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Forum Post: The seeds of the Quiet Revolution.

Posted 2 years ago on April 15, 2012, 3:14 a.m. EST by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

By Maria Armoudian, originally posted at Truthout

It is not news that Americans overwhelming disapprove of the job Congress is doing. And likely, it’s not surprising that two-thirds of Americans told a London-based firm, Absolute Strategy Research, that they believed that the economic system in the US is not working for most Americans and is unfair. But might these beliefs signify something bigger? Scholar and author Gar Alperovitz believes that these phenomena, along with a widespread belief that people within this “democracy” have “almost no say in the government,” are signs that a system, such as our own, is in decay. But Alperovitz is not one to devote too much time and attention to complaints or worries. Rather, he is a visionary who sees that, through the cracks of a faltering system, opportunities – and truly profound opportunities – can and often do arise. And that is one of the central messages in “America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming our Wealth, Our Liberty, and our Democracy.”

Upon reading his hopeful treatise that sheds light on the possibility of an emerging new economy, big-picture questions arise: What would happen, for example, if the so-called 99 percent ignored the 1 percent and began to build a new economic model from the ground floor up? What if masses of people stopped trying to reform an increasingly unworkable system and instead focused on constructing an economy of shared institutions that were fundamentally fair, just, respectful and sustainable? Perhaps, as important as the questions, the fact that the answer is beginning to peak out from underneath the veneer is even more inspiring. This is one of the gifts in “America Beyond Capitalism.”

All over the US, people are experimenting with new workplace models that shun the top-down, too-big-to-succeed-for-us corporation. And with these new enterprises, they are collectively taking part in a potential economic revolution, which could also revolutionize politics by both building communities and contributing to the construction of a more meaningful democracy, one based on true political equality.

In “America Beyond Capitalism,” Alperovitz explores the scope of these endeavors and details the profound impact that some of them are having on their workers, communities and the ecology. While he acknowledges that the size of the movement pales in comparison to the behemoths of the publicly traded corporations, he sees that their potential collective impact, should the trend continue, can be even more significant, possibly reversing the long negative trend he describes as, “Americans have been steadily becoming less equal, less free and less the masters of their own fate.” Adding to their contributions, many of these projects simultaneously build sustainable alternatives to the fossil fuel economy, thereby securing a healthier future for all of us.

One small example is in the economically troubled city of Cleveland, Ohio, where the Evergreen project was born. This network of worker-owned cooperatives simultaneously offers employment, ownership and service to the community while living the principles of workplace democracy, equality and sustainability. Their green laundry service, solar installation company and industrial scale greenhouse contribute to the development of a green economy, while their customers – the universities and hospitals – help to assure a long-term symbiotic relationship.

The Evergreen cooperative project is one of about perhaps 1,000 worker-owned cooperatives in the US. Others include the Bay Area’s Rainbow Grocery, the Arizmendi Bakeries and Arizmendi’s sister eateries, among others. While these worker-owned cooperatives are perhaps making the smallest economic impact of the enterprises featured in Alperovitz’s book, they are the most fair, democratic and transformational. Their intellectual roots originate from the 80,000-worker-owned Mondragon, the world’s largest worker-owned, democratically operated cooperative. This company is the seventh largest in Spain and remains competitive while maintaining its fundamental principles of cooperation, participation and social responsibility. Mondragon’s highest to lowest pay ratio, for example, is about four to one, rather than 200 or 300 to one, the latter ratio not atypical at many multinational corporations. And – like many historical transformational efforts – Mondragon emerged from crisis.

More recently, Mondragon has struck a deal with the United Steelworkers and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center. Together, they will build yet another variation, a “union-cooperative,” merging the tenets of worker-owned cooperatives, such as democratized workplaces, with collective bargaining.

Mondragon-style cooperatives are just one of many new alternatives to the centralized corporate workplace, Alperovitz writes. Other models include nonprofit neighborhood corporations, community trusts, municipally owned enterprises, consumer cooperatives, mission-driven nonprofit organizations and worker-owned companies. In Newark, New Jersey, for example, Alperovitz draws us to the New Community Corporation, a neighborhood nonprofit that operates several businesses – including a supermarket and home construction – and feeds its revenues into community services such as health care, education, daycare and job training. New Community, which formed after the devastating urban riots in the 1960s, owns an estimated $500 million in real estate and related ventures, employs 2,000 people and creates some $200 million in economic activity per year.

