ZNET article on Co-ops critiques libcom blog

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JimJams
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May 8 2013 09:34
ZNET article on Co-ops critiques libcom blog

Was on for Znet for the first time in a while and came across this:

Worker Cooperatives: Retooling the Solidarity Economy

It's a fairly standard article talking about co-ops but interestingly there is a "Rebuttal to Communists" at the bottom which links back to this libcom blog; Co-operatives, capitalism and the IWW by Steven, using it as the "(libertarian) communists" position. Unsurprisingly the rebuttal isn't great, seeming to willfully miss the point of the blog.

Here's the section in question. (it reads much easier on the website).

"Post Script: A Rebuttal to Communists

Communists often consider worker cooperatives vulgar because cooperatives function within the market. They’re not perfectly horizontal and don’t provide according to one’s need all the time. Some disillusioned anarchists, too, recognize the problems with very large cooperatives like Mondragon, which increasingly operate like multinational corporations, employing foreign labor and pursuing expansive growth.

Indeed, cooperatives are not a cure-all for state capitalism. But they’re damn better than the master-slave relationship entailed in capitalist enterprises.

Some examples of a (libertarian) communist critique of the co-op:

“[The cooperative] coffee shop will still be existing within a capitalist marketplace, and so will still be subjected to competition and the whims of the market.[i\]

[i]So while their boss may not cut Joe’s hours, if market forces dictate it they will have to cut their own hours themselves.”[i\]

[i]The marketplace is risky. If you don’t want to take risk, grow your own food and live off the grid. At least it’s the workers who decide to cut back, rather than executives, investment bankers and extractive shareholders who decide they want to a higher dividend and will cut back on safety equipment, pensions or insurance benefits.[i\]

[i]Cooperatives never promised to do away with fluctuations in the market, they merely offer an alternative to the master-slave relationship. Co-ops don’t throw discipline, sometimes draconian survival measures, out the window. Cooperatives need to be smart, by diversifying, assuring access to their own capital pool and investing in agriculture so that worst case senario, nobody goes hungry. There’s always work to be done in the soil.[i\]

[i]“Facing going out of business, the co-op members either internalise the capitalist boss, and cut their own wages, conditions or jobs,1 Or they go bust.”[i\]

[i]Prices fluctuate (even Lenin, in his New Economic Policy, embraced the price mechanism). Technologies become obsolete. These are the risks of marketplace production.[i/]

[i]But isn’t it better to pool risk with your community rather than a capitalist, who enjoys the payoff but both he and the labors share in the losses when the factory must be sold off? The workers would be unemployed, but the capitalist likely has assets elsewhere, so really the workers get screwed either way. Cooperatives are not a remedy for economic risk. And risk will always persist — even if we become primitivists who grow our own everything, there are bad harvests. But at least in a co-op there’s upside potential shared by the laborers.[i/]

[i]“Finally, the co-operative picture shows money (wages) being distributed equally to all the workers. The IWW aims for the abolition of wage labour. And if the idea is that after a revolution everyone will have to keep working and just all earn the same amount of money than actually this is not a socialist society at all but will actually be a form of dysfunctional capitalism.”[i/]

[i]Socialist opposition to money isn’t realistic, because, for all the evil done in its name, media of exchange are key to economic specialization (and will continue to be until post-scarcity and the singularity are upon us). The central problem with capitalism is that the worker does not receive the full value of her labor product. How will a collectivized production system ensure that one is paid their due (a.k.a, justice)? The case is adroitly outlined by anarchist Benjamin Tucker, in “Should Labor Be Paid or Not?”[i\]

[i]In No. 121 of Liberty, criticising an attempt of Kropotkine to identify Communism and Individualism, I charged him with ignoring the real question whether Communism will permit the individual to labor independently, own tools, sell his labor or his products, and buy the labor or products of others. In Herr Most’s eyes this is so outrageous that, in reprinting it, he puts the words the labor of others in large black type. Most being a Communist, he must, to be consistent, object to the purchase and sale of anything whatever; but why he should particularly object to the purchase and sale of labor is more than I can understand. Really, in the last analysis, labor is the only thing that has any title to be bought or sold. Is there any just basis of price except cost? And is there anything that costs except labor or suffering (another name for labor)?[i\]

[i]Labor should be paid! Horrible, isn’t it? Why, I thought that the fact that it is not paid was the whole grievance. Unpaid labor has been the chief complaint of all Socialists, and that labor should get its reward has been their chief contention. Suppose I had said to Kropotkine that the real question is whether Communism will permit individuals to exchange their labor or products on their own terms. Would Herr Most have been so shocked? Would he have printed that in black type? Yet in another form I said precisely that."

