This is the refrain of today’s NYT, and the question documenting the sweeping solidarity of workers around the country as even Pennsylvania gets out their red clothes to support Wisconsin. Wisconsin, the laboratory of democracy, reminds us it got that name because it was always the laboratory of labor movements. This is the tutorial, the rest of the states are next.
Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Choice, and the Battle for the World’s Food System describes how our current food economies hurt both workers and consumers. He describes how supermarkets use the ‘free market’ to pulverize wages for farmworkers, farmers, and their own service workers, and spend huge amounts of money to manipulate shoppers into buying what we don’t really want.
And yet, in exploring the social movements that are resisting the domination of the mega-marts, he notes that “none wants to do away with markets, or innovation or vigour. They merely want to put markets under their control, rather than being controlled by them. And it can work in the food system” (248).
So how do we begin putting the food system under democratic control? Patel points to the promise of worker-owned cooperatives such as those in Mondragon, Spain, as well as places like the Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco. In these work spaces, each worker has an equal voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Patel also highlights the justice-oriented work of places like The People’s Grocery in Oakland, which grows much of its own food, enhances its working-class community’s access to healthy and organic food by selling it at a deep discount out of a mobile produce-truck, and encourages a “holistic understanding of community change” through its education activities (250).
But Patel also notes that there is a danger in this kind of activism. Governments and non-profits are often happy to support these small, local alternatives to destructive systems because they are founded on a “self-help ethos” and “can be encouraged without at the same time having to admit to the existence of poverty.”
This means that the crucial work of creating better alternatives, which prefigure the world we want to live in, is perhaps not enough. Patel notes that places like The People’s Grocery are also involved in “confrontation work,” protecting their communities from gentrification and forming food-growing commons on derelict land.
Aunt Mollys’ Kitchen opens itself up to this dual role of both prefigurative and confrontation politics, providing what political ecologist Paul Robbins calls “a hatchet and a seed.” We can explore alternatives of dominant systems, encouraging creative human action in our food and our art, at the same time that we challenge dominant systems in our scholarship and our public activism, clearing more spaces for more creative ‘seeds’ to be planted.
If we make the road by walking, how will we walk? What direction are we heading? The following is a list of Mondragón’s ten cooperative values and objectives*. Following these ten coordinates, we add our own as well as our queries in the spirit of revision, improvising, and make-shifting…
1. Open Admission. Membership of the Mondragón cooperatives is open to all who agress with the basic cooperative principles.
2. Democratic Organizaion. All worker-owners are equal members of the cooperative. Each has one vote in the democratically controlled General Assembly of the enterprise and in the election of members to other governing structures.
3. Sovereignty of Labor. Control of the cooperatives is in the hands of the worker-owners, and they have a primary role in the distribution of surpluses.
4. Instrumental and Subordinate Character of Capital (People over Capital). In all instances people are valued over capital, which is seen as ‘basically accumulated labor and a necessary factor in business development and savings’. For example, while the cooperatives require a substantial personal investment y new members, the need for capital does not stand in the way of open admission.
5. Self-management. The collective enterprise is managed through democratic participation of all members, based on the free flow of information, access to training, internal promotion of management, consultation, and negotiation about all decisions that affect worker-owners.
6. Pay Solidarity. Wages are set according to principles of solidarity between workers within each cooperative, between cooperatives, and between cooperators and workers in conventional capitalist enterprises in the region.
7. Group Cooperation. Cooperation is fostered among individual cooperatives within the same group, among cooperative groups wihtin the MCC [Mondragón Cooperative Corporation], and between the Mondragón cooperatives and other cooperative movements throughout the world.
8. Social transformation. Cooperative activities should promote ever greater economic and social reconstruction of a Basque society ‘which is more free, just and solidary’ through, for example, expansion of employment in the cooperative system.
9. Universality. The cooperators act in solidarity with “all those working for economic democracy in the sphere of the ‘Social Economy,’ championing the objectives of Pea e, Justice, and Development, which are the essential features of International Cooperativism.”
10. Education. The organization is committed to education about cooperative principles and their dissemination to members, especially among those elected to office in the social and management bodies of the organization, and crucially to young people, the cooperators of the future.
11. Horizontality: Aunt Mollys’ is part of the collective tradition that distinguishes itself from cooperatives by refusing hierarchies of pay or hierarchies of management. All workers make the same hourly wage and our major decisions are made by consensus.
12. Simplicity and Abundance. How do we build a cooperative community that does not produce luxury goods for the few, but also does not treat pleasure as a luxury. How do we begin to talk about pleasure as a political motivation—and one opening up possibilities for our collective life—while also guarding against joining the prosperous enterprise of making over-priced luxury goods. Instead, we untangle pleasure from privilege and work to make treasures that are available to all. You can always make things more expensive and elaborate; we aim to make them more affordable, simpler.
13. Inessential Commonality. We follow JK Gibson-Graham’s claim that whether we see it or not, every aspect of ourselves can be seen as the “effect of the labor of others”. And so, labor offers a way to understand our inessential commonality; our “solidarity that in no way contains an essence” (Agamben).
14. Queries-as-Principles: We begin with four from two allies: ” 1) what is necessary to personal and social survival 2) how social surplus is appropriated and distributed 3) whether and how social surplus is to be produced and consumed; and 4) how a commons is produced and sustained” (88). And here, hold a place to add our own.
* From J.K. Gibson-Graham’s A Post-Capitalist Politics (104-105).
— Sandor Katz
Well, OK, they just said that Metro’s resolution supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers was enough to make them *want* to move here. They would certainly be welcome, as our council—galvanized by Jason Holleman’s leadership—made clear earlier this month.
Here is the article: http://www.ciw-online.org/now_is_the_time.html recognizing Nashville as the first local body to recognize the CIW’s work.