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Everything is being reset… It is up to us how things develop from here.
Below is a list of resources curated by the Reset Reading Group and guest curator, Godfrey Moase. The Commons Library, along with guest curators, ran the Reset Reading Group. It was a result of the Covid-19 crisis and an opportunity to reset, share ideas and create visions for a just tomorrow. It ran from April 2020 to July 2020. You can still read the readings by different curators. To see other readings see the Reset collection.
Co-operative factories that are run by workers themselves are the first examples of the new form emerging within the old form. – Karl Marx Capital, vol. 3 (Penguin 1981, 571
Aristotle understood the concept of “economy” as household management and the things a household required to live a happy life. Although there are many classist, racist and sexist notions embedded in Aristotle’s ideal of the “good life”, (including who was part the household and what their position within it) it is important to keep the human-tohuman relational scale in view when considering The Economy(tm).
The economy isn’t something that people can take away. It’s not the most recent figures from the All Ordinaries and Dow Jones. The ABS has not released a collection of figures. It is not a collection of complicated mathematical formulas that can only be understood by specialists. The economy refers to how people interact with each other and the world in order to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. This broad view helps to recognize all the hard work involved in supporting and recreating human lives outside of traditional workplaces.
Capitalist capitalism, the old economy, relies on both capitalist expropriation as well as capitalist exploitation to make its capital. This refers to capital taking or stealing things to make a profit. It can be anything from unpaid labour to support households to the theft of land from its traditional owners to the dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. For a powerful, far-reaching and straightforward account of capitalist appropriation through history, I would recommend reading Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things.
A new economy must address both expropriation as well as exploitation. It is my experience that I can share about how work can be done differently.
With over 15 years of experience as a unionist in the labour movement, I have much more direct experience in the world of work. That is, exploitation. Capital employs labour to make a profit. I’ve seen the many ways that the wage relationship can hinder a person’s potential and exhaust them mentally and physically. Employing labour as a commodity is the definition of exploitation. This can be a manager who refuses to listen to employees or a manual worker who has their shoulder permanently injured from working for the company. Workplaces become commodities that can be controlled, manipulated, and then thrown away.
This does not have to happen. Capital can be employed by labour. Instead of running workplaces on a dollar basis, decisions can be made using a one worker, one voting system.
The microeconomics of the new system are intrinsically linked to democracy. True democracy does not stop at the office door or factory doors. As the institutional bricks that enable people to build a new economy, there is room for worker unions and worker cooperatives to collaborate. Unions are essential to ensure that workers don’t replace the abstract rule capital with the establishment of a managerial-class. The separation of powers in this sense is equally relevant to political democracy and economic democracy.
The discussion starter this week is Naomi Klein’s documentary 2004 and Avi Lewis’s 2004 documentaryThe TakeThis article examines the struggles of Argentinian workers in order to seize control of their factories and workplaces in 2000. It also explains how democratic ownership and management have impacted the lives of workers and their communities.
People can unlock their potential by finding new ways to work and cooperating with others. This allows them to live well and reach their full potential. A few years ago, I was there when Ingham’s Chicken shut down a McLaren Vale turkey factory. Workers decided to do more than accept redundancy payments. They met with farmers nearby and tried to take over the factory. One union member went from turkey boner to being the project officer, arranging meetings and sorting out distributors.
The poultry cooperative idea was a viable venture, but it never got off the ground. If the struggle for a new economic system continues, there will be no failure. Every effort, every campaign, every act of activism is like water dropping on a stone, for eventually, the water will flow through.
This experience led me to join forces with some colleagues from the climate and labour movements to co-found Cooperative Power. It is a cooperative that sells electricity to retail customers.
These readings explore the many ways that the old economy is in trouble, how cooperatives can address these crises, and how new forms of non-exploitative labor can build a new economy. They also examine the ways cooperatives are currently working around the world as examples of a new, better world.
This documentary was made in 2004 by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis. It examines the fabrica Ocupada movement that emerged in Argentina after the country’s 2001 financial collapse. Workers took control of almost 200 factories in Argentina and managed them themselves. It now includes over 400 businesses. These events took place almost 20 years ago, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 epidemic. It is still relevant to see how workers responded to deep economic recession and collectively took control. Now, we are all Argentina.
We have proven that we can manage a plant, and they are afraid of us. Celia Martinez, Brukman cooperative worker in Argentina 2003
Godfrey Moase examines the advantages and disadvantages of cooperatives over traditional corporations. He also discusses the role cooperatives can play in creating a more equitable and prosperous country. Read The Cooperative Solution to Stagnant Wages.
The Get Mutual website provides a toolbox online for anyone or any group who wants to help grow existing cooperatives or start one. Explore Get Mutual.
Professor Virginie Perotin, Leeds University Business School, reviews twenty-years of international data about worker cooperatives. The results are amazing. Perotin concludes that worker cooperatives perform better than conventional corporations and are more productive. Employee ownership and control results in more innovative and resilient enterprises. Read What do we really know about worker cooperatives?
Take Back the Economy: an ethical guide for transforming our communities is a textbook for action by J.K. Gibson-Graham, Jenny Cameron and Stephen Healy which helps people to build a new economy in communities and the wider world around us. Take Back the Economy: The Introduction and the Community Economies website have more resources.
Godfrey Moase is an Executive Director at the United Workers Union. UWU is home to more than 150,000 members in over 45 industries, including horticultural workers, logistics workers and workers in tourism and hospitality, as well as cleaners and other workers. The union is pursuing bold goals to rethink the economy, nationalize key industries and give workers democratic control over all decision-making. Godfrey has not yet succeeded in starting a new economy, but he has tried to get it started on pavements, picket lines and at parliaments. Overland, Jacobin and New Matilda have published his work.