Chicago High School Students Open Manufacturing Co-operative
May 15, 2013 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Chicago is bringing the co-operation in all kinds of ways these days. First the opening of New Era Windows Cooperative last week, now this:

Four African-American high school students at the Austin Polytechnical Academy (APA) in Chicago are applying their computer-aided manufacturing skills to a new worker-run business. The cooperative, called MECH Creations, will manufacture trumpet mouthpieces at APA, 231 N. Pine Avenue, Chicago, IL. With assistance from the Center for Workplace Democracy (CDW) and Manufacturing Renaissance (formerly Center for Community and Labor Research), the students, now business owners, have secured a patented design, created a business plan, acquired materials, and are ready to begin production this May.
posted by deliciae (3 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Bernstein’s socialism is to be realised with the aid of these two instruments: labour unions – or as Bernstein himself characterises them, economic democracy – and co-operatives. The first will suppress industrial profit; the second will do away with commercial profit.

Co-operatives – especially co-operatives in the field of production constitute a hybrid form in the midst of capitalism. They can be described as small units of socialised production within capitalist exchange.

But in capitalist economy exchanges dominate production. As a result of competition, the complete domination of the process of production by the interests of capital – that is, pitiless exploitation – becomes a condition for the survival of each enterprise. The domination of capital over the process of production expresses itself in the following ways. Labour is intensified. The work day is lengthened or shortened, according to the situation of the market. And, depending on the requirements of the market, labour is either employed or thrown back into the street. In other words, use is made of all methods that enable an enterprise to stand up against its competitors in the market. The workers forming a co-operative in the field of production are thus faced with the contradictory necessity of governing themselves with the utmost absolutism. They are obliged to take toward themselves the role of capitalist entrepreneur – a contradiction that accounts for the usual failure of production co-operatives which either become pure capitalist enterprises or, if the workers’ interests continue to predominate, end by dissolving.
- Rosa Luxemburg (1900)

She goes on in that vein for a bit. It's worth reading.

Cooperatives alone won't get us economic democracy, though they show the form it has to take - democratization at the micro-scale before democratization at the macro-scale, as Richard Wolff likes to put it. The Marxist-Lenninists, despite the loud protests of left communists and anarchists, tried to go about things the other way. Not sure if you heard, but it didn't go so well.

What we need, alongside cooperatives, is a labor movement that understands capitalism per se to be the problem, which is willing to extend the fight beyond better wages and working conditions to worker control. Many rank and file union members are up for it, and many workers would join unions if they had this kind of vision, but the mainstream union bureaucracy has a vested interested in capitulating to employers. They try to fight in a legal system which always favors the employer, rather than, you know, refusing to show up for work until demands are met. They pour money into the war chests of politicians who do almost nothing to improve the situation, when they could be organizing workers to take direct action on the job, as the labor movement in this country did when it was last relevant.

UE is to be commended for getting out of the workers' way, and then backing them, when they independently decided to sit down in the factory, which is now New Era.

The questions raised by Luxemburg still need answers though. As internet access becomes almost universal in the developed world (and much of its periphery), decentralized economic planning from the ground up looks at least technically feasible. Cooperatives standing alone will suffer the fate described above, but if they start federating with one another to experiment with alternatives to market exchange like Parecon's peer-to-peer planning via Walrasian auction, they might get somewhere.
posted by phrontist at 9:07 PM on May 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Co:Operatives were a huge part of small farmer's efforts to improve their livelihood in he U.S., also an important part of economic nationalism in he African-American community, and in Ireland, an element of the Sinn Fein program.
Same thing goes for India during phases of the independence struggle.
I see large coporations as a form of colonialism on the home soil.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:36 PM on May 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

phrontist - Awesome info and background, thank you. The US Steelworkers (USW) are already in partnership with the Mondragon Corporation to bring that model of federated co-ops to the US. Mondragon is Spain's 7th largest corporation, employing almost 90,000 people, and in a time when the national rate of unemployment is just over 27%, the unemployment rate at Mondragon has not gone over single digits.

This partnership at the very beginning stages, as I understand it, but looks to be promising in terms of developing new patterns for the protection of labor and the democratization of ownership. Lofty goals, to be sure, but why not reach for the stars? Unions have got to evolve to survive, and labor really has nothing to lose in trying new approaches, given the continued assault from the right against the old structures.

Another interesting model of federated co-ops is the Evergreen Co-ops in Cleveland, where there is an overarching co-operative institution that is made of smaller member co-ops. The folks at the Democracy Collaborative are evangelizing this approach and were instrumental in getting Evergreen off the ground, and Gar Alperovitz in particular covers these ideas in his new book.

We've wandered a bit from the intent of my original post, which was to give MAD PROPS to the four intrepid students of APA for their new business venture. Know any trumpeters? Send 'em their way!
posted by deliciae at 10:18 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

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