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Forum Post: Jackson Rising: Black Millionaires Won't Lift Us Up, but Cooperation and the Solidarity Economy Might

Posted 4 months ago on May 15, 2014, 4:10 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5854)
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Jackson Rising: Black Millionaires Won't Lift Us Up, but Cooperation and the Solidarity Economy Might

Thursday, 15 May 2014 10:20
By Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/23720-jackson-rising-black-millionaires-wont-lift-us-up-but-cooperation-and-the-solidarity-economy-might

"...The hundreds gathered at Jackson Rising spent the weekend exploring and discussing how to fund, found and foster a different kind of business enterprise – democratically self-managed cooperatives...."

For a long time now we've been fed and been feeding each other the story that uplifting black communities means electing more faces of color to public office and creating more black millionaires. Those wealthy and powerful African Americans, in the course of their wise governance, their normal business and philanthropic efforts can be counted on to create the jobs and the opportunities to largely alleviate poverty and want among the rest of us. The only problem with this story is that it's not working, and in fact never really did work.

It was a myth, a fable, a grownup fairy tale which told us nothing about how the world and this society actually functioned.

In the real world, we now have more black faces in corporate board rooms, more black elected officials and more black millionaires than ever before, alongside record and near-record levels of black child poverty, black incarceration, black unemployment, black land and wealth loss. The fortunes of some of our most admired black multimillionaires, like Junior Bridgeman and Magic Johnson, rest firmly on the continued starvation wages and relentless abuse of workers in his hundreds of fast food and other restaurants.

Over the first weekend in May about 320 activists from all over the country, including 80 or more from Jackson and surrounding parts of Mississippi converged on the campus of Jackson State University for Jackson Rising. They came to seek and to share examples of how to create not individual success stories, but stories of collective self-help, collective wealth-building, collective success and the power of mutual cooperation.

The hundreds gathered at Jackson Rising spent the weekend exploring and discussing how to fund, found and foster a different kind of business enterprise – democratically self-managed cooperatives. They reviewed future plans for and current practices of cooperative auto repair shops, laundries, recycling, construction, and trucking firms. They discussed cooperative restaurants, child and elder care coops, cooperative grocery stores, cooperative factories, farms and more, all collectively owned and democratically managed by the same workers who deliver the service and create the value.

Participants at Jackson Rising learned a little of the story of Mondragon, a multinational cooperative enterprise founded in the Basque country, the poorest and most oppressed part of Spain. That country now has about a 25% unemployment rate, but in the Basque country where Mondragon cooperatives operate factories, mines, retail, transport, and more, the unemployment rate is 5%. When a Mondragon factory or store or other operation has to close because of unprofitability, Mondragon retrains and relocates those workers to another of its enterprises. Mondragon's cooperative ethos makes it so different from other enterprises, one representative explained, that they're about to have to offer their own MBA program, to guarantee they get trained managers without the bloodsucking, predatory mindset taught and valued at most business schools. They heard that Mondragon is now partnering with the UFCW and local forces to establish cooperative grocery stores and enterprises in Cinncinnati.

Those attending Jackson Rising heard about the concept of a solidarity economy, an economy not based on gentrification or exploitation or the enrichment of a few, an economy based on mutual cooperation to satisfy the needs of many, to stabilize neighborhoods and communities, to provide needed jobs and services.

Cooperation, or as it's sometimes called, "the cooperative movement" is a model that is succeeding right now in tens of thousands of places for tens of millions of people around the world. It's a model than can succeed in the United States as well. The dedicated core of activists in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, MXGM, after deeply embedding themselves locally in Jackson Mississippi and briefly electing one of their own as mayor in the overwhelmingly black and poor city of half a million, are determined to show and take part in a different kind of black economic development.

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[-] 5 points by LeoYo (5854) 4 months ago

To that end, they've formed what they call "Cooperation Jackson," with four short term objectives

1.Cooperation Jackson is establishing an educational arm to spread the word in their communities about the distinct advantages and exciting possibilities of mutual uplift that business cooperatives offer.