Worker-owned companies take on various shapes and structures, some more progressive than others. One of the highlights in “America Beyond Capitalism” is the Delaware-based W.L. Gore, which makes Gore-Tex Apparel. The company, owned since 1974 by roughly 6,000 worker-owners, maintains a non-hierarchical structure (no bosses, no titles), regularly tops the Fortune list of “Best Companies to Work For,” and generates revenues of $1.33 billion (in 2003). W.L. Gore is one of several companies that are entirely owned by their employees. Most fall under the umbrella of ESOPs (employee stock ownership plans), which are often imperfect, but when done fairly, are supported by many on both the left and the right sides of the political aisles. Altogether, some 13 million Americans are simultaneously workers AND owners in the 11,000-plus employee-owned companies. Those numbers today represent many more people than the private-sector unions.

Innovative strategies for a more pluralistic wealth are springing up on the municipal and state level as well. Numerous cities lease real estate to commercial tenants, raising millions of dollars per year. San Diego’s 700 leases, for example, raise some $40 million per year for the city. Real estate is not the only venture, however. Some cities offer lower-priced Internet, cable and telephone service to their residents, while others own professional sports teams.

In this time of economic trouble, Alperovitz’s second edition of “America Beyond Capitalism” gives us plenty of reasons to be optimistic, as millions of people are innovating and participating in some form of community-minded alternatives to the purely profit-oriented economic system. And when one steps back, what the picture demonstrates is that a neither-capitalist-nor-socialist economy is emerging. Rather, economic institutions of a smaller, more meaningful, more human-sized scale are gradually working to rebuild a “pluralist commonwealth” and a sense of community, as they restore some of our fundamental ideals, one enterprise at a time. And while they have a long way to go to impact the overall political and economic structure, they are profoundly important for several reasons: First and foremost, they support their own communities, not just in services and jobs, but by putting important values into practice. Simultaneously, they offer rich examples of how “business” can be used, not just for the wealth of a few, but to enrich the community as a whole, while also enriching the human spirit. “America Beyond Capitalism” belongs in all of our libraries and especially in the libraries of economics departments and business schools, so they may teach a new generation of entrepreneurs about building an economy that works for everyone.

http://www.garalperovitz.com/

41 Comments

41 Comments


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[-] 3 points by JoeTheFarmer (2654) 2 years ago

There is nothing in the US economic system to prevent employee ownership of a company. You do not need congress to do anything.

Employee ownership and capitalism are not mutually exclusive. Employee owned business thrive in capitalist societies. In fact that is the cornerstone of capitalism. Selling stock to employees is how you allow each employee to own part of the company. A share of stock is a piece of the company.

There are thousands of employee owned companies in the US and there has been for decades.

Publix with over 140,000 owner employees is probably the largest example. http://www.publix.com/about/CompanyOverview.do

HyVee is another great example: http://www.hy-vee.com/company/about-hy-vee/default.aspx

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

You're exactly right, there's thousands of ESOP's in the US, with a long tradition, and they tend to be more productive, survive longer, and outperform conventional companies in pretty much every metric used to evaluate companies (although there may be a theoretical limit to application of this model, we haven't found it yet).

I suppose congress could do something to promote more of these sort of companies. I mean, 42,000 factories have closed since 2000, why not try something like a SBA loan program allowing workers to reopen these factories (where feasible) under an ESOP model?

After all, government provides plenty of assistance to conventional companies (so why not ESOP's, co-ops, and similar types of companies)? I mean, sure, if government did this on a large scale, there would likely be some degree of malinvestment, but probably no more than we get when government gives hand outs to conventional companies (but at least in this case, the people benefit much more).

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

Awesome, thanks for the info. Every once in a while we get a good one in Congress.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

I'm all over this shit

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

This would be a great first step in gaining more recognition for employee owned companies and cooperatives. In my view, political liberty without economic liberty is only half liberty.

[-] 1 points by craigdangit (326) 2 years ago

Economic liberty means everyone on a level playing field. All people get to trade equally and fairly among themselves, in mutual agreements for goods, labor, and money.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

I suppose economic liberty will mean whatever people decide it should mean. I'm not sure if the definition will be so rigid. I mean, if you're choices are go hungry or work under the authority of someone else, then that's not really liberty, it's coercion. Private power can threaten society just as much as government power. So true anarchism doesn't just question and challenge the authority of government, it questions and challenges ALL power relationships, and if they can't be justified (and they usually can't), then they shouldn't exist.

[-] 1 points by craigdangit (326) 2 years ago

But, there are two sides to the coin. Suppose for the sake of argument, that there are two people in the world. One of them grows food, the other does not. If some unseen hand says that the person without food should not have to work for the person with food in order to get some of it, then the person growing the food is the one who is being forced to work for the other.

