (if gas deliveries can’t be made for instance).

It is an important debate for worker co-ops to have. Each membership will need to make its own decision (as will the membership of each union and every worker). However, they can’t have this discussion internally. They need to have this discussion with the rest of the labor movement. There might be good reasons to keep Union Cab running to assist with striker logistics. Nature’s Bakery might keep operating, but supply bread to the strikers (who might not have a lot of money for food). Lakeside Press will also be vital during a strike. So will many of our other worker co-operatives. It will be important for each co-operative to explain its action to the community.

My personal preference would be for our co-ops to put down our tools and join our fellow workers. However, I would follow our membership consensus.

Part of the difficulty in this discussion is that no one knows how the “strike” will happen or when it will happen. I would imagine that it will start with small stoppages of 1-2 hours a day in order to build momentum. Perhaps a Statewide “sick day” might get called. In all of this, there might be a proviso that if someone needs to go to work (nurses, emts, or people who simply need to feed their family and fear the risk), that the engage in “work-to-rule”. Work-to-rule (known as an “Italian Strike” in Europe) is a great strategy because it allows workers to continue to earn their income while shutting down the system. As you might guess, it means following every federal, state and local law regarding your job as well as every internal rule. It prevents workers from being fired, but slows the machinery of profit down (sometimes to a trickle).

I think that the talk of a General Strike is real–at least as real as I have ever heard it. It isn’t coming from wild-eyed youngsters anymore, but from the establishment. How it gets prosecuted will still need to be decided. However, as I started this piece, I need to reiterate:

Vote JoAnne Kloppenburg for WI Supreme Court Justice on April 5th. If we can pull together to do this, then what has the last 5 weeks at the Capitol really been about?

May 3, 2010

CICOPA: Relations with Workers’ Organizations

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

The final section of the World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives deals with the co-operative movement’s relations with the international labor movement. CICOPA calls upon the co-operative movement in general and worker co-operatives in particular to engage in dialogue.

The statement reads: “The co-operative movement should maintain a permanent dialogue with the trade unions, as the representative of the workers, in order to make sure that they understand the nature and essence of co-operative worker ownership as a distinctive modality of labour relations and ownership, overcoming the typical conflicts of wage-based labour, and that they support it in view of its importance and the prospects that it offers to human society.”

This post is quite timely as I was just discussing this in my May Day posting and fellow contributor, Bernard, also alluded to some other discussions. This is more important than the employer’s organizations. Workers must work together.

While I, personally, think that worker ownership is the way to go, I also recognize that it requires a lot of work that requires a serious commitment to education. Many people are quite happy working for a unionized workplace. They may not want the burden of having to manage the company in addition to doing the operations. One bike shop owner in Madison told me that his idea was to create the bike shop and convert it to a co-op. when he raised the idea with the workers, they weren’t interested. The workers liked working for him, but didn’t want to be tied down to the business—they liked having the freedom to leave when they wanted and weren’t really interested in committee meetings. The boss, in their mind, was doing a great job and created a great workplace, so why mess up a good thing.

We don’t train workers to be owners in our society. In fact, we do the opposite. We train workers to be subservient or even child-like. When companies talk of their business “being like a family” we can count on the “boss” being “dad” and the workers the “children”. As long as they are obedient and do as they are told, everything is fine. That is part of the dynamic with the aforementioned bike shop. Why would kids go out on their own when the parents are supplying everything they need and not making very many demands?

Of course, not everyone likes the child state. Many want to expand and grow. Labor-management antagonism derives from this dynamic. There comes a point, after all, when the interests of the child and those of the dad diverge. In families, everyone has a voice that is roughly equal (at least once everyone achieves the age of 18), but in economics, the voice of capital has a magnitude over that of an individual worker. Labor’s voice only matches capital when it pools the many voices into one. Labor unions provide a voice for the workers. They allow workers to focus on their jobs and act in their self-interest.

Labor unions, of course, also propagate capitalist society. Any honest capitalist will tell you that they prefer a unionized workforce. It may cost them a little up-front, but it also prevent wild cat actions, waters down demands, and even prevents revolution. Labor Unions seek a piece of the pie, they don’t want to talk about the recipe or the menu.

My preference, obviously, is for worker ownership. I fully believe that a world economy with worker co-operation as the dominant business model would be a sustainable economic system with a strong global community based on peace, justice, and equality.

It seems to me that labor unions help level the playing ground, but they don’t challenge an inequitable system (with the exception of the syndicalist union of the IWW). I support labor unions because of this, but I know that a better world is out there.

I have to recognize, however, that many workers simply don’t want to be worker-owners. I believe that attitude exists because of an education system that channels people into being either workers or bosses. An educational system that promoted co-operation over a profit-motive would create graduates who see work in a very different light. Don José María Arrizmendiarietta demonstrated this after World War II. The worker’s children in the small factory town of Arrasate (where he was sent) were not allowed to go to the school paid for by the plant bosses. Don José created a school for the children of the workers. Those children learned their letters and numbers under the co-operative teachings of the Jesuit priest. They also learned economics through the lens of Don José’s focus on a social economy in which the community economic structure would be based on education, justice, equality and equity. When the first group of students who earned their way into the University returned to their hometown and worked at the factory, they knew that they had to change the world. They knew that workers can run things if given the education. They left their jobs and retuned to Arrasate creating the ULGOR Cooperative and Mondragon was born.

The strategy laid out in the Declaration seems very reasonable. We, as worker co-operators, need to support the entire labor movement. We should support unions. However, we should also work to educate those in labor unions about worker ownership and encourage them to support us. We need to elevate their consciousness as well as our own. There are incredible partnerships to be made. We don’t need to choose between worker ownership and labor unions. As the hopeful pairing of the US Steelworkers and Mondragon might demonstrate, we can combine forces, and build the world the both groups want together.

Powered by WordPress