Feb 18, 2013 - President Barack Obama speaks at the Linamar engine-parts factory in Asheville, North Carolina, February 13, 2013.It's fitting that President Obama in his State of the Union address chose Youngstown, Ohio, as a model for a high-tech manufacturing hub initiative, but it would be even more fitting if he pointed out that Ohio is also the inspirational home for the fast-growing idea that workers should become not just employees but owners of the companies in which they work.
In his State of the Union address President Obama praised creation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, and announced the launch of similar "manufacturing hubs" that can introduce new technologies elsewhere in the United States.
Youngstown is a fitting place for this . . . probably, the president feels, because Youngstown is a place where old technologies have left the city in radical decline. A thriving steel town of almost 140,000 in 1970, today Youngstown has only 66,500 residents.
"A once-shuttered warehouse," the president proclaimed, "is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything."
So yes, it's fitting to choose Youngstown for this high-tech initiative. But it would be even more fitting if the president were to take the next step: move to put the new technologies under cooperative worker ownership.
More fitting! Why? Let me explain.
Youngstown is the inspirational home for the modern and fast-growing idea that American workers should become not just employees but owners of the companies in which they work.
Many years ago - in 1977 - a very large steel mill in Youngstown was shuttered on a very unhappy September day. Five thousand workers lost their jobs, their livelihoods and their futures when Youngstown Sheet and Tube went down.
Five thousand on one day was a very big deal, nationally, in 1977. It made the front pages and was the top story on the evening news. This had not happened very often in America up to that point. (Tragically, today such a closing is hardly news, since it happens all the time.)
Back in 1977, the steelworkers called it "Black Monday." I remember all too well how, as the reality sank in, we heard reports of men who could no longer support their families going out into the garage and putting a pistol to their heads.
That was not the only response, however. A young steelworker named Gerald Dickey somehow got to thinking that there was no reason the steelworkers themselves couldn't run this facility, and he began to urge and organize and push and shove to get some interest in his outrageous idea.
Just to give you an idea of what outrageous meant in Youngstown: Dickey was taken aside by one of the town's leading businessmen and advised: "If you're interested in steel mills, let me suggest a couple stocks you might buy . . . " But of course, Dickey had a somewhat different idea, and together with many others, began to get serious.
First, the group got a number of activist who worked at the mill together. Second, they found that many of Youngstown's religious leaders were also upset because if the huge mill went down, a good part of the economy and livelihood of the community would go down.
The steelworkers and an ecumenical coalition headed by a Catholic and an Episcopal bishop began to demand that the mill be put back to work under some form of worker or worker-community ownership. They found a sympathetic ear in Washington in the shape of an assistant secretary of housing and urban affairs named Bob Embry. Suddenly they had enough money to finance a really professional plan for how to put the old mill back into operation with the latest modern technology.
I was called in to help oversee the development of the plan and to help advise on other matters. (All this now seems like only yesterday . . . ) To make a long story short: The young steelworkers and the ecumenical coalition became very sophisticated about what they were taking on.
They knew their only chance against the big steel companies (all of which were less than enthusiastic about the idea of workers owning mills) was to build a popular political base around the state and, to the extent feasible, around the nation. This meant capitalizing on the bold tale of workers taking on the big guys, drawing in the press and also mobilizing the national religious community.
At the time, they also had to take on the national union leadership. The United Steelworkers in 1977 had absolutely no interest in the idea - and indeed thought of the young steelworkers in Youngstown as upstart troublemakers who might perhaps one day cause problems for the established national union leadership.
Then a major victory occurred. The Carter administration studied their plan and agreed to allocate at least $100 million in loan guarantees to put it into operation.
However, though they won the first major battles, the Youngstown steelworkers lost the war. Somehow, not surprisingly, just after the midterm elections of 1978 and the national politicians no longer had to worry about a backlash, the Carter administration's interest simply faded away. The $100 million somehow never quite got allocated.
Not surprisingly, the major steel corporations and the Steelworkers Union, it was rumored, were somehow, maybe involved - though, of course, no one could prove anything.
The story did not end there. Neither the young steelworkers nor the ecumenical coalition were naive. They knew they were up against some of the most powerful corporate (and at the time, union) players in the country. They were fully aware they might well lose the battle. They also knew, however, they were on to a very important idea, one whose time - they hoped - would one day come no matter what.
"Why should workers not own the companies in which they work?" they kept asking. Why can't this become an idea to put into everyday practice - now or in the future? Accordingly, as part and parcel of their strategy they made it their business to help educate the public and the press and the politicians in the state and around the country about what they were trying to do both locally and, in a much more fundamental sense, as a larger national strategy and vision.
