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collectivization

Public Finance for the Future We Want (Lavinia Steinfort and Satoko Kishimoto)

By Lavinia Steinfort and Satoko Kishimoto (editors) - Transnational Institute, June 2019

Do you wish to see regenerative, equitable and democratic economies, built with collective power? We believe it is not only necessary but also very possible.Today’s economic system, fueled by an extractivist logic and prone to crises, has reignited and enflamed old monsters of racism, misogyny and other forms of fear and hate. Economic alternatives are needed now more than ever.

This book is about financial alternatives, drawn from real-world examples. It highlights the kinds of models that could become the new normal, building the basis for a democratically organized and life-sustaining future.Before the 2008 global financial crisis, the mantra was ‘there is no alter-native’ to the extractive economic model that has fostered excessive inequality and ecological destruction. Post-crisis, big banks were rescued and the blame misdirected to public spending.

This justified evermore harsh austerity measures, reinforcing the story that the public sector must rely on private finance to solve these ‘collaterals’.More than 10 years later, we know that private finance has not only failed to address these problems, it has intensified them. Civil society needs to unite behind systemic solutions before another financial bubble bursts.

Read the report (PDF).

Energy Democracy: Taking Back Power

By Johanna Bozuwa - Next System Project, February 27, 2019

Executive summary

Electric utility (re)municipalization is gaining popularity as a strategy to shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel extraction in the context of combating climate change. Across the world—from Berlin to Boulder—communities have initiated campaigns to take back their power from investor-owned (private) utilities and create publicly owned and operated utilities. Moreover, such efforts are increasingly taking on the perspective and language of energy democracy.

Energy democracy seeks not only to solve climate change, but to also address entrenched systemic inequalities. It is a vision to restructure the energy future based on inclusive engagement, where genuine participation in democratic processes provides community control and renewable energy generates local, equitably distributed wealth (Angel, 2016; Giancatarino, 2013a; Yenneti & Day, 2015). By transitioning from a privately- to a publicly owned utility, proponents of energy democracy hope to democratize the decision-making process, eliminate the overriding goal of profit maximization, and quickly transition away from fossil fuels.

Utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on a paradigm of extraction. Following the path of least resistance, they often burden communities who do not have the political or financial capital to object to the impacts of their fossil fuel infrastructure. Residents living within three miles of a coal plant, for instance, are more likely to earn a below-average annual income and be a person of color (Patterson et al., 2011); similar statistics have been recorded for natural gas infrastructure (Bienkowski, 2015).

These utilities are in a moment of existential crisis with the rise of renewables. From gas pipelines to coal power plants, their investments are turning into stranded assets, as political leaders and investors realize that eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix is paramount to creating healthy communities and stemming climate change.

Unfortunately, often publicly owned utilities in the United States have similar energy generation profiles to their privately owned counterparts (American Public Power Association, 2015). This paper explores the extent to which publicly owned utilities are reticent to take on the new energy paradigm and evaluates their ability to provide energy democracy compared to investor-owned utilities.

Doing Away With Private Utilities Is a Matter of Life and Death

By Ryan Smith - Broke Ass Stuart, January 16, 2019

The toll of this year’s wildfires is the second in as many years to break entirely too many state records, increasing the call to hold private utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric to the flames of their own making. When the last embers cooled there was no question that the Camp Fire that ravaged Butte County, along with the devastating fires that tore through Malibu and Ventura, were among the most destructive in California history inflicting an estimated $10 billion in property damage. This was only topped, in dollar value, by last year’s devastation where the state suffered an unprecedented $12 billion in direct property damage. From a purely economic standpoint these figures don’t consider the secondary impacts such as loss of tourism, rebuilding and the opportunity cost of once thriving communities no longer capable of any sort of economic activity.

These numbers, already adding up to a truly staggering cost, don’t even touch on the immeasurable human cost. 2017 set a grim toll of 43 confirmed dead, a total that was already greater than all loss of life from the previous decade of California wildfires combined. This past season is on track to double that with a confirmed 89 dead so far. One can only imagine how many more will join them in the coming months and years thanks to the long-term damage from noxious fumes released by this year’s fires. The sheer quantity of toxic particulates in the air during the height of the blaze made Butte County’s air the most hazardous on the planet.

There is little doubt who is responsible for this blaze. The most recent investigations have all but concluded the cause of the fires was due to improperly maintained wiring, property of PG&E, setting a deadly inferno ablaze. In the face of an estimated $30 billion in liability for the Camp Fire, PG&E, earlier this week, filed bankruptcy. They are not alone in such negligence, with SoCal Edison suspected of similarly irresponsible practices in Southern California. Such a failure to perform such basic, fundamental tasks – maintenance of consistent power flow and safety of California’s communities – is astonishing all by itself. Unfortunately this is far from the first time PG&E has screwed up this badly.

