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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy


December 12, 2013
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This is my response to Michael Johnson's recent blog post, Movements Moving Together, Part 1.

Yes, this is a very good and well-timed piece, one that raises just the right sort of strategic question. My initial reaction to seeking collaboration with either the Tellus “Great Transition” or Michael Lind’s “New Deal” form of populism was harshly negative: neither seemed to me ready or able to collaborate genuinely with the rebellious grassroots movements I’d want to see GEO helping to “move together”. We need to recall, I think, that the New Deal was never “polycentric”, and often imposed disempowering policies on workers and farmers. Its main goal, much like Obama’s, was to resuscitate capitalism, and the control of our economic life by the 1%. (And it was largely a bust, as far as diminishing unemployment, salvaged only by our entry into World War II.)

As for the “Great Transition”, I’m skeptical that so-called “socially responsible” corporations can take us very far. Most of them – think Ben and Jerry’s, Tom’s Tooth Paste, the Body Shop, and more – eventually sell out or get taken over by the most avaricious of corporate entities.

However…on re-reading Michael’s piece, I would now soften these initial reactions in two ways: first, I would advocate reaching out directly to both Lind’s ”multiplying Service Proles” and the employees of the “good companies” Tellus advocates. And this is best done, it seems to me, by bringing rank-and-filers in these two key sectors together with rank-and-file worker owners, time bankers, participatory budgeters, etc. Rather than starting with “collaboration”, there is much to be learned from this sort of down-to-earth dialogue and shared experience.

Secondly, I would put my overall point more softly and positively: we on the grassroots democratic left need to first and foremost get our own ships sailing together, much as the Emilia Romagna network of co-ops has done, and the CUCI has begun, by building bridges among co-ops, farmers, and unions in Cincinnati. (See also the Center for Global Justice’s “Moving Beyond Capitalism” conference this summer in Mexico: But moving our own diverse ranks together will itself be an immense task, and to actively initiate ongoing collaboration with “good companies”, or with union people who have “little regard for alternative economies”, might well only draw energy away from what we’ve accomplished thus far.

Finally: the comment you included in the last paragraph of your blog laid out a very apt question: “What's different this time that someone could actually bring together all the disparate autonomous movements for change and unite them under a single banner?” That merits a full exploration on its own. I’ve got a few thoughts about it, but I’d rather hear what GEO’s readers think, or have found, are some of those differences – ones that can help move our disparate groups and movements towards working together. Yes, tell us something.




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