Posts Tagged ‘democracy’


Special mention

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Special mention



While we’re on the topic of democratic socialism, why not expand the definition—from improving the way the wealth of the nation is shared (e.g., by raising taxes on the one percent and strengthening the safety net) to exploring new ways of democratizing the enterprises where that wealth is actually produced (e.g., by promoting worker-cooperatives)?

The New Era Windows and Doors Cooperative in Chicago is one such example.

The New Era Windows and Doors Cooperative has been in operation since 2013. It hasn’t been easy, but the worker-owners have learned together how to operate their own business. And then there were the meetings: “It was difficult to make decisions together,” Robles said. “But it’s kind of fun, because at the end of the day it’s for the benefit of everyone.”

Sales are modest, but growing. Last year the company sold about a half million dollars worth of windows. This year, they anticipate the number will be significantly higher. There are 23 worker-owners, and two staff members who Robles hopes will opt to become worker-owners.

His vision is for New Era to help spawn other cooperatives. Instead of expanding by hiring drivers, for example, he’d like to see the company help start a cooperative of drivers.

How is this company staying alive when other owners have failed? The worker-owners made tough decisions about what equipment they could get rid of to save money. And they did a lot of sales via word of mouth.

“The good thing is we don’t have the CEO making millions of dollars,” Robles said, “so we have the ability to compete with the industry.” Also, they don’t have to generate big profits to keep investors happy; they just have to make enough to pay expenses and pay back their debt.

One of the keys for success at New Era is it operates according to a different logic:

This business model is based on “enough.” Enough pay and benefits to live with dignity. Enough of the machinery that is necessary, but not the sort that is too expensive. Opportunities for employee-owners to draw on their full capacities, not to be relegated to repetitive work while a few make all the decisions and much of the money. Their more equitable pay structure creates opportunities for more people to have enough to live and thrive; instead of keeping some at the edge of poverty while others prosper.

This is what local power looks like: companies like New Era Windows and Doors creating the stability that comes with locally rooted employment, insulated from the speculative finance that, in the case of publicly traded companies, requires many jobs be moved to low-wage regions. These worker-owners focus on values, including the possibility for others to also be worker-owners, and the importance of producing ecologically smart products. The company prides itself on selling energy-efficient windows and doors, and customizing them to the climate and location of the client.

Worker-cooperatives have many obvious advantages over capitalist enterprises, and thus should be part of any contemporary definition of democratic socialism.

They can also solve the problem of capitalist education—in which, according to Einstein, “An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.” Participating in a worker-cooperative means making decisions “for the benefit of everyone.”

And, if New Era is any indication, learning to do that can actually be fun!


Special mention

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By now, everyone knows that the Greek people overwhelmingly voted “oxi” in yesterday’s referendum. They rejected by a very large margin the austerity measures that have been imposed on and in that country since the first bailout plan of 2010 (a bailout, as I explained the other day, of European private banks).*

Difficult days lie ahead—and, at this stage, no one knows what the outcome will be.

But the results of the referendum do merit at least a few remarks. First, the margin of victory of the no vote is extraordinary considering the relentless campaign of fear and intimidation, from public pronouncements of non-Greek politicians and finance ministers to the strangling of Greek banks, that took place during the week leading up to yesterday’s vote. The Greek people stood up that campaign and both rejected the continued imposition of austerity measures and registered a vote of confidence in their still-young leftwing government.

Second, the polls and pundits that filled the media last week, indicating a close vote and how much of a gamble Tsipras was taking, now appear to be less of an objective analysis of events on the ground and more a part of the larger campaign, inside and outside Greece, against a no vote. In the end, it represented a desperate attempt to topple a democratically elected government and to send a clear message to other anti-austerity movements across Europe—and it didn’t work.

Finally, the fact that Yanis Varoufakis was forced to step down as finance minister is the moment of farce that has become part of this Greek tragedy. Apparently, the delicate sensibilities of the negotiators for the European creditors were offended by Varoufakis’s unwillingness to act and speak as a desperate supplicant—and instead to speak to them as a democratically elected European equal.

The Greek people have spoken with a clear voice. Now, it’s up to the rest of Europe to respond by immediately injecting liquidity into the Greek banking system, by renegotiating the structure of the outstanding debt, and by creating a space for another economic model to be allowed to grow in Europe.

*I write “on and in” because, as our analysis often forgets, the austerity measures, while imposed on Greece by its official creditors, were also imposed in Greece by the country’s oligarchy and governments prior to Syriza’s election.


Special mention



This is a short, practical guide for those considering worker-owned cooperatives, made by GRITtv & TESA, the Toolbox for Education and Social Action. It features conversations with worker-owners fromNew Era Windows, Union Cab, Ginger Moon, Arizmendi Bakery, Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA), and more.

The quote in the title is from Ricky Macklin, of New Era Windows (at 7:11):

All of our lives we had been told that we was only this and we was only that. And New Era Cooperative allowed us to see that we was much more than that.