quinta-feira, 6 de outubro de 2016

A Cooperative Manifesto

Tim Huet

Originally published in GEO vol. 1, issue 61, 2004
A Manifesto for a Life-Changing Conclusion

When my colleagues, the editors of this publication, asked me to write a brief
piece explaining why I got into cooperative development, I responded that this
posed a perhaps insurmountable difficulty: briefly explaining how I arrived at
the life-changing conclusion that (trumpets, please) There Is No More Important
Social Change Work You Can Do Than Cooperative Development. I mentioned that I'd
been thinking of writing an essay arguing that— while chaining oneself to a tree
might be sexier; while blockading WTO meetings might seem more “front-line”;
while busting-out Starbucks windows might seem more cutting-edge—There Is No
More Important Social Change Work You Can Do Than Cooperative Development
(hereinafter, TINMISCWYCDTCD). The editors responded with the generous offer of
feature space in order to accommodate the TINMISCWYCDTCD argument. So, the
editors having called my bluff (giving me enough space/rope to hang myself),
here I am pounding out my Cooperative Manifesto.
In the following section, I've laid out six conclusions I reached some dozen
years ago (in my mid-twenties) that premised my decision to devote myself to
cooperative development. Before launching into those conclusions/premises, I
wish to clarify that I don't use the term “cooperative development” in some
restrictive sense to mean only starting new cooperatives or
expanding/restructuring established ones. For me, anything that a member does to
improve her/his cooperative or help it achieve its mission is cooperative
development (could be excellent customer service, could be developing personnel
systems). I'll argue herein that all such cooperative development work is
inherently important social change work.

A Long and Logical Road
Premise 1: Regulation and reform will not keep capitalism from destroying our
environment and creating disastrous social cleavages; fundamental change is
I could go on for a quite a while regarding why capitalism inevitably leads to
ecological and social ruin -- and there was a time (during my student days) when
I did go on at length about the pathology and prognosis. But I came to the
conclusion that it was largely a waste of time. Because—
Premise 2: There's no point convincing people of the prevailing system's
intrinsic and inevitable failings if you can't offer hope of anything better.
I became very proficient at persuading people regarding the downsides and doom.
But that simply led to the question, “What can you offer better?” And, believe
me, an exploration of the theoretical promise of anarcho-syndicalism or
your-ideal(ist)-prescription-of-choice won't get you very far with most people.
Premise 3: The overwhelming majority of people cannot be convinced with
theoretical arguments, but require demonstrative proof.
Premise 4: You can't simply wait for capitalism to collapse (or work to “tear
down capitalism”), with the expectation that “after the collapse” people will
“get revolutionary consciousness” and be receptive to your arguments about
building a truly democratic society and economy.
History indicates clearly that, in the wake of economic collapse, people are
more likely to listen to fascist/totalitarian appeals to their fears and hunger
than they are to elaborate proposals for building a more democratic economy and
society. We cannot simply await the apocalypse, cheering or working for
capitalism's collapse; we need to build the democratic future now. We at least
need to build a working example of a democratic future economy and society, an
inspiring example people can turn to as their eyes are opened wide by
capitalism's escalating crises and increasingly frequent crashes. Moreover—
Premise 5: Efforts to tear down the system or protest its injustices do not
develop the constructive skills and habits of mind that a democratic economy and
society require.
There is plenty about the current regime that inspires and even requires
protest. But we get stuck in an oppositional, critical, reactive mentality if
all we do is protest. By endeavoring to build working models of economic
democracy, we also build the constructive skills and thinking that will be
needed to operate the equitable "post-capitalist" society we envision.
Premise 6: You cannot achieve true democracy without economic democracy:
democracy in the workplace.
You cannot say a society is truly democratic if its adults spend the majority of
their waking hours in undemocratic workplaces and do not enjoy control over the
basic elements of their lives (no control over their jobs ultimately means no
security regarding their homes, healthcare, time, education, etc.). And the
undemocratic nature of work for most adults has effects beyond the workplace and
outside working hours.

Autocratic models of relating in the workplace carryover into the family, larger
community, and political realm. Conversely, I believe that members of worker
cooperatives learn democratic skills and ways of interacting with each other—and
the confidence that comes from taking control over your life—that have benefits
for their families and larger communities, and can carryover into the political
Indeed, I don't think there is much hope for achieving even limited political
democracy (what I refer to as “periodic democracy”) if you don't have the
everyday democracy of workplace democracy. It is a dirty secret that no liberal
and few progressives wish to acknowledge: an electorate without everyday
democratic experience/perspective/skills, and the security that comes from
controlling one's fate, is too easily manipulated by fear-mongers,
prejudice-peddlers, and other rightist political operators. And yet so much
progressive energy goes towards state, national, and international campaigns
when we lack communities/bases of everyday democracy from which to build—when we
have failed to build up everyday democracy from the grassroots, community by
So, the more obvious meaning of my seventh premise is that “we wont have
achieved true democracy until we have workplace democracy;” but the more
important meaning, the one that drives my action agenda, is “we need to build
cooperatives as bases for a democracy movement.”

