The launch of 'Coop Talk' and a letter from the editor

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The circus of Election 2016—a presidential race consumed with emails, insults, and genitalia-grabbing—sent shockwaves around the world as Donald Trump became America’s “Mr. Brexit” on November 8th.

In hindsight, the real shocker in this election should have been the nonexistent debate about the connections between finance, globalization, rising inequality, and the rampant instability of our economic system. There’s something to be said for the fact that a great majority of the electorate either didn’t cast a ballot or voted for the “change” candidate just as they did back in 2008.

But why expect our new billionaire president-elect to make any systemic changes? He is the very embodiment of the corporate capitalism that has wreaked havoc on the wages, benefits and job security of working and middle-class Americans over the past 40 years. If we had a serious, honest and open dialogue, perhaps more of our country would have realized that the 62 richest billionaires (the majority being American) now own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population. Or, that because executives can be paid in stock options, CEOs use billions in corporate profits to buy back their own stocks instead of making investments in tangible production and labor. 

The mounting evidence tells us that the economy shouldn’t be in the hands of a tiny percentage of people. A new left politics must focus on examining how capitalist enterprises are organized, and challenge why a tiny number of people – major shareholders and the boards of directors they select – wield undemocratic demand, excluding the vast majority of workers. We need a country that advocates for a change in the organization of our economy from the top-down and hierarchical corporate model towards employee ownership, where workers decide democratically (one member, one vote) what to produce, where to produce, how to produce, and what to do with the profits. By comparing the differences, we can then develop a framework and political strategy for transitioning to an economic system that addresses the issues capitalism produces.

The idea that employees can run their own firms might sound unrealistic to some, but there are very healthy worker cooperative sectors that co-exist alongside capitalist ones today. In Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, two out of three of its 4.5 million residents are coop members, and worker-owned enterprises produce a third of its GDP. The Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain is an extraordinary 80,000-person grouping of worker-owned cooperatives, where the ratio of compensation between top executives and its lowest-paid members is between three to one and six to one. New York City’s Cooperative Home Care Associates is America’s largest worker-owned cooperative with 2,300 members that is over 90 percent owned by women of color. And studies show that worker-owned cooperatives are more productive than normal businesses, and lead to happier and more efficient employees.

These are the types of stories we’ll be documenting in Coop Talk, Democracy at Work’s volunteer-run news blog that will disseminate knowledge, research, and analysis in support of the advancement of worker-owned cooperatives.

Effective immediately, we are welcoming volunteer guest posts and publishing content on the worker cooperative movement in a wide array of formats. We invite you to consume, utilize and share the material provided on Coop Talk, but we also want you to become part of the conversation.

The emerging new politics will work for democratizing enterprises, and thereby the economy. In place of hierarchical, top-down autocratic enterprise organizations, it will advance worker cooperatives. The success of this movement would mean that political will and organization can finally address the systemic roots of so many of this country’s problems. If we can first democratize the workplace, we can then rebuild a democratic society on a firm foundation of economic justice. 

For more information on how to get involved with Coop Talk, please email blog@democracyatwork.info. And be sure to visit the blog regularly, at www.democracyatwork.info/cooptalk.

Sincerely,

Paul Sliker
Editor, Coop Talk
Democracy at Work

 


Showing 20 comments

  • commented 2016-11-27 16:01:31 -0500 · Flag
    Big money won’t be running campaigns to bolster and advocate for co ops any time soon. So, you can forget about that as a route to help level the playing fields in health care, food stores, auto dealerships, the entertainment industry or the MSM. As far as poverty and charity are concerned, we probably will never know how much or how little co ops or Capitalism have anything to do with either of these until Co ops are a stable, more sustainable solution to inequality.

    So, let us take examples from the most successful models Co ops have to offer.
    Anyone? Bernie and millions of other progressives believed that, grassroots efforts and high social activity both on the internet and in local gatherings would create and allow the changes the majority of poor and middle class citizens naturally anticipated. WTF happened?

