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The Year Of The Co-op: New Survey Reveals Americans View Co-ops More Favorably Than For-Profit Businesses

by on Friday, May 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm EDT in Economy, Labor, Occupy Wall Street, Politics

On October 31, 2011, the United Nations proclaimed 2012 to be “The International Year of Cooperatives (IYC).” The world body uses this annual designation to help bring attention to what it believes are some of the world’s most critical issues. On its IYC website, it praises the cooperative model for its contributions towards ending world poverty, and encourages more groups to embrace this “alternative means of doing business.”

Co-ops benefit communities around the globe by offering employees a living wage with favorable working conditions, and by promoting social integration and sound environmental policies.

Co-ops have recently enjoyed something of a resurgence in the U.S. as its economy has continued to sputter. Worker pay has remained on the decline for decades, and a corporate hijacking of U.S. democracy has left the public distrustful of the 1% who appear to be living large off the pain, suffering and disempowerment of the 99%.

‘Social injustice’ has become the buzzword to define America’s new economic reality.

In just the last few years, Americans have watched in horror as laissez faire Capitalism wreaked havoc, with impunity, on their communities. From Wall Street corruption bringing the entire financial system to its knees, and those responsible profiting from the calamity they engineered, to BP & Halliburton’s gross negligence resulting in 200 million gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf, and creating a catastrophe so severe that two full years later the sea life there can only be described as “horribly mutated creatures.” 

The public’s faith in for-profit ‘free’ markets has understandably waned. Even Republican ‘word doctor’ Frank Luntz recently cautioned that ‘Capitalism’ is now a dirty word, and he advised Republicans to stop using it.

As a result, non-profit cooperative businesses have experienced a groundswell of new interest from people eager to work for, and/or spend their money at more community-conscious companies.

Last Fall, the Occupy Wall Street movement spearheaded “Bank Transfer Day,” where hundreds of thousands of Americans closed out their accounts at ‘for-profit’ banks and moved their money to ‘non-profit’ cooperative credit unions.

And now, the results of a new national survey reveal just how favorably Americans view non-profit cooperatives when compared to for-profit businesses. Not only do they prefer the community-driven values these co-ops represent, they prefer their products and services to those of for-profit companies:

According to the survey, nearly one-third of all Americans belong to consumer cooperatives. Seventy-two percent of Americans believe cooperatives are “helpful to consumers,” while only eleven percent believe they are “unhelpful.”

Last week, following the release of the survey results, the White House invited 150 cooperative leaders to its weekly “community leaders briefing.” The co-op leaders were from all different sectors of the economy, and they educated administration officials about the large role co-ops have played in helping to put Americans back to work.

Whereas corporations — being required to maximize shareholder value by maximizing profits — have been outsourcing American jobs to developing countries for cheap labor and nonexistent environmental and labor laws, non-profit co-ops have been employing Americans, because their core responsibility is to their customers, their employees, and their communities. 

Attendee Liz Bailey, who is interim president and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association, had this to say about the White House briefing:

Every day cooperatives around the U.S. are stimulating the economy and we are pleased to have the opportunity to discuss our successes in job creation and ways to use the cooperative model to continue to strengthen communities large and small.

Two million jobs are generated each year as a direct result of cooperatives, which illustrates the incredible impact that these organizations have on local economies.

Recently, M.I.T. professor and author Noam Chomsky urged the Occupy Movement to mobilize for community-centric cooperatives. He told Laura Flanders that one way to target private power in the U.S. would be to help promote companies with stakeholder-based cooperative models, rather than those with shareholder-based corporate models. 

With over 29,000 cooperatives in the U.S., ranging from local businesses (grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theatersdaycare centershealth care, etc.) to Fortune 500 companies, there are many to choose from. Several of the bigger co-ops in the U.S. include: Associated Press (AP), Land O’ Lakes, Sunkist, Ace Hardware, Ocean Spray, REI (Recreational Equipment Inc), Southern States, True Value Hardware … 

By becoming more ‘conscientious consumers’ and choosing cooperatives, Americans will help to promote the core values that co-ops espouse. And if corporations begin to see their customers fleeing to cooperatives, they will be forced to reconsider their own business practices to lure them back.

It might take another ‘Bank Transfer Day’–style mobilization effort to really entice a large enough number to participate, and to generate the press required to start a new national discussion; that discussion being “what business model (corporate v cooperative) ACTUALLY benefits Americans? Which model’s core principles ensure that jobs are never outsourced, and customers are never taken advantage of, and the environment is never polluted? Which model’s core principles amounts to little more than turning as big and as quick a profit as possible for its owners?” 