And so the Youngstown story did not, in fact, die when the Carter administration turned its back on the workers in 1978. Instead, the inspiring example of the workers and the ecumenical coalition - plus the very sophisticated educational and political work done by the local steelworkers and the religious leaders to spread the word - had ongoing impact.
There are now many, many worker-owned businesses in the state of Ohio, and the support system for building them is one of the best in the nation. There is also a very energetic organization, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University that provides assistance to workers and others who want to establish such firms. (The center was put together by a Kent State professor, the late John Logue, who was directly and personally inspired by the Youngstown effort.)
And the simple idea that workers can and should own their own factories or stores or other businesses is an idea that is now almost conventional in many parts of Ohio. And not only among workers but also among businessmen, many of whom (aided by certain tax benefits) now sell their successful businesses to their former employees when they retire.
That last paragraph compresses roughly 30 years into a few sentences. Obviously, there was a lot more to the tale. But the point is not simply that the idea of worker ownership is now pretty much commonplace in many parts of the state.
Something else has happened: It has also gotten much more sophisticated over time as people have thought about things and worked on them in different ways. Innovation has also occurred.
And as a result of work done in the last several years, there now exists in Cleveland a group of very sophisticated worker-owned companies, linked together with a community-building nonprofit corporation and a revolving fund designed to help create more and more such linked, community-building cooperative businesses over time.
Furthermore, part of the new design involves getting big hospitals and universities in the area (like Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals) to agree to make purchases from the worker-owned companies.
The goal now is not simply worker ownership, but worker ownership linked to a community-building strategy - and supported in part by larger institutions that not only have broad interests in the community but also are dependent in part on public programs supported by the workers' and the community's tax dollars, such as Medicare, Medicaid and educational funds.
Put another way, the process that can be traced to the Youngstown effort - including its seeming failure - has also led to innovation, further development and greater sophistication.
As time has passed, new priorities and another set of alliances have also begun to develop. Now, all of the linked worker-owned companies are green by design. For instance, the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry operates out of a LEED Gold-certified building and it uses (and heats) around one-third as much water as that used by other commercial laundries. Evergreen Energy Solutions is poised to install twice as much solar capacity in the near future than currently exists in the entire state of Ohio.
And Green City Growers Cooperative - 3.25-acre hydroponic greenhouse (the largest in any American city) - currently produces some 3 million heads of lettuce a year, along with hundreds of thousands of pounds of herbs. In the future, new cooperative businesses will come online as the building processes continue.
By the way, a number of local businessmen have been helpful in all this. The overall effort builds consumers, helps the local economy and supports the tax base, and thereby, all local businesses as well. Many also feel good about doing something for the community. And the politics of this seems to work, too: The mayor as of this writing, Frank Jackson, looks very, very good in the press.
As noted, at one point, the Youngstown effort focused also on a joint "Community-Worker Partnership" - following the idea that the interests of the whole community, not just the steelworkers at one particular plant, were at stake. And the Cleveland effort - along with many others - offers further ways to think about this idea, about many different ways to democratize ownership and about the logical community building and other relationships involved in a different economic system.
The tale does not end in Ohio. Many other workers' groups and many other cities around the nation have picked up on - and been inspired by - the line of development represented in the above tale. Efforts like that in Cleveland are being developed in Atlanta; Pittsburgh; Washington, DC; Amarillo, Texas; and many other cities.
Nor is that all. The United Steelworkers, whose national leadership once opposed the Youngstown effort, have also evolved. The union recently announced a very creative strategy to help build "union co-op" worker-owned companies around the nation. Efforts are under way, in particular, in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. There are also signs that other unions are beginning to realize they might gain additional leverage by exploring new strategies.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is launching a worker-owned and unionized laundry project in Pittsburgh and is involved in a ground-breaking partnership with New York City's Cooperative Home Care Associates, an effort that provides home services for the elderly, chronically ill and people living with disabilities, and it is the largest worker cooperative in the United States.
And the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Homeland Acquisition Corporation, an Oklahoma- and Texas-based grocery chain, have joined to transform the company into a 100 percent employee-owned business.
Also, lots of people are suddenly talking about Mondragon - a spectacular 83,000-person grouping of worker-owned cooperatives in Spain's Basque region that is teaching the world how to move this idea into high gear and large scale. The first Mondragon cooperative dates from 1956, and the overall effort has evolved over the years into a federation of more than 100 cooperatives - all based on the one-worker, one-vote principle. The modern steelworkers' effort is a joint project undertaken with Mondragon; and the Cleveland co-ops have drawn on many of the Mondragon principles, particularly in connection with revolving loan funds to help incubate new co-ops.