How about a society in which both people grow food? Sounds fair to me. Or a society in which one grows food and the other keeps the tractor running.

The thing I have been saying all along, to which no one seems interested, is the plain fact that ALL people, in our system as unjust as it is, currently have the right to join forces together and collectively control the means of production at their workplaces through consensual and mutual agreements.

Capitalism allows socialism as a subsystem. Socialism does not allow capitalism as a subsystem.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

And anarchism admits to no system (sort of like fractal geometry, it patterns nature much better) :)

[-] 1 points by craigdangit (326) 2 years ago

Anarchism is a bit like creating a black hole in a laboratory; one can never be sure it ever existed, or if it did, for how long.

You cannot completely remove authority from society. It is impossible. Show me a world without physical weapons, governments, jails, family bonds (Yes, them too), and I will show you a world ruled in whole or in part by the people born with the most physical strength.

Even in societies that are even remotely anarchistic, such as pre-war Afghanistan, and Aztec societies, there are still power structures, and ultimately, capitalism.

Capitalism is a part of human nature, people naturally hoard their possessions and trade them for things they want more. Money has nothing to do with it.

Anarchism allows capitalism. Anarchism would not allow socialism necessarily, without enforcement of contracts and agreements. Perhaps in limited circumstances it would.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

I mean, we can't really say that authority (speaking of the dominion of one adult over another) is an absolute necessity (that would be like prematurely declaring string theory correct, without any evidence). Anarchism, the way it's viewed, merely says that power structures should always be identified and challenged (and they require justification). Even the most robust anarchist theories I've come across, admits that some authority may be necessary. Certainly the parent child relationship is one obvious example (and it's hard to imagine how we could allow infants to go it alone, obviously a preposterous idea, and not something any serious anarchist would ever pony).

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

I would take it one step further, without economic liberety there is no liberety.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

Yeah I guess I can go with that ... but I also think it's reasonable to view it as a matter of degree (versus all or nothing). Nevertheless, no matter how we view it, why shouldn't people want full liberty? I mean, what's the alternative? At least half slavery :)

[-] 2 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

Yeah, people settle for too little. All it takes is for a large enough amount of people decide that they aren't going to take it anymore. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to leave this place better than when we got here.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

And that's exactly what we're gonna do ... :)

Great thing about anarchists, you just won't find a more dedicated bunch. The attention span of democrats & republicans pretty much corresponds with the election cycle. So by December, they'll be gone, and we'll still be standing.

For the first time in a long time (shit, maybe since like the Spanish civil war in the 30's) people are gravitating to these ideas, and it's one of those things, once the Jeannie is out of the bottle, you can't really put it back in (or at least not without a Mussolini or Hitler).

[-] 1 points by JadedGem (895) 2 years ago

We still need some changes. We as Americans need to put our money where our values are as often as possible. However, it is possible for many people to take steps to change their lives currently. It doesn't mean things don't need to be done, just that we can do even more positive things than we have been doing. I for one love the idea of this especially in the south where the focus has been on trying to attract more industry and create more Urban areas. I wouldn't mind seeing a commune or two spring up, really I wouldn't. Or something as simple a co-op to encourage people to grow organic foods.

[-] 1 points by JoeTheFarmer (2654) 2 years ago

There are thousands of companies you can work for in the US that are employee owned.

There are also communes in the US right now (thousands). Most are called "intentional communities" and they can be a great place to live if you are a hard worker. It is not a 9-5 life and there is really no such thing as a weekend.

You can read more about them here. http://www.ic.org/

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

Good post.

[-] 1 points by JadedGem (895) 2 years ago

I love this site! I've been to similar ones but a while back, way back. I bookmarked it so I can really go back and look around. It seems with more and more people living in the same house, on the family farm etc, this is a natural evolution to working together to thrive.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

Like organic farming cooperative that opens up a few local grocery stores in the county or state that it operates in. I'm starting nursing school in the fall and I wonder if there are any worker owed clinics where I am at or what it would take to start one.

[-] 1 points by JadedGem (895) 2 years ago

Depends on where you are and who you see about a loan. I'd hazard a guess that a local bank who might be friendly to the idea would still want collateral. The bank is where the buck stops for most people who want to try to do something. My grandfather was a doctor, he gave my dad a farm. My dad used it as collateral to open a business in town as farming really isn't that profitable. Now he is using it again to help my sister and her husband start a small business. Rehabilitating properties in town might generate enough collateral to get a loan say if a few people bought fixer-uppers and could create enough equity threw repairs?

