Six years after the 2008 economic meltdown, the overwhelming majority of people in the U.S. and the E.U are still struggling. Most people know the system is rigged against them, and there’s no relief on the horizon. Disenchantment with “free-market” capitalism—and the global corporate/banking model that caused the Western economies to tank—is growing. The anti-globalization movement and Occupy Wall Street are the most well known expressions of resistance to the economic status quo. But disenchantment has filtered down to the person chatting in the barber’s chair or beauty shop.
Everybody knows somebody who is unemployed or underemployed or loaded with student debt. Devastated communities, like Jackson, Mississippi, realize that waiting passively for “jobs to come back”—to be granted at the whim of a corporation that extracts tax incentives from their community, pays low wages, and rewards it’s CEOs with obscene compensation packages—is no longer a viable option.
For things to really change, the extraction of wealth from our pockets and our communities has to stop. If we are to survive and support our families, we need humane and better paying jobs that provide a living wage. If the Earth is to survive, we have to move from an oligarch run, environment-destroying, war-centered economy to one that is life sustaining and wealth creating for everyone. But how can any of this happen when our elected officials are joined at the hip with those who have created this sick economy?
Waiting for austerity-addicted Washington, D.C. to create jobs isn’t the answer. Creating economic democracy, at the local level, is. Jackson, Mississippi, one of the poorest cities in the nation, is looking to older, successful, democratically run local cooperatives in Mondragon, Spain as a model for building wealth in their community.
What are the Mondragon cooperatives?
Michael Siegel writing at Truthdig gives a brief explanation of the Mondragon movement:
A leading international example of the cooperative movement is the Mondragon cooperative from the Basque region of Spain. Founded by a young Catholic priest and students of a technical school in 1956, Mondragon is now a cooperative of cooperatives, encompassing nearly 300 distinct businesses and employing over 80,000 people. Mondragon cooperative enterprises include banks, manufacturing, skilled and unskilled labor, public schools and a university. Consistent with a broader international movement to define and promote ethical cooperative enterprise, the pay differential between the highest and lowest paid workers at Mondragon is generally between 3-to-1 and 5-to-1, and the CEO of the entire Mondragon Corporation earns only nine times as much as the lowest-paid worker (this compares with an average ratio of 600-to-1 at large U.S. corporations).
Addressing Jackson, Mississippi’s wealth drain by creating local cooperatives
Siegel writes that although Jackson, Mississippi is 85 percent black, the student body of its public schools is 98 percent black, and the surrounding Hinds County is 75 percent black, out of the total of approximately $1 billion of annual public expenditures in the region, only 5 percent goes to black employees and black-owned businesses. The vast majority of government contracts are awarded to businesses outside of Jackson and even outside the state.
The late mayor Chokwe Lumumba secured a billion-dollar bond measure to rebuild Jackson’s infrastructure, including repairs to roads, water lines and sewage facilities. The funds will partly be used to incubate local worker cooperatives that could win contracts to rebuild the city. To address the draining of local resources out of the community, Lumumba put together a coalition of local and national groups including the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), the Jackson’s Peoples Assembly, and his office. “Jackson Rising” was born. Sadly, Chokwe Lumumba died of a heart attack in February of this year. The Jackson Rising conference was held in May. From the Jackson Rising website:
The primary objectives of the Conference were to stimulate and facilitate the creation of cooperative enterprises in Jackson to meet the unmet economic and social needs of the community. It also served as a space to launch Cooperation Jackson. Cooperation Jackson is an emerging cooperative network based in Jackson that is building four-interdependent and interconnected institutions: a federation of emerging worker cooperatives, a cooperative incubator, a cooperative education and training center, and a cooperative bank or financial institution.