Some of the nation's business schools are now offering courses on worker ownership and other democratized business structures never offered before.
And by the way (speaking as something of an old-timer who has been concerned with this kind of thing for longer than I care to mention), there are lots and lots of ordinary people who are now beginning to get very serious about changing ownership and about this as an idea whose time has come - or might come, if we get serious.
It's important to note, too, that support for worker ownership doesn't always necessarily sway left or right. Take a guess at who said this, as long ago as 1987: "I can't help but believe that in the future we will see in the United States and throughout the western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step, employee ownership. It is a path that befits a free people." It was Ronald Reagan.
So, to return to President Obama's initiative. Yes, certainly, it is time to boost advanced technology in rustbelt areas. But we should be doing it in ways that build new democratic ownership and really honor the modern tradition that began in Youngstown on Black Monday in 1977.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, is the author of the forthcoming What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution (Chelsea Green, May Day 2013).
By Jim Hightower, Truthout | Op-Ed
By Ellen Brown, AlterNet | Report
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers , Truthout | Op-Ed
SolidarityEconomy.net via New American Media
PINON, Ariz, Jan 4m 2013 – A community group here would like to tap into the potential to generate solar power on Black Mesa.
The proposal from Black Mesa Water Coalition was brought to the Navajo Nation Council’s Resources and Development Committee on Dec. 4 in a meeting at the Piñon Chapter House.
The coalition is seeking permission to construct a 1-5 megawatt solar demonstration project on at least 40 acres of reclaimed land at Black Mesa Mine, which closed in December 2005.
The mine started producing coal in 1970 with a contract to serve Mohave Generating Station near Laughlin, Nev. but when Mohave closed, so did Black Mesa.
There are currently 12,805 acres that have undergone reclamation — enough land to produce 14 to 2,000 megawatts of solar electricity, said Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, which is working on the project with the environmental group Tó Nizhoni Ani.
“What we’re trying to do is make it beneficial for local communities, chapters and also residents,” she said. “These are their lands.”(more...)
By Danilo Valladares
SolidarityEconomy.net via IPS
GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 8 2012 (IPS) - “Our economic situation improved a great deal because we obtained more income for our families” as a result of setting up a social enterprise, Matilde García, who makes fashion jewellery in the municipality of Pastores, 60 km west of the capital of Guatemala, told IPS.
“Now we send our children to school in the urban area and we can pay for their transport and food,” said this proud mother of three, who gave up working as a domestic employee with a monthly wage of about 40 dollars to set up a small-scale factory of necklaces, bracelets and fashion accessories employing 25 women.
Social entrepreneurship and cooperatives are offering rural families the opportunity to generate income in Guatemala, where 54 percent of the country’s 15 million people live in poverty and 13 percent in extreme poverty, especially in areas where most of the population is indigenous, according to the state National Survey of Living Conditions of 2011.(more...)
By Wayne Ellwood
SolidarityEconomy.net via The New Internationalist
In the eyes of the mainstream media and the high priests of the free market, Argentina just doesn’t get it.
This past May, the country was savaged by the international business press for nationalizing the Spanish-owned oil company, YPF. Scarcely mentioned was the fact that Argentina’s oil and gas industry was only ‘privatized’ in the late-1990s under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other hardline enforcers of then fashionable neoliberal economic policies. Like many countries around the world, Argentina’s oil industry used to be state-owned.
Back in 2001, the knives were out again. After years of enforced austerity and ‘structural adjustment’ the resource-rich South American country was awash in debt, crippling inflation, staggering unemployment and negative economic growth. (Notice any parallels with present day Greece and Spain?)
The IMF’s prescription for setting the economy right – ‘flexible’ labour conditions, deregulation, loosening of capital controls, privatization of state-owned assets, devaluation of the national currency – only made things worse.
With inflation raging and tens of thousands of workers on the streets, the government finally called it quits, defaulting on its debt and devaluing its currency. Predictably, the kingpins of global finance went ballistic, warning that Argentina would sink into penury and chaos.
It didn’t happen. Over the next decade the country’s GDP grew by nearly 90 per cent, the fastest in Latin America. Poverty fell and employment rose steadily while government spending on social services slowly increased.
Many factors contributed to this astounding turnaround, including the determination of Argentineans to strike an independent economic course not reliant on the whims of foreign capital.
