Showing posts with label Jackson Cooperative. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jackson Cooperative. Show all posts

Monday, May 1, 2023

Building Class Conscious Cooperatives

Written by Kali Akuno Executive Director, Cooperation Jackson

A message in honor of Cooperation Jackson’s 9th anniversary and International Workers Day 2023

This essay is dedicated to two titans of the Proletarian Revolution and the Black Liberation Movement: Saladin Muhammad and Tim Schermerhorn. 

Monday, May 1, 2023 will mark the 9th anniversary of Cooperation Jackson. We launched on International Workers Day very intentionally. From the jump, we wanted to send a clear message to the workers of Jackson and the world, that the vehicle we were aiming to build was part and parcel of the international working class movement, the movement to construct a socialist future. And while this was a symbolic gesture to begin with at best, particularly given our positioning and relevance at the time, we thought it was important to declare in order to firmly align our intentions with our practice and objectives. 

Now, to be clear, our practical and immediate intentions were to stimulate and motivate working class forces in Jackson to support our initiative and to see it as a means to strengthen the position of the proletariat on the local level to enable us to elevate the class struggle on more favorable terms for the toilers. Our more strategic focus however, was, and remains, forging unity between the organized sectors of the working class, particularly between the cooperative and trade union sectors of the movement. From our inception we’ve been focused on trying to make a contribution to the organization the working class in its totality, meaning all those who toil or have to sell their labor in order to make a living, be they unionized or not, or in some organized formation like a workers center or a cooperative - this is why we called for and helped launch the People’s Strike, which was a broad mobilization advancing the need for a general strike to meet our fundamental human rights during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020 and 2021. 

However, we chose to start our class based organizing initiatives by trying to forge an alliance between the trade union and solidarity economy movements because when combined they possess the positionality, resources, skills, and tactical means to launch a substantive campaign to democratize the economy. As a united force, they could employ their combined strength to transition countless businesses, locally, regionally, and nationally, into worker owned and controlled social production units. They could also use this strength to occupy and buy-out businesses reluctant to engage in a democratic transition, like New Era Windows Cooperative did in Chicago, Illinois in 2012. Or they could directly seize those that are resistant or outright hostile to a democratic transition like numerous workers did in Argentina in the early 2000’s. 

In order for a democratic transition of the economy to happen, we have to build class conscious organizations that are ready and willing to take on this challenge and all that comes with it. And to be clear, we are talking about moving beyond developing organizations that are positioned in the class, that is entities that exist to press for benefits within the capitalist system. Rather, we are talking about entities that are aware of their comprehensive social positioning as the producers of the vast majority of the surplus value underscoring bourgeois society as a reflection of their universal interests and advocate for the construction of another social system that will end capitalist exploitation and expropriation of the social surpluses produced by the working class. We are talking about organizations wherein its members have a consciousness of themselves as a “class for itself”.

We are clear that a democratic transition will require far more than declarations or symbolic gestures, such as the one we committed in 2014 when we started. Our own experiences over the past 9 years trying to build worker cooperatives, develop a vibrant community land trust, and other institutions and tools of the solidarity economy in Jackson has been more than a notion. Our work has been balanced by a series of triumphs and tragedies, successes and failures. But, throughout it all, we have maintained that we are not seeking to build cooperatives for cooperatives sake, we are trying to build institutions that will help us transition out of capitalism.  We are not going to coop our way out of these exploitative social relations. It is going to take a lot more than just cooperatives or self-directed social production units to get us where we need to go. But, to the extent that we have to start this journey by building class conscious organizations, we want to share some principles drawn from our experience about what we think it takes to build class struggle oriented cooperatives. Here are some Basic Principles of Class Struggle or Class Conscious Cooperatives that we would like to share that we think that cooperatives not just trying cooperatives for cooperatives sake must be committed to: 

  1. Serving as instruments of working class self-organization, with the aim and objective of enabling the working class to own and control the fundamental means of production to enable the democratization of society and the regeneration of the earth’s ecosystems through coordinated planning to produce the use-value oriented instruments and necessities needed to improve the overall quality of life of the vast majority of the earth’s inhabitants within the ecological and material limitations of our precious planet. 

  2. Engaging in active solidarity with other workers, worker formations, and workers self-organizing campaigns and initiatives towards the objectives of helping them become self-directed, democratic institutions committed to the socialization of production, the democratization of society, and the regeneration of the earth’s ecosystems. 

