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cooperatives

EcoUnionist News #51

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Fracking the EPA:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Socialism And Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises

By Richard D Wolff - Monthly Review, September 14, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Global capitalism has huge problems coping with the second worst collapse in its history. Its extreme and deepening inequalities have provoked millions to question and challenge capitalism. Yet socialists of all sorts now find it more difficult than ever to make effective criticisms and offer alternatives that inspire.

Part of the problem lies with classic socialism as it evolved over the last 150 years. Positions and strategies that once mobilized the victims and critics of capitalism are no longer, by themselves, effective. Not only has capitalism changed, but its celebrants also developed powerful critiques of socialist theory and especially of actually existing socialisms such as the Soviet Union (USSR). Socialism has not responded well to capitalism’s changes nor to its critiques; it has not made the necessary strategic and tactical shifts. Nonetheless, socialism retains the means to overcome its problems with some long-overdue self-criticism and innovation.

By classic socialism I mean the tradition that differentiated itself from capitalism chiefly in terms of macro-economic institutions. Classic socialists defined capitalism as (1) private ownership of means of production and (2) distribution of resources and products by means of market exchanges. The socialist alternative entailed (1) socialized or public ownership of means of production (operated by the state as agent of the people as a whole) and (2) distribution of resources and products via state planning. Socialists attacked capitalism for the injustices, cyclical instability, and gross productive inefficiencies (e.g. unemployment, stagnation, etc.) that they traced to private enterprises and markets. In the socialists’ alternative, a workers’ state would control or own enterprises and plan the distribution of resources and products – in the democratically determined interests of the majority.

Such criticisms of capitalism and that transitional program to an alternative system rewarded socialists in their political, economic, and cultural work. Socialist movements spread across the countries of the world during the nineteenth and to the last third of the twentieth century. Socialists effectively challenged capitalism, often took and held political power, and influenced many academics, intellectuals, popular organizations, artistic projects, and so on. But now socialism’s growth in many places has stalled or reversed.

A post-capitalist farming experiment – Potentials, problems and perspectives

By Von Jan-Hendrik Cropp - Keimform.de, September 27, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program

Potentials

Since one and a half years around 70 people are involved in a post-capitalist farming experiment. Situated in the middle of Germany a collective of 5 growers is feeding around 65 supporters, year-round with a full supply of vegetables. The production is organised along the needs and abilities of the community.

Internally the growers collective evaluates the needs of each “worker”. Both in financial terms (“wage”) and concrete needs (e.g. a place to live). Those needs have to be met in order to enable the individuals to sustainably organise within the project. This happens independently from the evaluation of the amount of time that each grower is willing to commit to the project (“working hours”). If both of this results in a feeling of enough resources to start growing, a budget is calculated summing up all production costs (including “wages”) and running investments of a one-year production.

This budget is then presented at a general assembly to the supporters who want to be fed by the collective. Each of them anonymously fills out a contract in which voluntary contributions are noted. These include regular financial contributions, skills (e.g. working on the land, massages for the growers) and resources (e.g. machinery and land) that people can offer. The commitment for delivery (both of veggies and contributions) in one-year long. Ideally, after this first bid, all of the growers collective’s needs and their budget are met. If not, another round of bids has to be made. In this process we aim at fulfilling needs non-monetarily wherever possible but monetarily wherever necessary.

In a second step the vegetable needs of the supporters are evaluated in order to enable a needs-oriented planning and production. The signed contract also includes other agreements around collective decision-making, criteria for the failure of the project, collective risks and responsibilities and so on.

To stress: Except for a commitment to the project through signing the contract, no more contribution is required be entitled the vegetables.

The harvest throughout the year is then shared in depots, twice a week, around the region. The distribution is organised by the supporters. It doesn’t consist of normed boxes but of pools of vegetables from which every supported can take according to their needs. Several tools in the depots are used to create transparency about the stocks of that day. Furthermore the community as a whole is encouraged to form working groups to organise beyond the basic production, such as in theoretical reflection, processing of left-overs, storage of produce; among others. If the working groups need any form of support (money, skills ressources) to function well, this can be discussed and solved in the generally assembly.

Why Aren’t Rural Electric Cooperatives Champions of Local Clean Power?

By John Farrell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance, August 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

When it comes to ownership, there are few better structures for keeping a community’s wealth local than a cooperative. So why is it that America’s rural electric cooperatives are tethered to dirty, old coal-fired power plants instead of local-wealth generating renewable power?

There are a lot of answers to this question, but it might start with this: electric cooperatives aren’t quite like other cooperatives.

The Seven Slipping Cooperative Principles

Cooperatives around the world adhere to the “Seven Cooperative Principles,” but electric cooperatives (at least in the United States) fail on several of these principles.

  • Voluntary and open membership. Nope. If you want electric service in cooperative territory, you sign with the cooperative. While it’s no different than rules for other types of utilities in the 30 states that grant utilities a monopoly service territory, it violates the principles of cooperatives.
  • Democratic control (one member, one vote). Not always. Some electric cooperatives award one vote per meter, and some customers (e.g. farmers, industry) have more than one meter. Furthermore, many cooperatives filter potential board candidates with “nominating committees.” And look, here’s a board election with no opposition!There’s also a big gap between cooperative member support for (paying more for) renewable energy and cooperative behavior. This 2013 survey in Minnesota, for example, shows little separation between urban and rural areas (where cooperatives are dominant) in support for renewable energy, yet cooperatives opposed every bill favoring clean energy in the 2013 legislative session.
  • Members control the capital of the cooperative.
  • Cooperatives maintain their autonomy and independence even if they enter into agreements with other entities. Questionable. Many cooperatives sign 40- or even 50-year purchase contracts with power suppliers to supply 95% of their entire sales, mostly from coal-fired power plants. Standard and Poor’s explains this in an evaluation of a Seminole Electric in Florida, a generation & transmission cooperative that sells to rural cooperatives. In their words, one of the utility’s credit strengths is, “A captive retail market and the ability to set rates through take-and-pay, all-requirements wholesale power agreements with nine of 10 members through 2045.”
  • Cooperatives provide educational opportunities to their members and the public on the benefits of cooperatives. Questionable. If you read rural electric cooperative newsletters, you’ll hear a lot about climate change but you’ll often find the phrase in quotes
  • Cooperatives work best when cooperating with other cooperatives. Questionable, refer to #4. Some of these power suppliers are “co-ops of co-ops,” but these long-term contracts have tethered the economic fortunes of cooperative members to the vagaries of the coal market (see below). More than any other type of utility (public or investor-owned), rural electric cooperatives are reliant on coal for their electricity fuel. The average U.S. utility is 38% coal-fired power.

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