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

Whatever works. I'd like to see the establilshment of an industrial credit union that only lends to worker owned cooperatives. That may be where its at. Espescially in places like the Delta and the Central Appilachian region.

[-] 1 points by JadedGem (895) 2 years ago

Its a classic example of a catch 22 isn't it? The people who have the money are reluctant to invest in a manner that breaks with the Oligarchy.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

Yeah its true. Its just something that has to start off slow I guess. I'm sure Mondragon in Spain didn't start out with 80,000 workers.

Check out the video.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xo0152_defying-the-crisis-the-spanish-collective-mondragon_news

[-] 1 points by JadedGem (895) 2 years ago

Yes! We had a worker owned sewing factory but eventually they were put out of business because retailers went with cheap product made in China. This one is successful because it is so diverse. This what we need to aspire to if we want to do well as a people and as a country. Buying a share in the company you work at would be more important than whether you were able to attend an Ivy League school. Its a cost but worth the sacrifice. Still we are going to have to address the Oligarchy owning and controlling the worlds resources so they are making all the profit off the front end but this would at least give workers back some middle ground.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

I think a good strategy would be to grow the cooperative buisness movement. It would start out small but we could really make a difference in peoples lives. http://www.evergreencoop.com/OhioSolar/index.html

http://www.evergreencoop.com/

Its already taking off in Ohio. I hear they are having real success.

[-] 2 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

This guys ideas are the most exciting thing I have heard in a while.

[-] 1 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

Great post!

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 1 year ago

In May 2011 Capital Institute convened a meeting in Greenwich, Connecticut, as an activity of the Capital Lab's "Field Guide to Investing in a Resilient Economy" project. We had recently published a "field study" of Cleveland's Evergreen Cooperatives and our goal was to bring together a group of innovative practitioners and thinkers to discuss strategies to support the scaling up of a network of anchor-institution-based, worker-owned cooperatives based on Evergreen's compelling model. This video-- featuring Gar Alperovitz and Ted Howard, cofounders of The Democracy Collaborative; Ron Jones of the Evergreen Cooperatives; Jeffrey Hollender cofounder of Seventh Generation; Dana Pancrazi, senior program officer of The F.B. Heron Foundation; Sandy Wiggins, Chairman of e3bank, Nick Iuviene of the MIT Community Innovators Lab; and John Fullerton, founder of Capital Institute--captures the shared vision and common intention of our gathering.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqo-ZimcG0o

[-] 1 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 2 years ago

Quite a revolution indeed.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago
[-] 1 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 2 years ago

Quiet and Revolution should not be used in the same sentence

[-] 1 points by radu62s (8) 2 years ago

Worker ownership of companies is the way of the future. Every system has it's challenges, still worker owned businesses are by far the best economic vehicle. This idea must not only be popularized but also implemented more courageously. Thank you for the post. I will buy the book.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

Thanks for reading. Its the best idea i have heard in a long time.

[-] 1 points by Mowat (164) 2 years ago

One uncomfortable thing with this man is the main-stream media coverage of his ideas.

If the main-stream media allows something to be aired on their shows, I would be skeptical of its merits.

OWS must be extremely vigilant and aware of the 1%ers tactics to lure them away from freedom.

[-] 1 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 2 years ago

Shooting the messenger because you don't like what he wears or who he works for is ignorance. If the message is valid, it doesn't matter who delivers it.

This book gives a great message.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

Mainstream media coverage? I had never even heard of this guy before seeing him on Democracy Now several months ago. Has he been on CNN or MSNBC?

[-] 1 points by Mowat (164) 2 years ago

Check out the About page at his site:

"He is the author of critically acclaimed books on the atomic bomb and atomic diplomacy and his articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, the New Republic, The Nation, and the Atlantic among other popular and academic publications. He has been profiled by the New York Times, the Associated Press, People, UPI and Mother Jones and has been a guest on numerous network TV and cable news programs, including “Meet the Press,” “Larry King Live,” “The Charlie Rose Show,” “Cross Fire,” and “the O’Reilly Factor.”

In addition to his media appearances, his work has been featured in TV documentaries, including two BBC programs and an ABC Peter Jennings Special on the use of the atomic bomb."

[-] 2 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 2 years ago

Well I'm pretty sure alot of that was for his work in other areas, he is a historian on world war 2. I havent heard him say or endorse anything that I would construe as supporting the corporate state. That and I've heard Chomsky endorse his new book and Chomsky pulls alot of weight with me so until he endorses Obama for president I'll continue to listen to what he has to say.

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