Via Peter Ranis in the Monthly Review
The U.N. has declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. This only adds to the imperative for exploring the many ways that worker-managed factories and enterprises can be seen as an alternative to traditional capitalist firms and companies. Cooperatives as worker-managed enterprises, for a number of institutional and societal reasons, represent alternative productive vehicles attempting to override the impact of deindustrialization, globalization, and the neoliberal ideological offensive. The social economy and solidarity relationships, represented by worker-managed enterprises, need to be examined as focal points for working-class and middle-class capacities to sustain the possibilities of a productive worker-centered culture. This has become ever more urgent given the shrinkage of labor union density, especially the decline of private-sector organized workers. Worker-managed factories and enterprises are called for particularly at this moment with the declining industrial base of the American working class. Perhaps upward of 25% of the American industrial heartland lies idle with the potential for unemployed workers to create cooperatives and other self-managed enterprises to fill that vacuum. But they need not be limited to laborers. The large bulk of the American working class find themselves in the services, in commerce, and among contingent workers, subcontracted workers, and immigrant workers. All of these groups deserve the benefits and entitlements that capital-labor reorganization would provide them.
Workers need to embrace the knowledge that worker-managed workplaces are a realistic and grounded alternative. Certainly in countries such as Argentina, Spain, Venezuela, Brazil, and Canada, worker self-managed companies have asserted themselves as new forms of worker solidarity, autonomy, and participatory initiatives within the capitalist economy. The experiences of the 21st century’s first decade demonstrate that class consciousness and political awakening are enhanced, not diminished, by workers banding together into economic units that depend upon working-class and middle-class economic initiatives providing new forms of penetrating and mediating the challenges of the capitalist marketplace.