Thursday, 3 February 2022

A Pound in the Pot for Worker Co-operation

Article originally published in Stir to Action Magazine, January 2022

The Worker Co-op Solidarity Fund (Solidfund, for short) was set up in the summer of 2014, with the minimum goal of being able to underwrite the costs of a worker co-op conference the following spring.

Since then, it has collected more than £230,000 in micro-contributions from 730 members. That’s on the scale of a share offer for a modest pub buyout or care co-operative. But Solidfund has bigger ambitions and is still growing.

Unincorporated, autonomous, member-run, neither charity, business nor grant-giver, Solidfund doesn’t even have its own bank account. How does it work? What’s the secret sauce? And could it be an inspiration for other solidarity finance initiatives?



      Vision: A strong, growing and self-reliant network of successful workers' co-operatives.

      Mission: To create and manage a permanent common fund, paid for by the voluntary subscriptions of worker co-operative members, workers' co-operatives, individuals, and organisations that support industrial democracy and collective ownership.

      Purpose: To support activity that: 

      Provides relevant education and training

      Brings worker co-operators together 

      Identifies and spreads best practice in worker co-operation 

      Strengthens the self-reliance and autonomy of workers' co-operatives 

      Underwrites the continuity of worker co-operative culture and organisation   


Back from the dead

To see why the first members thought an independent resource like Solidfund was needed, history gives a few pointers. The UK’s worker co-ops have had a roller coaster few decades. In the 1970s and early 1980s, they were significant in local economic development. At this point, there were roughly 100 government-funded Co-operative Development Agencies (CDAs) at both the national and local authority level, and an independent federation of worker co-ops, known as the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM). ICOM itself registered 4,800 worker co-ops, mostly in a 15-year flurry between 1975 and 1990. 

Neoliberal and anti-worker politics took their toll on the co-ops, as they did on working class fighting spirit generally. By 2000, when ICOM threw in the towel, there were around 400 active worker co-ops, with less than half that number in membership in Co-operatives UK, the new umbrella organisation.

In May 2014, after a 15-year organising hiatus, the Worker Co-op Weekend brought together members of established worker co-ops and a new cohort of young co-operators. It felt like the beginning of the end of a long winter. On the final morning of the event, an open space on ‘next steps’ created the idea of a simple £1 per week, per member, subscription fund, with a wide remit to support worker co-op education, culture, and organising. It would be based on individual rather than institutional membership, and be governed collectively.

It was important for Solidfund to be a lean, low-friction project, and its current operation reflects this decision. Firstly, it works on the principle of mutual aid. Anyone who supports the aims and pays in is a member, and any member can propose to distribute money in line with the purposes. Secondly, it has so far avoided the complication of being an incorporated body, such as a charity, company, or society. Thirdly, there are no committees, panels, experts, directors or salaried staff between the members and the operation of the Fund. Finally, we used the best available free or low cost technology to collect regular contributions (direct debit) and for discussion and decision making, including policy development and monetary distributions. The Industrial Common Ownership Fund (ICOF) holds our money in a co-mingled account, under a partnership agreement.

Following the money

When a person subscribes to Solidfund via a form on our website, they automatically become a member, and are invited to join the discuss-and-decide group on Loomio. In practice, many worker co-ops decided to join en masse. Most of their workers didn’t accept the invitation to join the platform, so in effect they are passive financial contributors. However, the rate of active participation has increased over the years, partly because newer members are often individual supporters and activists. Out of the 660 current members, 205 are registered in the Loomio group. About half of those registered will pitch into a proposal ‘thread’ during any one year, and between 30 and 40 will express a view or vote on a particular proposal. 

To some, this might look like a low level of participation. On the other hand, it’s a much higher level of engagement than most larger democratic enterprises. For example, only 2% of Midcounties Co-op’s members turned out to vote on the Phone Co-op’s transfer of ownership in 2018.  In effect, because there is no management committee, we have a self-selecting, revolving ‘board’ of between 40 and 100 people, engaging in asynchronous discussion and careful evaluation of funding proposals, governance changes, and operational issues. Member inputs come from people with widely different backgrounds and priorities, from those instinctively minded to back every new grassroots project, to experienced organisers asking challenging questions.

On average, a proposal thread will be left open for two weeks to enable the ‘proposer’ to respond to clarifying questions, modify or improve the proposal, or take it away for a rethink. There will then be a further two weeks or so for voting, with further inputs around implementation. Fund design or governance discussions take longer, while requests for emergency money can be turned around in a few days, as happened when Valley Organics was flooded, or when Stir to Action’s office was destroyed in a fire.

As the purposes of the Fund are broad, people often use specific funding discussions to air their views about what our strategic priorities should be, or ‘what they thought the Fund was all about’. This can be a bit awkward, but at least it’s out in the open. There are also workshops to consider future visions and plans. During initial planning, an open space proposed a goal of £5M for worker co-ops in five years; the last Worker Co-op Weekend debated setting up a sister fund to receive one-off contributions and legacies. Some members wanted to redistribute all the income pretty much straight away; others have argued for patiently building a substantial resource, capable of underwriting a more ambitious programme. The sweet spot is that Solidfund uses 40% of subscriptions to build the reserve, while at the same time increasing the amount of distributions year on year. What’s noticeable is that ‘demand’ has never really outstripped ‘supply’. Maybe this is because its members come from the actually existing worker co-op movement, so they are realists as well as utopians – understanding ‘the art of the possible’ from their day to day experience as co-operators. It’s also because funding proposals have to come from members, and it’s usual for non-member beneficiaries to then become members themselves. So unlike a bank, charity, government agency or CSR department, we can point to an intuitive and self-regulating culture of checks and balances, based on principles inherent to the co-operative system: namely, that the constituency of people who collectively own and control the resource is also the constituency that benefits from it.

All this makes Solidfund’s governance and decision making democratic, as well as flexible, proportionate, scalable, and non-bureaucratic. Above all, it’s intelligent.

Everybody hates us, we don’t care

Solidfund’s progress has caught the eye of other Social and Solidarity Economy groups, but as yet there aren’t any real imitations. Why not? I suggest four factors. 

