Category Archives: Social Justice

Privatization Kills Freedom

For all of the freedom loving going on with those that celebrate private industry taking over where government is supposedly falling short, an interesting conversation is happening. A challenge to libertarian thinkers to consider in reality how much freedom private enterprise allows. The simple fact is that an adult in the workplace is at the mercy of whatever governing style is in place. The invention of labor laws, stories of clandestine and overt abuse, and modern day anecdotes from our “favorite” brand name sweatshops let us know that, yes, workers are taken advantage of when no one is minding the minder. Here is the leading argument from Let it Bleed:Libertarianism in the Workplace: Continue reading

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Capitalism Crises Should Send Us Back to the Drawing Board

Modern culture assumes the natural order includes a capitalist philosophy – it is not necessarily the case. Here is a very simple and informative animation that explains how we think about the roots of our current economical crises.

In reality, there are alternatives to capitalismRichard Wolf of the Guardian UK explains based on first hand observation:

Modern societies have mostly chosen a capitalist organization of production. In capitalism, private owners establish enterprises and select their directors who decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues from selling the output. This small handful of people makes all those economic decisions for the majority of people – who do most of the actual productive work. The majority must accept and live with the results of all the directorial decisions made by the major shareholders and the boards of directors they select. This latter also select their own replacements.

Capitalism thus entails and reproduces a highly undemocratic organization of production inside enterprises. Tina (short for Euro style capitalism) believers insist that no alternatives to such capitalist organizations of production exist or could work nearly so well, in terms of outputs, efficiency, and labor processes. The falsity of that claim is easily shown. Indeed, I was shown it a few weeks ago and would like to sketch it for you here.

In May 2012, I had occasion to visit the city of Arrasate-Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain. It is the headquarters of the Mondragon Corporation (MC), a stunningly successful alternative to the capitalist organization of production.

MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).

As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs. One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker’s salary – a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.)

Given that MC has 85,000 members (from its 2010 annual report), its pay equity rules can and do contribute to a larger society with far greater income and wealth equality than is typical in societies that have chosen capitalist organizations of enterprises. Over 43% of MC members are women, whose equal powers with male members likewise influence gender relations in society different from capitalist enterprises.

MC displays a commitment to job security I have rarely encountered in capitalist enterprises: it operates across, as well as within, particular cooperative enterprises. MC members created a system to move workers from enterprises needing fewer to those needing more workers – in a remarkably open, transparent, rule-governed way and with associated travel and other subsidies to minimize hardship. This security-focused system has transformed the lives of workers, their families, and communities, also in unique ways.

The MC rule that all enterprises are to source their inputs from the best and least-costly producers – whether or not those are also MC enterprises – has kept MC at the cutting edge of new technologies. Likewise, the decision to use of a portion of each member enterprise’s net revenue as a fund for research and development has funded impressive new product development. R&D within MC now employs 800 people with a budget over $75m. In 2010, 21.4% of sales of MC industries were new products and services that did not exist five years earlier. In addition, MC established and has expanded Mondragon University; it enrolled over 3,400 students in its 2009-2010 academic year, and its degree programs conform to the requirements of the European framework of higher education. Total student enrollment in all its educational centers in 2010 was 9,282.

The largest corporation in the Basque region, MC is also one of Spain’s top ten biggest corporations (in terms of sales or employment). Far better than merely surviving since its founding in 1956, MC has grown dramatically. Along the way, it added a co-operative bank, Caja Laboral (holding almost $25bn in deposits in 2010). And MC has expanded internationally, now operating over 77 businesses outside Spain. MC has proven itself able to grow and prosper as an alternative to – and competitor of – capitalist organizations of enterprise.

During my visit, in random encounters with workers who answered my questions about their jobs, powers, and benefits as cooperative members, I found a familiarity with and sense of responsibility for the enterprise as a whole that I associate only with top managers and directors in capitalist enterprises. The easy conversation (including disagreement), for instance, between assembly-line workers and top managers inside the Fagor washing-machine factory we inspected was similarly remarkable.

