Sunday, February 26, 2012

Two Articles on Co-ops has loads of interesting posts to my taste, and two recent ones discuss co-operatives.  Jim Hightower is a writer who I learned about through Mother Jones magazine years ago.  Richard Wolff's an economist I learned about through a friend and colleague who heard him on WBAI, 95.5 New York, and Gar Alperovitz I learned about only recently through his op-ed in the New York Times, the latter truly a remarkable piece in my view. 

Co-operatives over Corporations  by Jim Hightower

....Yet, tightly clutching their wealth, the wizards retort that the only alternative is the hellish horror of government control, screeching "socialist" at all critics to scare off any real change.
But wait. The choices for our country's rising forces of economic and political democracy are not limited to corporate or government control. There's another, much better way of organizing America's economic strength: The Cooperative Way.
Cooperatives can (and do) provide a deeply democratic, locally controlled, highly productive, efficient percolate up capitalism. Co-ops are wholly in step with the values, character, spirit and history of the American people.
While socialism has been cast by the corporatists as a destroyer of our sainted free-enterprise system, the cooperative approach is not an -ism at all, but a democratic structure that literally frees the enterprise of the great majority of Americans -- which is why the co-op movement is fast spreading throughout our country.
While it's rarely mentioned by the conventional media, completely missing in the political discourse, not considered by economic planners and chambers of commerce and not known by most of the public, there are 30,000 cooperatives in America (with 73,000 places of business). A 2009 survey by the University of Wisconsin's Center for Cooperatives ( found that these energetic enterprises have 130 million members, registering $653 billion in sales and employing more than 2 million people.

You might be surprised to learn that such national brand names as ACE Hardware, Best Western Hotels, Organic Valley, REI and True Value Hardware are organized as co-ops, rather than as corporations. The strength of the movement, however, is in the limitless number of local cooperatives flowering all across the country.  ….

Economic Alternatives to Capitalism   Interview of Gar Alerpovitz by Richard Wolff

.... Wolff: No, the inequality is stunning.

Alperovitz: And particularly in capital ownership, the structure of the ownership. So these institutions willy-nilly are beginning to change the ownership of capital in a way that people understand in very practical terms...They’re “talking prose” and don’t know that there’s something very important happening there. So partly, we have to make manifest, make available to people what they already are beginning to do. And there’s a building up, people are learning from this. The most interesting development is something that’s going on in Cleveland, where there’s a complex, in part based on the Mondragon experience in the Basque country of Spain, a big, very successful cooperative effort--100,000 people, roughly. But in Cleveland, there are 3, 4, 5 linked worker co-ops; they’re building a whole complex of worker-owned companies, and these are not little co-ops. For instance, there is a large-scale industrial laundry, there is a hydroponic greenhouse, capable of producing something of the order of 3 million heads of lettuce a year. There’s a solar installation company. And they’re building a complex which is linked together throughout the community through a non-profit corporation.
So it’s not just worker-ownership, it’s community building and includes a revolving fund to help build more of these entities. Well, that structure in turn is building on things people have learned over the last 30 years particularly in Ohio, beginning with the decay of the steel mills in that state. It’s also using the purchasing power of public and quasi public institutions like hospitals and universities that are buying from the co-ops in ways that also help to stabilize the market. And that’s a really important principle—in part stabilizing (but not subsidizing) the “market” through public or quasi public purchases.
The important point is that there are many, many things that are developing that the press simply doesn’t cover. I wrote America Beyond Capitalism partly to give focus to the idea of what can be done in this phase of development--and hopefully building beyond that to much more interesting things once we learn more about how to do real things on the ground.

Wolff: Yes, I can add a little example of my own about the importance of books like yours and programs like this and other efforts to get the word out. Before we even sketch alternatives that are better, to even make the American people aware of what they themselves have accomplished in this area. I taught for many years at the University of Massachusetts. Just a few miles up the road from the small city of Holyoke, MA.
Holyoke has a public power company, and the public power company services the people of Holyoke. And it provides them with two benefits: lower rates for electricity than are paid by the surrounding communities that don’t have public power, a power operated by the community. And not only does it give them electricity for lower rates, but even at the lower rates, it makes a profit which it contributes to the city’s treasury, thereby lowering the taxes these people have to pay. A double benefit of public over private power, that they would save on electric rates and lower their taxes compared to what their neighbors a few miles down the road have to do with the big utility company.
And yet, when I had students from Holyoke, they were the ones whose eyes opened the widest when the learned of this, because they had grown up for 20 years in a community that never had explained to them in any school room or any kind of public way what they had and how it differed from the normal businesses in the United States.....

My comment at the site-
I agree with wonderinwhy that the personal attack is unnecessary, although the feeling of frustration that this basic issue of existing alternative capitalisms is missing in almost all US activism is also a pressing one.
As a longtime US-based activist, I worked for a food co-op for years in relative ignorance simply of the larger existing networks. As I explored Fair Trade while volunteering with a non-profit advocate group, I began to connect the dots, along with finally reading William Greider´s The Soul of Capitalism.
Stakeholder capitalism had come to my attention, but then while pursuing my master´s was I, albeit unaided by any direct support, able to stumble upon Co-determination in Europe, and the historical development of European Workers Councils. I found several books discussing the subject, such as Lecher, W., B. Nagel, and H-W. Platzer et al. The Establishment of European Works Councils: From Information Committee to Social Actor.
While I am glad to recognize some apparent accomplishments of social capitalism in Europe, one commentator at least mentions the definite limits of the Co-determination system. Another source discusses the presence of corporate lobbyists in the European parliament. The ability of Europeans to represent their alternative in a strong and enlightened way also remains to be seen. Denmark´s history with wind power is an example, since their development was seriously compromised due to neoliberal policymakers. Germany is a major representative of this view, but efforts could be combined from several Northern European countries especially, although the EWC´s have been pan-European since 1992 and the Maastricht Treaty, if I recall correctly.

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