Firstly, you probably need a strong existing community of people, with shared attitudes and purpose - and a bit of ‘outsider’ feeling also helps. Secondly, Solidfund’s beginnings were extremely modest, so although it has big ambitions, it might not look like an obvious funding method for achieving quick impact. Thirdly, Solidfund resonates with cultural traditions of working class mutual self help, like the small, regular mass subscriptions underpinning workers’ unions, solidarity-based assurance schemes, and the street whip-round - rather than charity or doing good things for an external community. Finally, independent worker control really doesn’t tick any boxes for corporate, government, and charitable schemes, making worker co-ops largely unfundable by them; so crowdsourcing is one of the few practical routes. 

From time to time policymakers do rediscover worker co-ops, and launch initiatives to create more of them – notably central and local government in the mid-1970s, and more recently Preston and Islington councils. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party from 2005 to 2016, even expressed a desire to turn the NHS into a worker co-operative during his 2010 election campaign. Such meanders happen when politicians are attracted by what appear to be low-cost policies for mitigating the symptoms of inequality or dampening class conflict. This is why social enterprise and non-democratic employee ownership have found cross-party favour in the UK. In as much as worker co-ops are believed to be more peaceful, more inclusive, more productive, more durable enterprises, and sometimes a panacea for wider injustice, they might also seem to fit the bill. 

This framing of the benefits may also appeal to the kind of well-wishing business owner who wants an exit route lubricated by a capital gains tax break, and a reputational legacy. Actual worker co-operators are usually more motivated by the possibility of working fewer hours under better conditions; organising the work itself better; doing work that’s useful and meaningful; and economic levelling. 

On scale and impact, Solidfund is a very small financial motor compared with, say, the budget of Power to Change or even the average philanthropic investor. On the other hand, if we had set up Solidfund 60,000 years ago – around the time the Neanderthals became extinct – and collected £10,000 every day since then, without redistributing any of it, we’d still have a long way to go before matching the personal financial firepower of Elon Musk. Our ultimate goal of worker and community design and control of productive enterprise is obviously linked to the end of the money system. Meanwhile, we keep saving and organising.

https://solidfund/join

Starting out

Solidfund’s very first distribution was for the costs of members of Belfast Cleaners Co-op to visit Custom House Cleaners in East London, to share their experience and advice around how to get started and win contracts.

Capacity building

The Barefoot Co-op Development programme was originally conceived as a scheme to equip experienced worker co-operators to become mentors and advisors to new and established co-ops. Solidfund members contributed to the development of the initial design, and the costs of running pilot workshops in London and Manchester.

A new generation

Relaunched with Solidfund’s support in 2021, the Young Cooperators’ Network (YCN) is a value-led and independent organisation of co-operators that are young or new to the movement. Its mission is to create a peer-to-peer network that supports young co-operators through outreach, friendship, collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Bridging a gap

mycoolclass.com is an international online teaching and tutoring platform, controlled and collectively owned by its teacher members and staff team. Solidfund provided financial support for a vital marketing effort during the launch phase.

 

 

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Worker-recovered enterprises in Argentina: 20 years after 2001 crisis

First draft translation from Spanish of an article by Andres Ruggeri, originally published December 2021 by Autogestión Para Otra Economia.

 


The year 2001 called attention for the first time to a phenomenon that had been leading sectors of the workers' movement for at least ten years before the outbreak: the struggle for the recovery and self-management of various factories and productive units, a process later known as the worker-recovered enterprises (WREs). In this text we propose a critical assessment of the limitations and potentialities of this important Argentine experience.

It is quite common that, in order to refer to the movement of recuperated enterprises in Argentina, a relation is established with the events of 2001 or, directly, it is identified as having arisen at that time. The recovered factories, together with the piqueteros and the popular assemblies, appeared as the new social movements that represented a rupture with everything previous, born out of the rebellion of December 19 and 20.

This relationship appears in all kinds of narratives and imaginaries, both in militancy and in the media, and even in academic works. And although it is not strictly true, since the process of recovery of companies has numerous antecedents in previous decades and a development that can be traced back to the late 80's, there is a clear moment of irruption of these experiences in the political and social life of our people that cannot be separated from the crisis that caused the fall of Fernando De la Rúa's government and opened a new stage in the recent history of Argentina. And this is so because 2001 gave a notorious visibility to a phenomenon previously existing but circumscribed to the micro-space of the factory (a handful of them) and turned it into a reference for the struggle of broad sectors in a conjuncture of enormous social mobilization.

This visibility was not only circumstantial or mediatized, but gave impetus to a movement that rescued from oblivion the very idea of self-management of labor - widely spread among the "new left" of the 60s and 70s and fallen into disuse by the 2000s - and gave it a power that otherwise would have been difficult to achieve. This force had an impact even on state institutions, which were obliged to respond to a demand that was far from being massive: the "occupied" companies - there was also a conceptual and political dispute over the denomination of the process - numbered around a hundred and involved only a few thousand workers, at a time when the unemployed movements were mobilizing hundreds of thousands and a quarter of the population had lost their jobs. How was it that a movement of such small dimensions came to occupy such an important place in the imaginary of a gigantic crisis, which made the economic system crumble and called into question the very state institutionality of the country? Why did it impact so strongly on the symbolism of one of the biggest crises of the neoliberal model in the world before the global crisis of 2008? What did (we saw) thousands of popular militants who enthusiastically supported the process and how does this relate to the relative tolerance of the political system and the repressive forces against situations that in other historical moments (past and, perhaps, future) would have been fiercely and swiftly dismantled?

A first answer to these questions is precisely the link that was quickly made between crisis and recovery. The workers occupying factories were identified as a break with the old stagnant and bureaucratized movements -starting with the unions-, incapable of offering resistance to neoliberalism, part of the great movement unleashed by 2001 together with the assemblies and the piqueteros. Their characteristics of resistance for a just cause -the defense of labor in a context of brutal economic crisis and massive unemployment-, their claims in workplaces, rarely blocking the streets or invading the territory of more affluent social sectors, aroused the sympathy of middle sectors that, except for the brief moments of "piquete y cacerola", do not usually empathize with the struggles of those who presume to be below their own social status. On the other hand, the weakness of the political institutionality produced by the "que se vayan todos" (let them all go away) prompted public officials at all levels, including legislators and judges, to give in circumstantially to demands that would have been dismissed out of hand just a few months before, voting expropriation laws, granting judicial permits, giving subsidies, pledging support, etc. All these issues gave the movement an unthinkable strength and resulted in concrete advances in the resolution of conflicts. As a consequence, the average duration of the occupations, which before 2002 was almost one year, was reduced to less than five months in the following years, and more than one hundred expropriation laws were voted in the different provincial legislatures and even in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires.

