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Politics of worker co-ops.

Dr. Wolff, I thoroughly agree that worker co-ops have the potential for spreading the wealth, and opportunity for people in the work place, but can you comment on the history of work co-ops, and the resulting "people politics" that eventually comes to the surface, as a result of everyone having a say in how the system is run? I find it interesting, that while you and others keep recommending co-ops as an alternative to Capitalism, NO ONE talks about the inevitable...politics, that will come up. Why is that? I lived on a farm co-op once, and most of the 30 or so families that lived there had full time jobs away from the community, but we all ran the property like a co-op. Meaning, everyone had a vote on important things that needed to get done/added/removed/modified within the community, and, if one family out of the 30 *disagreed*, we all had to find a way to solve that family's concerns, before we could put a resolution to bed, and begin the task. And I will tell you, we didn't always agree. Sometimes it took weeks or months to decide. And that was on a farming co-op. I have also talked with managers who work in work-place co-ops, and I've been told there are a, "lot of family (their choice of words!) politics that come up," as a result of everyone having a vote, and that it is often much harder, just to decide what they're going to do with, how the system is run, where it's run, and what to do with the profits. It's easy to see why people would automatically default to wanting a small group of people, and a single CEO, 2000 miles away to just make the decisions, because quite often, people in groups...can't! Now magnify that to the scale of Mondragon. How the heck does a company that large, survive for this long, and not have political explosions in its decision making process, with that many people, having to *all* decide...together? You've been there, so can you please comment on this? Is it cultural? Is it group pressure? Are they all smoking a wacky weed we need to be aware of? How do they do it???

posted an official response

Good question and so it draws a complex answer as good questions usually do. First, the human race has mostly lived in cooperating units (villages, tribes, clans, extended families, and so on). True, some of them were run hierarchically (top down), but many, many of them (lasting centuries) were run cooperatively with dispersed, consensus-based decision-making. So it is simply not true that human beings cannot function democratically/collectively/cooperatively or that they will tend toward hierarchy. Second, both hierarchy and cooperation have strengths and weaknesses so that human beings usually organize themselves using various mixtures of both. Thus in the US we have a president but also Congress and 50 states and so on: ranges of hierarchy and collectivity interacting in shifting ways and balances. Most US families teach their children early on to learn to share with others as a kind of basic civic virtue; there are good reasons for that. Third, many societies have discovered and come to subscribe to a basic idea: human beings are most creative and productive and happy when they have real power over their lives, when they contribute to the decisions that shape their lives. Indeed, many societies subscribe to that idea even if they do not really structure themselves that way. Fourth, certain kinds of economic systems are more conducive to cooperation than others. Slavery, feudalism and capitalism all divide those engaged in producing needed goods and services into two very different positions: master/slave. lord/serf, employer/employee. Such economic divisions work against social cooperation (no matter how hard advocates of those systems insist they have social cooperation). On the contrary, economic systems that do not so divide people in production (self-employment economies, egalitarian tribal economics, communal economies) show much deeper and longer-lasting social cooperations. Fifth, there world shows many examples of hierarchical institutions being challenged, often successfully, by alternative, much more cooperative ways of organizing such institutions. Examples include the Protestant Reformation and its split from the Roman Catholic Church; the American revolution that opposed the extremely hierarchical feudal kingdom led by Britain's George III; Mondragon's successful development of cooperative industries instead of hierarchical capitalist enterprises; the ways in which citizens rise up against autocratic hierarchies in the political processes (our 1960s, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and so on.

Mondragon had and continues to have many challenges including one big one with which I will conclude this response to your good question. Coops existing within a larger non-coop based society are constantly finding that their members are affected by the hierarchical alternatives all around them. Mondragon members and their families watch Spanish TV which glorifies hierarchy and ignores or denigrates cooperation in many ways. Mondragon's members know what struggles are needed to build and sustain a cooperative structure, but they encounter difficulties getting their children to commit to such struggles because for them the coop seems to exist on its own without such struggles. To sustain democracy requires vigilance and struggle: the exact same applies to peace, freedom and cooperation. At least for the forseeable future, those key values are not secure enough to allow us to assume they will continue on their own. But struggle does not mean that those values are not achievable. Forsaking the struggle undercuts them and that leaves us all much worse off (no matter what the advocates of war, autocracy, hierarchy, etc would like us to think otherwise).

