Richard Wolff


Together is the title of a video, currently on the ICA website. The 40-minute video was produced by CECOP – CICOPA Europe,  m30m S. Coop [sic], and producer Leire Luengo. It covers co-operatives in four countries: France, Poland, Italy, and Spain. As ICA states, the video shows the resiliency these co-operatives offer their members. They’ve done it with innovative ways to adapt to years of economic changes.

In Aisne France, a troubled manufacturing company converted to a co-op as a solution to the 2008 financial crisis. Called Fonderie de l’Aisne, an auto parts manufacturer, they diversified as a co-op into other areas. The resulting success has contributed to the Aisne region, and heritage, by sustaining the business and keeping it locally owned.

In Poland, the mineral water co-op, Muszynianka, founded in 1951, has adapted and thrived. In the nineties, the Polish economy changed from a planned economy to a market economy. The adjustment was difficult for Polish co-ops, but an interviewee points out that it was also liberating as the workers came to realize the impact their contribution had on business results. Muszynianka was previously a co-operative, but a state-owned one. By the time of the 2008 crisis, the company saw no slow down in business.

In Italy the video introduces social co-operatives, first formed in the 1970s. Law 381 from 1991 is noted, which has allowed social co-operatives to thrive throughout the country. Gruppo Cooperativo (CGM) is the largest network of social enterprises in Italy. As I mentioned in my last post, Richard Wolff emphasizes the importance of government backing for co-op development; Italy is an example he points out. Social co-ops in Italy provide social services and work integration for disadvantaged people. The co-ops interviewed have been able to retain staff  during economic uncertainty. Benefitting Italy as a whole, the co-ops running these social services save the government money.

Finally, the video visits Mondragon, a co-operative group in Spain. Mondragon was reviewed in the movie Shift Change. However, Together covers different co-ops, including an electric car project involving many co-ops. Like Shift Change, Together features Fagor Electrodomésticos — the co-op that has been a lighting rod for bad press due to going into bankruptcy. But the Fagor news has overshadowed how large and diverse Mondragon is, as is evident in this video. Again, resiliency is the key for Mondragan and the Basque region — without it, they can’t rely on agriculture or natural resources, like petroleum. The end of the video quotes a Mondragon leader who says they are a model for future business and society.

These four European co-ops have economic and social benefits. They also have a contender in the U.S.: the Evergreen co-operatives in Cleveland. I look forward to hearing a lot more about them.

New Economics and Distribution of Wealth

Richard Wolff, the author of Capitalism at Work: A Cure for Capitalismis a popular economist right now. He recently presented in a video, linked here, posted on the Democracy at Work website where he emphasizes that people are looking for an alternative to capitalism. Then he presents a solution: democratically run work places. 

The video is 2 hours and 19 minutes long. At the 1 hour, 35 minute mark, he discusses co-ops and shared profits. One interesting approach he mentions is giving consumers an option to buy co-op produced consumer goods with explicit labeling.

Political backing is an important asset for a successful co-operative movement, and Wolff points to Italy where the government will give unemployed people the option of opening a co-op with a cash incentive. Instead of unemployment payments, a lump sum is given to those that are willing to gather a group of people and start a co-op.

The distribution of capital is an approach endorsed by Wolff. But, as I mentioned in my last post, this is the thinking of other economic thinkers, too.

Wolff sounds like Gar Alperovitz (Books: What Then Must We Do? and America Beyond Capitalism) who stresses the impending necessity for systemic change to capitalism. Dating back to September 2012, the video linked here, is one of many where Alperovitz points out the requirements for an alternative. He says: “It begins with the question: who owns the capital?” Worker ownership and the experiments are important. He starts talking about this at about 17:42.

But what is important to remember, as Alperovitz points out in a recent Real News interview in January, is that co-ops are practical idealistically. That is, they are politically practical. This quote is from the January 27th interview, linked here

“[The] Interesting other thing about [co-ops] which is very important, particularly for liberals and the left to think about: if you’re doing this kind of work and it’s practical and it really is serious, not rhetoric and slogans, you find people who think of themselves as moderates and conservatives — small business people — who say: that’s a good thing to do at the local level. These [co-op worker/owners] are not the national ideologues. And you find…people working hard, they’re trying to better the neighborhood, trying to better themselves, they’re doing productive work. That’s a good idea. And we’re surprised at how you break through ideologies if it’s practical.”