The bulk of the militancy saw in the companies and factories that were occupied and put back into production under self-management a phenomenon of enormous significance, for its symbolic power and political projection. After the scorched earth of neoliberalism of the 1990s, with unions mostly complicit or weakened - to such an extent that with few exceptions they had been reduced to a capacity of resistance almost equal to zero -, the sudden appearance of dozens of occupied factories and with workers willing to form cooperatives or, in the cases that the Trotskyist left parties had managed to lead, to fight for nationalization and workers' control, represented a sort of resurrection of the working class. A little finer and projecting further, an unthinkable possibility of a self-managed future was glimpsed, an alternative that appeared almost miraculously to resume the anti-capitalist struggle. This idea fed back into the attention paid by the booming anti-globalization movement in the core countries, with a steady stream of activists coming to a suddenly cheap Argentina for those arriving with hard currency to see the laboratory of the future society on the ground. Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis' documentary The Take made factories like Zanon, Brukman or Forja San Martin world famous. Another world was possible and the factories taken over proved it.

But, in fact, and beyond the alter-globalization dreams, something different was taking shape in the recuperated enterprises. Small groups of workers were wresting from the State the possibility of appropriating the means of production from the former bosses, forming work cooperatives that received, to a greater or lesser extent, government support for their operation, practicing, without manuals, a collective and assembly management that replaced the capitalist management of the work process. In some cases, with the utmost awareness of what was being done, in others by simply letting themselves be carried along by events. In general, the unions watched and withdrew, in others they were just another part of the scheme of emptying and looting of the company's assets, in some exceptions, such as the UOM Quilmes or the Federación Gráfica Bonaerense, they were an essential part and promoter of the processes. The self-management of labor, as an alternative process to traditional economic management, began to be incorporated into the working class toolbox to defend itself from unemployment and the abusive conditions of the bosses and, in this way, a key concept for any project for an economy and a society overcoming capitalist exploitation was rescued.

Unlike other phenomena closely linked to the 2001 crisis, which rapidly diminished until they almost disappeared or became residual processes as the country was recovering from the most traumatic aspects of the outbreak (such as the barter clubs or the assemblies); or were being reconverted into territorially based movements (such as the majority expressions of the piqueteros), or being absorbed by the political system, the recuperated enterprises continued to exist in forms not very different from their origin. Although some of them have been operating for more than two decades and have managed to consolidate themselves as productive units, continuing simultaneously as collectively managed workers' organizations, in most cases the advances with respect to what was achieved in the months following the recovery have been few. The basic problems due to the limitations of a legislation that does not contemplate self-managed work as a real possibility of productive management, the unresolved disputes over ownership, the labor rights lost with respect to dependent work or the difficulties for a relatively even commitment of the workers to assume the management responsibilities that previously corresponded to the bosses, continue and are added to the typical structural problems of self-management in the framework of capitalism and, in the last years of Macrismo in government, to a state aggressiveness not seen before.

After the fascination for the novel movement of the workers who took over the factories abandoned by the bosses, the recuperated enterprises, twenty years later, show a panorama that implies old and new problems and numerous lessons that should be debated and addressed. Generally we leave these issues in a discreet background so as not to affect the defense of a movement that we love and vindicate, but a critical balance should not overlook the challenges and limitations of a movement that, to do it justice, few of us imagined would not only survive twenty years later, but grow and multiply.

A brief look at the history of the movement

As we pointed out at the beginning of this article, the movement of recuperated enterprises is preexistent to the 2001 crisis, despite having been repeatedly associated with it. One of the keys to see this background goes through the definition: a recovered company is a process in which a company goes from capitalist management to collective management by its workers. That is to say, from the capital company, vertically hierarchical, to self-management. With this relatively simple concept, we leave aside definitions of a normative type - whether it is a worker cooperative, whether it is expropriated, whether it has ownership of the plant, etc. - which are the majority way of identifying "recuperations" or of an ideological type - qualifying them in terms of an idea prior to the organization or assuming self-ascription as a criterion of reality, as they consider themselves to be. Both categories of analysis may be included in the concept depending on the case, but we prioritize a process and a definition based on the mode of social and economic organization.

From this point of view, the recovered enterprise is sometimes juxtaposed with the cooperative movement or with the "social economy", understood as the sector of the economy neither public nor private, but of social management (and lately, solidarity), but from a process of transformation from a capitalist economic unit based on wage labor. There are not many antecedents but they do exist, there are even some "recovered" companies still operating (although nobody called them that) already in the 50s, such as the transport cooperative La Calera, in Córdoba, or the Cogtal graphic company, now in Avellaneda, province of Buenos Aires, which at the time was the workshop of the leader of the CGT de los Argentinos, Raimundo Ongaro.

But the current process started at the end of the 80's with the first resistance to the closing down of companies, which was beginning to be the characteristic of the deindustrialization process that had started with the dictatorship and accelerated during the last years of the Alfonsín government, to become a brutal reconversion of the productive and industrial structure of Argentina during the government of Carlos Menem. It is then that the first cases began to emerge, some driven by the Quilmes section of the Unión Obrera Metalúrgica, led by the leader Francisco "Barba" Gutiérrez, such as the factories Adabor, Mosconi, Vélez Sarsfield or Polimec[1]; in others, by the Federación Gráfica Bonaerense based on the example of Cogtal, as in the Campichuelo printing plant. In most of the other cases, in certain isolation, such as the Inimbó textile factory in Chaco, the Coceramic brick factory in Entre Ríos, the Santa Isabel meat packing plant in Santa Fe or the Yaguané meat packing plant in La Matanza. Some leaders and activists began to emerge and towards the end of the decade, some notorious cases were laying the foundations of what would later become the National Movement of Recovered Companies (MNER), such as the Zanello tractor factory in Las Varillas[2], Córdoba, the IMPA metallurgical plant in the city of Buenos Aires or Gip Metal in Avellaneda[3].

By the time the crisis broke out, several of these cases and currents had already linked up with each other and the role of December 19 and 20 acted as a catalyst for a budding movement, which was to find unexpected resonance in a boiling social and political climate. This first moment of organization, although weak, was key for the outbreak of December 2001 to act as a unifying force for the process and consolidate occupations and conflicts, most of them independent of each other, as a movement that considered the self-management of the closing companies and managed to generate a path towards what was already beginning to be called "the recovery". A zigzagging path through the enormous problems that the situation posed, and not exempt of debates, such as the one that confronted the cooperative perspective with that of the nationalization under workers' control proposed by the organizations of a sector of the left. Throughout 2002, with more than a hundred companies occupied and struggling to enter into self-managed production, the movement consolidated, became visible to Argentine society and the world, and formed an organization, the aforementioned MNER, which managed to bring together most of the WREs

 (some never did and others continued to be linked to other political options, such as Zanon and Brukman).