But a significant part of its success is rooted in Argentina’s rich history of co-operatives. Waves of Jewish and Italian immigrants brought the co-operative vision with them during the early 20th century. Co-ops were well established, especially in agriculture, prior to the financial and political meltdown in 2001. According to the International Co-operative Association (ICA), nearly a quarter of the South American country’s 40 million people are linked directly or indirectly to co-operatives and mutual societies.(more...)
Written by Kali Akuno
For the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
A major progressive initiative is underway in Jackson, Mississippi. This initiative demonstrates tremendous promise and potential in making a major contribution towards improving the overall quality of life of the people of Jackson, Mississippi, particularly people of African descent. This initiative is the Jackson Plan and it is being spearheaded by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and the Jackson People’s Assembly.
The Jackson Plan is an initiative to apply many of the best practices in the promotion of participatory democracy, solidarity economy, and sustainable development and combine them with progressive community organizing and electoral politics. The objectives of the Jackson Plan are to deepen democracy in Mississippi and to build a vibrant, people centered solidarity economy in Jackson and throughout the state of Mississippi that empowers Black and other oppressed peoples in the state.
The Jackson Plan has many local, national and international antecedents, but it is fundamentally the brain child of the Jackson People’s Assembly. The Jackson People’s Assembly is the product of the Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition (MSDRC) that was spearheaded by MXGM in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of Gulf Coast communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. Between 2006 and 2008, this coalition expanded and transformed itself into the Jackson People’s Assembly. In 2009, MXGM and the People’s Assembly were able to elect human rights lawyer and MXGM co-founder Chokwe Lumumba to the Jackson City Council representing Ward 2.
What follows is a brief presentation of the Jackson Plan as an initiative to build a base of autonomous power in Jackson that can serve as a catalyst for the attainment of Black self-determination and the democratic transformation of the economy.
Program or Pillars
The J – K Plan has three fundamental programmatic components that are designed to build a mass base with the political clarity, organizational capacity, and material self-sufficiency to advance core objectives of the plan. The three fundamental programmatic components are:
Building People’s Assemblies Building a Network of Progressive Political Candidates Building a broad based Solidarity Economy(more...)
With his new sci-fi novel 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson delves 300 years into the future.Photo: SFXFuture Publishing
In 1948, George Orwell looked ahead to 1984 and imagined a grim totalitarian world. In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke looked ahead to 2001 and imagined transcendent alien contact. Now, Kim Stanley Robinson is looking ahead to the year 2312.
“I decided I wanted to go out a long way — at least for me,” says Robinson in this week’s episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
Projecting 300 years into the future is no easy task. But it’s made a bit easier by the fact that Robinson, who is best known for his novel Red Mars and its sequels about terraforming Mars, has spent a lifetime thinking about the future. 2312 combines many of the concepts the writer has developed throughout his career, such as the idea of a city that constantly circles the planet Mercury, remaining in the temperate zone between night and day (an idea that originally appeared in his first novel, The Memory of Whiteness).
Most stories about space exploration imagine starships zipping between alien worlds, but 2312 is set firmly in our solar system. Yet the novel shows that a single solar system can provoke plenty of wonder and provide ample territory for intrigue. In this future, rising sea levels have turned New York into a city of canals, asteroids are hollowed out to create giant nature preserves, and malicious schemes are calculated with the aid of quantum computers. Citizens live hundreds of years, are augmented with cybernetic technology, and casually swap genders.
It’s hard to say how much of this might come true. For example, Robinson points out that even the world’s top researchers can’t say how much ocean levels might rise. But nothing in the book violates known science.
Read our complete interview with Kim Stanley Robinson below, in which he describes how the Mondragon Accord might replace capitalism, recalls running into Jimmy Carter in Nepal, and expresses skepticism about the technological singularity. Or listen to the interview in Episode 62 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast (link above), which also features a discussion between hosts John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley and guest geek Tobias Buckell about ecological themes in fantasy and science fiction.
Wired: Your new novel is called 2312. What’s it about?
Robinson: Well, we’re in the year 2012, and I decided I wanted to go out a long way — at least for me. The two things I postulated that I think make it workable as a realistic kind of fantasia are space elevators on Earth and self-replicating machinery, and these are two supposedly possible engineering feats that are discussed in the literature, so they’re not physically impossible. They might be hard engineering feats, but it seems like they could be done, and there are even companies working on at least the space elevator. Self-replicating factories are somewhat of a stretch at this point, but not obviously impossible.(more...)
SolidarityEconomy.net via DailyKOS
1941, Office of the Archbishop of Spain:
"They just released you?" Archbishop Balbino Oliver eyed the priest standing before his desk with suspicion. Something about the young man unsettled him.
