The names of the big health insurance companies are familiar – Blue Cross, Aetna, United Healthcare. But what about CoOportunity Health, or Health Republic Insurance of New York? These are among 23 new health insurance companies that started under the Affordable Care Act. They’re all nonprofit, member-owned cooperatives, and the aim is to create more competition and drive prices down. Karl Sutton is part of a food cooperative in Montana where he grows spinach. He understands the co-op model and thinks it can work for his health insurance company. Funded almost entirely by federal government loans this year, initial enrollment numbers look pretty good for a lot of co-ops, but that’s not necessarily enough to make them successful.
One place to start (with my own work) is that – given the specific historical conditions we face in the United States – I’m primarily interested in the question of how we begin to move in the direction of a model that realizes the kinds of values that Michael just laid out, though is different in structure. I am interested in the political economy of institutional power relationships in transition. The question is one of “reconstructive” communities as a cultural, as well as a political, fact: how geographic communities are structured to move in the direction of the next vision, along with the question of how a larger system – given the power and cultural relationships – can move toward managing the connections between the developing communities. There are many, many hard questions here – including, obviously, ones related to ecological sustainability and climate change.
It’s often said by those on the left, somewhat glibly, that capitalism is a cancer on the earth, or that capitalism follows the mindset of the cancer cell– infinite growth. But is that really the case? Perhaps it’s that cancer is a form of capitalism instead? From an article in Harper’s Magazine about facial tumors in Tasmanian Devils: “…uncontrolled reproduction begins when a single cell accumulates enough mutations to activate certain growth-promoting genes (scientists call them oncogenes) and to inactivate certain protections (tumor suppressor genes) that are built into the genetic program of every animal and plant. The cell ignores instructions to limit its self-replication, and soon it becomes many cells, all of them similarly demented, all bent on self-replication, all heedless of duty and proportion and the larger weal of the organism. That first cell is (almost always) a cell of the victim’s own body.”
“There are lots of ultra-wealthy conservatives and libertarians around and maybe I can get one of them to fund the campaign,” he said. “Late last week, when I was getting desperate, I pointed out to the union leaders how bad it would look if some right-winger raised the wages of California workers by $15 billion while the unions were just too cheap and selfish and sat on their hands….I was trying to really light a fire under those union leaders last week, but I never heard anything back from them.” The silence from unions and liberals has been truly mystifying, Unz said. “I’d very much hoped to be able to raise the money from wealthy liberals and have been surprised it’s been so extremely difficult,” he said. “I can’t figure out why someone wouldn’t want to take national credit for such an important project. Even if they tell me the unions will surely pay for it, why wouldn’t they want the credit for themselves? But I just haven’t had any luck and I’m really getting desperate, which is why I’ll be running that public newspaper ad starting tomorrow, which is pretty much a last resort.”
The Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference, and the Grassroots Economic Series leading up to the conference, aim to educate and mobilize the people of Jackson to build cooperatives and worker owned enterprises that can meet the economic and sustainability needs of the community. In the process, we aim to expand the discussion about alternative economic models and systems and to confront the harsh economic realities faced by low-income and impoverished communities. As an initiative of the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Community Aid and Development, Inc., the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, and the Fund for Democratic Communities, the Jackson Rising Conference promises to be a major advance in the struggle for working class organization, wealth equity, economic democracy and self-determination in Jackson, Mississippi.
While Comcast focuses on increasing its market power rather than improving services in the communities it monopolizes, no one should be surprised that we are seeing a surge in interest for building community owned networks. We’ve heard from many people who want to learn how they can start – more than we can always respond to, unfortunately. We are working on a resource to answer many of those questions, but it always boils down to 2 things: building a supportive network of people and getting informed. Get the word out – especially to local business leaders and anyone else who may be supportive. There are many potential business models and financing opportunities, but some will work better than others in each community. That said, there are some basics that every community should be immediately considering.
Manitoba has a long history of social justice movements. Manitoba was the first province to grant women the right to vote, home of the 1919 general strike, and is the location of one of the first Aboriginal friendship centres in the country. Our province is imbued with the spirit of solidarity and co-operation borne from a strong trade union movement and rural agricultural roots. First Nations teach us of the importance of considering the impact of our actions seven generations from now. These values inform community-organizing efforts towards social justice in Manitoba. Winnipeg’s Inner City in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a place of divestment and concentrated urban decay. The rise of the suburbs had left the core of the city in trouble: boarded-up storefronts and arsons in abandoned buildings were coupled with low graduation rates and high unemployment.