In the wake of the 2017 wildfires investigators concluded the most likely cause of an already horrific disaster was PG&E’s inability to do their jobs. Gerald Singleton, an attorney specializing in wildfire cases, argued PG&E’s history shows this was no surprise as the privately-owned utility company has a history of disregarding basic maintenance necessary both for community safety and delivering power. In 2010 PG&E’s lax management piled up until one of their natural gas pipelines exploded, snuffing out the lives of eight San Bruno residents. Their cost-cutting is so extreme that, only two years after the San Bruno disaster, PG&E found they didn’t have enough staff to properly mark all of their gas lines so the company hid the mistake by filing false claims stating they had. This reckless culture even extends to data management as shown by reports from earlier this year where PG&E managed to lose 30,000 people’s personal information in a single data breach.

Viewpoint: What’s Good for the Country? New Owners for GM

By Toni Gilpin - Labor Notes, December 13, 2018

Move over, Mr. Grinch: the executives at General Motors have you beat.

Just after Thanksgiving, GM declared that in 2019 it will close three major assembly and two smaller transmission facilities in North America. The bombshell announcement, which came despite GM’s recent robust profit reports, ensures unhappy holidays for some 6,000 production employees and their families, along with the communities where the assembly plants are located: Detroit-Hamtramck; Lordstown, Ohio; and Oshawa, Ontario.

The Grinch only threatened to ruin one day for a tiny town. GM’s decision devastates the future for thousands of workers across North America.

“We’ve done so much for this company,” Nanette Senters, a 20-year veteran at the Lordstown plant, told a Vox reporter. Like the other blue-collar workers affected by the shutdowns, Senters is a union member—the U.S. facilities are represented by the United Auto Workers, the Canadian plant by Unifor—and so earns good wages on the GM assembly line.

If you think decent compensation constitutes a big burden for GM, keep this in mind: labor costs make up less than 10 percent of the average vehicle.

Facing a grim New Year, the 55-year-old Senters sobbed quietly. “It’s a very depressed area; this factory has the best jobs here,” she said about Lordstown. “This is such an inhumane way to treat people.”

But employee pain is just collateral damage to General Motors CEO Mary Barra, whose top priority is “increasing shareholder value.”

After all, Barra, who pulled in $22 million from GM in 2017, most of it in stock awards and options, must know what she’s doing. Forbes hails her as among GM’s greatest CEOs, while Business Insider says she’s assembled “the best management team” the company has ever seen.

Barra’s shutdown announcement wowed Wall Street, sending GM stock soaring. And establishment voices were quick to attest that everyone benefits when the decision-making is left to bosses like Barra. “The old business adage is true,” the Chicago Tribune intoned. “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

Trump Is Handing Us the Weapon We Need to Avert Climate Catastrophe

By Johanna Bozuwa and Carla Skandier - Truthout, June 26, 2018

Recently, President Trump launched his latest scheme to keep imperiled coal and nuclear plants kicking. According to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News, the Department of Energy (DOE) plans to use Cold War-era authorization to require grid operators to buy energy generation from “at-risk” coal and nuclear facilities. News reports have breathtakingly referred to this plan as “nationalization.” In reality, it is just another bailout of a failing private industry.

Just a few months ago, energy regulators denied the Trump administration’s efforts to modify energy markets to benefit coal and nuclear power in the name of grid reliability. The administration is now seeking to use broad powers given to the president in the 68-year-old Defense Production Act to override those decisions. The Act allows the president to either nationalize vital companies or require purchasers to contract with them in order to avert a national security catastrophe.

Trump’s plan uses his authority under this Act to require grid operators to buy enough energy from the plants to stop any “further actions toward retirements, decommissioning, or deactivation” for two years while the DOE conducts additional grid resilience studies.

The circulated DOE memo argues that coal and nuclear power plants secure grid resilience because they store fuel on site, unlike renewables or gas (a claim disputed by grid regulators), and “too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement.” Therefore, the administration insists, the federal government must manage the decommissioning and “stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity.”

This is crony capitalism at its worst. The proposal was actually put forth by FirstEnergy, a for-profit electric utility in Ohio, in a thinly veiled attempt to get the government to subsidize its failing business model. Unable to compete with increasingly cheaper, cleaner sources of energy such as renewables, energy corporations like FirstEnergy are using their political power to extract a public bailout.