    So, it is this very conundrum that challenged us before the elections that is confronting us with the differences between Capitalism and the philosophy of of Co ops.

    This whole senario reminds my of a great song by a great singer, Billy Holiday. God Bless The Child. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=who%20wrote%20god%20bless%20the%20child%3F
  • commented 2016-11-27 12:20:58 -0500 · Flag
    <a class="tweet-url username" href="http://twitter.com/intent/user?screen_name=peter">peter</a> brown - The way I read it, dw does not advocate capitalism and is probably not the best place to do so other than it being a place where someone on the fence can come fix that pesky cognitive dissonance they are having. Myths about coops? Myth as to it being “good” or myth as to it being “bad”? I think the only myths we see here are those that are not seeing coops for the good that they really are or might be defining them improperly. As far as the Obamacare insurance market place, that is a bad example of what a coop should be and gives “coop” a bad name. I’m glad it was made an example so we can fix those erroneous definitions of “coop”. To say that coops fail based on that as a definition of coop is one reason why d@w exists.

    What I keep seeing which is very peculiar is how a capitalist society keeps enabling and wallowing in the never ending vicious cycle of poverty. Hence, we have “charity”. IMO, once coops, rightly defined and inclusive of both worker and consumer get going, charity will cease to exist. Poverty and hence charity is a by-product of capitalism and inequality. What I’m seeing is people locked into that dysfunctional “poverty conscious” relationship that capitalism has enabled. Society does not realize that poverty is NOT built into the human condition and is unequivocally tied to capitalism. Capitalism = poverty (inequality). A few people who stand the chance of becoming really wealthy while the majority of others go down the tubes is proof that this equation is completely accurate. Capitalism = privatization (private ownership). Privatization is just a different word for inequality. Another integral point and misnomer about people is they are unequal due to their lack of work ethic. I’ll save that for later.
  • commented 2016-11-27 11:16:08 -0500 · Flag
    This link might also help to explain reasons for co op failures. I only wish there were as many reasons for their sustained successes.

    http://www.grocer.coop/articles/why-some-co-ops-fail
  • commented 2016-11-27 11:04:01 -0500 · Flag
    @ Mr, Rhoads and Mr, Togrul,
    “Once again, Peter Brown, for me, questions are real and hard. I look forward to keeping these conversations up.”

    Yes! Yes. Let us do that and, I’m glad to see that I’m not being misunderstood for advocating Capitalism. I am indeed a wholehearted supporter of coops which, is why my questions and concerns reflect the social and political obstacles that confront most of us here on this site.

    No ‘silver bullet’ for solutions to wage/earnings inequality that’s for sure. Like Standing Rock, a work in progress. Also please do not misunderstand me when I say that Mr. Wolff needs to think this one out a little more. He’s fighting for me. I can only have respect and admiration for all the work he’s done.

    It will take a lot of time, work, tenacity and faith to unravel all the myths about coops. Hopefully, these links will help us to sift through the gauntlet of greed and disproportion imposed upon us all who, would like to see the playing field leveled. You can only inspire socio-economic and political change. It can no longer be forced and thrust upon the citizenry as, has been the case for centuries and decades in the past and at Standing Rock today.

    Thanks again, hope this helps.

    https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&amp;rlz=1C1GTPM_enUS653US653&amp;ion=1&amp;espv=2&amp;ie=UTF-8#q=why%20coops%20have%20failed

    http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/files/publications/fund-report/2015/dec/1847_corlette_why_are_many_coops_failing.pdf
  • commented 2016-11-26 13:04:45 -0500 · Flag
    @peter Brown – I see your point and appreciate your concerns. I would like to see which coops failed and then figure out why they failed. I would venture to guess it was due to management and not market issues if in fact they did have adequate demand for their product or service.

