[permaculture] Rebuilding Our Economy From the Ground Up
nicholas at themediasociety.org
Thu Dec 11 08:01:39 EST 2008
some positive stories... the liberation is possible... am still not
convinced it will be simply enough to create positive and alternative
solutions.. my feeling is there may need to be much more destructive work in
dismantling the systems that are destroying the planet... but some nice
Rebuilding Our Economy From the Ground Up
In one of the great events in our nation's history, the United Auto Workers
brought GM to its knees with the Flint sit-down strike of 1936-37. For six
weeks, the workers defied antiunion court orders and resisted tear gassing
as they occupied the Fisher body plant, a crucial component of GM's
manufacturing process. Buoyed by the active participation of the women's
auxiliary and food and sustenance from the Flint community, the UAW workers
refused to budge until they won collective bargaining rights and better
working conditions--not just for themselves but for all GM plant workers and
eventually all Big Three autoworkers.
The rights and benefits that both union and nonunion workers have enjoyed
over the past seven decades are due in no small measure to courageous and
imaginative actions like those of the Flint sit-down strikers. But while the
current economic meltdown has brought to mind memories of the Great
Depression, we need to understand how far we are removed from the 1930s.
In the 1930s, our manufacturing structure was still intact; the working
class was growing in numbers, and defying the economic royalists by singing
"Solidarity Forever." Hi-Tech had not made the majority of industrial
workers obsolete. Transnational corporations, cheap oil and globalization
had not normalized the export of jobs.
In the 1930s, the UAW told GM they would shut the company down until their
voices were heard and their humanity respected. Today, the UAW is scrambling
to make whatever concessions are necessary to keep GM in business.
In the 1930s, the UAW captured the imagination of millions around the world,
who saw in its struggles the makings of a new social movement and willingly
offered their material and moral support. Today, the UAW, rightly or
wrongly, is viewed by most Americans as an interest group that exists
primarily to serve the needs of its own membership.
As Abraham Lincoln said 140 years ago in December 1862: "The dogmas of the
quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high
with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so
must we think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we
will save our country."
If the UAW wants a GM that works for its members, it will need to take
ownership of the company and thrust the workers into the position to assume
responsibility for the tough decisions lying ahead. Just imagine if GM were
a worker-owned company, building the world's most environmentally-friendly
vehicles (not just cars but buses, trains, and other forms of mass transit),
prioritizing doing business with local communities, and using its clout to
advocate for progressive domestic and foreign policies.
Our belief is that socially-conscious people, including those turned off by
the us-against-them rhetoric of the old "Buy American" campaigns, are
anxious to rally behind this new kind of business. What we know for sure is
that the old business model--upon which both GM and the UAW have relied
since the 1950 "Treaty of Detroit" labor-management agreement--has failed
and cannot be resurrected. Thus, we need to offer the American public a
clear alternative to pouring billions and billions of public funds down a
It won't be easy for the UAW to break with years of "business unionism" or
for its members to take on a new set of unprecedented challenges following
decades of relative economic security. Should they choose this path, they
will need our love and solidarity more than ever. But even if they fail to
do so, we can look to other sources of inspiration.
Today, the laid-off United Electrical workers occupying the Republic Windows
and Doors factory in Chicago are attracting attention and support from
diverse directions because they have had the courage not only to demand what
they are owed but also to expose the warped values of an economic
system--made worse by the initial phase of the bailout--that puts the
economic interests of corporations ahead of human needs and concerns.
Characterizing their plight as "reflective of what's happening across this
economy," President-elect Obama--reminding us why his campaign of hope
inspired so many to work for change from below--declared the UE workers were
"absolutely right" to wage their struggle.
Still, the workers did not wait for the approval of politicians before they
acted. And for this reason, their local action--just like the Flint strike
or the refusal of Rosa Parks to leave her seat--can be a model of
inspiration for all kinds of new efforts to rebuild our economy from the
ground up. Regardless of what happens to the UE workers, the solidarity they
are both demonstrating among themselves and building with others is a vital
step toward the "revolution of values" that Martin Luther King, Jr,. called
for when assessing an America in crisis owing to entrenched racism, the
Vietnam War, and a culture of materialism that privileged things over
Once we understand that the current economic crisis is not a downturn in the
business cycle that will eventually run its course but a product of
dehumanizing and destructive patterns of living, we can prioritize both in
our daily lives and in our collective political activism a form of
solidarity economics emphasizing sustainability, mutuality, and local
In a thoughtful article for YES! magazine entitled "Help Wanted," Ethan
Miller, who works at a land-based mutual aid cooperative in Maine, calls for
a paradigm shift in the way we think about economic development. The
conventional wisdom, especially promoted by politicians, is that economic
development only comes from outside--in other words from developers. In
fact, our economy includes all the ways we sustain and support ourselves,
our families, and our communities. What actually holds the very fabric of
our society together are local activities that are not done for money:
household activities like raising children and cooking; barter activities
like trading services with friends or neighbors; and cooperative enterprises
based on common ownership and control. These mutual care and cooperative
activities are the seeds of "another economy."
The movement towards community self-reliance and an economy rooted in human
solidarity rather than amoral competition has become especially prominent in
some Asian and Latin American countries. It may be hard for some to
appreciate that another economy is possible in America--i.e. within the
belly of the beast. But in fact it is already emerging. Gar Alperovitz, a
historian and economist who teaches in the Democracy Collaborative at the
University of Maryland, documents this emergence in his book America Beyond
Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty and Our Democracy (2004). Out
of his first-hand experiences in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War
movements and with steelworkers in Youngstown, he has gained an
understanding of how new movements can arise seemingly out of nowhere when
systemic changes become necessary.
Alperovitz is deeply troubled by the downward trend of the past few decades,
as Americans have been steadily becoming less equal, less free, and less the
masters of our own fate. However, he has also witnessed millions of
Americans responding to the insecurities and suffering caused by huge
multinational corporations by creating new forms of community-based
institutions to give "we the people" ownership and control over the way we
make our living.
Some of the notable developments documented in America Beyond Capitalism are
• 130 million Americans are now involved in co-ops, mostly credit unions and
• 11,000 employee-owned companies already exist in this country. Together
they involve more workers than are members of unions of private
• The number of community development corporations (CDCs) and
municipally-owned utilities is steadily growing.
• Since the 1960s, countless non-profit organizations have been created to
serve community needs. Most of these are funded by foundations but many
support themselves by organizing local enterprises.
• Locally-owned businesses have also increased from 30% to 60%. Many of
these were founded by socially-conscious entrepreneurs not only to make a
profit but with the aim of protecting the environment and promoting social
Together these new economic institutions are giving communities all over the
country a sense of what can be done through collective ownership and
management. Their successes and failures provide important lessons for a new
radically decentralized community-based economy. These new economic
institutions are being created not by starry-eyed idealists but out of a
need and a void. Their necessity is only heightened by the economic
insecurity millions of Americans face in the collapse of the housing bubble,
the expansion of layoffs, and the evaporation of personal retirement funds.
In Michigan, as elsewhere, we have seen a growing number of average citizens
scapegoating blacks, immigrants, and other people of color for their plight.
That is why it is becoming increasingly urgent that we consciously try to
learn the lessons of the many grassroots efforts to create alternative
economic institutions that will not only bring greater stability to our
communities but also provide us with the control over the ways in which we
make our living that is necessary for a real democracy.
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