As was the case with the big Wall Street banks 10 years ago, this plan once again exposes the dangerous myth of the supposed superiority of free markets and for-profit, corporate forms of ownership. In reality, corporations have long known that in US capitalism, they can extract as much profit as possible when times are good and rely on the government to protect them against losses when the going gets rough.

A Brief History of Cooperatives in California

By John Curl - Grassroots Economic Organizing, June 11, 2018

COLLECTIVITY IN INDIAN TIMES

For thousands of years the San Francisco Bay Area supported a population of thousands of Ohlones, Miwoks, and Wintuns living in a stable life system based on peaceful collectivity.

The basic societal unit was a tribelet of typically about 250 people. There were about thirty permanent villages scattered around the Bay and into the delta, alongside rivers and creeks. The typical village had about fifteen houses arranged in a circle around a plaza, with a communal sweat lodge. Their houses were dome-shaped, framed with bent willow poles, between about six and twenty feet in diameter, each housing an extended family; the sweat lodges were usually twice as big as the family houses. Besides these main villages, there were other settlements used at different harvest seasons, and families and tribelets moved about throughout the cycle. The bay was also shared with tribelets having their primary villages inland, who made treks here in regular seasons for particular harvests.

Most tribelets spoke different dialects, but all lived in very similar life patterns. Food was readily available, so they lived entirely by hunting and gathering; hunger was entirely unknown. Annual intertwined harvests were connected with rituals and social celebrations oriented toward maintaining balance in the natural world and among people. Among the tribelets there was a complex network of trade, marriage, gift-giving, and ritual feasts. There were occasional conflicts between tribelets or villages, but differences were almost invariably settled with gifts as reparations to wronged parties.

Most hunting and gathering was done by extended families, but periodically they worked in larger communal groups. Communal hunts were invariably followed by great feasts and celebrations. Catches were divided in a ritual manner, with different parts of particular animals going to designated family members, relatives and neighbors.

Each tribelet had an elder man or woman in a chief-like position, but this position held mostly moral authority, and a chief's power varied with the respect commanded by deeds. A new chief was chosen by a consensus of elders, always however from the same family. The chief's main job was to maintain the traditional balances within the village, and tribelet, and with neighboring tribelets. This included seeing to the general welfare of the community. It was considered a great personal shame on the chief if anyone in the tribelet was needy. Cooperation and sharing were virtues, and competitiveness was not. People gained status in the community through generosity. Private property in land was unknown. Families and tribelets had "collecting rights" to particular areas to gather foods, but were expected to be generous to neighbors; should a harvest in one area fail, the unfortunate tribelet or family could traditionally share in the resources of adjoining areas. It was virtually unthinkable to let a neighbor go hungry. The elderly, crippled, sick, and children were well cared for by the village. A person's goods were not handed down in the family after death, but were dispersed or destroyed.

Building post-capitalist futures

By various - Transnational Institute - June 2018

Over several sunny days in June 2018, a diverse group of 60 activists and researchers from 30 countries convened for a multi-day meeting to discuss the collective building of post-capitalist futures. The meeting provided the opportunity for a rich exchange of perspectives and experiences, as well as deep discussion and debate. The goal of the meeting was not to achieve consensus both an impossible and unnecessary endeavour but rather to stimulate mutual learning, challenge one another and advance analyses.

One session of the meeting – Transformative Cities – was held not as a closed discussion but as a public event attended by 300 people at which prominent activists and academics engaged with municipal leaders and politicians on the role cities can play in building post-capitalist futures.

In line with the meeting, this report does not intend to advance one line of analysis, but rather summarise some of the key ideas and issues discussed and debated (not necessarily in the order they were articulated). To summarise necessarily means to leave things out. It would be impossible to fully capture the incredible richness of the discussion that took place, but hopefully this report provides a valuable sketch.

Read the report (PDF).

Corbyn calls for “public, democratic control and ownership” of energy in order to transition to renewables

Jeremy Corbyn speech to Alternative Models of Ownership Conference - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 11, 2018

Disclaimer: The IWW does not organizationally participate in electoral campaigns, but while we remain skeptical of the efficacy of Corbyn's call for nationalization absent a militant, rank-and-file, independent workers' movement, the proposal he lays out hereis something that could inspire such a movement to organize around.

It is a pleasure to close today’s conference which has shown once again that it is our Party that is coming up with big ideas.

And we’re not talking about ideas and policies dreamed up by corporate lobbyists and think tanks or the wonks of Westminster, but plans and policies rooted in the experience and understanding of our members and our movement; drawing on the ingenuity of each individual working together as part of a collective endeavour with a common goal.

