Food for Thought
Lessons from Wisconsin
Port Huron Turns 50
Outraged Over Atrocities
Edward S. Herman
The Arab Spring
Libya, Africa, and AFRICOM
May Day 2012
Taking on Methyl Iodide
EDUCATING WITH MUSIC
Books, Rhymes, Life
The Obama Syndrome
Do No Harm
Ten Economic Crises
Victory for Colombian Students
A Drone World
Advertisements You'll Never See Again
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A New Economic Paradigm
An interview with Gar Alperowitz
Gar Alperovitz is professor of political economy at the
BARSAMIAN: In a New York Times op-ed on December 15, 2011, you wrote, “A mere 1 percent of Americans own just under half of the country’s financial assets and other investments. America, it would seem, is less equitable than ever. But at another level, something different has been quietly brewing in recent decades.” What’s been brewing?
ALPEROVITZ: What’s interesting—and the press doesn’t cover this—is just below the surface of what the press normally sees. There are thousands and thousands of institutions that democratize the ownership of wealth. Political and economic systems are defined in terms of their power. But who owns the capital? In the
there are some 13 million people involved in one form or another
of worker-owned companies
there are 130 million people involved in credit unions and co-ops,
another democratized form of ownership
there are 4-5,000 neighborhood corporations devoted to neighborhood
there are 2,000 utilities that are owned by cities
People don’t realize that a quarter of the American electricity supply is essentially socialized in a radically decentralized way—utilities and co-ops, city-owned utilities. And it’s been growing. There’s a whole quiet building up of a different model that has a very American tone to it but goes to the central question of who owns capital, who owns the wealth. That, I think, is a critical basis for possible longer-term change.
And what do you mean by an American tone?
The models that are interesting—and I think of this as a long historical development—are very much at the local, neighborhood, workplace level of democratizing. I see that, as a precondition of how you could actually develop a system which was not state-dominated, but also change who owned the productive capital. That’s a precondition, building up that kind of an experienced culture and also a vision, models of what could be.
You realistically observe that these efforts are minor compared with the power of Wall Street banks and the other giants of the American economy. Are they willingly going to go along with the weakening and evisceration of their own power?
Of course not. The struggle for real triumph over the systemic issues is a many-decade struggle. So if you say now is the fight, it’s obvious that the deck is stacked. If that’s where the confrontation comes, that’s not going to happen. On the other hand, if you ask how historical change really takes place, what you’re looking at is decades of developmental struggle and the creation of ideas, projects, vision, concrete ideology.
Occupy cracked open the debate about the 1 percent and the 99 percent. But that would not have happened if people didn’t feel there was something wrong. Much more important even than Occupy is that there is a sense in the public that something is wrong.
You’re suggesting these efforts toward building some kind of alternative worker-owned structures will take many decades, that we’re now in the incipient stages.
Not only worker ownership. Municipal ownership. That was the early part of the Debs revolution—municipal ownership and neighborhood development. As I say, 130 million people are involved in credit unions and co-ops. A very American institution that doesn’t get taken seriously, except all of a sudden $4 or $5 billion have been shifted from big banks to credit unions as a matter of ideology, a matter of saying, We don’t want to be with the big banks. Some cities now are saying, Why can’t we set up a city bank or a city credit union? The state of
You trace the origins of this movement to a failed effort. In 1977 in
Five thousand people got pink slips in one day, thrown out of work. In 1977 that was national news because it hadn’t been happening. Now it happens all the time. So the steel workers in the local in
What happened was they did their politics very carefully. They got the whole state—including the so-called conservative governor who had to be for it because the religious leaders and labor were for it—and they put forward a plan which would have made for a worker-owned company, a large one. They even got the Carter administration to commit $200 million in loan guarantees. After the 1978 election, the money disappeared. So the mill did not happen.
But what was interesting is that the leadership understood that even if it failed, they were injecting an important idea into political consciousness. Indeed, there are probably more worker-owned companies now per capita in
The most sophisticated model that exists is in
So the result is that there are a series of worker-owned co-ops. They’re not simply to make a couple of workers rich, or not rich, but make a lot. They’re linked to a community. A nonprofit corporation ties them together. They can’t be sold off without a major decision. There’s a revolving fund so that the money is made and a percentage, 10 percent, of profits go to make new companies. So that they want to build a complex of community building in a structure of worker ownership.
The small businesspeople like it. It helps the tax base. We’ve learned that if you speak concretely and make sense and know what you’re talking about, fundamental institutional change can be made.
So, for instance, they’re just about to open a greenhouse, partly solar. But the scale is not your little co-op—three million heads of lettuce a year is the production, plus a lot of other stuff. They have an industrial-scale, very advanced, high-tech laundry, ecologically the greenest in the
Talk about the role of organized labor. In your book you trace the steep decline from a peak of around 35 percent of the workforce being unionized in the 1950s to what it is today, in single digits in the private sector, a little higher in the public sector. You say it’s going to drop even further. Historically, unions were a countervailing force to capital.
The way in which most of the advanced systems around the world have been run, is you allow the corporations and the capital owners to have a dominant role and you build up union power as the basis of some form of progressive political coalition to keep distributional questions, social questions, environmental questions sort of in line. That’s the social democratic model in
What is it that makes sense in the design and politics and vision of the next system?
