British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn considers socialism—which he defines as “You care for each other, you care for everybody, and everybody cares for everybody else”—to be obvious.

As it turns out, socialism is increasingly obvious for folks on this side of the pond, too. Like Bernie Sanders. And Mark Workin and Melissa Young, who made the film Shift Change. And Richard Wolff, through Democracy at Work.

Now they’re joined by Shannon Rieger, a recipient of the Janice Nittoli “Forward Thinking” Award from The Century Fund.

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Rieger’s argument is that, in the face of growing inequality (such that “the top 1 percent wage has increased by 138 percent since 1979, [while] the wages of the entire bottom 90 percent of earners have grown by the comparatively meager margin of just 15 percent—and an even more unequal distribution of wealth”), it’s imperative that the United States “develop policies that not only mitigate existing economic inequality and poverty, but that actually reverse these trends for the long term.”

And her proposed solution? Enterprises that are owned and managed by their employees.

By creating a policy environment to support and promote democratic employee-owned businesses, the United States could promote a more equitable employment system and a more just distribution of wealth. Doing so would not only help the country recover from the recent economic devastation of the Great Recession, but also begin to reverse the deep wealth and income disparities that have plagued American workers and families for decades.

Worker-owned cooperatives (which, across the world, employ more than 250 million people, and in 2013, generated $2.95 trillion in turnover) are a particular form of democratic employee-owned business that Rieger considers to have particularly rich potential in the United States.

But they need support, to “help grow the sector to scale.” So, as Rieger explains,

it is crucial that the United States establish a national-level regulatory framework for worker-cooperatives. Foundational components of such a framework could include a clear, universal definition for worker-cooperatives and a national worker-cooperative incorporation code; financial support mechanisms, such as a dedicated worker-ownership fund; and cross-sector partnerships with the existing decentralized network of employee ownership service providers.

Using examples from around the world (including the Marcora Law in Italy) Rieger makes the obvious case for the growth of democratic worker-owned enterprises in the United States.*

Worker-owned enterprises, as a key feature of a socialist transition from capitalism, are certainly obvious to me.

 

*The Marcora Law, which was passed in 1985, offers Italian workers an array of financial support options and a “right of first refusal” opportunity to purchase and re-launch troubled businesses as worker-cooperatives. As Rieger explains,

a U.S. worker-buyout policy modeled after the Marcora Law should become a component of federal-level policy framework for worker-cooperatives. By creating federal legislation that recognizes the worker-owned cooperative business as a distinct form of democratic employee-ownership, and that aligns existing state-level incorporation codes and the worker-ownership service provider network under universal regulatory guidelines, the United States could make a meaningful, effective commitment to expanding the democratic worker-ownership sector.

Comments
  1. Cooperatives support the idea of the firm as a living entity, not a possession or a subsidiary of someone, not an arm of the state, but an autonomous entity managed and answerable to itself. Not that different from Apple, really. People in cooperatives are not some kind of proletariat assigned to work the firm, they’re partners and shareholders. The firm is not a charity, it has to make a surplus, and it chooses to return the surplus relatively equally to the people who work in it, which is right since they’re partners.

    A cooperative firm does what it does within the framework of individual agency, and property, and capitalism. It’s about widening the ownership of capital, and all of this should fit right in to American values and ideology. It’s not Soviet Communism, it’s Communism 2.0

    • Mairead says:

      Pavlos Papageorgiou writes: “…[coöperative socialism] chooses to return the surplus relatively equally to the people who work in it….”

      “Relatively” is the keyword there, and creates an Orwellian state in which everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

      In proper socialism, the surplus share-out must be *exactly* equal, reflecting the equal stake each owner-worker, regardless of job, has in the outcome. Differences among the jobs in terms of preparation and demands, insofar as they exist, are properly compensated by wage differences.

      • I don’t know. Why should one person get more than another? One reason is what they do day to day, another reason is how much are they committed to the business. Capitalism’s answer is that owners are 100% committed and workers 0%, so owners get all the surplus. Classic unions and employment protection are means, besides property, to recognise the commitment of workers as somewhere above 0%. I don’t know that socialism means workers are 100% committed immediately. Some people may really be more committed than others, like the founders or long serving members. It would be useful to define a scale of how commitment in a cooperative vests ideally, or survey what actual cooperatives and partnerships in different fields do.

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