From fragmentation to movement: the recuperadas in 2001

The days of December 19 and 20, 2001 were a turning point in the recent history of our country, an enormous economic, political and social crisis that also implied the closure of thousands of companies and factories of all kinds. While savers were protesting at the banks because of the corralito, looting was spreading in the suburbs -and not so much- and the pots and pans were clanging in the rest of the city of Buenos Aires, there were also workers in various factories, workshops and companies who were losing their jobs and becoming unemployed from one day to the next. In some cases, they occupied the plants to defend their jobs, such as the Brukman textile workers who on December 18 found themselves alone in their factory, or the Zanon workers who had been in full occupation for months before. In others, like the workers of the Hotel Bauen, they resigned themselves to going home while they boarded up the entrance to the building which they would recover, with the support of the MNER, a year and a few months later.

The dramatic turn of events accelerated the process of rapprochement between these different cases and broke the relative isolation between them. If the whole country was mobilizing, the recuperated enterprises were not going to be the exception. The following months saw the emergence of the movement, which not only began to organize (with a center in the AMBA but also in provinces such as Santa Fe, Córdoba or Neuquén and with cases in almost all the provinces of the country) but also to create bonds of solidarity with the other movements and to articulate a coherent discourse towards the State.

The attraction generated by each conflict in a mobilized society was in many of these cases the key that made it possible to turn an unfavorable correlation of forces. An exemplary case in this regard was the Chilavert printing plant, which came from a typical process of emptying that had left only eight workers in a moribund workshop and which the police would have evicted without any doubt if a very broad network of solidarity had not been generated: the IMPA factory contributed its experience and a truck that blocked the door, and thousands of people called by the Pompeya assembly formed a human cordon that dissuaded the police from provoking a confrontation that was politically inconducive in that context. A few months later, the Buenos Aires Legislature voted unanimously to expropriate Chilavert. Even companies with weakly determined workers' collectives benefited from this momentum, obtaining their expropriations under the umbrella of the movement and with legislators willing to get the problem out of their hands as soon as possible. Such a force, as the political crisis receded, weakened and led to less expeditious and inconclusive processes in the years that followed.

Having control of the plants and machinery is a solution to part of the problem, but it is far from being everything. Self-management, even more so in an economy in deep crisis, implies solving complex issues, for which it is not enough simply for "the workers to lead". A predominant view at the time was the romanticization of the occupation, which led (and in part still does) to overvalue this stage of the process. It is obvious that it is a foundational moment, which means the so desired "appropriation of the means of production", but starting from the unavoidable fact that it was the capitalists who made the decision to abandon the enterprise and, rather than being appropriated by the class offensive, they abandoned means of production largely unserviceable or unusable. It soon became clear that the "occupied factory" without a collective of workers organized to put it into production, without capital, without solidarity and support networks around it, and without an economic framework to build or rebuild, can be a beautiful cultural center but if it fails to generate decent sources of work, it will not fulfill the objective for which it was taken. The recovery of work is, from the perspective of the protagonists, the main goal, the floor without which everything else is meaningless. But, at the same time, there is the paradox that, if the process remains in that primary objective -even if economic "success" is achieved- without transcending it in a social and politically broader framework, it is a matter of time before the transformation potential of the recovered company is reduced to a minimum.

This essential problem for all the processes of self-management of labor was something that could be glimpsed in those first months and years but that the urgency to solve the most acute stage of the conflicts postponed for more stable moments. The debate centered on the alternatives of nationalization with workers' control or expropriation and the formation of cooperatives. The practice was in charge of settling it: no occupied factory was nationalized [4], and much less under workers' control, in a broken State without direction, at least until the inauguration of Néstor Kirchner in 2003. And subsequently, this was not the option taken by the government either. Instead, the more sinuous path tried by the rest of the recovered companies proved its effectiveness, which was based on tactical flexibility and experience.

The relationship with the State and, in that sense, access to support programs and political tools for conflict resolution was the next source of debates and differences between leaders and organizations, as well as disputes over the leadership of a movement with wide public visibility. The unity of the MNER was short-lived: a lawyer who specialized in the recuperadas, Luis Caro - an ambitious character far removed from any revolutionary approach, but effective in dealing with the courts - fractured the movement as early as January 2003. Subsequently, different sectors separated and, as time went by, the WREs, broke up into several organizations and federations. Their basic problems, however, remained very similar.

The subsequent evolution, once the country's situation stabilized, saw the consolidation of a process which, unlike other social movements, needed to settle economically and concentrate on resolving their particular situations in each case. It was not territory or permanent mobilization, not even access to state resources, that guaranteed survival, but rather production and income generation. This implied the reinsertion of previously bankrupt enterprises or those abandoned by their bosses into the market. State support, as important as it was, did not and could not ensure -unless the hypothetical "nationalization with workers' control" had taken place- the flow of income that would pay salaries, cover costs and investments. This had to be done through insertion in the market, which obliged, inevitably, to supplant the bosses and the managerial structure that carried out this function without departing from collective management or, otherwise, it would gradually turn into a factory in which self-management would be replaced by a vertical structure. Reality took care of showing that this struggle, much less showy and alien to the mobilizations and heroic moments of the takeover, was going to be the great challenge to overcome.

Lessons from twenty years of workers' self-management

The nearly one hundred recuperated enterprises that expressed themselves in the first MNER, arising directly from the days of 2001 and 2002, became more than 400 that, going through the macrismo and the pandemic, continue to operate up to the time of writing these lines[5]. More than 15,000 workers make up a movement that, although they have many things in common, has not achieved a minimum organic unity for a long time, with generally weak groups that respond to leaderships that exhibit as credentials their capacity for dialogue with different public bodies and government officials. Some smaller and more compact organizations show more unity and, in some cases, certain organizational constants and criteria that can be taken as differentiated models. But, taken as a whole, the movement survives despite these fragilities.