I think the next stage is a politics that begins to offer answers that you can explain to anybody. I’m from
In this cosmology of worker-owned—I believe the acronym is ESOP. What does that stand for?
ESOP is one form of worker ownership: employee stock ownership plan. It was put together by Huey Long’s son—who was at that point chair of the Senate Finance Committee—and a maverick corporate banker named Louis Kelso. The way it works is if you have started a company and your kids don’t want it when you retire, you have a choice to sell it to a big corporation. They will probably take the productive capacity away from the city. You might make money on it. If you sell it to your workers—this is what they did—the law now gives a tremendous financial benefit to the boss who sells to his workers. That’s a very unusual American thing—part of our maverick tradition. And the ESOPs—there are 11,000 of them and some 13 million people involved in these employee stock ownership plans—are a different form of worker ownership, many of which in the original stage were set up without voting power. So they’re not democratic, most of them. However, there are reasons why they wanted to keep the financing under a trusteeship.
But now what’s happening here, as you can imagine, as the workers get more ownership, they’re beginning to break that down and get more direct formal and informal power, and some of them are beginning to unionize.
Perhaps one of the better known of the international worker co-ops is based in
It’s a very interesting development because it’s now roughly 85,000 people involved in a very complex worker-owned set of co-ops that are integrated and operate very successfully—everything from construction to supermarkets to high-tech equipment to advanced research. These are not little co-ops. The rate of pay from the top to the bottom in 90 percent of the co-ops is about 4 or 5 to 1, that the boss has only 5 times as much as the lowest worker, and then in the biggest parts it’s 9 to 1. Compare that to the
It’s been very successful with very interesting worker participation. But it is now running into the world market and that’s a difficulty. It’s looking for markets and it’s up against competition. So there are some questions about it. Nonetheless, it has a great deal to teach us about how you can organize worker-owned companies. In the
Explain what happens to the profits? Are they plowed back into these efforts or are they paid out to the workers?
It’s critical because in the early period of worker co-ops and worker ownership, they did not make provision for this problem. So if you pay out all the profits, what happens is that you don’t have investment and new technologies and new equipment. So most modern worker co-ops have a provision that a certain percentage has to be plowed back into investment and new technology and research, otherwise you’re going to fall behind. So most of them now do that.
There has been an increase in farmers’ markets and CSAs, community-supported agriculture, and food co-ops, all coming under this rubric of going local. But there’s much more than just the food aspect to it, isn’t there?
That’s an allied kind of vision, I think, building around the notion of local community. There are various forms of new currencies that are trying to break the hold of the dollar. Many parts of the country are experimenting with that such as
You say the appeal of many of these ideas, such as co-operatives, reach across traditional left-right political divisions. What’s the evidence of that? And where does the Tea Party factor in?
I had a very strange experience recently because I was asked to come talk to the Chamber of Commerce, of all places, in one of the suburbs of
Given the financial situation that millions are in right now, the unemployment, the foreclosures and the like, is there that kind of space in terms of time? Can we wait during what you’re suggesting might be a decades-long process?
The answer is no and yes. That is to say, of course we can’t wait. The pain levels are terrible. There either is a path forward that we can make or the pain will get worse. So it’s an agonizing reality. The choice is to try to get to build a way out of it or let it get worse. So, no, there’s not enough time, and, yes, that’s the only way forward.
You mentioned ideologues. George Will is certainly one such ideologue in the corporate media. He’s a widely circulated columnist. He writes about redistribution in extremely pejorative terms. To him it’s tantamount to a Stalinist gulag and a code word for a socialist takeover and elimination of so-called American freedoms.
That is pure ideology, as far as I’m concerned. There is a concern that a state can be too powerful. The conservatives were right to worry about a state that’s too powerful. Fair enough. And very often liberals and radicals didn’t take seriously the dangers of statism. I give them that and I think we ought to respect that, in genuine conservatives.
I did a book with Lew Daly called Unjust Deserts. If you look at the sources of wealth in
That’s a social construction. Indeed, think of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. They would have been nowhere, literally nowhere, without the Internet. Who paid for the Internet? Taxpayers paid for it. And the development of all the schools that led to the place where you could actually develop the knowledge for the Internet, who paid for that? The American people paid for that. You can go right down the list and find that virtually all of what is modern wealth, the cream of which is taken off at the top, is a social construction. So that the source of what we’re having is not some guy who did a wonderful thing. People did do creative things, but their contribution is like a pebble on top of a
“Worker Owners of
All great revolutions look impossible before they happen. If you look at the folks who started the civil rights movement, the odds in
That’s what I think is very important, to realize that we can get beyond rhetoric to the thousands of things on the ground that the press doesn’t cover, which alter the nature of the power base of most systems—who owns capital—and do it in a very American way. So I think there’s a lot that you can do. Worker-owned companies, neighborhood corporations, municipal ownership, state ownership. Twenty-seven states already own shares in companies and take ownership positions. That’s another interesting thing in
David Barsamian is the founder and director of Alternative Radio, (www.alternativeradio.org). His latest book with Richard Wolff, is Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism (City Lights).
David Barsamian is the founder and director of Alternative Radio, (www.alternativeradio.org). His latest book with Richard Wolff, is Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism (City Lights).
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.