    I have no doubts that coop workers can endure the wage pressures that capitalist workers endure and hence be “competitive”. At this point it is irrelevant whether we are talking coop or a capi. What we should be looking at is, all things being equal, where to find balance. Let’s take the following equation, cost of production + cost of management – revenue = P&L (to the “owners”). Let’s plug in the numbers for a capi and a coop and see what happens. Capi – 25+25-100= profit of 50. Coop – 25+5-100= profit of 70.

    As you can see, regardless of wage pressures, a coop will every time be more profitable due to “paying management less” (step 1) and give the worker more disposable income due to shifting that difference to the worker/owners (step 2). The difference NOT payed to management (20) and the shift of ownership is really the basis of our coop worker benefit. Now, the worker/owners, without sacrificing overall company profit of 50, have 45 which means they have more money to take home while having a nest egg or loan source to boot. In fact, if capi companies just distributed less to their CEOs and gave it to their employees they would probably be able to extend their capitalist-owner reign for a little while longer (I should be quiet right? LOL).

    What I have found at every job I’ve worked is how the “owners”, no matter size of company, usually have a really expensive house and car and boat and a second house, car and boat etc. etc. In all cases, shifting the profit (surplus) away from the singular Godhead owner/managers back to the workers has now evened the playing field “without sacrificing management efficiency”. The entire moral of this story is by cutting management costs and plugging those savings and profits back into worker/owners, balance is achieved. I am of the opinion that once the working class can tangibly see the raw benefits of being a coop member vs an employee (if given the chance), critical mass will ensue and the capitalist will in no way shape or form be able to “compete” since nobody in their right mind will want to work for “him/her”.
  • commented 2016-11-26 12:30:21 -0500 · Flag
    I am no “expert” on history of workers owned coops or Mondragon. As much as I know from research about Mondragon’s free market oriented success: (correct me where I am wrong) Mondragon coop has been going since late 1950s. Current revenue is around 13 million Euro, twice as much total assets, close to 75K employees in 4-5 different sectors such as industries, finance, retail. There are some documentaries if you like that sort of thing. You can google their annual reports. I am pretty sure there are independent audits. Workers’ and their communities experiences have to be highlighted; people start to understand and define costs, prices and bottomline differently.

    I believe cultural change will change the understanding. That is a lot of work. As we shift the cultural understanding about costs, prices etc we will shift into a different universe. In fact, when I watch documentaries about ppl who work at worker coops they talk about these shifts clearly.

    Change is messy. With all deep respect, it is never going to be one person telling us what to do. We cannot only rely on Prof. Wolff finding all the answers. I am saying this because earlier Peter Brown commented “I dare say that Mr. Wolff needs to think this one out a little more”. We all have think and more so do while tinkering with the theoretical precision. I like all the hard question Peter Brown is posing. For me, you are raising question about how to change mind set. For me, Mom and Pop stores with the same mentality of doing business is not same as coops. There is a nuance there.
    In my community, ppl in low- middle income and/or PoC are looking for meaningful work where they are respected and valued. Yes, for a while we are Salmon running upsteam. Think about Standing Rock, amazing ppl are all Salmons, for sure. I only was at Standing Rock for 8-9 days, I could feel/observe cultural difference.

    Once again, Peter Brown, for me, questions are real and hard. I look forward to keeping these conversations up.
  • commented 2016-11-26 09:10:26 -0500 · Flag
    @ John Rhoads,
    In theory, it’s actually very civil and sensible. I voted for Jill Stein not because I thought she would win but, instead, because I believe in the values she stands for. But in practice, eventually, and my point is specifically, that over time, the coop has to compete with free market systems to keep their costs down to levels the average consumer is capable or prepared to pay for the service or product. It’s exactly why consumers choose to buy at Walmart and other big box and discount stores. They’re shopping their wallets and pocketbooks. Today, and especially today, consumers are buying to fulfill their needs. Not their desires. Weather it’s food, clothing or any other survival specific purchase. ‘Why Pay More’ being the key phrase. They (we) no longer have disposable incomes to shop our desires. Maybe, this is a good thing for coops to take advantage of.