Twenty years after the key moment for the constitution of an identity as recovered enterprises, differentiated from other cooperatives or other more ephemeral or fluctuating movements, and some thirty years after the first cases that took the initial steps, we can outline a series of elements of analysis that can provide the basis for a critical balance of this experience of workers' self-management in Argentina. In a general aspect, from the point of view of alternative construction, we can make an outline of the main potentialities and achievements of the self-management experience led in our country by the WREs.

In the first place, the experience of Argentina's recovered enterprises shows, once again, that self-management is an economic, social and political process that can have an impact on the restitution and generation of employment devastated by neoliberal economic policies. Although the conditions are quite particular, since they presuppose the existence of a previous enterprise that was abandoned or bankrupted by the bosses, the WREs demonstrate that workers who know their trade and are capable of organizing themselves to resume and maintain productive activity can also generate effective management mechanisms.

These management mechanisms are nothing other than the democratization of the social relations of production, albeit within the framework of a delimited productive space limited to a particular productive unit. However, they show the potential of the working class to dispense with the bosses' structures. As Marx already affirmed more than a century and a half ago,[6] in the cooperative factories (in this case, our WREs), the direct exploitation of labor by capital is abolished, although the workers do not manage to become independent of indirect exploitation through the market.

In turn, as an economic phenomenon, self-management of labor is a tool so far little developed by the popular movement to dispute the distribution of wealth. The popular economy, in general, does not manage to reproduce -in groups of more than a few thousand people and in very specific spaces- the operating conditions achieved in the WREs and in other cooperative processes with the capacity for capital investment; even in a very limited way. This is mainly due to two founding elements of the recuperated enterprises that are not found in most of the experiences of the popular economy: the existence of a previously structured collective with labor experience and discipline (what is sometimes called "work culture") and a capital preserved from previous employer failure in the form of facilities, machinery and sometimes value networks. Both conditions are no guarantee, as we have seen, of success, but they are a starting point that popular economy organizations do not usually have, and usually do not propose to have.

As a social phenomenon, the self-managed enterprise is a powerful binder of social networks and solidarity, a collective organizer that is little exploited. The difference with other organizations is its economic rather than territorial base. But at the same time, the enterprise, especially the WREs, have underutilized or idle spaces that can serve as a base for other popular initiatives and its very nature as a labor organization can function as a concentrator of a network of social relations that strengthens the surrounding community. However, there are few cases in which this has been achieved, or has been done on the basis of a strategy of building popular power.

In this last sense, the potential of the political process of the WREs has been little explored, which could become, based on the previous points, an interesting exercise of popular power. The tendency of cooperatives in general and recovered enterprises in particular to close in on themselves, a tendency sustained by the imperious need to sustain income through economic activity in the market and by the shallowness of the organizational fabric achieved, limits the scope of experiences in this direction.

These general considerations should be complemented with others related to the difficulties and limitations of the experience, directly linked to the process of these years in the WREs.

The first thing in this sense is that the consolidation of self-managed enterprises must have a correlate at the state level in support programs and legislation that ensure the rights and achievements of self-management. The movement of recuperated and self-managed enterprises, in all its variants, has so far shown itself ineffective in generating the conditions to advance in this matter after the achievements of the first years. The reform of the bankruptcy law of 2011 was the last advance in this sense, and with many limitations. This does not have to be detrimental to their autonomy, it is about the consolidation of rights achieved by the strength and struggle of a movement that has been fighting for decades, as in its time were the eight-hour working day, the legalization of trade unions or the right to social security. The working class that performs in self-management is in a dead angle of the legislation: they are recognized as associations for work, but not as a labor subject. They must comply with the tax and administrative formalities of economic societies, but they cannot receive credits and are systematically left out of public policies (some of this has begun to be reversed in recent times, but there is still a long way to go). Achieving a floor of labor and economic rights could be an enormous boost for the consolidation and expansion of self-management.

Another pending issue is the scarce political and even professional training, specific to management processes, of their workers, which is almost exclusively the responsibility of the organizations. The workers of the WREs are halfway between the unionized worker and the popular economy worker: they wait for solutions from an absent employer (sometimes replaced by the leadership of the organization itself) or from the State. This situation, which speaks of the difficulty in generating a collective management of production, is transformed in most cases into a delay or even a failure in the construction of a truly collective organization of the economy.

In turn, self-management does not succeed - and it is logically very difficult in such an unfavorable context - in overcoming the conditioning factors of the market, to a much lesser extent than the obstacles offered by the State. But in order to advance in autonomy vis-à-vis the market (that is, to achieve the capacity to define in part its own rules and conditions of production), it must have economic tools that give it the necessary "backing" to do so, that is, capital and the capacity to generate productive innovation, as well as social innovation (which is generally related to the investment that can be made). And here appears one of the main strategic challenges of self-management in the framework of capitalism: how to generate capital without exploitation and without a broad social and political support network that provides what productive activity itself delays or cannot generate. This network can include the active support of the State, which requires a government willing to do so; and on the other hand, a social asset that bets on this and that is strengthened by the success of these attempts.

In this sense, the experience of the recovered enterprises differs little from the majority of the historical paths in our region and in other latitudes, especially in the cooperative movement. It is the challenge that the Polish economist Jaroslav Vanek synthesized in "the danger of usurpation of self-management by worker-owners", which underlies the development of a self-managed, self-centered and self-financed organization without links to larger structures that give it meaning. The paradox is that economic success results in a loss of the self-management process, while politicization without achieving objectives in the generation of a decent income for all members of the organization runs the risk of not being able to ensure its survival. The answer to this challenge may involve, we believe, the expansion of the networks that contain self-management, the diversification of sources of financing and capitalization, and the existence of a political structure for the formation and management of the process.

The latter is especially valid in factories and companies of certain dimensions, which cannot generate the conditions for the reproduction of their economic circuit in the medium term or investment to ensure the long term, something that usually appears with the need for the renewal of capital goods and technological updating. Legal precariousness is a key element in this limitation, since few companies have title deeds and can access bank loans, and to make matters worse, in Argentina there are few financing alternatives so far. But even if there were, large capitalist enterprises have been basing their expansion on credit, state support, financial investment and valorization in large concentrated conglomerates with the capacity to offer resources for the business unit that requires it, and to close down without further ado the one that does not fit into the scheme. The isolation of self-managed companies makes it almost impossible to overcome these situations.

Finally, and returning to what was stated above, the growth of these experiences is fundamental for the development of alternatives for the popular economy that manage, on the one hand, to overcome the single resource of the dispute for resources from the State and, on the other hand, the hyper-exploitation through their subordination to the productive chains of concentrated capital.