Each of you here today is helping to develop the ideas and the policies that will define not just the next Labour Government but a whole new political era of real change.  An era that will be as John said earlier  radically fairer  more equal  and more democratic.

The questions of ownership and control that we’ve been discussing today go right to the heart of what is needed to create that different kind of society.

Because it cannot be right, economically effective, or socially just that profits extracted from vital public services are used to line the pockets of shareholders when they could and should be reinvested in those services or used to reduce consumer bills.

We know that those services will be better run when they are directly accountable to the public in the hands of the workforce responsible for their front line delivery and of the people who use and rely on them.  It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts.

That’s why, at last year’s general election, under the stewardship of Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald  and Environment Secretary, Sue Hayman, Labour pledged to bring energy, rail, water, and mail into public ownership and to put democratic management at the heart of how those industries are run.

This is not a return to the 20th century model of nationalisation but a catapult into 21st century public ownership.

The failure of privatisation and outsourcing of public services could not be clearer.

Ecosocialism or Bust

By Thea Riofrancos, Robert Shaw, Will Speck - Jacobin, April 20, 2018

At this past February’s “Alternative Models of Ownership Conference” hosted by the Labour Party in London, party leader Jeremy Corbyn asserted the centrality of energy policy to his vision of socialism: “The challenge of climate change requires us to radically shift the way we organize our economy.” He outlined a radical vision of an energy system powered by wind and solar, organized as a decentralized grid, democratically controlled by the communities that rely on it, and — crucially — publicly owned.

Corbyn’s declaration laid out an exciting and ambitious vision of how socialists can press on climate change. But it also served as a reminder that socialists need to get serious about the politics of energy — lest disaster capitalism continue to shape energy policy. We must get involved in concrete campaigns to transform how energy is governed and push for a just transition to renewable sources. The terrain of energy politics is multifaceted, comprising the production, transformation, distribution, and consumption of energy. Energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, biomass, hydropower, sunlight, and wind each entail distinct social and environmental costs related to their extraction or capture, and their subsequent transformation into usable electricity. Electrical grids connect energy production and transformation to its sites of consumption. Grids encompass both the high-voltage transmission of electricity from where it’s generated to population centers, and the direct distribution of that electricity to homes and businesses. In the US, beginning in the early 1990s, energy deregulation encouraged a separation in ownership between energy generation and its distribution, resulting in an increasingly complex set of state-level markets of competing energy providers, which in turn sell energy to the private, public, or cooperatively owned utilities.

The Case for Nationalizing Elon Musk

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, February 8, 2018

On Tuesday, Elon Musk launched some stuff into space. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket was shot into the Solar System, tailed by a Tesla Roadster blasting David Bowie songs, reportedly the fastest car ever to be released into orbit. Each Falcon launch is only expected to cost around $90 million—a bargain in the world of extraterrestrial exploration. 

Scientific American gawked, “Elon Musk Does It Again,” praising the “bold technological innovations and newfound operational efficiencies that allow SpaceX to not only build its rockets for less money, but also reuse them.” That view—shared by several other outlets—fits comfortably with the Tony Stark-like image Musk has crafted for himself over the years: a quirky and slightly off-kilter playboy genius inventor capable of conquering everything from outer space to the climate crisis with the sheer force of his imagination.

One of Musk’s long-term goals is to create a self-sustaining colony on Mars, and make humanity an interplanetary species. He hopes to shoot two very wealthy people around the moon at some point this year. Musk has invested an awful lot of public money into making those dreams a reality. But why should Americans keep footing the bill for projects where only Musk and his wealthy friends can reap the rewards? Enter: the case for nationalizing Elon Musk, and making the U.S. government a major stakeholder in his companies.

The common logic now holds that the private sector—and prodigies like Musk, in particular—are better at coming up with world-changing ideas than the public sector, which is allegedly bloated and allergic to new, outside-the-box thinking. Corporations’ hunt for profits and lack of bureaucratic constraints, it’s said, compel cutting-edge research and development in a way that the government is simply incapable of. With any hope, more of these billionaires’ breakthroughs than not will be in the public interest.

The reality, as economist Mariana Mazzucato argues in her 2013 book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, is very different. Many of the companies that are today considered to be headed by brilliant savants—people like Steve Jobs and, yes, Elon Musk—owe much of their success to decades of public sector innovation, through repackaging technologies developed over the course of several decades into new products. Take the iPhone, essentially a collection of Defense Department research and National Science Foundation-grant projects packed into one shiny machine.

“The prospect of the State owning a stake in a private corporation may be anathema to many parts of the capitalist world,” Mazzucato writes, “but given that governments are already investing in the private sector, they may as well earn a return on those investments.”

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