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Own YourWork: 
Democratizing The Workplace

 
 

  by Matthew Krausse, LUTU member

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We cherish democracy in our government and hold it in the highest esteem. Democracy in the workplace should be equally cherished. No one likes being told what to do and having no say in it. People have been losing their jobs for years because decision makers saw an opportunity to make more money by moving jobs overseas. Many people want to be their own boss, make their own decisions, and create their own future with their own hands. That is why so many people dream of entrepreneurship in these economic times. The solution to this desire is simple: worker cooperatives. 

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A worker cooperative is a general term for an enterprise that is cooperatively owned and managed by its workers. This control can take many forms. In a workplace democracy, every worker-owner participates in making decisions about the firm. or Alternatively, worker-owners can elect managers, who remain considered and treated as workers. According to the International Cooperative Alliance, “co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.” All worker cooperatives embody the Rochdale Principles, first laid out in 1844 by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. These principles include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training, and information, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community. These principles are at the heart of cooperatives around the world.

It’s important to understand the system we currently live in. What most people are familiar with is an employer/owner and an employee relationship. Employers or owners typically take out a loan, purchase the necessary tools and information to produce a good or service, and then hire employees who know how to operate or use those resources. Employees then create that good or service, giving everything they produce back to the employer, and are paid less than the value of what they produced. This is the basis of a capitalist system. A capitalist enterprise is characterized by private ownership of the means of production. Decision making is solely up to those who own the business and benefit from maximizing profits. 
Richard D. Wolff, a professor of economics at the New School University in New York City, believes that “we ought to have stores, factories, and offices in which all the people who have to live with the results of what happens to that enterprise participate in deciding how it works.” This is the basis of an economy that works for everyone. How can we expect a select few people who are extremely wealthy to make decisions that will benefit everyone? This process of decision making has led to some of the largest inequalities in human history. 

Overseas we find some thriving examples of worker cooperatives. The economies of Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, and many other countries have large cooperative sectors. Spain is home to the most well-known cooperative in the world, the Mondragon Corporation. This umbrella of worker cooperatives employs 74,117 people in 257 companies and organizations. In Italy’s most prosperous region, Emilia Romagna, worker cooperatives make up 40 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP). Finally, Japan has the largest collection of fishery co-ops in the world. Their fisheries are all collectively owned and operated, and while worldwide fish populations are being depleted, Japan has an extremely stable supply. 

Here in the United States, we have around 300 worker cooperatives with over 7,000 worker-owners, generating over $400 million in annual revenues. Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA), a dairy cooperative headquartered in Tillamook County, Oregon, is the 44th largest dairy processor in North America, with their brand selling in all 50 states. This farmer co-op has 110 dairy farms with hundreds of members and supports a vibrant community in the gorgeous Oregon countryside. Wheatsville Food Coop is a full-service, natural foods cooperative grocery store that has been serving the central Austin community since 1976. Wheatsville is the only retail food cooperative in Texas and has over 20,000 invested owners. Invested owners participate democratically and financially in the co-op. Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC), in the Texas Hill country, is a utility co-op that delivers electricity to more than 270,000 active accounts throughout 8,100 square miles, an area larger than the state of Massachusetts. 

When it comes to cooperatives, knowing really is half the battle. Many people don’t know that there are viable options other than the traditional companies that we’re all familiar with. The first step to moving toward a more democratic economy is talking about it and helping people understand it. According to a study at the University of California, Davis, while 80 percent of Americans surveyed had heard of cooperatives, only one-third could identify one or more characteristics of them. People think that co-ops are just hippie places where you go and buy your granola, but they are so much than that and are a strong alternative to the types of companies that have given us such gross inequalities. 

 

 

The Austin Co-op Directory (austincooperatives.coop) lists strong local co-ops. Please visit their site and support some of the great cooperatives around town. 


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Guy Forsyth: 
Music, Politics, and Empathy

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by Lynda Boyer, LUTU member

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In a grassroots organization like Left Up To US, we naturally tend to think of political activism in its traditional forms—lobbying, getting out the vote, and promoting progressive candidates. This is the important revolutionary work that we do. The beauty of having artists and musicians in our community, however, is that they often remind us to go a little deeper. They remind us to pay attention to what’s in our hearts and remember what it was that originally inspired us to organize.

