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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Towards a New Policy Paradigm: Synergizing Participatory Budgeting and Worker Cooperatives (includes survey)

May 15, 2015
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By Alexander Kolokotronis

(please take survey at conclusion of this piece)

Cooperativists often posit this: the cooperative movement is a movement of movements. Or, more broadly speaking, the solidarity economy movement is a movement of movements. Many of us believe this is true in the present. In many ways it is.

Yet, there is another sense to the line "movement of movements": it is a line pointing towards the potential of solidarity economics to effect a powerful affinity between an array of seemingly disparate organizations, groups, and causes. A movement of movements prompts an organizational and mobilizational affinity that allows individuals and groups to retain their identity. It is an affinity powerful enough to produce system-change.

Whether we are currently an actual movement of movements, hold the potential to be a movement of movements – or are both actual and potential – such a line demands exploration of concrete and emerging ties between liberatory movements. Since solidarity economy focuses on institutions — specifically, alternative institutions— it is necessary to look at the degree of connectivity, complementarity, collaboration and convergence between institutions. The question is no longer “are there alternatives?”. We must now also ask “how do we connect these alternatives?”.

This second question is very much in the spirit of the reemerging “commons paradigm.” Specifically, though, my project focuses on the relationship between worker cooperatives and participatory budgeting in the United States. By no means do I imply participatory budgeting and worker cooperatives the only alternatives. There's a panoply of institutions and  we must propose and establish around the world. As David Bollier and Pat Conaty write in A New Alignment of Movements? "Institutional reform that is root-and-branch in scope is clearly needed at the macro, meso and microeconomic levels." A movement of movements does not only oppose; it proposes. It does not only desribe and explain; it presribes and creates.

We must not only transform the social relations underpinning the economy; we must also alter the social relations underpinning governance. A participatory democratic economy will require a participatory democratic polity. From this, my research asks key concrete questions. Can we say participatory budgeting and worker cooperatives are part of a new "policy paradigm"? That is to say, are they part of a set of ideas that will guide policymaking away from and counter to neoliberalism? Are the two intersecting and/or do they have the potential to [further] intersect and interlock? Geographically there appears to be some evidence for this.

My research is in its preliminary phases, but I invite all cooperators and PBers (maybe you are both) to take these surveys and circulate them — it goes a long way:

For Cooperators:

For PBers:


Hopefully this can be one tiny contribution to not just policy-change, but system-change.

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