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Worker Co-ops on the World Stage

Len Krimerman replies to Tim Huet

I've read over your ‘Cooperative Manifesto' (see GEO #61) several times and find myself of two minds. Though it contains nothing with which I disagree, overall something important seems missing, or even implicitly denied.

Surely, your premise , “TINMISCWYCDTCD” (There Is No More Important Social Change Work You Can Do Than Cooperative Development) is true; there is no more important goal than building a democratic economy. As is your auxiliary claim, that certain other social change causes are equally important.

But having agreed to both of these, where are we left? Right where we began, I’m afraid: divided or at least isolated from potential allies, and easily kept in the margins.

In other words, beyond cultivating additional democratic workplaces and recognizing the good work done by other progressive groups, I think we need to forge alliances, create coalitions, and develop cross-organizational initiatives with others with whom we share common ground.

By ourselves, we cannot hope to transform the domestic, much less foreign, policies now in place which are inimical to the entire spectrum of progressive citizen movements. From environmental justice to independent media to global peace-making to workplace democracy to ending homelessness, etc.: If we do not work together with allied energies, what are our chances to grow a powerful movement?

To be even more specific, I think we need a common plan—we who daily pursue and promote the common good, or the public’s interests, in all our myriad ways—to gain a share of public authority and public revenues.

One model for this is Brazil’s participatory budget, now operating in some 500 towns and cities and two states. This process gives ‘ordinary' citizens the authority to decide how a significant part of municipal and state budgets will be allocated. In Porto Alegre alone, this has led to the formation of more than 50 housing cooperatives and an equal number of worker cooperatives during the past ten years.

Workplace democracy and cooperative activists would certainly stand to benefit from a similar process introduced here. But we cannot hope to bring it about by ourselves. Instead, our new federation should have as one of its core goals to help create and support this sort of cross-organizational collaboration among non-governmental public interest organizations (NGOs).

We need to move ourselves and our allies out of the impoverished civil sector of society and claim our rightful place as part of the governance structure, including access to our rightful share of public revenues.

Perhaps you'd agree. But there is, I think, no way to tell this from your Manifesto, which appears to direct us towards tending our own self-managed or worker-owned gardens. As always, this is vitally important.

But today, as I see it, worker owners and other public-interest NGOs need to do much more. We must link our further demands with those of our sisters and brothers, whether they be in this country or another, whether peacemakers or environmental justice activists, whether landless peasants occupying undeveloped farmland or restorative justice practitioners working to transform our heartless and discriminatory legal system.

We need to do this for our own sakes as well as theirs, for the alternative, it seems to me, is for each of us to hang alone. I'd be eager to hear your response to these thoughts, and how we might find and build on our common ground.

Cooperatively, Len Krimerman

GEO invites anyone with firsthand experience in worker ownership, cooperative development or building democracy to participate in this ongoing discussion about the value of a national federation of worker cooperatives and democratic workplaces.

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