robertogreco + mondragon   5

Who Needs a Boss? - The New York Times
[via: https://twitter.com/zunguzungu/status/982369655925846016

"Is there such thing as a worker owned cooperative PUBLICATION?

I don't even know the right words to used. Like a publication, but a co-op, worker-owned and operated, etc, all that good stuff?

Somebody must know things, please tell me"

and
https://twitter.com/zunguzungu/status/982389603159105536

"This, but for media
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/magazine/who-needs-a-boss.html "]

"Arizmendi and its five sister bakeries in the Bay Area are worker-owned cooperatives, an age-old business model that has lately attracted renewed interest as a possible antidote to some of our most persistent economic ills. Most co-ops in the U.S. are smaller than Arizmendi, with around a dozen employees, but the largest, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, has about 2,000. That’s hardly the organizational structure’s upper limit. In fact, Arizmendi was named for a Spanish priest and labor organizer in Basque country, José María Arizmendiarrieta. He founded what eventually became the Mondragon Corporation, now one of the region’s biggest employers, with more than 60,000 members and 14 billion euro in revenue. And it’s still a co-op.

In a worker co-op, the workers own the business and decide what to do with the profits (as opposed to consumer co-ops, which are typically stores owned by members who shop at a discount). Historically, worker co-ops have held the most appeal when things seem most perilous for laborers. The present is no exception. And yet, despite their ability to empower workers, co-ops remain largely relegated to boutique status in the United States.

Returns to investors are ever-increasing compared with the returns to labor. For most economists, there’s little question that the former is squeezing the latter.

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RECENT COMMENTS
brendan March 31, 2014
Having visited the Working World in Buenos Aires and brought students to some of the co-ops they support in the area, I was happy to see...

miket March 31, 2014
My brother started a organic nut butter business in Nunda, NY 30+ years ago called "Once Again Nut Butter". It mainly specializes in...

Jim m Roberts March 31, 2014
The form of ownership does not guarantee business success. Profits do.Without profit, employee owned co-ops will fail just effortlessly as...

SEE ALL COMMENTS
The blockbuster economics book of the season, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” argues that the great equalizing decades following World War II, which brought on the rise of the middle class in the United States, were but a historical anomaly. Armed with centuries of data, Piketty says the rich are going to continue to gobble up a greater share of income, and our current system will do nothing to reverse that trend.

The oft-proposed remedy for this state of affairs is redistribution — namely, taxing the rich to benefit the poor. Piketty, in fact, proposes a global tax, one that can’t be avoided by private jet. Others want to raise the minimum wage. In contrast to those Band-Aids, worker co-ops require no politically unpalatable dictates. And by placing workers’ needs ahead of profits, they address the root cause of economic disparity. “If you don’t want inequality,” says Richard Wolff, the author of “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism,” “don’t distribute income unequally in the first place.”

Of course, a workplace doesn’t have to be managed by committee in order to channel more of the capital share to labor. Workers can just be given stock. Thousands of companies, including blue-chip firms like Procter & Gamble, already use stock as part of compensation, with the employee share of the company ranging from the single digits to 100 percent. But even this can be just another management strategy to harness the increased productivity that, studies have shown, accompany employee ownership and profit-sharing.

Support for full-fledged co-ops has inched into the mainstream as communities have grown weary of waiting for private investors to create good jobs — or sick of watching them take jobs away. In Cleveland in 2009, hospitals and a university gave seed money to a new group of businesses, the Evergreen Cooperatives, and now contract with them for laundry, energy retrofits and fresh produce. Last month, a government commission in Wales announced that “conventional approaches to economic development” were insufficient; it needed cooperatives. That same month, the New York City Council held a hearing called “Worker Cooperatives — Is This a Model That Can Lift Families Out of Poverty?”