In synthesis, twenty years of self-management provide a good basis for overcoming some of the limitations pointed out, if we can discuss them without fear of weakening the movement or offering weak flanks to the powerful enemy which is, without a doubt, capital, generally faithfully accompanied by the State. As a whole, and in spite of these limitations, the recuperated enterprises are nothing more than the revitalization of the self-management process as a tool for the economic and social construction of the working class, an instrument abandoned in the historical process by unions and political organizations. An idea forgotten in the corners of historical memory, but that lives and resurfaces in every experience of collective economic organization as are, undoubtedly, the companies recovered by their workers. The popular rebellion of December 19 and 20, 2001 contributed decisively to make this possible.

NOTES

[1] Now Felipe Vallese Worker Cooperative.

[2] Now Pauny, one of the few cases in which the recovery did not result in a cooperative but in a tripartite corporation that includes the participation of the workers' cooperative.

[3] Current Cooperativa Unión y Fuerza.

[4] The only documented case was the Medrano clinic nationalized by the Buenos Aires legislature in 2004. The result was the closure of the establishment and the absorption of the employees by the Health area of the GCBA.

[5] Data from the Facultad Abierta program of the UBA and the National Registry of Recovered Companies of INAES.

[6] In Chapter 27 of Volume III of Capital.

 

 

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Commons or shares: the trouble with worker ownership - and the debate that followed

'Commons or shares' came out in the Spring 2020 issue of Stir to Action magazine. The critical reply from The Democracy Collaborative appeared in the Autumn 2020 issue, along with my response which develops a political view of worker co-operation.

Commons or shares: the trouble with worker ownership

The sale of US craft beer maker New Belgium Brewing to the Kirin conglomerate by its worker owners has provoked in an outbreak of soul searching among people who believe employee ownership is central to a new, more equitable economy. It has reignited discussion of the difference between common ownership worker cooperatives and shares-based models in the US, UK and Canada, and has led to new calls for legislation on ‘indivisible reserves’ for worker-owned enterprises – a proxy for common ownership.

As a national-reach business in the market for craft beer, New Belgium was a poster child for advocates of ‘inclusive capitalism’. Jennifer Briggs, its ‘VP Human Resources’ for more than ten years, says “it was the combination of the employee ownership mindset, broad-based business literacy, critical thinking and attention to building a great culture, that catapulted us to the top”.

The furore around New Belgium reveals confusion about the nature and meaning of worker ownership, even among people who think about it a lot. Among those who don’t, it looks like a religious argument about a minor difference of emphasis, concerning a small industrial sector – and who cares about workers anyway? But for new economy and worker activists, it’s important because it’s about being careful where they put their energy.

‘Ownership’, like ‘democracy’, is a word packed with conflicting interpretations, but often used as if it has universally shared meaning. The economist Elinor Ostrom articulated a view of collective management of common resources as ‘stewardship’. In the 1970s and 80s, a similar concept underpinned a wave of worker cooperative formations in the UK, as well as a new law - the Industrial Common Ownership Act of 1976. Co-ops like Suma, Calverts, Unicorn, and new worker coops in technology and other sectors, are ‘owned’ by their worker members in this collective sense of stewardship. It describes the form of corporate possession, but also extends to cultural assets such as the sense of job ownership, solidarity practice and social mission 

Typically in this type of enterprise, a worker does not need to ‘buy in’ when they join; and they receive no payout when they leave. Although there is no legal provision in for ‘indivisible reserves’ - as there is in countries with codified legal systems like France, Spain and Italy - on dissolution they must pass any residual assets to another common ownership co-op, or to a sympathetic collective body. Unlike a charity or a Community Interest Company, this ‘asset lock’ is voluntary, in the spirit of the first co-operative principle; it can be undone by a decision of a supermajority of worker members. That happens rarely. On the whole, such co-ops have an ethos of honouring the social contract between previous and present generations of worker members, by passing collective ownership of the enterprise to the next – hopefully in better shape.

Employee ownership through direct allocation of shares to individuals, or the holding of shares in a trust for employee benefit, leans into a different idea of ownership: one which is more transactional and individualised, because it implies the right of the current owner to dispose of the owned thing as they see fit, and to profit from the disposal. This is the model of New Belgium, which used an Employee Share Ownership Plan (ESOP) - a key feature of the US employee ownership system. Of course, as in any other actual example of ownership, the right of the owners of ESOP shares in New Belgium to dispose at will was hedged with internal and external regulation. In practice, as long as the firm was a profitable going concern, the ESOP built up a supercharged and ‘tax efficient’ retirement fund for employee members. The Kirin deal simply induced them to cash out early.

The handwringing over the loss of New Belgium is in some ways strange, because it’s just the latest in a string of such sales in the US and Canada. The experience in the UK is similar. Firms like John Lewis - a supertanker among the UK’S small fleet of employee owned businesses - have sailed a steady partnership course for decades. But in Wales, where Wales Co-operative Centre facilitated many worker buyouts through trusts and shares in the 80s and 90s, most of the converted firms ended up back in conventional private ownership within a few years. Why does this surprise?

At the surface level, worker co-ops and employee ownerships have a lot in common, because they  give workers equity in the enterprise. According to sympathetic researchers, this correlates with higher levels of productivity and profitability, better work conditions, greater business durability, and more industrial peace. If you could walk down a high street where 40% of the firms were worker coops, 40% employee owned, and 20% family businesses, what wouldn’t be to like?

Yet on another level, they diverge sharply. To generalise: worker cooperatives come out of and align with the workers and social movements; contest capitalism; and ‘prefigure’ a classless and solidarity-based social system. Employee ownerships come out of the quest for legacy by philanthropic owners; favour a more stable and efficient capitalism; and are comfortable with present social relations inside and outside the workplace.

In reality, things are more blurred – especially if you look outside the Anglophone countries. Once again, who cares? If you think workers are the only social class with both motive and latent power to overturn the present system, the answer may be clear. Yet even in the cooperative movement, there’s a strand of opinion that doesn’t regard worker co-ops as legitimate, since they ‘only’ benefit workers. On the other side, some advocates of share based models say common ownership just keeps workers down, by promising them endless labour in exchange for a threadbare utopian fantasy. To paraphrase one business conversion expert – a person with a foot in both camps - ‘I don’t lose sleep if the workers cash out, and the business goes back into private ownership. They got a wedge of money from the deal, which they wouldn’t have otherwise.” Looked at this way, both models of ownership hold out the prospect of ‘jam tomorrow, not today’ for workers, but with share ownership just getting there a bit quicker.