I recently had a conversation with Guy Forsyth, an Austin blues and roots musician who describes himself as “an independent, original artist who believes everything is interconnected—but who believes we are all part of the same thing.” Forsyth spoke eloquently about the importance of listening to one another and transcending our differences. He pointed out that by remaining open to others’ experiences, we can begin to move away from that divisive “us versus them” mentality that is currently so prevalent.

Forsyth has marched and played at the capitol “dozens and dozens of times” and played at the Bernie Sanders rally in Austin in February 2016. “I got to meet him, and we got to play ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ and that was great,”Forsyth said—but what he really wanted to talk about was empathy.

“As a songwriter, as a performer, the tool that I use is primarily empathy,” he told me, “because you have to find ways to understand other people in order to communicate with them. You have to see things from others’ perspectives.”  He noted that musicians can act as sensors for the overall body of the nation, listening and reflecting others’ concerns in a way that doesn’t isolate or divide people.  “If you’re just damning things,” he said, “people will resist that. If someone’s hating you, you won’t listen, and it polarizes the situation.”

“One of the ways I think progressives let themselves down,” Forsyth told me, “was when the dialogue stopped being positive and became reactionary to the negative things, and it became negative versus negative. A good example is people who felt isolated by Hillary’s use of the term ‘deplorable’.”

Resisting fear is a major theme for Forsyth. “It’s fear that the Trump people are so good at,” Forsyth says. “They elicit fear that people are coming to get you or coming to take your jobs, or that the extremists are coming to kill you—because people react to that; the mammal part of us instantly responds to that.” We must work to resist the reactionary response to fear, Forsyth emphasized, and respond thoughtfully instead.  President Obama echoed this idea in his farewell speech, saying, “Democracy can buckle when it gives in to fear.”

“I think it’s inspiring to see people that are speaking their truth and living as an extension of their calling,” said Forsyth. “That’s really powerful and positive.  A world where people are paying attention to one another is the only kind of world I want to live in, because a future that is non-empathetic, that’s totalitarian, doesn’t look very good at all.”

The roots of Forsyth’s belief in empathy emerged when he spoke about his music: “I’m inspired by the people who made me want to sing—it was blues music that originally made me want to sing, because it was so different. I’m a white guy from the suburbs of Kansas City.” Forsyth moved to Austin in 1990 and has been playing music ever since. “When I first encountered blues,”  he said, “I was like, ‘Wow, there’s something here that’s very real and very different from what I’ve grown up with.’”

He cites the Bill Withers classic “Lean On Me” as an example of a simple song that has a powerful truth: “That we work better together, you know? That we work better when we take care of each other.”

“Music is a tool for transcendence,” Forsyth said, “and that is the thing I hope I can do. Writing something that affects people is not easy. How do you write a song if your goal is to help people transcend their experience? There are things that really do affect me and sometimes without words, with just music. An example is Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark Was the Night; Cold Was the Ground,’ which was recorded in Texas in the 1920s. He was a blind, gospel guitar player who recorded an instrumental version of this old hymn. He just played slide guitar, probably with a knife as opposed to a bottleneck, and he hummed while he did it, and when I listen to that, it takes me to another place. It elevates my consciousness.”

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Kitchen Redo

by Carlos Rumbaut, guest contributor

I'm renovating the kitchen
and it’s going to be so great.

I’ll have to rebuild this wall;
make it thicker, bigger, stronger;
get the next-door condo owners to pay for it,
since that’s whence the cucarachas come.
Puttin’ in a new cabinet,
most of it far on the right,
maybe get myself a perry or assemble it in sessions,
undergirded with stiff bigots using hard-line nuts and boltons.

For the color scheme, of course,
I would want a palin’ white, but
the panels I could paint in a dark bannon
overlaid with racist stripes, finished in a betsy gloss.

The accent wall I could do in screaming rudy.
And here, a trompe l'oeil depicting a country scene
the way it never was, with my nameplate
all in caps high on the wall.

On the shelf, for sentimental reasons:
a bottle of blackwater and a shiny lump of coal.
 
I also need to look into:
·   new hooks to hang the romney mitts
·   cotton aprons—throwing out the muslin ones
·   get the price of anti-gay screens for the windows
·   check the crack on the glass ceiling and make sure it doesn’t grow
·   get a cat door like that one I used to have called PussyGrab
·   need a handy place to keep the enemy & grocery lists
·   what about gas ovens? more efficient?
 

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