By Jim Carey
These times may be trying but you have to admit—they’re never dull. We saw how 61 percent of Greek voters amazed the pundits by supporting the socialist Syriza party, saying “no” to the severe austerity that cripples Greece. Then US Independent Bernie Sanders draws huge crowds when he appears. For many, this socialist’s calls for a new fair and equitable economy appear to hit home.
Mon, Jul 20, 1pm
Quinta Loreto Hotel TV room
But wait—isn’t “socialism” a dirty word? Certainly in the past, it meant government ownership of private production, factories, land, and offices. It gave government not only enormous power to own and operate businesses but also to plan and distribute goods and services. The belief was that this would be more democratic and egalitarian than capitalism. That state power in the Soviet Union and China was a tragic failure.
So the question remains: Are there other ways of understanding socialism that give us the benefits without the negatives? With TPP and the other so-called free trade treaties, the owners of corporate capitalism freely close factories and move to other countries, taking advantage of the cheaper labor forces. We all need to think outside the box to reinvent our failing economies and restore long-term stability and a more egalitarian way of life to our towns, cities, and states.
Shift Change introduces us to a cooperative socialism that seems very appealing. Its whole focus is on changing the way we organize businesses: stop being so top-down, hierarchical—with a board of directors making all the decisions. Have workers own and operate collectively and democratically their businesses. Economist Richard Wolff says, “If we truly believe in democracy, as we claim to do, then why not institute democracy from the beginning in the workplace. After all, it’s where most adults spend most of their lives: at work, five out of seven days, 9 to 5. If you believe in democracy, then why not make our workplaces democratic, or cooperative?”
Shift Change visits thriving cooperative businesses in San Francisco, Cleveland, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts as well as the Mondragón Cooperative, a federation of 120 companies in the Basque country of northern Spain. Begun in the ’50s, Mondragón co-ops, owned and managed by their workers, have transformed a depressed area of Spain into one of the most productive in Europe with a high standard of living and an egalitarian way of life. Seeing these workers’ achievements helps to overcome the idea—widespread in North America—that worker-run cooperatives can only exist on the economic fringe. Seeing the sophistication of these businesses and listening to these co-op members/owners talk about their work is totally inspiring. Another world is possible—and it looks like this! Join us. A discussion will follow.