The occupation of businesses by workers and their democratic self-management through horizontal decision-making processes is a centuries-old practice. More recently, however, it has reemerged as an increasingly common phenomenon — most prominently in Argentina around the turn of the century, which currently counts about 300 “recovered” workplaces employing over 15.000 workers. Can this model also constitute a viable solution in Europe, not only to growing unemployment and poverty, but also to the very exploitation and alienation that lie at the core of the capitalist mode of production? This was the main question that the first European “Workers’ Economy” meeting, held on January 31 and February 1 at the occupied Fralib factory, tried to address. The idea behind these independent and self-funded events was born seven years ago in Argentina, with its two-decades old tradition of factory occupations. Soon after similar events were held in Brazil and Mexico.
And that’s declined. That’s gone. We’ve got competitors everywhere. We haven’t got any labor unions of any great strength anymore. So the whole formation to produce a liberal solution which might have helped–I’m not against that; it would be good to help a lot of people in pain–that’s just not available, which means the context we’re entering, in my view (and what I write about in the book), is a decaying context, but not a collapse. And that’s a place where people have time to learn and build and begin to develop alternatives. A collapse is very, very difficult to organize in. You might or might not win. But in decay, people learn and are open to new ideas. That’s what we’re finding out on the ground all over the country in some of the work we’ve been doing.
Responding to the Oxfam report that concluded that the world’s 85 richest people own the same amount as the bottom half of the entire global population, self appointed spokesperson for the global elite, and celebrity Judge on the reality show The Shark Tank Kevin O’Leary,applauded the news, stating that is “fantastic news (…) the motivation everybody needs (…) it inspires everyone to want to be like the 1%” and scoffing at the idea of “re-distribution of wealth” stated, “ I celebrate Capitalism.” His remarks inspire this open letter to the 85 Richest People In The World.
NPA members worked for a year to develop the Long-Term Agenda to the New Economy. Family farmers and public housing residents, employed workers and those seeking work, new immigrants and those whose families have been here for generations worked together identifying the structural reforms necessary to change the balance of power to favor people and democracy over corporate interests. Our members provided direction to the process from start to finish, building an agenda that is truly representative of people. We started by dissecting the agenda of the corporate elites that produced what we call the 1% economy. The economic and political reality of today is not accidental. Corporate CEOs, think tanks, and political operatives created the 1% economy. Their strategy was to expand the focus of corporate America from simply amassing profit to aggregating power. They organized individual companies and families into a corporate infrastructure, working to build power to advance their agenda. Over the course of decades, they have gained control of our political process, government, and media and used them to shape an economy that serves their interests at the expense of the American people. With that in mind, we built our own agenda.
Conversions are potentially so important for several reasons. Most broadly, there is a tremendous potential with such a large number of “baby boomer” business owners retiring in the coming years and decades. What will they do with their businesses? With conversions we have a huge opportunity to save businesses and jobs that might otherwise be lost if the retiring owner closes the doors or sells the business. We see conversions in all sectors, industries and regions—but we see more and more of them in places where the business is a real pillar of the community, either because it employs people in good jobs or because it provides a critical product or service, or both. So we have a whole system of existing small, locally-owned businesses that provide jobs, anchor capital, in some cases anchor downtown businesses in rural areas or whole neighborhoods in cities, and are part of the economic and social fabric of a place—and we should be spending a lot of energy and thought around how to preserve these.
On the other hand, if you believe in the power and ability of ordinary people to rise up when confronted by a crisis that affects us all, then it is possible to be optimistic. If the system you want to build begins with working people around the world taking over the reins of the economy and replacing capitalist minority rule with economic democracy, then that could happen relatively quickly. Yes, it still requires “leaders” working hard, talking and organizing, but history offers many examples of ideas spreading quickly and then people acting upon them. The critical element — the “objective conditions” — already exists. Capitalism itself has created an economy overwhelmingly dominated by social labour. This gives the working class the potential power to take over almost every part of the economy in the vast majority of major economies around the world.