Reeks pf capitalist realism. Pretty terrible. Anyway, just thought I should post this here. Apologies if this has already been discussed on another thread. Did have a quick look but didn't see anything.

akai
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May 8 2013 10:43

Well, the author is an ideologue who is seeming to defend capitalist exploitation in at least one case. Mondragon owns companies which are NOT COOPERATIVES, even the bullshit kinds, where workers have shit wages and can be fired for organizing. We saw this here in the case of Fagor Mastercook.

Whether I am a "disillusioned anarchist" or not is irrelevant in the matter. The relationship in some Mondragon owned companies is just typical capitalist exploitation and there is no way to justify it or pretend it is better than anything else. I really don't know how working for peanuts, in rough conditions, with no say and repressed for organizing is "better" than anything else.

This is really wishy-washy and the author seems to be clueless about the fact that not all businesses which use the word "cooperative" really work that way, nor are all factual cooperatives the same in terms of being egalitarian or not.

Spikymike
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May 8 2013 11:32

The Znet article is far from a serious critique of the many more detailed communist analysis of workers co-ops which can be found on this site alongside those of parecon and other systems promoted as false alternatives to both capitalism and libertarian communism.

I posted a link to a Labornotes article elsewhere on one of the 'Co-operatives and Conflicts' library articles, which as one sympathetic to this as a claimed 'successful' solution to workers facing redundancy, and which certainly demonstrated factory workers abillity at 'management', non-the-less illustrates well the pressures and limitations on workers co-ops which undermine any idea of this as a solution to the problems which most workers experience in capitalism or as some kind of 'building block' towards a libertarian communist society.

It's worth a read. Part two here:

http://www.labornotes.org/2013/04/can-worker-owners-make-big-factory-run

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Chilli Sauce
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May 8 2013 12:28

I'm going to quote (or possibly paraphrase) Edmonton Wobbly here because I haven't seen anyone say it better:

Co-ops don't get rid of boss, they get rid of the workers.

Quote:
At least it’s the workers who decide to cut back, rather than executives, investment bankers and extractive shareholders who decide they want to a higher dividend and will cut back on safety equipment, pensions or insurance benefits.

Yup, that's the point.

Also, I think it's funny that they reference Lenin as some sort of authority

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May 8 2013 12:40

Uh yea, its funny how we anarchists have to be "disillusioned" to critique the shit out of capitalist wage labour.

I echo Edmonton here as well.

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May 8 2013 13:43
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I'm going to quote (or possibly paraphrase) Edmonton Wobbly here because I haven't seen anyone say it better:

Co-ops don't get rid of boss, they get rid of the workers.

Quote:
At least it’s the workers who decide to cut back, rather than executives, investment bankers and extractive shareholders who decide they want to a higher dividend and will cut back on safety equipment, pensions or insurance benefits.

Yup, that's the point.

Also, I think it's funny that they reference Lenin as some sort of authority

yeah, that's exactly what labour councillors say when they make cuts: "it's better we do it than have the Tories/council executives do it". I can also imagine Stalin telling the workers how much better it is to have your pay and conditions cut by the workers rather than by the capitalist pigs!

Thanks to the OP for pointing this article out, as it's in response to the one I wrote, however I feel it is too moronic to bother formulating a proper reply.

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May 8 2013 13:47

And besides, it's not like communists really oppose co-ops as such*, it's that we don't think they can play any definitive role in revolutionary strategy.

