The Economic Revolution Is Already Happening -- It's Just Not on Wall St.
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Of course, many co-ops are not that kind -- they don't have equal pay and have other differentials. And most of the [for-profit] worker-owned companies in the United States are employee stock-ownership plans, or ESOPs. In many cases, they are not democratic, and have a long way to go.
But as workers get more ownership, they demand more control. And as they participate more, they gain productivity and profits. So a key question is: How do we begin to democratize what is already owned? That is the likely trend.
MA: How might the American models compare to the giant cooperative in the Basque region of Spain -- Mondragon?
GA: Mondragon has over 100,000 workers in a very complicated group of 100 or more integrated co-ops. They pay back loans to a central fund and then build more co-ops in an integrated fashion. In 90 percent of them, the ratios of pay from top to bottom are 4 to 1. In others, it's 9 to 1. Compare that with American corporations, which are 200 or 300 to 1.
These co-ops are highly productive and state of the art with advanced technology, not your corner kind of tiny co-op. In the city of Cleveland, some groups are creating a large-scale Mondragon-type of cooperative. It will include a worker-owned laundry, with high-tech, green advanced technology, a solar-installation cooperative company, a land trust with a large-scale industrial-scale greenhouse and solar and geothermal heating.
They're going online over the next year and will produce 2,000-3,000 heads of lettuce each day. It's linked to the public purchasing of hospitals and universities, which provide some of the contracts for food and laundry. The model makes green jobs and green ownership and shows that worker ownership is practical.
MA: There are advocates who believe that building these types of cooperatives are the single most important form of activism that people can do. Do you agree?
GA: Ultimately there needs to be systemic change. But it is very important, and it's one thing that can be contributed. At this point, two central principles are developing in these "schools of democracy" -- they are changing who gets to own and benefit from capital, and they are changing the participatory process.
And in addition to cooperatives, neighborhood corporations and organizations, cities and land trusts, state pension funds are being used in [socially responsible] ways. These are very American means of decentralizing ownership of productive wealth -- as well as some central forms. We see a picture emerging of an America that is beyond capitalism. These [activities] give us a possible model.
If we build on what we are already doing, make it part of a political program and develop it, we could create something that is far better than what we now have and better than traditional socialist models.
It's time for people working in these sectors of cooperatives, worker ownership, land trusts, neighborhood corporations to begin calling meetings, share what they've learned and establish networks. In many cases they don't do this. People in the specific communities don't even know how much is going on.
Other interesting things are happening in Virginia, the District of Columbia and Maryland where, like in the '60s, people are meeting, reading, thinking and taking action from that. They are staging "action book clubs," where they read a political book and discuss, "What can we do in the direction of building something for the long haul?"
So if you don't like capitalism or state socialism, what do you want? What is your vision, your knowledge and theory? It's time for us to do that again.