2.When Mayor Chokwe Lumumba was still in office, Cooperation Jackson planned to establish a "cooperative incubator." providing a range of startup services for cooperative enterprises. Absent support from the mayor's office, some MXGM activists observed, a lot of these coops will have to be born and nurtured in the cold.

3.Cooperation Jackson aims to form a local federation of cooperatives to share information and resources and to ensure that the cooperatives follow democratic principles of self-management that empower their workers. We've always said "free the land," observed one MXGM activist. Now we want to "free the labor" as well.

4.Finally Cooperation Jackson intends to establish a financial institution to assist in providing credit and capital to cooperatives.

The MXGM activists are serious thinkers and organizers. They conducted door to door surveys of entire neighborhoods in Jackson, complete with skills assessments to discover how many plumbers, plasterers, farmers, carpenters, construction workers, truck mechanics, nurses and people with other health care experience live there, and how many are unemployed. You'd imagine any local government that claimed it wanted to provide jobs and uplift people might do this, but you'd be imagining another world. In Jackson Mississippi, local activists are figuring out how to build that new and better world. The US Census Bureau gathers tons of information useful to real estate, credit, banking and similar business interests, but little or nothing of value to those who'd want to preserve neighborhood integrity and productively use the skills people already have.

In the short run, new and existing cooperatives in Jackson or anyplace else won't get much help from government. Mike Beall, president and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association pointed out that the federal budget contains a mere $7 million in assistance for agricultural cooperatives, and that the Obama administration has tried to remove that the last two years in a row. There was, he said, no federal funding whatsoever to assist non-agricultural business cooperative startups or operations

By contrast, Wal-Mart alone receives $7.8 billion in tax breaks, loophole funds and public subsidies from state, federal and local governments every year, and according to one estimate, about $2.1 million more with each new store it opens. Another single company, Georgia Power is about to receive $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees and outright gifts for the construction of two nuclear plants alongside its leaky old nukes in the mostly black and poor town of Shell Bluff. When it comes to oil companies, military contractors, transportation infrastructure outfits, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals and so on there are hundreds more companies that get billions in federal subsidies. Cooperatives get nothing. In the state of Mississippi, according to one Jackson Rising workshop presenter, non-agricultural cooperatives are technically illegal.

All these traditional corporations have one thing in common. Unlike democratically run cooperatives which share their profits and power, traditional corporations are dictatorships. Their workers don't, in most cases, have the freedom of speech at work or the opportunity to form unions, and certainly don't get to share in the wealth their labor creates for their bosses. To normal capitalist corporations, those workers, their families and communities are completely disposable. Detroit used to be a company town for the auto industry. When that industry grew and consolidated enough to disperse production in lower wage areas around the world it quickly abandoned Detroit and its people leaving a shattered, impoverished polluted ruin behind.

The new mayor of Jackson, who ran with developers' money against the son of the late Chokwe Lumumba and narrowly defeated him, locked a number of city employees affiliated with the old administration out of their offices immediately after the election, before even being sworn in. The city removed all sponsorship and assistance to the Jackson Rising conference. There was a campaign in local press branding its organizers, communists, terrorists, unpatriotic and unfit to discuss the serious matters of job creation and building local economies. But the conference ran smoothly anyway, with invaluable assistance from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund, an organization that has help save the land and land rights of more black farmers over the last forty years than any other, and the Praxis Project, the Fund for Democratic Communities, the Highlander Research and Education Center, and several others.

"At Jackson Rising, hundreds of movement activists from around the country discovered, rediscovered, began to visualize and explore cooperation and the solidarity economy..."