*whilst obviously we criticise co-ops that turn into poles of capital accumulation and the pressure on all businesses, including co-ops, to do so under capitalist market conditions.

snipfool
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May 8 2013 15:06

So he says co-ops remove the master-slave relationship but the workers are still a slave to the market just as the capitalist was, so hasn't the relationship just shifted slightly, and in the process removed a tangible object for worker struggle?

akai
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May 8 2013 18:29

Just to point out, the source of this article seems to be something even worse than ZNET - those "market anarchists" http://c4ss.org/content/18574.

Anyway, I am upset about the continual irresponsible disinformation given on Mondragon, which has overseas wage-slave operations.

Harrison
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May 8 2013 18:49
RedEd wrote:
And besides, it's not like communists really oppose co-ops as such*, it's that we don't think they can play any definitive role in revolutionary strategy.

*whilst obviously we criticise co-ops that turn into poles of capital accumulation and the pressure on all businesses, including co-ops, to do so under capitalist market conditions.

Hmm, i don't know about this, I think establishing self-organisation as a social and increasingly political tendency in the class requires the development of attractive meeting places / forums oriented around self-organisation like the France used to have the 'bourse du travail', which likely need to be run by cooperatives of staff in order to avoid embarrassment of wage struggles against organisations promoting wage struggle.

As much of a problem as these kinds of coops turning into poles of capital accumulation would be, I think there would be far greater short term problems to do with ineffectivity or quickly receding back into activisty comfort zones.

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Chilli Sauce
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May 8 2013 19:08

I agree with all that Harrison (obviously).

Perhaps if it was reworded?

Quote:
And besides, it's not like communists really oppose co-ops as such*, it's that we don't think they are, in themselves, any sort of revolutionary strategy.

In any case, all the responses on this thread have been fucking ace--really concise and well-articulated

Harrison
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May 8 2013 20:11

as a top pedant I'd agree with that rewording !

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May 8 2013 22:33
RedEd wrote:
And besides, it's not like communists really oppose co-ops as such*, it's that we don't think they can play any definitive role in revolutionary strategy.

*whilst obviously we criticise co-ops that turn into poles of capital accumulation and the pressure on all businesses, including co-ops, to do so under capitalist market conditions.

exactly. I mean sure, some co-ops might be nicer to work in than some other businesses. But then working for Google is probably nicer than working for McDonald's. It doesn't mean that anarchists/communists should advocate for people to try to get jobs at Google.

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May 9 2013 00:27

it's a really bad article. it talks about coops being more efficient because middle managers are eliminated but then in the next paragraph talks about Mondragon, which is run by a conventional hierarchy of managers & high end professionals.

It also doesn't understand how the market is a transmission belt of oppression. Because capitalists can use their relative monopoly over means of production to reduce wages to make profit, this sets the limit on what a coop can pay its own members. Also, dominant capitalist firms can suck up more of the total profit due to market dominance, so under-capitalized sectors may be forced to pay low wages if a coop. Talks about how taylorism is avoided but in fact a coop will have to do what other firms do to survive. if a capitalist firm reduces the number of workers by 20 percent thru a change in technique, a competing coop will have to do likewise or greatly reduce its wages.

And I'm not personally opposed to coops as a tactic. The workers who did the Republic Doors & Windows sitdown strike recently formed a coop after their firm went out of business. I think this is a reasonable tactic in such a situation...saves the jobs, gives the workers some control.

But forming coops is not a revolutionary strategy. We can't jump out of capitalism that way.

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May 9 2013 00:41

http://www.ueunion.org/ue-news/2013/grand-opening-of-worker-owned-factor...

In the context of American culture, I think this is a good thing. It says, "Workers can run things. We don't need the capitalists." Of course I know the ultra-lefts won't understand this.

akai
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May 9 2013 05:35

I agree with that (except they needed to raise capital, which I am sure was tough).

BTW, worked with a couple of colleagues on this basis for close to ten years, until it didn't work out. The main reason for that was pressure caused by the economic crisis. If you are service providers, you are under real pressure to do what the others are doing on the market.

Another co-op problem, which I can see from some @ friends who work in such in a couple of other countries, if you are a service provider, can be dealing with the market value of ones service if the service of the particular workers are worth more or less on the market. I know one co-op where the workers have different specializations, worth different rates on the market and that is an issue.

