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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Solidarity: We Don’t Need to be Perfect

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May 28, 2020
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cross-posted from The Workers' Paradise


Is there anything in the world of work that at this moment that is required more than unity? And is it possible to consider unity rather than trying identify ourselves with the values that are already universal?

José María Arizmendiarrieta, Reflections

Recently Brian Donovan, a fellow traveller and co-op thinker, wrote about interdependence and the survival of humanity. His article discusses the special need right now for unity across the globe.

In Pendlum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, the authors Roy Williams and Michael Drew discuss a cycle of human behavior and thought that moves from the “Me” to the “We” based on the Strauss-Howe “Generations” or “Fourth Turning” concept. We are a couple years away from the zenith of the current “We” generation (2023). Corresponding times in this concept would be 1940 and 1860. Other years in when the world seemed to be both falling apart and coming together. We are in the moment that Williams describes as “I’m not OK, You’re not OK (we are both broken)” and approaching the zenith (“I’m OK, You’re not OK”). The good news (assuming Williams and Drew are correct), is the the era of 2033-2053 will be “I’m OK, You’re OK (Rainbows and Unicorns): think 1953-1973, marks being half-way down a “we” and half-way up a “me period.

The Pendulum of Generations
The Pendulum of Generations

The period that we are in, 2013-2033; however, is different. It is one marked by “witch hunts”. Witch hunts (a problematic phrase in its own right) mean dehumanizing people to achieve short-term gains in power and the wealth that comes with it. Williams and Drew predicted the 2012-2033 period as such:

Yes, “working together for the common good” can quickly become self-righteousness. In the words of novelist David Farland, “Men who believe themselves to be good, who do not search their own souls, often commit the worst atrocities. A man who sees himself as evil will restrain himself. It is only when we do evil in the belief that we do good that we pursue it wholeheartedly.”

Of course, we can’t simply wait and hope for the best until 2033. In many ways, this “we” generation has a greater ability destroy itself than any before it. The combined effects of climate change and politicization of the most dangerous pandemic to affect humans in over a hundred years creates a special existential crisis for us.

We need to avoid the temptation to join in the witch hunt, engage in ideological purity, and otherwise dehumanize those we might be in temporary disagreement. Cooperatives operate on a foundation of values and ethics. These values in a worker co-op create a workplace based on human dignity, solidarity, and social responsibility.

I’m not arguing for any of us to ignore bad actors and people seeking to manipulate the genuine fears of people right now for their own power and wealth. Any value based system needs a form of accountability. This begins by creating a culture of communal support (mutual self-help) and transparency. I think that Arizmendi argues wrapping ourselves in our values as a means to judge others, defeats the very act of solidarity.

To refer back to Brian’s post on Medium, we as cooperators need to recognize the human even in people with whom we disagree. For those engaging in the unproven hypothesis (sometime pejoratively called “conspiracy theories”), we need to understand the “pull” of those narratives (because the “We” generation is about a strong “pull” while the “Me” is all about the “push”).

Cooperatives offer a different view of the world that is based on mutuality and society. We have a great moment now to act as a “we” that focus on our humanity and prepare for the coming era of “rainbows and unicorns” by building a solid foundation that will create communities that can resist the worst effects of the pendulum (the witch hunts of the “we” and hero worship of the “me”).


John McNamara is a Cooperative Development Specialist with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center. He was a member-owner of Union Cab of Madison for close to 26 years and is a founding member of the late, great Democracy at Work Network.

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