It gets more interesting when we move from the question of ownership to that of control, both of the enterprise and in terms of accountability to the wider social movement. We’ve seen that share ownership appears to confer greater powers of disposal to the worker, and maybe it does when the question is whether to flog the business. In practice, however, employee owned firms often keep significant ownership in the hands of the legacy shareholders, and they almost always preserve the mode of command-and-control, with layers of professional management directing workers at both the strategic and day to day level.

This may be explained by the philanthropic origins of many employee owned businesses. Owners find it harder to give away the idea that they possess special knowhow than they do some or most of their shares. In the words of Bob Moore, former owner of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods in Oregon, a large and profitable ESOP: “nothing about the new arrangement will change a thing. I may have given them the company, but the boss part is still mine”.

In general, the idea is that a financial stake in an employee-owned business in itself will spark the worker loyalty and extra productivity that gives the company its edge. Yet we know that in most jobs, money isn’t the only or even the main motivating factor for workers. Successful worker cooperatives embody lifelong skills development, a culture of equality, the opportunity for workers to collectively self-manage their working lives, and support for life outside the workplace. When they achieve this, they also increase efficiency by reducing the need for executive managers, whose principal function in any firm is to maintain discipline, and whose services are generally expensive.

Employee ownerships are often keen to amplify what they see as their ownership advantage with management initiatives aimed at getting a deeper level of buy-in from employees, using systems theory and business school ideas to wring out the extra juice. All this management is, of course, costly. Worker cooperatives are more likely to be able to assume commitment and dispense with the hoodoo. Their disadvantages mostly stem from problems around capital – the lack of which defines their members as workers in the first place.

The conclusion might be that both forms get a business advantage by being able to retain skilled workers and thus build build a base of expertise, resulting in higher productivity, but that they do this in different ways. In worker co-ops, which have developed some of the most advanced applications of practical democracy anywhere, collective self-determination reaches well beyond the realm of ‘corporate governance’, into the everyday process of production.

Employee ownerships and worker co-ops also have a different take on information and transparency. To work well, co-ops have to practice true ‘open book’ management, with almost all information available to members, on the basis that ‘if you don’t have the information, or can’t use it, then you aren’t in control’. By contrast, information culture in many employee ownerships amounts to giving members an annual update of their financial ‘pot’, running quality circles - the old suggestion box with bells on - or implementing ‘nudge’ measures to improve worker performance. At the launch of the ‘1 Million Owners’ campaign – Co-operatives UK’s joint initiative with the Employee Ownership Association - the boss of a London PR company spoke with pride about how her employee-owned business has become more transparent. “Everyone has access to all the information. Except of course sensitive things, such as how much each of us earns.”

None of this might matter, except that mistaking employee ownership for worker cooperation, or conflating them, leads to wasted effort on the part of activists - boosting business narratives that have no real meaning for us, or exhausting us in the pursuit of misguided policy innovations. The future of worker cooperation lies in the hands of workers, to whom, wherever they are, the tools and experience of present and past worker cooperation need to be made meaningful and available. That’s a hard task, which can’t be achieved with top-down initiatives or novel legal and tax frameworks.

It’s true that organisations rarely change their culture in any important way. When preparing this, I asked if anyone could give me an example of a worker co-op that converted to an employee ownership, or vice versa. There weren’t any. But in truth, there are probably quite a few enterprises that embody elements of both, and don’t worry about it – like Lembas, the wholefoods merchant in Sheffield that has equal pay, practices collective management, calls itself a co-op, does serious community engagement, and hacked the employee ownership trust model years ago.

Which is the more unlikely vision: a mixed social economy populated by cheerful consumers and contented workers, or the hegemony of a new social and economic order based on principles of equality and sustainability? The revolutionary horizon is indistinct, yet probably closer than we think. So the difference between a holistic, class-centred perspective on worker ownership and control, and a reformist, bloodless one is relevant. Meanwhile, let’s keep up the pressure for higher wages and better conditions.

SW

Reply to Commons or shares: the trouble with worker ownership by Jessica Rose and Marjorie Kelly, The Democracy Collaborative

It hurts when employee ownership loses a champion, as with the sale of New Belgium Brewery to “Big Beer.” New Belgium was a B-Corporation, deeply committed to sustainability, and employee owned via an ESOP (a U.S. trust structure that holds company shares). Now that’s all at risk. Reflecting on the sale, Sion Whellens returns to an age-old debate: is employee ownership via shares worthy of attention from new economy activists? Or should we focus on cooperatives, with potentially more revolutionary potential?

Whellens suggests this may seem like a narrow religious debate—we couldn’t agree more. While New Belgium’s decision was disappointing, we understand it may have needed the distribution potential of this larger company to survive. Unlike a typical corporate sale, this one brought long-time employees six-figure payouts.

Still, it wasn’t a perfect outcome: We’d all prefer employee ownership in perpetuity. But as a movement we need to ask ourselves – is our aim perfection or impact? We argue for impact.  

The revenue of all U.S. worker cooperatives adds up to $550 million. Revenue at a single Bay Area ESOP called Recology is more than twice that at $1.2 billion. This waste hauling and recycling firm is fully owned by its 3,000 workers and pays garbage truck drivers family-supporting wages far above the median for this occupation – because without absentee investor owners, there’s more wealth for employees. And their vision of a world without waste has made San Francisco a leader in diverting trash from landfills.  

Compare Recology to CERO, a scrappy worker co-op that has also embraced a zero-waste future: CERO recycles 80 tons of food waste per week, employs seven, and has revenues of about $700,000. In five years, this democratic company hopes to employ 35 and recycle a million tons of food waste annually: a nontrivial contribution. But as a co-op, it is more difficult to raise the kind of capital that has allowed Recology to go to scale.

Both Recology and CERO are worthwhile enterprises, and CERO may offer more meaningful worker governance. But is CERO having a more profound impact than Recology on people and the planet? Either way, is this a useful argument?

We think not. Social entrepreneurs today can select from a diverse menu of legal entities and governance models, to structure a firm that is positioned to raise capital, operate in a competitive and tax-efficient manner, and express a unique social mission. The fact is, broad-based ownership of any kind is a radical and transformative paradigm. Additionally, decisions of firm structure at the individual level are primarily technical, not ideological.