"I believe it was in error. They did not realize I had written so much against Franco. When God spared my life, I enrolled in the seminary."
He possessed humility. Good. Yet something about the eyes... "Even under the care of the church, Franco may not let you go so easily."
"Yes, it is best if I left Spain. I could continue my writing in Belgium. I think I can..."
"God granted you a precious gift, my son." The Bishop leaned back, considering. His left eye. That was it. "It would be unwise to waste the gift with further agitation of forces beyond your control." Yes, his left eye stared back slightly wider, giving him a permanently quizzical expression. Father Bertolli had mentioned him losing his eye in an accident.
"But the work I've been doing..."
"Is against Church official policy." The Archbishop leaned forward to study the documents the priest had presented him. "You are Basque, no?"
"Yes, but in Belgium..."
"Father Tillous requested an assistant in Mondragon, only 50 miles from where you grew up. Franco is unlikely to bother you, there."
"Out there, he is unlikely to need to." The young man bowed his head curtly, murmuring the obligatory goodbye.(more...)
By Aaron Bartley
SolidarityEconomy.net via Huffington Post
May 7, 2012 - While the oil and gas lobby dominates at the federal level, communities across the United States are making great strides in gaining control of energy production.
They are doing so by advancing an impressive range of commercial-scale renewable projects that are heating homes and powering local businesses from Massachusetts to Oregon.
Municipal utilities, community-based co-ops, universities and other nonprofit institutions in both rural and urban settings are executing wind, solar, geothermal and biomass developments.
When combined with the innovative grassroots efforts to retrofit existing buildings for conservation purposes, these renewable energy production programs are placing community-led efforts at the forefront of American innovation. In the process, they are creating a blueprint that could be used to scale-up nationally when and if we develop a rational Federal energy policy fostering both the growth of the renewable sector and democratization of production on the German model.
In Hull, Mass., residents began a campaign to build large-scale wind turbines in 1996. The first turbine was completed in late 2001 and has produced more than 12 million kilowatts to date. A second, larger turbine, known as Hull II, was erected on top of the town's former landfill in 2006 and in its first year produced enough electricity to power all of the Hull's street lights while providing the town with an additional $150,000 from the sale of excess electricity. Hull's two turbines now generate enough electricity to power 1,100 homes as well as the town's street and traffic lights.
Similar community-controlled wind projects have sprouted up across the state of Iowa, placing seven municipalities and about a dozen school districts in control of their energy destinies. The 1.65 megawatt wind farm at Iowa Lakes Community College is among the largest of these community-developed projects, built in conjunction with the ILCC's launch of the first accredited wind turbine training program in the nation.
The Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, which operates independently of the college, provides power to more than 12,000 member-owners in eight rural Iowa counties and has developed two wind farms that generate more than 21 megawatts, projects for which it was named wind cooperative of the year by the DOE.(more...)
By Noam Chomsky
SolidarityEconomy.net via The Nation
May 8, 2012 - The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There’s never been anything like it that I can think of. If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead—because victory won’t come quickly—it could prove a significant moment in American history.
The fact that the Occupy movement is unprecedented is quite appropriate. After all, it’s an unprecedented era and has been so since the 1970s, which marked a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society, and not always in very pretty ways. That’s another story, but the general progress was toward wealth, industrialization, development and hope. There was a pretty constant expectation that it was going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.
I’m just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s—although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today—nevertheless, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that “we’re gonna get out of it,” even among unemployed people, including a lot of my relatives, a sense that “it will get better.”
There was militant labor union organizing going on, especially from the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations). It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are frightening to the business world—you could see it in the business press at the time—because a sit-down strike is just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. The idea of worker takeovers is something which is, incidentally, very much on the agenda today, and we should keep it in mind. Also New Deal legislation was beginning to come in as a result of popular pressure. Despite the hard times, there was a sense that, somehow, “we’re gonna get out of it.”
It’s quite different now. For many people in the United States, there’s a pervasive sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. I think it’s quite new in American history. And it has an objective basis.
On the Working Class
In the 1930s, unemployed working people could anticipate that their jobs would come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today—the current level of unemployment there is approximately like the Depression—and current tendencies persist, those jobs aren’t going to come back.
The change took place in the 1970s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying factors, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Brenner, was the falling rate of profit in manufacturing. There were other factors. It led to major changes in the economy—a reversal of several hundred years of progress towards industrialization and development that turned into a process of de-industrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued overseas very profitably, but it’s no good for the work force.(more...)
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