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Co-op and technological advancement

I was wondering if there are studies on co-op who decided to buy machine or automated tasks and so did they decide to keep everyone at the same salary but work less hours a week or did they decide to fire workers and make more profit? Do co-op take decisions that tends to look more after the well being of every workers or do they still tends to look at profit first. After all we could imagine result of voting decision 51% against 49% and getting rid of the 49%. Is there any studies of the decision and their rational in co-op, so far?

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Have you, or can you, give a talk about the economy in Venezuela?

Right now in the U.S. everyone, including myself until recently, thinks Venezuela is facing a collapse of socialism. But after watching a video by Abby Martin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUYWrPiUeWY&t=2s) it appears as though an "economic war" being waged on socialist policies.

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Can California show our country the way to a functional healthcare system?

Here's a link to a study by a team of economists at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst that shows how the state-wide single-payer healthcare system now under consideration in California could be implemented and financed. Where the federal government has been failing us for decades, California just might have the size and clout to show us how it can be done. https://www.peri.umass.edu/publication/item/996-economic-analysis-of-the-healthy-california-single-payer-health-care-proposal-sb-562

posted an official response

Thanks. as myself a long-time member of the economics department at Umass-Amherst, I will be especially attentive to their report.

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Co-operatives moving production overseas.

As a man who has worked as a factory supervisor, I have seen men at work first hand and managed them and their environment to keep the factory running smoothly. I tend to agree with you that a co-operative way of organising and running a factory could produce some benefits both to the company and the workers, but I disagree that the workers would not agree to moving production off shore if they had the chance. It is my experience that men come to work to have the easiest and most pleasant eight hours possible, and will shove the work onto someone else if the opportunity arises and they think they can get away with it. Consequently, if a factory staffed and run as a co-operative decides that the product they make can be made cheaper overseas, what would then stop the co-operative from doing this? Nothing seems to stop the capitalists from doing it, and I can’t see anything that would stop the co-operatives from doing it either. Itis mu opinion that they would have few qualms about doing it, if none of them lost their jobs as a consequence and their profit levels remained at least the same. They would then come to the workplace merely to distribute the imported goods, and to collect the money. If it is profitable for a commercial enterprise to do this, then it would be profitable for the co-operative to do this as well. Am I missing something here or is there something in the model you are using to set up the co-operative in such a way as to prevent this from happening?

posted an official response

Capitalists can and do move production overseas if and when profit opportunities can thereby be exploited (due to lower wages overseas usually). But notice that the capitalists stay at home and usually bring the profits back home too. In the case of a worker coop, that would not likely happen. When production moves overseas, so do the jobs involved and thus too the individuals in those jobs. Their lives would be disrupted and changed in ways utterly different from a group of capitalists making the comparable decision. Moving production is moving jobs. A worker coop move abroad would displace the worker and his/her family, etc., disrupting the lives of children, relatives, etc. And all that would be taken into account when the workers in a worker coop are making the decision as to whether to move production overseas or not. Capitalists making that decision are under no such constraints.

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I thought you might find this interesting!

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/18/cope-capitalism-failed-factory-workers-greek-workplace-control?CMP=share_btn_fb

posted an official response

I did and this week's radio/TV show "Economic Update" includes a segment I prepared on the Viome factory in Thessaloniki.

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Enjoy your show. I wrote a short story about our health care system when W was president pages

https://db.tt/loR8bzm30n

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Liberals and leftists discount demand-side by focusing on production

The left, it seems, should be focused on depriving malignant forces of their lifeblood, which is money. Even though demand in the USA is losing power, due to decades of stagnant wages, USAmericans are still a consumption-directed people. Boycotts should be the biggest tool, given strikes are basically illegal, in many cases, and lack effectiveness due to their parochial, secular nature. (Strikes should ripple throughout the system through mass participation, but are too local now.) Why don't we have online access to support employee-owned cooperatives? Shouldn’t we be buying from co-ops rather than Amazon? Most liberals and even lefties will say that they don’t focus on production, but I think it's clear, even from reading your website, that they do. This could be the result of reacting to reactionaries, whose ridiculous belief in Ayn-Randism pumps up the value of “producer”/capitalists while devaluing the consumer/worker. Will Galt go on strike? Who cares? Consumers can strike first by being somewhat discriminating for a change. As a group, they have much more power.