The Promise and Importance of Worker Cooperatives for a Broader Democracy
For me, worker cooperatives are not simply businesses; they are democracy
demonstration projects, schools for democracy, laboratories for democracy, and
organizing bases for democracy. What I mean by worker cooperatives being schools
and organizing bases for democracy is perhaps clear from the above sections. But
there are a couple of other points I would like to make and expand on.
Democracy demonstration projects: As stated above, it is critical to build
working examples of economic democracy that people can see and experience. From
that point of view, every worker cooperative is a democracy demonstration
project beyond simply being a business. In addition to producing bread,
bicycles, etc., we produce hope and inspiration.
As importantly, we can provide an example and experience of community, which
people hunger for in our disconnected society. I see the proof and power of this
on a regular basis through the cooperative bakeries with which I'm mostly
directly associated. Customers come in not simply for the great bread, but also
for the sustenance of community. They sense the community at our cooperatives
and want to be part of that.
It follows from this that every interaction with the general public is imbued
with social change importance and opportunity. Conversely, it is a wasted
opportunity (or worse) if we fail to show care or concern, if we fail to serve
our communities any better than “wage slaves” under the watch of a boss.
Worker cooperatives have to work for everyone, not just idealists or activists:
Earlier I referenced the promise of worker cooperatives to provide activists
with “right livelihood,” the opportunity to live out and further their values;
however, I feel strongly that worker cooperatives have to be attractive
workplaces for people other than avowed activists. If we only build
businesses-communities that work for idealists (“Aren't you dedicated enough to
work for minimum wage?!), we've hardly proven anything regarding the viability
of economic democracy. Personally, I find it most satisfying when we hire people
who've never heard of cooperatives and have never been active in their
communities. It is one of the greatest pleasures of my work to see such people
blossom, to grow in confidence and skills —and then perhaps lend their
newly-developed skills to broader community endeavors.
Laboratories for democracy: The sad fact is that humanity has only the most
rudimentary knowledge, vocabulary, technology, etc. for how to relate to each
other and work together as equals. An important part of our function as
cooperators and agents for social change is to be very conscious regarding our
experiments in democracy and community. We are developing knowledge (regarding
conflict resolution, communication, collective decision-making) very much needed
not simply for the effective functioning of democratic workplaces, but for the
establishment of relations based on equality and respect throughout society.
Worker cooperatives can generate capital for social causes, but shouldn't give
it all away: During the 1970s ferment of U.S. worker cooperative development
(I'm referencing such things as the “food conspiracies” that blossomed in the
Upper Midwest, Bay Area, etc.), there was a prevalent “hippie ethic”: making
money was evil and paying attention to business was “uptight” and “bourgeois”.
Some movement maturation and natural selection took place. The cooperatives that
survived and thrived were generally ones that realized paying attention to
business allowed you to better serving your community, including generating
resources for community betterment.

Worker cooperatives have to work for everyone, not just idealists or activists
I know that in my region, worker cooperatives have historically been important
and generous contributors to (other) social change organizations. This is
something to be proud of. However, I do wonder if we have not historically
under-estimated the social change value of worker cooperative development by
underinvesting in our own movement. It is my hope that worker cooperatives will
begin to seriously consider whether contributing to the development of more
democratic jobs might be as worthwhile as donating money to charities, the arts,
and other social change organizations.
Likewise, valuing our inherent social change role should inform the relationship
of worker cooperatives to the larger social justice movements. While social
change work is my motivation for being involved with cooperatives, it does not
follow that I believe cooperatives should serve, above all, as platforms or
purses for political causes. Worker cooperatives do have resources and a great
deal of visibility that we can lend to various causes. However, I believe we
should do this only in a focused and judicious way (for instance, a grocery
cooperative focusing its support in the areas of organics and farm workers
rights, or a taxi cooperative focusing its efforts on transportation policy). We
need to be cautious not to tear ourselves apart or alienate our customer bases
by involving ourselves in every hot-button-issue-of-the-day; to do this would
waste our social capital, since by forwarding the worker cooperative movement we
may contribute more to the social change movement in the long-run. This does not
mean that I think worker cooperatives should stand apart from other social
change movements, as I will explain in the concluding section.

As Important, Not More Important—And Not Sufficient
I'm aware that my opening claim of TINMISCWYCDTCD would strike some activists in
other social change movements as a bit grandiose and perhaps even offensive
(“How can he put that on the same level as the urgent frontline work we're
doing?!). I'm hoping that this essay might reach and provoke such activists to
see cooperatives as an integral to any movement for justice, peace, and
sustainability. That you're not accomplishing much to save the environment if
you don't address the economic engine that drives consumption and belches out
pollution. That, if you want peace and democracy overseas, you should care
fiercely about establishing economic as well as political democracy
domestically; that developing locally-rooted sustainable economic democracy is
critical to countering the forces of global expansionism and military adventure.

Yet, I do not claim that cooperative development is more important than all
other forms of social change work. There are various forms of social change work
that are just as important, and need to be carried out simultaneously if not in
conjunction. I don't think cooperative development in itself will ever solve all
the world's problems. Nor do I think worker cooperatives can or should stand
apart from other social change movements; for instance, we need to battle the
many injustices (racism, sexism, etc.) that pervade our society and will not be
barred from our doors by any declaration that “we're all equal here at our
cooperative”. In particular, I think worker cooperators need to think of
ourselves and act as part of the larger labor movement, not leaving behind other
workers because “we got ours”.
And I can fully understand someone dedicating herself or himself to another form
of social change work and never having anything to do with cooperatives. Those
who seek to be agents of social change should choose the area(s) in which they
can best contribute and find the most fulfillment. For myself, I have found
cooperative development to be very fulfilling as well as meaningful, and I hope
to convince many others to join in.

About the author:
Tim Huet helps to establish and develop bakery cooperatives through the
Association of Arizmendi Cooperatives, which he co-founded in Northern
California. He was previously a member of Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, where he
served in various management capacities.  He also served as a Board Director for
the U.S. Conference of Democratic Workplaces. Tim serves other worker
cooperatives as an organizational consultant and attorney. His writing on
cooperatives and self-management has been published in Dollars & Sense,
Grassroots Economic Organizing, Peace Review, and The Stanford Law & Policy

When citing this article, please use the following format: Tim Huet (2004). A
Cooperative Manifesto. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

Publication Date:

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ocotober 3, 2016

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