  3. Demonstrating the principle of non-competition with and between other workers. We need to be clear that when and where we compete has to be directed against capital and its representatives to deliberately break capital’s domination over the means of production and the relations of production. On a practical level, this type of competition must entail supporting the organizing initiatives of the workers in the firms we are struggling against to help them unionize and take over the enterprise and turn it into a worker cooperative. These worker cooperatives must be willing and able to become social production enterprises willing to engage in participatory planning processes to manage the economy. 

  4. Encouraging all existing unions, worker centers, and other worker formations to organize themselves to seize (socialize) the means of production by converting their workplaces into cooperatives or commons or social based sites of production, and support them with training materials, resource mobilization, mutual aid, consultative advice, and strategic deployment when and where necessary. 

  5. Organizing the un and under organized sectors of the working class, who constitute the vast majority of the class, particularly in the US, into vehicles of self organization that best fit their local conditions and enable them to engage successfully in the class struggle at every progressive stage of our development and scale of deployment. 

Oriented in this fashion, cooperatives can do more than just maximize returns for their members, which is the standard orientation of cooperatives following the entrepreneurial school of thought that dominates how most cooperatives are trained, developed, and positioned. The adoption of this orientation we argue, wil help bridge, and eventually, eliminate the historic divide between the cooperative and trade union movements in the US that started in the 1860’s, with the rise of craft unions, and was formalized in the 1930’s after the compromises and concessions made by leading elements of the trade union movement to facilitate the institutionalization of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), or the Wagner Act. 

The main compromise committed by the forces of the AFL-CIO in adopting the Wagner Act, was agreeing to the concession of keeping the trade unions from acting as a class. Instead, it compelled the trade unions to act as individual, largely isolated organizations that bargained with private employers on their own, by dividing essential tasks and roles into specialities and divisions, even within one corporation. So, instead of one bargain unit holding ground at Ford Motors or Walmart for instance, the law enabled and encouraged shop workers, truckers, clerks, etc. to each form their own bargaining units to compete with each other and negotiate with ownership and management. The act implicitly forbade formations like the International Workers of the World (IWW), which called for workers to organize under the banner of “one big tent”, to  work in unison to transform the economy, society, and the state. Since the 1930’s, most trade union bosses have viewed efforts by workers to form cooperatives as either a distraction, because of their struggles to grow to scale due to their lack of access to capital, or as outright enemies when they grow to scale and appear to steal market share from their employers. Given the present weaknesses of both the trade union and cooperative movements, particularly as it relates to membership scale and density, both of these sectors desperately need each other, if only to give themselves more leverage to contend with capital. So, it is pivotal that those of us in the cooperative and solidarity economy sector be clear about how and why we want and need to engage the trade union movement in particular, and workers movement in general overall. The road is clear, we either unite or perish, because our present conditions necessitate that we build ecosocialism or face extinction. 

As our dear comrade, ally and mentor Tim Schermerhorn used to say, “the working class has to use all of the tools in our toolkit, and all of the weapons in our arsenal” to unite the working class and defeat the forces of capitalism and imperialism in order to usher in a new world. We hope this little contribution shared on the occasion of International Workers Day 2023 and the 9th anniversary of Cooperation Jackson will help stimulate some much needed debate first and foremost amongst the cooperative and solidarity economy sectors of the working class about what it will take to transform the economy, and more broadly amongst the billions of toilers of the world, about what is needed to hasten our unity and bring the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the death cult of capitalism to an end. 

This essay originally published by Cooperation Jackson, on May 1st, 2023.  

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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

'Can't Be Allowed': Alarm as Mississippi Gov. Floats Privatization of Jackson Water System

"The response to a water crisis can't be turning the city water supply into a for-profit industry."


Water pressure has been restored in Jackson, but residents of Mississippi's capital still lack safe drinking water and now must contend with the threat of privatization—an idea floated by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and denounced by critics on Monday.

Although "the risk with respect to quantity of water has not been eliminated, it has been significantly reduced," Reeves said at a Labor Day press conference in the city. "People in Jackson can trust that water will come out of the faucet, toilets can be flushed, and fires can be put out."

While the immediate, flood-induced emergency appears to have been contained, Reeves made clear that when it comes to addressing the Jackson water system's longstanding issues, he is "open" to allowing a profit-maximizing corporation to take over a life-sustaining public good.

