Tag Archive: cooperatives

Aug 17 2015

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: The Cooperative Movement vs Capitalist Domination in the Global Economy

By Geminijen

I’ve been running around to various left conferences this spring and summer and everywhere I go the cooperative movement is touted as the potential savior of the global economy. Admittedly, cooperatives are only “a grain of sand on the beach” (to use a summer metaphor)when one views the entire global economy. At this point it is also not clear that the interest in a cooperative economy is not just a desperate hope that something  – anything – can save us from total economic catastrophe as capitalism seems to be in its last throes with levels of inequality that cannot be sustained.

Do cooperatives really have the potential to be a transition to another more fully progressive economic form that can replace capitalism? Or is it – as cooperatives generally have been – a temporary safety valve during depressions which disappear or are assimilated over time or a capitalist reform as capitalism regains its footing (i.e., the mines in England, the paper plants in the Northwest United States, the electric cooperatives in the Southwest United States).

Since the cooperative movement is currently the fastest growing movement for systemic economic change it deserves an overview of what it is and where its going –which I will attempt to do, in a very limited way.

I will briefly comment on the recent changes in the cooperative movement in:

1) Venezuela which has attempted to use coops as part of its transition to socialism;

2) In the Mondragon cooperative network which applies the cooperative principles in the capitalist system;

3) In the United States because it is in the belly of the beast of capitalism and as such has special problems, and

4) In Cuba which is using cooperatives to transition away from a fully socialist economy to a more mixed economy. (I will write a separate article on cooperatives in Asia or Africa as BRIC countries have unique problems, although India has a highly developed cooperative economy and China has the most cooperatives in the world.)

Aug 11 2013

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: New Era Windows- Symbol of a New Workers Movement by Geminijen

This diary is primarily a recompilation of research and articles written by Laura Flanders for Grit TV this summer. LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura.

This past year, numerous newspaper articles heralded the opening of a brand-new worker-owned cooperative, New Era Windows.  In a jobless recovery, the opening of any job creating business is a cause for celebration, but why all the national attention to a new cooperative in Chicago with only 20 employees? The reason lies in the historic struggle that brought New Era into being and what it represents for labor today.

People Power: The Republic Plant Occupation. It was during the big financial meltdown of 2008. As the relentless outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and the financial collapse brought layoffs in the USA to 500,000 a month, people  around the country were increasingly aware of how the 1% was ripping off the 99% while the big banks were being bailed out.

Watch GRITtv’s 2009 discussion of worker takeovers with Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis and UE organizer Leah Fried: http://blip.tv/grittv/grittv-m…

It was just days after receiving a $25 billion federal bailout, that Bank of America cut off credit to Republic Windows and Doors, a small manufacturing company in Chicago, causing Republic’s management to fire all 250 workers with just three days notice and without paying workers the wages and accrued vacation pay required under federal law.  

But instead of simply filing for unemployment insurance, setting up a picket line and filing a law suit for back pay, Republic’s workers and their union, UE Local 1110 (United Electrical Workers), did the unthinkable. They took over and occupied the plant and stayed, winning the hearts of downcast Americans everywhere. Of course there had been factory takeovers in other countries -progressives often recall with longing the factory takeovers in Argentina in the 1990s- but not since the 1930s had the US labor movement embraced sit-ins.

The workers’ action drew extensive media coverage and attracted wide support. Protest demonstrations at Bank of America branches took place in dozens of U.S. cities during the sit-in forcing U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to express support for the workers, and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to ban state business with Bank of America because the bank’s cancellation of the company’s line of credit had prompted the shutdown.

On December 10, the union members voted to end the occupation after Republic, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and the union negotiated a settlement of $1.75 million used to pay each worker eight weeks wages, plus all accumulated vacation pay, and give the workers more time to find a buyer for their company.

Jul 01 2012

The Cooperative Movement and the “Big Tent” Approach by GeminiJen

As I entered the reception for the opening evening of the 5th National Worker Cooperative Conference (as compared to consumer cooperatives which most of us are more familiar with) I experienced a kind of euphoria.  

After all, we had just finished the keynote speech by Congressman Chaka Fattah, a nine-term progressive leader from Pennsylvania, who introduced The National Cooperative Development Act into Congress. When passed, the bill will considerably improve government support for developing a cooperative economy here in the States and bring us more in line with Europe. Moreover, the Small Business Administration had just agreed to provide some funding for cooperatives and –wait for it — the UN had declared this the UN Year of the Coop!  We had arrived! No longer were we a little side note of Utopian idealist organic food coops — we had gone mainstream!

The creation of a society based on democratic, grassroots cooperatives as an antidote to capitalism has been a dream many of us have worked toward.   The cooperative movement began with the 1844 Rochdale cooperative experiment in England, continued through the anarcho-syndicalist cooperative movement beginning in the 1880s (frequently associated with Emma Goldman and the IWW), was energized by the farmer’s populist rebellion in the 1930s in the United States, and in recent years the Mondragon model formed in Spain in the 50s (100,000 workers and 12 billion in assets) and the industrias recuparadas in Argentina in the 1990s.   But for the first time– perhaps more through objective necessity as we globalize and shift from an industrial economy to a digital economy–it seems to be a vision whose time has come and is actually within our grasp.

So I was prepared to enjoy the kind of movement simpatico and joie de vivre that revitalizes all us activists when we get away for the weekend with like minded souls when we are in a period of radicalization– and, to manage, of course, to gather new information and contacts to bring back to the struggle.

After Rep. Fattah’s presentation — which he finished by noting that both he and his wife were active supporters of REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated which is a world famous consumer cooperative geared to hikers, runners, and other outdoor types) —  I sat down with a plate full of delicious organic and vegetarian food.  Next to me sat an enthusiastic young blonde who just happened to be the treasurer of the finances at the Occupy Wall Street site. She was discussing an educational cooperative venture that she and her boyfriend were planning to establish on their farm in New Hampshire. They would bring inner city kids out for an educational experience combined with a practicum in farming to help counteract  the decaying educational system in New York City. How wonderful I thought.

But be careful what you wish for. It was just at that point that the discussion started to get tricky. The first group of kids for their cooperative project, it turns out,  were going to be from a charter school in New York City.  The school was given $250,000 by Walmart.  When I and another community organizer sitting next to me seemed taken aback that they would partner with the charter schools and Walmart, the woman  acknowledged the problem but noted that they would not be in any way beholden to Walmart and they hadn’t been able to find any other way of funding the project.

peg_walmart1

Forget the fact that one of Walmart’s primary goals is to privatize education while still ripping off public resources (private charter schools, which have no accountability or oversight,  are frequently housed in public school buildings at public cost, leaving less room and resources for the “less fortunate” who did not get into a “charter” school). Forget that this mirrors Walmart’s modus operandi in their stores where Walmart bad mouths unions as it accumulates its billions, yet pays it’s employees so little that the employees  must apply for Medicaid and Food Stamps to survive (government programs which Walmart also bad mouths).