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Cooperatives and Peace Activism
By Ken Estey

I am a member of the Editorial Collective for GEO and the executive director of Peace Action of New York State. As a GEO reader, are you also a member of a peace organization? If so, does your work of peace activism and in cooperatives ever overlap in concrete ways? Cooperative economic relations and peaceful, cooperative relations overall are two expressions of a common task to build a world-wide cooperative commonwealth. Both movements need each other more than ever before.

The events of September 11 have caused the GEO Editorial Collective to ponder the role of cooperatives and the creation of a peaceful world. In the face of endless war and the ongoing threat of terrorism, do cooperatives have anything to do with solving such intractable problems? To pose the issue very sharply, is it possible that our work toward a world-wide network of worker-owned and worker-managed cooperatives—true inter-cooperation—is also the work of peace activism? Will our work to create and sustain worker cooperatives everywhere help to eliminate the massive structural inequalities that help promote terrorism, conflict and war? I suggest that even without an ironclad “yes” to this question we continue our work on cooperatives as if our lives depended on it. Indeed, they do..

Cooperatives as a living example

The work of cooperatives is a living example to peace activists who are expert on ideas to stop war preparation and end war but lack a systematic analysis of the economic factors that lead to dispute and conflict. Many otherwise peaceful members of the peace movement in the United States neglect the warning that capitalism and imperialism are intimately related. Even when grassroots activists and peace movement leaders consider economic alternatives, rarely do cooperatives emerge as a solution. Peace activists have an insufficient knowledge of and appreciation for the peaceful potential of worker owned and managed cooperatives.

In recent years, the relationship between peace activists and those working for economic justice has not been a close one. The movement against corporate globalization that found its footing in Seattle has not led to enduring alliances with the peace movement because of distinct generational differences and divergence on tactics and methods. The protests, whether in the United States or in Prague, Quebec City and Genoa, have had no trouble attracting college and even high school age students. Many in the peace movement, eyeing with envy the composition of the protesters and their media and technological savvy have asked “How can we get the young people involved?” The diversity and boldness of tactics have also shocked and piqued the interests of peace activists. Peace activists wonder where the line is drawn between violent and non-violent protest. Globalization protesters view once innovative peace activist street work as unnecessarily tame and a holdover from the 1980s nuclear freeze movement or even relics from the 1960s. Nonetheless, peace activists and globalization protesters need to work together, combine forces and press their respective issues as two sides of the common coin of the cooperative commonwealth.

Peace activists and globalization protesters have complementary insights. Corporate globalization is only possible with the globalized military of the United States that ensures unfettered access to commodities and uninterrupted production, sales and distribution. As for peaceful human relations, one prior condition includes an equitable distribution of material goods and true democratic participation in the institutions that guide our economic life.

The peace movement also has much to offer the cooperative movement. A major challenge for the democratically governed worker cooperative is self management and conflict resolution. The peace movement has nurtured thousands of its own activists over the years to practice peaceful self-governance amongst themselves and with others. The cooperative movement could learn from this deep well of expertise. At GEO, we are interested in your experiences and your suggestions about the overlap between the peace movement and the cooperative movement. Do write or send an e-mail to us at GEO if you would like to continue this conversation.

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