With the nation’s democracy now effectively hijacked by the corporatocracy, it begins to dawn on you that a vote with your dollars is now the only vote that counts. But surprisingly enough, that can still feel rather empowering.

VIDEO Interview With Noam Chomsky: Occupy’s Number One Target Should Be Concentrations Of Private Power

by on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm EDT in Economy, Environment, Labor, Occupy Wall Street, Politics

Off the release of his new publication, OCCUPY (Occupied Media Pamphlet Series), Laura Flanders (GRITtv) sat down with MIT professor Noam Chomsky to reflect on the grim state of America, and the role activists have to play in turning it around. When asked what should be the number one target of the ninety-nine percent, to foster change, Chomsky responded:

It’s the concentrations of private power, which have an enormous — not total control — but enormous influence over Congress and the White House. In fact, that’s increasing sharply with the sharp concentration of private power escalating across the elections, and so on. [...]

Chomsky believes a good way to combat the destruction that private corporations unleash on the societies in which they operate, is to work to redefine the concept of ‘business responsibility’ away from responsiveness to shareholders, and towards responsiveness to stakeholders: 

There’s no economic principle that says that management should be responsive to shareholders. In fact you can read it in texts of business economics, that we could just as well have a system where management is responsible to stakeholders. You know, stakeholders meaning workers and community. Why shouldn’t they be responsible?

Of course this predisposes that there ought to be management. But that’s another question: why should there be management? Why not have the stakeholders run the industry? [...]

Of course, what he is referring to is a transformation from private (shareholder-centric) corporatism to worker (stakeholder-centric) Co-ops.

Flanders asks him whether changing from private ownership to worker ownership in itself would facilitate change, or if it would also require a change from the profit paradigm? “Could you,” she asks, “maintain the same exploitative profit-system under worker ownership?” 

That’s a little bit like asking whether shareholder voting is a good idea. Yeah, it’s a step. Is the Buffet Rule a good idea? Yes, it’s a small step. 

Worker ownership within a state Capitalist-market, semi-market system is better than private ownership, but it has inherent problems. Markets have well-known inherent inefficiencies. It’s just a part of markets. They are very destructive. I mean the obvious one is in a market system, a really functioning one, when whoever is making the decisions, doesn’t pay attention to what are called externalities — the effects on others.

So if, say, I sell you a car; if our eyes are open, we’ll make a good deal for ourselves. But we’re not asking, how it’s going to effect her [others]. And it will. There will be more congestion, gas prices will go up, environmental effects, and so on. And that multiplies over the whole population. Well that’s pretty serious.

Let’s take the financial crisis. Ever since the New Deal legislation was essentially dismantled, there’d been regular financial crises. And one of the fundamental reasons that’s understood, is the fact, let’s say the CEO of Goldman Sachs or Citigroup does not pay attention to what’s called systemic risks. So maybe you make a risky investment (transaction) and you cover your own potential losses, but you don’t take into account the fact that if it crashes it may crash the system. Which is what a financial crash is.

And the much more serious case of this is the environment effect. Now, in the case of financial institutions, when they crash, the taxpayer comes to the rescue, but if it destroyed the environment, no one is going to come to the rescue.

WATCH the entire interview below, where they discuss subjects ranging from the state of the Democratic and Republican parties, to neoliberalism, the occupy movement, anarchism, the civil rights movement, racism, the labor movement, and the corporate media:

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VIDEO: Here Is What Unregulated, Non-Unionized Capitalism Looks Like: Apple’s iFactory In China

by on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm EDT in Economy, Labor, Politics

Suicide nets under every window.

Conservatives have long derided organized labor and business regulations as some sort of insidious ‘socialist’ cancer that stymies innovation, fleeces hardworking business owners, crushes prosperity and investment capital, and dampens economies with high inflation and high unemployment.

They contend that when corporations are left unburdened by oversight and regulations, to pursue their own profit-maximizing interests, that this will always — as if by an invisible magical hand — optimize the interests of the society in which they operate. 

Obscenely naive or deeply disingenuous, this ideology has been disproved over and over again, since the beginning of the industrial age. In a global economy, the moment a nation catches on — usually when its citizens’ quality of life deteriorates to the point of social unrest — and moves to remedy the situation with more regulations, and by easing organized labor restrictions, the corporations begin to look around to other developing countries for exploitative opportunities.