"Privatization is on the table," the governor said. "Having a commission that oversees failed water systems as they have in many states is on the table. I'm open to ideas."

The underfunded and understaffed O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant is now "pumping out cleaner water than we've seen for a very, very long time," said Reeves, citing local health officials. The governor expressed hope that the boil-water notice affecting more than 150,000 people since July 29 could be lifted within "days, not weeks or months."

"We know that it is always possible that there will be more severe challenges," he added. "This water system broke over several years and it would be inaccurate to claim it is totally solved in the matter of less than a week."

Flooding—made more common and intense by the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency—was the proximate cause of the recent loss of water pressure in Jackson, but disinvestment, the ultimate cause of the city's ongoing water crisis, can be traced back decades.

As Judd Legum noted Tuesday:

The integration of public schools in the 1960s prompted an exodus of affluent whites from Jackson, eroding the city's economic resources. Jackson's declining economic fortunes also prompted the departure of middle-class Blacks, causing an overall population decline. The city went from over 200,000 people in 1980 to less than 150,000 people today. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, but Jackson is even poorer than the state as a whole. Per capita income is just $21,906.

But while the city's population and tax base shrunk, it still has 114 square miles of aging water infrastructure to maintain. The state, dominated by Republicans, has been largely unwilling to help a city populated by Black Democrats. In 2021, for example, intense storms left Jackson residents without drinking water for a month. The city asked the state for $47 million in funding for emergency repairs. Mississippi allocated $3 million.

On Monday, Reeves acknowledged that "there are indeed problems in Jackson that are decades old, on the order of $1 billion to fix." The governor failed to mention, however, how the GOP's refusal to provide financial support at the scale required has helped perpetuate the dangerous status quo.

Reeves' privatization proposal, first reported by the nonprofit outlet Mississippi Free Press, was quickly met with condemnation on social media.

"This can't be allowed to happen," tweeted Josh Potash, an educational strategist at Slow Factory, a social and environmental justice NGO. "The response to a water crisis can't be turning the city water supply into a for-profit industry."

Civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill wrote on social media, "Beware privatization." She pointed to a 2019 report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which found that the growing privatization of water infrastructure impedes "the human right to affordable, clean water."

According to Mississippi Free Press: "Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has repeatedly said he opposes totally privatizing the water system by selling it to a private company. But on August 8, he said that he would consider a 'maintenance agreement' with a private company for operations and management of the system to alleviate staffing shortages."

Reeves, meanwhile, repeatedly criticized the city in his Monday remarks, "citing its longtime water billing issuesstaffing issues at the water plant, and a failure to provide the state or the federal government with a plan to fix the water system," the outlet added.

This is familiar territory for Reeves. Following the February 2021 freeze that left Jackson residents without safe water for a month, the governor said that the city needs to do a better job "collecting their water bill payments before they start going and asking everyone else to pony up more money."

However, Legum pointed out, Jackson's struggles to collect fees for water and to raise enough revenue to pay for routine maintenance can be attributed to Siemens, a multibillion-dollar corporation of the kind that Reeves has baselessly suggested could alleviate the city's water crisis.

As Legum explained:

In 2010, Siemens began pitching Jackson officials to hire the company to install all-new automated water meters and a new billing system. Siemens would also "make repairs to the city’s water treatment plants and sewer lines." Where would cash-strapped Jackson get the money for such a project? Siemens assured Jackson that the project would more than pay for itself. Jackson would have to pay Siemens $90 million—the largest contract in city history—but Siemens promised the new system would generate "$120 million in guaranteed savings" in the first 15 years, according to a lawsuit later filed by the city.


According to the city's lawsuit against the company, "[m]ore than 20,000 water meters were installed incorrectly or were unable to transmit meter readings to the system." That was about one-third of all meters in the city. Worse, the new meters "were also incompatible with the new billing system." Siemens, it seems, "had never paired the water meter and separate billing systems together, using Jackson as a '$90 million test case for an unproven system.'"

"In the end," Legum wrote, "Jackson was stuck with a $7 million annual bond payment [through 2041], a $2 million monthly shortfall in water fees, and a system of water meters that was not working."

Reeves, for his part, appears poised to forge ahead with little regard for history or democracy.

"I think there is an overwhelming desire for the leadership, those who represent Jackson and those who do not, to take action," said the governor.

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This article originally appeared at Originally published on September 6th 2022. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

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