Ownership matters

As Marjorie demonstrated in her books Owning Our Future and The Making of a Democratic Economy, our system of capital ownership—driven by the principle of maximizing returns to capital — underpins an extractive economy that serves the few, not the many, and is blind to damaging impacts on workers, communities, and the Earth. 

But ownership is just one dimension of enterprise design and does not reflect the full solution. What we need is a massive shift to a generative, democratic economy that puts people and planet ahead of profit maximization. To do that, next generation enterprises needed in the new economy must combine broad-based ownership models with beneficial purpose. Currently, neither the cooperative nor the ESOP structure requires the incorporation of social purpose.

In a 2019 report, we looked at purpose-driven firms (like B Corporations) that were employee owned and not. We found that the best firms—those that provided quality jobs and sustainable environmental outcomes—were both employee owned and purpose driven. Some were worker cooperatives, others were ESOPs. All were producing materially better social and ecological outcomes than their peers.  Among the “the best of the best” was Recology.

At The Democracy Collaborative, we support broad-based ownership in many forms, including public ownership. Our aim these days is to frame the COVID-19 crisis as an opening to create a radically different kind of economy, employing a variety of beneficial forms. We raise the critical question: Who will own the economy post-virus? Will we have an Amazon recovery where only absentee-owned mega-corporations remain after half of all small businesses close?

There is another path, in which a more democratic, just, multi-racial economy is elevated. Public holding companies could preserve local business, eventually passing ownership to employees or the community.  When big companies are bailed out, the public could require beneficial purpose and an ownership stake.

What’s needed today are large steps toward a massive transition in enterprise design – and helping the public understand the difference between broad-based ownership versus elite, extractive ownership. It’s past time for quibbling about co-ops versus share ownership. Far too much is at stake.

Marjorie Kelly is the executive vice president and senior fellow at The Democracy Collaborative. Kelly has been a long-time critic of shareholder capitalism and is leading The Democracy Collaborative’s work on next generation enterprise design.

Jessica Rose is the CFO and director of employee ownership programs at The Democracy Collaborative. Her work focuses on alternative finance and cutting-edge market-based solutions to inequality. 

 Response: why ownership doesn’t matter

‘Commons or Shares’ enquired into the potential of typical employee-owned and cooperative enterprises by looking at their origins – broadly speaking, philanthropic action and workers self-organisation. Far from arguing for sterile ‘purity’, I noted that both types can boost the living standards of workers. We don’t need to cherry pick to find worker-owned firms of both types, big and small, that do great things.

Jessica and Marjorie mainly object to my conclusion that worker cooperation is a better focus for the energy of ‘new economy activists’ because of its emancipatory potential. I’ll explain why, but first will respond to their defence of ESOPs and other “broad-based ownership models with social purpose, including public ownership”.

Their narrative about what distributed ownership is ‘good for’ doesn’t address working class existence as such, but is only concerned with changing the social purposes of entrepreneurship. In this story, new economy leadership can be about almost anything other than ending the domination of capital itself. Social enterprise, green recovery, responsible investing, integrating migrants, the liberation of women, global justice, taking advantage of the opportunities presented by COVID or reviving the American Dream of a ‘multi-racial economy’ can all be part of the mix.

CERO might indeed look scrappy, compared with Recology. In reality they are both part of a small cohort, competing with the networks of red-in-tooth businesses that dominate regional and global production and distribution. The answer, for The Democracy Collaborative, is to expand the sector by having more access to capital and changing the policy environment. Capital is so central that they can even be ‘understanding’ about the New Belgium sale – not because it might have been a smart tactical move on the part of the workers, but because they needed the distribution clout of a global company to survive. And so it goes round in a circle - a circle revolving around capital.

To re-centre the discussion on workers, we have to go back to basics on capital. What is it? And how does worker cooperation – in its different forms – create the tools for a practical and theoretical critique of capitalism?

Capital is always and everywhere dependent on living labour, even as this labour develops an increasingly complex and globally cooperative character. Capital flees from the 'insubordinate power of labour', but it can only flee in the direction of its further socialisation. In the 20th century we might have used Fordism in North America as an instance of this social formation; today we might talk about the global reach of Amazonism.

Sometimes, capital appears to be nothing more than a money ‘thing’ that some people have access to, and others don’t. But capital is not in fact money, or only money. It’s the fetish for a set of social relations that enables the profits from yesterday’s production to reproduce itself as further profits, which it can only do by further exploiting labour. To do this, the conditions have to be right. Law, politics, ideology, police, managerial elites, financial policy instruments and armies are needed in different proportions at different times, to enable the process to continue. Capital then appears to be the unquestionable precondition for social production, even more vital than the human beings who created it. We have a society organised not for the reproduction of human life, but for the reproduction of capital.

The point is that capital and workers have an intrinsically antagonistic relationship, and that workers hold the practical keys to unlocking the question of why capital appears to create wealth, rather than workers themselves. To do this, we need to start by breaking down the arbitrary divisions – for instance between ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’, ‘white collar’ and ‘blue collar’, ‘intellectual’ and ‘manual’, 'productive' and 'reproductive' work – that stand in the way of collectively realising our power to create everything we need or want, without exploitation or overwork, and without burning the house down.

If we develop the tools to do this, we can also deal with deranged relationships like racial oppression and partriarchy. I wrote in ‘Commons and Shares’ that the worker co-op sector in North America and the UK has roots in currents such as the C20th ‘new left’, ecology, feminism, anti racism and gay liberation. In opposition to capital, none of those forces has the same structural antagonism as the working class - but if you want to see where work is being done to demystify and deconstruct such divisions, cooperatives are one place to look. The best examples have a culture of tackling the hyper division of labour, alienated work and social hierarchy, as part of their everyday practice.

Cooperation between workers for themselves, rather than for capital, doesn’t only happen in worker cooperatives. Nor will we build the new economy ‘one co-op at a time’, because the stakes are so high. It’s in this sense that the forms of ownership don’t matter, compared to changing the form of work itself, and the social relation that defines it; none of the current modes of ownership is likely to survive a rupture with capitalism.

Such a break would come at the point ‘policy’ runs out of tools to defend the rate of profit, and the working class has had enough. It will be global and fast moving. As we move closer to it, creating bridges of collective action and enquiry between worker co-ops and workers unions, solidarity networks and defence organisations is vital.

SW