Corporation Busting: A Strategy for Unions and Coops:
Toward Building a Labor-Ownership Economy
by Lisa Stolarski
Corporation Busting: A Strategy for Unions and Coops
Toward Building a Labor-Ownership Economy
By Lisa Stolarski
Both Hands in the Soil
There is an ethical imperative to shift the balance of
economic power away from corporate Capitalism and toward economies that benefit
us all. Beginning with this assumption, I will explain how it is possible for
unions and worker cooperatives to collaborate strategically to take market
share away from absentee-owned and wage labor capitalist enterprises and place
control of resources and production in the hands of communities of working
Both unions and cooperatives initially arose, late in the
19th century, to combat the inequities of capitalism and to foster working
class independence from the disempowering conditions of wage employment. But
over the century that followed, unionists and cooperators alike, with a few
notable exceptions, have lost sight of their critique of capitalism and their
calls for liberation from the wage relationship. The working class possesses
everything we need to create wealth and social prosperity in our own interest.
The hesitation, I believe, is a matter of disbelief, a collective self-doubt
after decades of brutal setbacks, slander, and deliberate confusion of the
issues at hand. Now is the time to make the path clear for a viable economic
approach toward social justice, one that begins with the worlds two oldest
working class institutions, unions and cooperatives. Neither alone is in a
position to take on the market domination of Capital. But through working
together their collaborative potential could be economically transforming.
On one hand, the labor movement―not realizing the
potential of union-co-op collaborations― resembles a gardener not
understanding the relationship between tilling the earth and planting the seed.
We have unions doing constant battle with capitalists, forever tilling the soil
but never planting their own labor-based seeds. On the other hand, cooperatives
are enterprising and constructive, but they don't cultivate the political
consciousness to challenge the truncating impact of the competitive environment
in which they plant. Cooperatives continually throw their seeds on hard
competitive ground. The future of social justice begins with both hands in
the soil, it is a weed and seed project designed to uproot the unjust
power dynamics of Capitalism and replace it, enterprise by enterprise, with
creatively organized cooperatives that serve the needs of people.
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship for Corporation
There are numerous benefits for both unions and co-ops in
developing this sort of weed and seed collaboration. Heres a brief summary of
What can cooperatives offer unions?
Strategic control of unemployment levels
An overall resulting increase in wages
Place-based enterprises with no interest in relocation
Democratic say in means and organization of production
A stable revenue stream for organizing within capitalist
A growing worker-based economy in which to participate as
Leverage in negotiations with employers throughout
industries in which cooperatives provide high road and high wage models.
What can unions offer cooperatives?
A share in start-up risks
Motivated work force
Access to a large pool of worker intellectual capital
Perspective on industry-wide trends
Cross-company worker solidarity
A resulting leverage with competition
The potential to reproduce the cooperative model in
Imagine, then, a worker-owner cooperative partnering with a
trade union in their industry. As a part of the partnership, the trade union
capitalizes the co-op in an effort to maximize competitive advantage. If jobs
are created, they are filled by unemployed unionists. The unionized cooperative
positions itself to maximize efficiency and increase revenue in the competitive
market. The cooperative can draw not only on the intellectual capital of their
own workers, but on the collective knowledge of all members of that industrial
union sector. The union has the dues and support of the cooperative members in
preparation for further organizing in the industry.
Because the union-cooperative has no shareholders to pay,
and provided that assets are well managed, the partnership should be able to
simultaneously pay workers on the high end of the wage scale and also save
money to expand the enterprise. As the cooperative grows, it takes in workers,
offsetting unemployment so that unionists in the given industry are able to
maintain bargaining leverage. With these conditions in order, the union begins
to demand co-op standard wages across the industry. If competing capitalist
enterprises decide the wage market is too expensive and sell or bankrupt
themselves, the union-cooperative can position itself to purchase their
abandoned facilities the creative-democratic workplace strategy*.
Overcoming Barriers, Moving Our Thinking Forward
How to move forward? Part of whats needed is for the
working class to overcome the barriers that prevent us from recognizing and
directing our power. Many of these barriers are within us, in our own thinking
and attitudes; for example:
Lack of creativity in finding solutions to economic
problems, which are the root of social problems;
Fear of risking the few, shrinking economic securities we
Individualist mindset rather than a mindset of solidarity;
Misunderstanding about how credit and capital can work to
the advantage of workers;
Misunderstanding of all profit-making as being Capitalistic
There has never been a more crucial moment in history for
employing innovative strategies of working class solidarity. I urge unions and
cooperatives to reach beyond their traditional boundaries and consider this and
other ideas to co-create the economic basis for a socially just world.
* Note: More on this strategy
can be found in the work of Peter Davis at University of Leicester. See the Review
of International Cooperation, Volume 82, No. 1, 1989.
Lisa Stolarski is a founder of Jane Street
Housekeeping, a worker cooperative, and also a member of the Industrial Workers
of the World. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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