Stronger Together?

Over twenty years ago, the first regional federation of worker cooperatives in the United States, the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC, pronounced “no boss”), was organized in San Francisco, in collaboration with the Industrial Workers of the World. Beyond mere collective ownership of individual enterprises, the group aimed explicitly to create a national movement for workers’ control over large sectors of the economy.

That strategy contrasts sharply with the recent vogue for worker cooperatives as entrepreneurial endeavors, which seeks to expand, rather than challenge, the rule of market economics. It therefore comes as a relief that Peter Ranis’s Cooperatives Confront Capitalism corrects the record. Ranis traces the origins of workers’ efforts to gain control over their productive lives to the beginnings of the factory and wage labor system itself. Agitation for workers’ control, sometimes advancing from a political demand to an economic reality, escalated as the labor movement grew throughout the nineteenth century, and only declined as a movement with the rise of a reformist labor leadership that abandoned its radical roots.

For Ranis, worker cooperatives provide the agency for social change that was missing from recent movements such as Occupy in the United States and the anti-austerity protests in Europe.

Read the rest at Monthly Review


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