"This new mayor of ours made a big mistake. What would it cost him, even if he imagines cooperatives cannot succeed, to give his blessing to this gathering?" asked Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson. "As an organizer I can now ask why he's against job creation? He's got no answer to that.... It's hindsight of course, but maybe we should have paid attention to this piece first, and the electoral effort only afterward. Who's to say that if we'd done it that way we would not have been more successful in retaining the mayor's seat."

This past weekend was the 50th anniversary of the first freedom rides which kicked off the youth-led phase of the southern Freedom Movement. Something of similar importance happened in Jackson Mississippi last weekend.

At Jackson Rising, hundreds of movement activists from around the country discovered, rediscovered, began to visualize and explore cooperation and the solidarity economy. They met with their peers from North Carolina, Ohio, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and of course Mississippi already engaged in pulling it together. It's an economy not based on gentrification as black urban regimes in Atlanta, New Orleans and other cities have and still are doing. It's not based on big ticket stadiums or shopping malls or professional sports teams, none of which create many permanent well paying jobs anyway. It's not based on fast food and restaurant empires that follow the McDonalds and Wal-Mart model of low wages and ruthless exploitation. It's about democracy and collective ownership of business, collective responsibility and collective uplift.

It's coming. Jackson Mississippi is already rising, and your community can do the same. Black Agenda Report intends to stay on top of this story in the coming weeks and months.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5854) 4 months ago

Fast-Food Protests Go Global

Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:47
By John Logan, Truthout | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/news/item/23716-fast-food-protests-go-global

Workers around the world are emulating the fast-food protests that started in New York in 2012. Their fight for dignity at work, better wages, stable hours, opportunities for advancement and no more wage theft has gone global.

On Thursday, May 15, in the largest job actions in the industry's history, fast-food workers in over 30 countries on 6 continents will participate in protests over poverty wages, lack of full-time positions, poor working conditions and management retaliation. US workers will protest in over 160 cities throughout the country, the tenth and largest round of strikes since the first actions in NYC in November 2012. Fast-food workers participating in the "Fight for 15" include those in Alabama, the Carolinas and other states not known for their labor activism.

It is easy to understand why workers are protesting an industry that has become known for poverty wages and poor working conditions. Fast-food jobs around the globe fall into three basic categories:

  1. In countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Australia, workers belong to vigorous unions, engage in collective bargaining and enjoy decent wages and working conditions. In Denmark, fast-food workers earn $20 per hour and receive good benefits. These gains did not come easily. The Danish union struggled with fast-food companies for almost a decade before winning a strong voice and good working conditions in the mid-2000s. Although they enjoy decent jobs, workers in these countries were deeply affected by hearing about terrible conditions in the US and elsewhere at a two-day meeting in New York last week. They would benefit from stronger unions and better conditions in other countries and will participate in solidarity actions in support of fast-food workers around the world.

  2. In other European and Latin American countries, wages and conditions are significantly worse than in Scandinavia and Australia. Workers have no unions or weak unions, poverty-level wages and poor working conditions. Workplaces experience extremely high turnover. In protest against low standards, major actions are expected in the United Kingdom, France and Italy (where a national strike is planned for Friday). Workers in New Zealand will also participate in the global protests. In Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Panama, fast-food workers are organizing, and several other Latin American countries will see significant protests on Thursday. Japan and Korea also have comparatively poor conditions. In most of these countries, wage theft and retaliation against union activists are commonplace, but the most critical issues are unacceptably low pay, inconsistent scheduling and a lack of hours, including "mobile working hours" and "zero-hour contracts."

  3. Even worse wages and conditions dominate the fast-food sector in large parts of Asia, such as the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nepal and Africa. Moroccan fast-food workers will participate in Thursday's protests for the first time in Africa. Relative to the local economies, fast-food jobs in these countries are by no means the worst jobs. They at least belong to the regular economy, whereas tens of millions of workers in the informal sector toil under even more arduous and precarious forms of employment. But fast-food workers in Asia and Africa are starting to organize: in Thailand, Philippines, India and elsewhere, they are protesting poverty wages, insecure jobs and poor working conditions.