    If a coop can compete with the prices those big box stores and Walmarts of the world can offer, then yes, look for a coop near you to furnish all your utilitarian needs. Can coops be a social solution for the economically disenfranchised? Or to put it bluntly, the low and middle classes? But then, so were the ‘Mom & Pop’ stores corporate monsters like Walmart displaced.

    I’m not sure if we’re trying to reinvent the wheel here or, swimming upstream like the Salmon. What I am sure of is, coops have succeeded and failed miserably through the decades and even centuries with no reasonable explanation as to why and how come. They’ve never really been sustainable. The Mondragonian route should teach us how to make coops more sustainable. The question is, has it?

    I appreciate this opportunity to voice my opinions and concerns.
  • commented 2016-11-25 15:30:52 -0500 · Flag
    Now that I think about it in theory, coops relating to each other in a free market environment is not so bad after all since mergers and acquisitions will in the end only create ever larger coops. In other words, mergers and acquisitions of capitalist companies only gives you consolidated capitalist entities when the same of coop companies only gives you consolidated coop entities. I’d rather have the wold be one giant Mondragon than on giant McDonalds. Yet still, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a question of consolidation either since horizontal democracy will yield more variety and possibilities than any top-down structure. The point is no matter how you break it down, cooping is the way of the future and has much less complications than our current system.
  • commented 2016-11-25 15:16:11 -0500 · Flag
    The trick is not to over-think if coops are any different externally than a standard capitalist company. The only thing that is different is how a coop is run internally. How a coop appears externally to the capitalist “market” world is moot. In other words, let’s not look for reasons why coops will fail in a capitalist system because there is no reason. The only reason a coop would fail is no different than why a capitalist company would fail in a given market. A company, regardless of internal structure, will fail or succeed based on having a demand for a good product or service and delivering on that demand. Period. Success or failure, short of no market or demand for your product or service, should always hinge on whether a company is internally sound. Therefore, coops should have no particular disadvantages than a standard capitalist company in a given market. In fact, if we consider how coops internally are more stable due to worker satisfaction, we can surmise that coops would endure longer than a capitalist company in any market. If we take Mondragon as an example this becomes clear to understand. The only real issue to mull over is how coops relate to each other. That is the question to answer but can’t get answered until the market is flooded with coops. We can cross that bridge when we get there.
  • commented 2016-11-24 07:57:14 -0500 · Flag
    If you can determine why so many coops have failed in the last 30-45 years, when coops were really popular in the 50’s and 60’s in the US, the reasons will be clear that, in a Capitalist run, saturated system of ‘free market’ values, those functioning coops cannot sustain themselves due to the forces of ‘free trade’ Capitalism.

    Having said that, there’s no reason a campaign to disintegrate Capitalism at it’s core and replace it with a Federally observed system of checks and balances within a ‘fair’ market economic environment can’t be possible. Then you need to appoint someone who will determine what is ‘fair’ in this scenario.

    So yes. There are coops that can and do function here and there. But eventually, the ‘free’ markets will begin to overwhelm the ‘fair’ markets, that coops are so reliant upon.

