Michael Moore on Co-ops, Paul Hazen on Public Policy

baker.jpg
Making bagels.

Workplace democracy and worker-owned cooperatives are strongly recommended in Michael Moore’s latest documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” One such business, Alvarado Street Bakery, is highlighted in the film. Alvarado Street Bakery, now in its 30th year, sells sprouted-wheat bread and bagels nationally and internationally, and is 100-percent owned and managed by the employees. Several employees of this Petaluma, Calif., co-op were interviewed for the film and were introduced to the crowd at a Sept. 15 Beverly Hills premiere.

Moore expanded on his views in an interview by Naomi Klein, published in the Oct. 12 issue of The Nation, including these passages:

MM: Greed has been with human beings forever. We have a number of things in our species that you would call the dark side, and greed is one of them. If you don’t put certain structures in place or restrictions on those parts of our being that come from that dark place, then it gets out of control. Capitalism does the opposite of that. It not only doesn’t really put any structure or restriction on it. It encourages it; it rewards it.

NK: The thing that I found most exciting in the film is that you make a very convincing pitch for democratically run workplaces as the alternative to this kind of loot-and-leave capitalism… Are you seeing any momentum out there for this idea?

MM: People love this part of the film. I’ve been kind of surprised because I thought people aren’t maybe going to understand this or it seems too hippie-dippy—but it really has resonated in the audiences that I’ve seen it with.

But, of course, I’ve pitched it as a patriotic thing to do. So if you believe in democracy, democracy can’t be being able to vote every two or four years. It has to be every part of every day of your life.

NK: One of the biggest barrier I’ve found in my research around worker cooperatives is not just government and companies being resistant to it but actually unions as well….You had your U.S. premiere at the AFL-CIO convention. How are you finding labor leadership in relation to this idea? Are they open to it, or are you hearing, “Well, this isn’t really workable”?

MM: I sat there in the theater the other night with about 1,500 delegates of the AFL-CIO convention, and I was a little nervous as we got near that part of the film, I was worried that it was going to get a little quiet in there. Just the opposite. They cheered it. A couple people shouted out, “Right on!” “Absolutely!”

I think that unions at this point have been so beaten down, they’re open to some new thinking and some new ideas. And I was very encouraged to see that.”

 

Adding to Michael Moore's comments, here are current ideas from Paul Hazen, president and CEO, National Cooperative Business Association:

Shifting Public Policy Toward Cooperatives
…Co-ops must engage the nitty-gritty part of change, public policy. Changes in the law can have tangible, guaranteed benefits for cooperatives that even the publicly friendliest administration cannot offer.

Like the political climate of the early 1900s, today we have a rich opportunity to influence public policy at the highest level, particularly with an Obama Administration that continues to demonstrate support for cooperative development….

Many of us know that cooperatives can struggle to raise equity for their businesses. Co-ops have traditionally focused on the provision of essential services, not the maximization of profit. This has sometimes limited cooperatives’ abilities to expand. But what if co-ops could offer a legally sanctioned mechanism to the public to raise funds for the business?

We could accomplish this through tax code revisions….A tax credit would give average people an incentive to invest in their community, building wealth from the bottom-up. Money wouldn’t disappear from the communities people live in.

The tax credit wouldn’t be an anomaly of public policy. The government regularly offers tax breaks to catalyze small business growth, and co-ops should be no exception.
[Excerpts from the May–June Cooperative Business Journal.]

See other articles from this issue: #145 November - December - 2009