Our MC host on the visit reminded us twice that theirs is a co-operative business with all sorts of problems:

“We are not some paradise, but rather a family of co-operative enterprises struggling to build a different kind of life around a different way of working.”

No one is supposing that alternatives to capitalism are all sunshine and lollipops, there will always be challenges that arrive, but with a shared interest in efficiency, profit making, and employee quality of life, the solution sounds more fair for more people. The fruits of productivity can raise the standard of living for all, workers really can reap what they sew.

If nothing else, it is time, like the animation showed, to seriously debate and discuss the entire capitalist system.

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Let Them Eat Cake – After They Mow

Severe scarcity is a harsh reality for more and more Americans. The stories from the depression don’t seem so far away anymore. Folks without healthcare have been coping without – and suffering the lack of care. Jobs available, if they can be attained, are often in very low paying positions with tough physical demands and no health insurance. Someone with a known health condition has to be very careful about the balance of exhaustion/physical ailments and the cost of attending to those ailments while trying to keep the job. It is a vicious cruel cycle that did not happen by accident, it is all part of the Republican plan to disempower American workers so that they will grovel and beg to simply keep their families alive. Mitt Romney is a big fan of this sort of slash and burn method that leaves workers jobless and on the edge of survival.

Denise Morrison, a resident of Tulsa, Oklahoma is one of these Americans. She has health conditions and has been unemployed. In order to eat and have some medicine, she planted her yard full of edible plants. She read the rules governing the shape of a yard and followed them – anything over 12″ high must be edible – every plant is producing something edible (more on lawns in a bit). For those international readers that aren’t familiar with the lawn police, in America, if the city or neighborhood does not like how tall you’ve allowed the grass to grow around your house, you can be fined and the local govt. may decide to cut your lawn for you then send you a (ridiculously expensive) bill. Denise checked the rules before she bought the house, and then proceeded to create an edible garden all the way around the property including medicinal plants for her health issues, produce, fruit and nut trees, herbs for cooking. She had over 100 varieties of plants she was using. Denise’s story and video is here.

Continue reading

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He’s Not the Pastor of the United States, He’s the President of the United States

Can I get an Amen?

Fredrick D Haynes III certainly knows how to move a crowd. It is hopeful that a leader like him can talk sense and ask questions in what seems like ever shifting religious zeal in the evangelical Christian movement in this country. I have no idea what the specifics of Pastor Haynes theology, he didn’t address that aspect on this video.

This video is about a response and requests for collaboration about responses, to Obama’s statement on gay marriage. I don’t know if the pastor believe homosexuality is a choice relating to morality or not, he did a great job of framing and speaking about the difference between church and state laws, and makes it clear that they should have little directly to do with personal beliefs. He makes the distinction that the Bible is not the founding document of this country, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are. He made these comments as a leader in a protestant movement that is not known for its LGBT support, and in direct opposition to prominent Baptist leaders.

Who knows? Maybe I would find the actual theology of that church offensive. It doesn’t matter when we have the clear separation of church and state – we can all find our own niche. The Constitution demands that those niches be treated equally. Thanks Pastor Haynes for pointing this out in a way probably only you can.

The photo at the top is of Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. He is with his choir. They have nothing to do with Fredrick D Haynes III or really anything else about this post – other than the fact that he can get people excited and understand some basic American values and progressive principles.

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TPP – Obama Punches Democracy in the Gut

Obama is in big trouble. Progressives already are not thrilled with Obama. NDAA authorizes defense spending and indefinite detention of American citizens without charge, there’s his wishy washy defense of the environment (BP oil spill, fracking, pipelines),  his use of drones, his continued engagement in war, and his bail out of banks. But hey, Progressives leave room to grow and he talks a good game, plus he had a much more typically American upbringing than his privileged opponent in that he struggled with a single mom and worked his way up. Obama talked about empathy, his wife is into growing organic gardens, the family is much more “of the people” and can speak to the people better than the Romneys, for a while it seemed like Obama would win easily.

Now it doesn’t. Continue reading

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