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Hope and Ka-ching - The Baffler
"There are at least 150 million members of cooperatives in the United States, if you include retail, housing, agricultural, electrical, insurance, and most other types of co-ops. Eleven thousand American companies are owned wholly or in part by their workers through employee stock-ownership plans. Where these two groups intersect and go even further is in the four hundred worker cooperatives that exist in this country, enterprises that are owned by members and democratically run. As for cooperative factories, New Era is a rarity, among the only operations of its kind in the United States."

"Horizontalism is not simply about being fair to old friends. Nor is it about passing a political litmus test or pretending everyone has identical abilities. Instead, it is a practical matter, a way of mitigating the uncertainty and sacrifice the task requires of all involved, even if it means supporting those who are less proficient or those who are unable to work as hard as others due to unforeseen circumstances. Toward this end, the group recently affirmed their commitment to “solidarity economics,” specifically assuring that all future workers will be members. Despite the disproportionate role played by the founders, every worker, present and future, must be given a “buy-in” that will make them all legitimate owners of capital and make it harder for the business to demutualize, as some cooperatives have in the past. Essentially, they want to be blocked from someday becoming the bosses they deplore.

Starting New Era, one worker told me, was a “survival strategy” pure and simple, a way to “stop the abuse” they had suffered. Making windows for Republic, Robles said, was “a type of modern slavery,” with every minute logged and monitored through a complicated tracking system. Now they move freely, working and breaking when they need to, with a sense of purpose that Robles says gets him happily out of bed at dawn without the help of an alarm clock. Arizona Stingley, who was a nanny for white families in Mississippi in her younger days, told me there was simply no comparison between Republic and New Era. “It was divide and conquer by the boss. They were always pitting Mexicans against blacks,” she recalled. “And it worked. People wouldn’t want to teach you anything because they were afraid you’d take their job.” The groups sat at different tables at lunch and rarely mingled across race lines. Now they share skills instead of regarding each other as threats.

Experiences like these have convinced the New Era crew that cooperatives are the wave of the future. “Bosses, at any minute they can close the plant and just destroy your life. They say it’s your job, but really it’s their job to take away,” said Maclin, whose fluency in English is a resource for the predominantly Spanish-speaking crew. He likened his awakening over the last few years to the movie Star Wars: “You know how it says, the power is with you, the force is with you? Well the power is with us. The force is with us. We are the work force. We’re taking back the power we already have.”

"History abounds with examples of cooperative ambitions; unfortunately, it also contains an almost equal number of failures.

The stumbling block, nearly every time, has been lack of access to capital. Workers are more than capable of managing things on their own—work, after all, goes on whether the bosses are in their offices or out on the putting green. But the money to purchase equipment and pay for space and materials has always been hard to come by for the proletariat. After owners shut down the Youngstown Sheet and Tube steel mill in the late 1970s, a landmark event in the history of deindustrialization, workers made plans to run it themselves; they were stopped when the Carter administration failed to come up with the $100 million in financing it had promised. In 1996 the CEO of Republic Windows and Doors was able to secure nearly $10 million in financing through a public program that diverted property-tax revenue from schools and parks to expand his private company. In 2012 the workers needed just a petty sum to buy the business, but for them there was no public investment to be found.

Finance, as Martin sees it, is the key to getting significant control of wealth into workers’ hands. “There is this myth of capitalism that says that the 1 percent invest productively, but the fact is, we don’t need them,” Martin explains. “They said, ‘If you don’t bail us out, there won’t be jobs.’ But their aim isn’t to make jobs; it’s to make money for themselves. Finance, as it is currently set up, is parasitic. It’s extractive. But what if it was productive instead? What if it actually invested in the community instead of always sucking money out?” The Working World, which has lent out over $4 million in less than ten years, is Martin’s answer to that question."

"Karl Marx wrote approvingly of cooperatives, insisting that the “value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated.” Nonetheless, he probably would have scorned the “small is beautiful” attitude of those cooperators who are content to stay on the fringe, who lack the oppositional spirit necessary to take on capitalism directly. He would also have scoffed at activists who believe they can practice and prefigure democracy without building institutions, accumulating resources, or holding power.

The cooperative activists themselves often recognize the problem. Marina Sitrin, the author of several books about horizontalism, never believed that the large assemblies that characterized the early days of Occupy Wall Street would be sustainable for a prolonged period. She told me that horizontalism needs to be grounded in a specific place and have a well-defined purpose in order to function. A hundred people debating abstract principles in a public forum will likely drive each other bonkers, but the same hundred people may be able to run a school or a health center or a factory if their community and lives depend on it. In other words, for consensus decision-making to be practicable, there has to be something at stake, something to stick to and stick with. You need a school or a health center or a factory."

"What remains to be seen is whether the current crop of cooperators and activists—the New Era window builders, Occupy and its post-disaster rebuilding efforts, and the USW with its plans for union-cooperative hybrids—will actually be able to change things. They look at Mondragon and the substantial cooperative networks in other countries, as well as the factory takeovers in Argentina and Greece, and believe we may be entering a cooperative renaissance spurred on by an endless economic slump. And maybe that is so. But cooperative momentum will flag if the movement doesn’t take the problem of finance seriously. Until we create loan funds or build banks that are committed to non-extractive economic growth, cooperatives will remain marginal phenomena, nice places to shop for organic food and get your bicycle repaired, but not much more.

One thing the cooperators can count on is self-interest. People will pursue worker control because it is more appealing than being exploited and then disposed of by employers whose only allegiance is to the bottom line. They will be drawn to structures that can help them support their families and communities, and these real, urgent needs will in turn encourage them to endure the vexations of direct democracy, to stick with it even though the meetings last for hours and comrades inevitably chafe. It’s still better than having a boss."
collectives  work  chicago  finance  astrataylor  2014  labor  horizontality  hierarchy  hierarchies  horizontalism  deindustrialization  via:Taryn  capital  mondragon  marinasitrin  brendanmartin  collectivism  anarchism  cooperatives  ows  occupywallstreet 
12 days ago by robertogreco
the AIDS activist project Kickstarter needs you - jameswagner.com
the AIDS activist project Kickstarter needs you
pls RT if you believe in an activist continuum
OWS  from twitter
24 days ago by jameswagner
Meet the experts making digital encryption easy for everyone - The Globe and Mail
This new reality has spawned – or perhaps more accurately, accelerated –– the development of apps and services promising secure, encrypted and private communication. The question is, how do we get these tools into the mainstream? And more importantly, how can less savvy users know what to trust? Perhaps one answer is to make encryption invisible, so that most users won’t even know there’s strong encryption happening at all.
otf  OWS  cryptocat 
8 weeks ago by lindsay

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