It is a good question. Research findings about employee-owned businesses are rarely negative — they are either just as good as regular businesses, or they are more productive, less susceptible to failure, more attentive to quality and less likely to lay off workers in a downturn (though they may be slower to hire when times are good). Take, for example, the employee-owned British retailer John Lewis, which has recently threatened to outpace its publicly traded corporate rival, Marks & Spencer.

One perennial criticism of worker co-ops is that they can’t afford the high-flying talent that would help them innovate. But not every company needs to innovate. Many just need to mop floors, sling burgers or clean linens. And it is usually those companies whose workers struggle most. “We’re not trying to create an Amazon that pays Jeff Bezos to do what he does,” says Melissa Hoover, the executive director of the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives. “We’re trying to remove Jeff Bezos from the equation and have everyone else make a little more money.”

Another persistent critique is that workers don’t have enough experience to make good management decisions. Some co-ops solve this problem just as other businesses do, by buying expertise they don’t already have. In 2008, the owners of a Chicago window factory decided to close it with little notice, and the workers staged a six-day sit-in that made them celebrities overnight. Another owner took over but closed the factory again. The workers bought the equipment and moved it to a new factory, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars with sweat equity. The new company, called New Era Windows, opened last year. Though the workers are still paying themselves minimum wage, they elected to hire a high-priced, experienced salesman to drum up business.

New Era was lucky to find financing, borrowing $600,000 from a nonprofit called the Working World, which started lending to co-ops in Latin America and has branched out to the U.S. The biggest challenge co-ops face is lack of capital, which is why they are often labor-intensive businesses with low start-up costs. Banks can be hesitant to lend to co-ops, perhaps because they aren’t familiar with the model. Meanwhile, credit unions — another form of cooperative — face stringent regulations on business lending.

The founder of the Working World, Brendan Martin, would like not only to fund cooperatives, but to reorder the priorities of investors altogether. Martin says that both times the window factory was shuttered, it was not for lack of business. It just didn’t meet the needs of the owners. The Working World, instead of seeking quick returns, accepts no loan repayment until the borrower is on its feet. “We create the real economy, which is slower but it has less risk,” Martin told me recently, between meetings with the New Era workers in Chicago. Then he proposed something truly radical: “Imagine if Wall Street investors were only able to make money by creating incredibly successful American businesses?” Maybe then we wouldn’t need co-ops."
2014  cooperatives  work  labor  arizmendi  mondragon  josémaríaarizmendiarrieta  sanfrancisco  democracy  shailadewan 
april 2018 by robertogreco
Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy — Medium
"Let’s do justice to what we know. Platform cooperativism equals a more humane workplace equals real benefits. They say that big money talks, but I say that platform cooperativism can invigorate genuine sharing, and that it does not have to reject the market. Platform cooperativism can serve as remedy for the corrosive effects of capitalism; it can be a reminder that work can be dignified rather than diminishing for the human experience. Cooperatives are not a panacea but they could help to weave some ethical threats into the fabric of 21st century work."
sharing  sharingeconomy  economics  labor  cooperatives  cooperativism  work  treborscholz  mondragon  naomiklein  yochaibenkler  michelbauens  uber  taskrabbit 
december 2014 by robertogreco
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 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Richard Wolff presents Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism at the Baltimore Radical Bookfair - YouTube
"Called the leading social economist in the nation by Cornel West, Richard D. Wolff, professor of economics at the New School, host of WBAI's "Economic Update," and prominent critic of capitalism lays out his vision for a world without bosses, in which workers run their own workplaces democratically."

[More on Mondragon:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/24/alternative-capitalism-mondragon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation ]
richardwolff  democracy  economics  capitalism  hierarchy  hierarchies  horizontality  labor  2012  unions  organizaedlabor  socialism  communism  inequality  history  unemployment  newdeal  fdr  socialsafetynet  society  government  taxes  taxation  egalitarianism  mondragon  spain  españa  greatdepression  greatrecession  recessions 
april 2014 by robertogreco

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