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Richard D. Wolff: Can We Remake Our Workplaces To Be More Democratic?

Economist Richard D. Wolff is known as a critic of capitalism, but lately he's been arguing for an alternative: cooperatives.

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The libertarian is taking a free ride on an ideology that comes from sources they don't even respect, but they don't question. And in doing so they do an enormous disservice, you elide, you destroy, you undermine what could be the basis of a movement to challenge the prerogatives, the power, the tyranny of the capitalist, which “libertarians” would otherwise oppose.

We Americans are very strange. The boss fires us, and we're angry at the congressman who didn't even know about it. And if I were a capitalist I'd be laughing all the way to the bank. I kick you, and you're angry at somebody else!

SJ: Josh Eidelson wrote a piece about Chick-fil-A employees who'd been fired because they weren't properly Christian. Everybody's talking about this company trying to impose its religious beliefs on people through political donations, but what about the way they're forcing those beliefs on the people who work for them?

RW: If you do philosophy, you know that this discourse of rights and freedom is a hornet's nest. The only way to sustain this is to be blind to the obvious contradictions. The freedom of enterprise denies the freedom of a job. Either I'm free to have work that's meaningful so I can support myself and my family, or if you have freedom of enterprise, you're taking away mine.

SJ: We're in this moment where most Americans have never been in a labor union, they don't know that what labor unions did was more than fight for better wages, they were there to give you a say in the conditions of your labor.

RW: "Democracy at work" is also a kind of branding. There's a hundred ways we could've called it; democracy at work is a way of introducing the fact that democracy in this country doesn't include work, and any democracy that doesn't include work ain't going to be a democracy very long, if at all.

People pick that up. Here we are, people who go to work five days out of seven, that's the majority, 9 to 5, we get dressed, we get in our car, we go to work, the whole day is built around work. If you believe in democracy, then how in the world can you justify not instituting it in the place where we spend most of our adult lives?

And you wonder why people don't give a damn in the community, don't participate in politics, they don't vote, if they vote that's all they do, the number of people who could tell you where the Democratic party club in their neighborhood is one out of 50. That's because nobody has any aptitude for this, any taste for it, and they don't have any taste for democratic procedures because they don't have them where it matters most, which is on the job, where they spend most of their time.

And people look—you can see almost a sadness because they know it's right. They know they haven't thought that way. I can see it in their faces.

SJ: In that vacuum of "There is no alternative," there is suddenly space to propose an alternative. Everyone was saying "Occupy hasn't proposed a new system," and my response is "We're just getting to the point where we have space for the discussion of a new system."

RW: The critique of Occupy for not having an alternative—the right wing comes up with 47 reasons to hate Occupy, of course. But our people? The broader left? That's the best thing that has happened to the left in this country in 50 years! Up from below, massive power, against all the odds of newspaper blackouts and police hostility, and, for me, here's the difference that I stress: up until now, every oppositional movement after the 1940s, from the civil rights movement or the women's rights movement or the ecological movement have been unable to dare to be anti-capitalist. It was considered to be too dangerous, it would split us, it would bring down the wrath of God and the police on us, and the government, and the newspapers would hate us, we wouldn't dare.

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