I know different types of co-ops, but one of the types of co-ops that seem the easiest to set up is when people who are service providers who would otherwise be freelancers get together. Mainly, the "economic sense" is to share some costs (like an office, equipment) and to be more attractive to clients (maybe offering a wider range and more comprehensive services). But sometimes the issues I mentioned above come in and mean, for example, that different workers have different salaries, either because they tag on extra money for "expertise" or because they take on more hours, or, for example where I was working, clients can also ask for a particular person from the company to deal with them, rather than another.

I am not saying though that co-ops are not reasonable alternatives in many cases, or that they cannot be decent and democratically-run workplaces. But I am saying that I have seen how a few run on the ground and run into problems with different issues of the capitalist reality.

One of the things I find poor in the ZNET/markcap article is that it seems to be written by somebody who just read shit in some propaganda articles and repeat it. For sure it has to be this way about Mondragon, because anybody who actually talked to any workers or fired unionists at the firm here would be damned angry and this capitalist co-op propaganda - and I am also sure Mondragon is not a co-op in China or Brazil either, although you would not learn that from ZNET. I think that we would learn a lot more about co-ops from the people who have actually worked in them at some time or another. As I have said, some of our comrades from different countries have experience at this and it would be interesting one day to hear the more complicated truth than just some hurrah co-opt propaganda. With this, you do have some very positive examples, I have known people who managed to create good, decent employment for themselves and whose projects functioned well between the workers but also ones who have had issues, including those that undermined the whole project. A lot of co-operatives also fail within the first couple of years. I know a few examples of that and the reasons (in those cases) ranged between bad inter-relations of workers (like resentment because some people felt they worked more than others) to failure to have a model that was competitive on the market.

In one situation I know, one comrade explained that they had all wanted to work "just a little" and thought if they had a co-operative, they could organize it so they could go and go as they please, etc. etc. But then they found out that, in order to get any business in the market they were in, they had to invest considerable time and basically unpaid labor, because they hadn't really considered that it would take them some time to get customers and that the customers would expect them to work in a regular way and be cheap. Well, it was a good example of how the comrades approached it in a ideological way and didn't have the real market conditions in mind. So they wound up working really hard, which undermined the purpose of why they wanted the co-op to begin with and got really grumpy and were dissatisfied and fighting all the time. This stuff, essentially, is a common element with a lot of small start-up businesses. So I suppose if people have unrealistic expectations when they start up anything, even a co-op, it can be really tough.

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May 9 2013 07:09

Anybody a subscriber to ZNET? Be interesting to post a link to this discussion thread in the comments section of the article to get a response from the author...

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May 9 2013 22:43

yeah, I can do it.

Werner Harding
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May 10 2013 03:02

I get the awful impression that this article was not meant to be a serious discussion of how "cooperatives" function within a profit motivated market. Rather it seems to be rhetorical and group thinky... just something for other zneters to agree with....

Harrison
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May 10 2013 10:58

I find that with a lot of znet stuff...

akai
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May 10 2013 15:13

It functions like a vanity project of some of the most soft-core thinkers associating themselves with anarchism, so what do you expect. Also, I wouldn't expect a "market anarchist" to be critical of any of that. I suppose that market anarchists and pareconartists should be perfectly happy with each other over at ZZZnet.

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Ethos
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May 10 2013 19:53

Edit: Nevermind. I just read akai's post pointing out the actual source of this article.

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May 11 2013 18:04

"So he says co-ops remove the master-slave relationship but the workers are still a slave to the market"

Ha. It should have dawned on whoever wrote that, that there is a problem with capitalism.

akai
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May 12 2013 13:40

Just an interesting side point. The other day I met some comrades from the CNT. These were the very gung-ho cooperativist types. They were asked by other comrades many things about the potential problematic issues with cooperatives. I won't get into that much, but just to say that I mentioned to them about this article and discussion on Libcom and they were sort of astounded that anybody is talking about Mondragon as a type of model, that it is just normal exploitation for them. So maybe I will ask one of them if they have time to point out some of the problems with it.