    I dare say that Mr. Wolff needs to think this one out a little more.. The ‘thing’ that separates fair markets from free markets will be the determining factor that will allow coops on a large scale to develop and thrive in the US and other ‘Democratic’ societies.
  • commented 2016-11-24 06:08:16 -0500 · Flag
    This is great. I would like to know specifically how to begin. I am a member of a trade union and am tired of getting less and less with every new contract. I would like the union members to have our own co-op. Aside from the changes to the contract, like Hande Togrul commented above, I also do not know how to move this forward.
  • followed this page 2016-11-23 23:16:41 -0500
  • commented 2016-11-22 22:30:13 -0500 · Flag
    Kudos guys! Excellente! Can’t wait :)
  • commented 2016-11-22 14:23:39 -0500 · Flag
    There is a WinCO in my area, which I believe is worker owned. An article on them could be useful. (?)
  • commented 2016-11-22 13:17:18 -0500 · Flag
    I follow
  • commented 2016-11-22 11:50:53 -0500 · Flag
    We are a group of people of color (PoC) community in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our community, especially young people suffer from lack of access to affordable housing as well as meaningful paid work. We want to start our worker owned housing coop. Big dream! I have been researching, talking to credit unions, some local business ppl almost a year now. Not much progress has been made. Since summer 2016, a lot of native, as well as other PoC sisters and brothers went up to Standing Rock to be part of the water protectors. At least, 4 of the people in my community left their jobs and lost their housing for this commitments.
    Eventually, some of them will come back. I have also been a big believer of worker ownership. Studied a little bit while working on my Ph.D in economics, feminist economics in particular. I/we need support from coop community to start the first worker owned housing collective in Utah. To me, support looks like connecting with all kinds of resources: experiences, financial capital. I have been to few webinars so far. Also done quite a bit of research thru D@W and other online sources in U.S. and EU. I don’t know how to move this forward. I am stuck. I know that our community needs and wants it.
  • commented 2016-11-22 08:29:08 -0500 · Flag
    The question goes a lot deeper than ‘to coop or not to coop. This conundrum between the haves and have nots goes deeper than that. We are in a ’fixed’ system of anti-socialism. One that only identifies with the accumulation of wealth and power. The ideology the US and other ‘Democratic’ political systems is in essence, anti-social in how they’re originated or, have morphed into. The laws the rich and powerful forged through the decades and centuries are all based upon the ‘Master/Slave’ relationship between workers and employers.

    These are not so much economic issues as they are embedded in the fabric of morality. And, you can reverse this by stating that, these are not so much economic issues as they are moral issues. Of course, it’s been proven many times, many ways that, you can not legislate morality. You can’t make people cooperate with each other. Therefore, it’s doubtful that, sharing corporate or company profits equally and fairly is possible and sustainable.

    I’m also not convinced that two systems IE., Capitalism (anti socialism) and Socialism can share the same stage.

    A Coop needs to be able to verify on a regular basis, it’s earnings and expenditures to the work force of the company with no slight-of-hand. When/if the company execs violate these trusts, the ‘system’ needs to be able to prosecute with impunity. This has never happened in history as I’m aware.
  • followed this page 2016-11-21 23:13:06 -0500
  • commented 2016-11-21 19:03:28 -0500
    I look forward to receiving information on Coop. We are a small group of about 8-10 people with a product in development that addresses issues in the rental and housing market including homelessness. It will be an employee owned operation, we are not sure if we should set it up as a non- or not for profit vs Coop. I would appreciate suggestions and factors to consider.

    As long as I am on this post, let me add a couple of comments of a more general nature. Over the years as I read or re-read Bertrand Russel, I am amazed at how contemporary his comments and analyses have been. I suggest his book Roads to Freedom Unwin Books 1966 editions.

    On another topic that may be more controversial, using the term capitalism always in a negative connotation may not be in the best interest of a broad movement that supports a employee owned business. There certainly are real problems with capitalism, but on a practical level most working people at one time or another either see some benefits from their investments or have been condition to equate anti-capitalism with either communism or being anti-American. The semantic issue of the term can bypassed by specifically labeling the problem as corporate abuse of power.
  • commented 2016-11-21 18:54:14 -0500 · Flag
    Unless we radically reform what money is it will still be a losing battle. The necessary reform to the money system is individual monetary sovereignty, which is heart and soul compatible with worker owned enterprises, but would also tend towards sharing the wealth in a conventional capitalist company. It’s all described in colourful detail at moneyasdebt.net
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