The Labor Movement and Worker Cooperatives
Andre Mayes, Cooperation Buffalo Board Member and Membership Development Coordinator at SMART Local Union 71 shares his thoughts on the importance of the current moment for working class people everywhere:
As working class people continue to suffer under growing inequality, wages that have not kept up with productivity or inflation, and benefits that would see them bankrupted in the event of a major medical emergency, and working well into their 70s before being able to retire, we are beginning to experience a shift in consciousness. Here in our own backyard, Starbucks has helped to light the powder keg. The resulting explosion has engulfed stores around the country at this so-called bastion of progressive corporatism.
On Staten Island, Chris Smalls was fired by Amazon and, as was seen in internal documents, was made the face of their labor movement by corporate because he was seen as “unintelligent” and “inarticulate”. This proved to be a major misjudgement, as he is now the president of Amazon Labor Union, an independent organization that did what no AFL-CIO union had been able to; they organized an Amazon distribution center. This is catching on around the country, and helping to spur the new narrative that collective action is the only way to get what we need as working class people. The wealthy understand this all too well. It’s why they form corporations to shield themselves from liability. It’s why they pay what amounts to little more than legal bribes to campaigns that will ensure both parties in power adhere to their agenda. It’s why they live in gated communities carved out of public land and policed by private contractors that we are not allowed to visit. It is for these reasons that we need to fan the flames of our burgeoning labor movement and promote all forms of democratic collective action as alternatives to a system that is killing our planet and everything on it.
The two strongest models we have right now for worker empowerment are unions and cooperatives. With unions, workers stand next to capital and demand that any actions taken by companies do not write the people who sell their labor for wages off as “externalities” on a ledger. Employees are not merely another cost to be driven down. Even when not taking living souls into account, this bottom line approach leads to lower quality products. When it is applied to workers, the results are absolutely disastrous for families and communities everywhere. Cooperatives make sure that those who work for, buy, or source wholesale from companies are of that community and have a meaningful say in how their communities function. This business model makes it very difficult for board members to catch the corporate bug and sell a company off to the highest bidder or move jobs overseas.
The time has come for a new narrative. One that does not look at individualism as a virtue. Society depends on us working together. The new narrative requires us to apply democratic principles to the workplace, taking up unions and cooperatives as two approaches to ensure that all voices are heard before decisions are made. This action will also help us to see the world for what it is; many organisms supporting a larger one where everyone must take the experiences of all into account. This shift in consciousness starts where we spend most of our waking hours: the workplace. Through collaboration between cooperatives and unions, we can achieve worker empowerment and create strong, sustainable communities.