For many of us, pursuing careers in cooperatives is a means of applying, through the institutions we build by our daily work, principles that evoke a world of social justice. Perhaps -- in the midst of worrying about managing your cash flow, merchandising the latest product addition, or learning to be an effective board member -- that cooperative vision is hard to remember or be inspired by. Perhaps my calling it a vision of social justice seems overly abstract or even embarassingly idealistic. And perhaps our actual practice as businesses and social organizations sometimes contradicts the realization of those cooperative principles.
Despite all that, we can affirm that for our small part, cooperatives are helping establish economic democracy, a kind of democracy seldom mentioned in the U.S. and never approximated in its history.
Co-op principles define how consumers and workers can enact such democratic economics. As a means of meeting social needs, the cooperatives they form offer an alternative to the private ownership of resources.
These fundamentals may bear repeating, when all around us we witness the outrages of monopolistic, state-supported wealth. As is well known, in the United States the gap between the fortunes of most consumers and workers (including those likely to support a co-op) and the fortunes of the wealthy and powerful has grown wider for years. Our rulers (public and hidden) continue demonstrating their indifference in the face of enormous and growing social problems: 1 in 20 adults homeless, 1 in 10 unemployed or underemployed, 1 in 2 lacking adequate healthcare, and 10 in 10 suffering from environmental poisons. The official response to the evident deterioration of American economic and social life is more of the same: more unregulated movement of capital, more destructive weapons and imperial behavior, more cuts in programs for desperate social needs, more prisons.
Needless to say, strengthening our kind of business -- democratically controlled organizations distributing healthful products--is only one of many efforts needed to build a truly healthful society. But apparently we do need to say what is fundamental and what is incidental to our multiple crises at the close of the twentieth century: George Bush is incidental to our society's inability to sustain itself; our system of state capitalism, on the other hand, is fundamental to the present unsustainable patterns. As its rulers lead the U.S. down the path of world mercenary, promoting cannibalistic financial policies and ecological disaster, may we not be fooled into thinking that a change of faces will suffice for a change in direction.
Excuse me! I just can't help adding, in a time of war and pervasive propaganda about the glories of our technology and the American way, one more voice to those insisting that official American deserves protest and resistance. We must rebuild humane institutions in the cracks while dismantling a system whose fundamental orientation is enhancing wealth and power. We face a system which attends to social needs -- such as handicapped accessibility, as reported on the next page -- only after such protest and resistance makes demands upon it.
"Soon as you're awake
you're trained to take
what looks like the easy way out."
Too many people believe that the war of all against all -- one description of capitalist social relations -- is the best available world. Our task is to demonstrate otherwise.