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What do you think of healthy relationships between people as being central to healthy economies?

This short film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3G72LRqMn9M (trailer) describes the central role of work as being a service to others, and as a consequence, people are valued. These two things are vital for an economy to function healthily, but these two things are mostly missing from our current system, and in their place is a lust for money. What are your thoughts on this faith-based world view to economic health that is based on relationships between people? And how do you think this approach could help fuel a shift in thinking regarding our consumeristic economic system? Also, can I send you the full short film, because the trailer doesn’t do it justice?

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Can you explain the difference between labour and labour-power

I've recently been troubled by this concept of labour and labour-power. As I've come to understand, labour-power is one's capacity to work, quantitatively measured by time. Labour is, on the other hand, is the physical act of working itself. However, I wonder if you could explain how labour and labour-power are exchanged as commodities and the significance of the differentiation of such concept.

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Can you explain the difference between labour and labour-power

I've recently been troubled by this concept of labour and labour-power. As I've come to understand, labour-power is one's capacity to work, quantitatively measured by time. Labour is, on the other hand, is the physical act of working itself. However, I wonder if you could explain how labour and labour-power are exchanged as commodities and the significance of the differentiation of such concept.

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Can you talk about the California housing crisis and possible solutions?

This week's NYTimes has an article about the CA housing crisis and many commenters blame prop 13 or excessive immigration, or restrictive zoning regulations or lack of transit, etc. They think the way to solve it is to build higher density, but I'm not sure that will solve the problem; the demand is just too great. This problem is particularly acute in coastal cities, with NYC having its own version of this housing shortage. What is really behind this, and what can be done to resolve it? Is rent stabilization the answer? Here's the article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/us/california-housing-crisis.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

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Would you investigate the oligarchs' "fossil fuel caused, catastrophic global warming" agenda?

I am convinced the ruling class has been pushing this idea MAINLY to transition their control of the world's electricity supply from petroleum and coal to Uranium-based nuclear power, something they can control because of it's connection to nuclear weapons. A very informative video of Allan Savory giving a talk on TedTalks ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI ) has recently come to my attention and now I am convinced, since his thesis of the true cause of climate change being desertification has been proven and known for decades now, that the reason the ruling class ignores his prescription for a solution that would not only solve the climate change problem, but would also solve many other problems such as feeding a growing population with what many people like the most, meat, that they don't want his solution now because a changing climate can help them rehabilitate the public image of nuclear power. The silence from the media and their lords of capitalism on desertification is deafening given the supposed crisis they cry like banshees over. I am convinced this means their agenda MUST be not about money per se, but about power: the real means of controlling society, to paraphrase Frank Herbert's Baron Harkonnen, "Who controls the electricity, controls the world." Thank you

posted an official response

Whether or not private capitalists "caused" the environmental problems confronting us all - alone or together with other social forces - the issue you raised stands: those corporations cannot and do not address the problem as something urgent to be solved. Instead, for them the priority problem is howe to avoid financial losses and/or obtain profits from such problems whether or not they are "solved." That is how capitalism stands exposed as an inadequate economic system.

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Show Topic: How to Start a Union

Could you provide a show segment devoted to how one might start a union, for example, at a non-profit university currently not represented? Such topics might include, which organizations to turn to for support, which types of employees to organize, what to be careful of, how to discuss the topic to fellow employees, etc.

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Topic Suggestion... Cryptocurrency backed by acts of kindness!

How great would it be if there was a currency that was back by moral human behavior, promoting acts of kindness! Well, some really brilliant individuals have created this very thing, I think that this would be something that would interest a lot of your viewers/readers! A new cryptocurrency utilizing minting process, backed by acts of kindness... https://ohmwallet.com/ https://youtu.be/DDvT4jHbuco?t=32m3s

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