This now familiar business cycle is especially prominent in sectors that require an educated and highly skilled workforce. This is because higher education is generally funded, not by corporations or government, but by labor itself. This limits the supply of skilled labor, and forces corporations to compete with one another for these self-educated workers, thereby pushing wages upwards.

But unlike labor, who are restricted by national borders in search for employment, corporations are free to roam the world for cheap labor. And corporations have no loyalty to the citizens who reside within the countries they operate. Why pay a premium for an employee with a unique level of expertise, when potential employees with similar skill-sets are being grotesquely undervalued overseas? After all, a corporation’s charter commands it to exploit resources and labor as cheaply as is possible in order to maximize profits. 

At the moment, China happens to be one of those developing nations with a massive poverty-stricken population — ripe for corporate exploitation. 

And what better iconic ‘American’ corporation, but Apple — manufacturer of the world’s most beloved technology products and gadgets — to demonstrate this corporate flight towards labor-exploitative opportunities.

China is a country which conservatives would consider an ideal, unregulated, business-friendly environment. Rather than demanding China raise its labor standards, conservatives would rather weaken U.S. labor standards to be more like China. The conservative plan for bringing jobs home is little more than a race to the bottom. By union busting, cutting government jobs, and further deregulation, American workers will find themselves as powerless and exploitable as our counterparts in developing countries. This, they believe, will make America more ‘competitive.’ This is their ‘free market’ ideology, in a nutshell.

In the following video, ABC’s Nightline was granted unprecedented access to Apple’s factories (owned by FoxCon) inside China. When you see the conditions in which these employees operate, you realize why decent paying American jobs are disappearing, and, as Apple’s recently-deceased CEO admitted to President Obama, “they aren’t coming back.” You begin to understand why young Americans are now questioning whether it even makes economic sense to assume huge amounts of debt in pursuit of higher education.

If you take one thing away from this video, I hope it is that this is not merely an American problem. It is a world problem. The only way to raise the living standards of Americans will be to raise it for everyone else in the world, because this is truly a global economy. And that process begins with rewriting all of our trade deals in ways that empower workers in every single nation, across the world. 

Some highlights from Nightline’s reporting:

  • Apple’s Chinese employees work 12-hour shifts, broken up by two-hour meal breaks, and often seven days per week.
  • Employees work so long and so hard on the assembly line, that most eat their 70 cent meals at the company canteen quickly, so they can catch up on lost sleep at their work stations. (the video shows them all sleeping side-by-side during their lunch break)
  • Many employees live in dorm rooms, shared by seven other workers, and will each pay $17.50 per month for this. This allows Apple to have workers on-call 24-7, in case they ever need to quickly scale-up production, at a moment’s notice.
  • Most employees have left their families to work here.
  • Suicide nets‘ have been installed under the windows of all FoxCon employees to prevent them from killing themselves. A year ago, nine employees jumped to their deaths in the span of 3 months.
  • Last year, poorly ventilated aluminum ducts, which the company had been warned about by human rights groups (an accusation the company does not deny), caused two separate explosions in iPad polishing stations, killing four employees and injuring seventy-seven.
  • Literally thousands of people (over three thousand on this particular Monday) line up daily at FoxCon’s recruitment center, waiting hours on end, and many carrying suitcases. They are desperate to work there for $1.78 per hour. Demand for Apple products is so high, that FoxCon will hire 80% of them.
  • To help manage the controversy that erupted after the NY Times’ recent article, In China, Human Costs Are Built Into An iPod, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association. But Apple paid the group $250k to join, and also pays for all its pre-arranged — never by surprise — audits, leading many to believe there is a deep conflict of interest, and is little more than a ploy to whitewash their labor practices.
  • ABC revealed most all of the employees they spoke with complained about their low-pay, expensive lunch prices, and crowded dorms, but there was nothing they could do about it, as unions don’t exist there.

Sounds like a Conservative Utopia!

WATCH:

 

WATCH: The Origins Of #OccupyWallStreet: An Interview With Adbusters’ Micah White

by on Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 1:35 am EDT in Occupy Wall Street, Politics

For those wondering how the revolutionary #OccupyWallStreet movement — which now spans the entire globe — came into being, look no further than Vancouver’s activist magazine & website, Adbusters, and its Senior Editor, Micah White. In this interview, White discusses the movement’s origins, its leaderless (general assembly) decision-making model — vital to ensuring it doesn’t get [...]