The United States: Poverty Wages, Poor Conditions, Skyrocketing Inequality

Where does fast-food work in the US fit into this global picture? At best, it is a poor example of the second category, with among the lowest wages, poorest conditions, worst career opportunities and most rampant wage theft among this middle group. In March, employees in New York, California and Michigan filed class-action lawsuits against McDonald's, alleging systematic wage violations, and protested the fast-food giant in 33 cities later that month. US fast-food corporations have profited enormously from low-road labor practices and have contributed to skyrocketing levels of inequality. CEOs receive compensation more than 1200 times that of non-managerial employees. Hourly paid workers earned an average of $9.13 in 2012, while the CEO income increased from an average $4.4 million in 2000 to $26.7 million in 2012. Among the top ten occupations by employment in 2013, fast-food employees earned the least, with an average of $18,800 per year, compared with a national average of $46,440. Thus, several countries in Europe and Latin America have better overall pay and working conditions than does the US fast-food industry.

Fast food is a global industry. While companies try to hide behind the franchise system and the rhetoric of "small business owners," fast-food employers are global corporations with billions of dollars in annual profits. Fast-food workers must fight for decent wages and conditions on a global level. While a coordinated campaign for an international framework agreement with McDonald's may not happen anytime soon, one can easily imagine unions in at least half a dozen countries coordinating their struggles with the major corporations.

The fast-food protests that started in New York in 2012 have caught the imagination of workers around the world. Their fight for dignity at work cannot be won in the US alone, but US workers, who suffer from poverty wages, poor conditions, few opportunities for advancement and rampant wage theft, will continue to be at the center of that struggle.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5854) 4 months ago

The National Restaurant Association Spends Big to Keep Wages Low

Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:42
By Brendan Fischer and Mary Bottari, PR Watch | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/23715-the-national-restaurant-association-spends-big-to-keep-wages-low

A majority of the Senate voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour recently, yet the bill failed to clear the 60 vote hurdle necessary for passage -- thanks in no small part to the political power of the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry's trade association.

For years, the "Other NRA" has flexed its political muscle to keep wages low and to freeze the tipped minimum wage at just $2.13 per hour. Plus, thanks to non-stop NRA lobbying, the House last month passed a bill changing the threshold for employer-provided coverage under the Affordable Care Act to deny healthcare to employees who work 30 hours per week.

This is thanks in no small part to the Other NRA's super-sized political giving.

According to an analysis by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROCUnited), the $683 billion industry's trade association itself has poured $12.6 million directly into federal politicians' campaign coffers since 1989. NRA member organizations have chipped-in around $51 million more: McDonald's, for example, has given $5.8 million to federal politicians, Darden (parent company of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Capitol Grille) $5.6 million, and Wendy's $2.3 million. The biggest spender is NRA member Walt Disney; the creator of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck disclosed $14.1 million in contributions since 1989.

The NRA has also spent millions on the state level. It has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to quash local efforts to enact paid sick leave ordinances -- in Oklahoma, for example, the state NRA affiliate worked with Governor Mary Fallin (an ALEC alum) to crush both paid sick leave ordinances and minimum wage ordinances in one fell swoop.

Notably, as the restaurant industry pours tens of millions into politics and fights to keep wages low, it has seen five solid years of record-breaking profits and growth: the industry is expected to increase its profits by $24 billion in 2014, and hit $683 billion in sales.

Super-Sized Political Giving

For decades, the NRA's political spending has bought it mountains of influence.

In the 1990s, it served up enough campaign contributions to persuade Congress to set the minimum wage for tipped workers at just $2.13 an hour. This archaic provision means that big restaurant chains have managed to shift responsibility for paying their workers onto us, the consumers.

That's not the only avenue through which the NRA's political spending leads to a public dunning. Thanks to an abysmally low minimum wage for tipped workers at restaurants like Olive Garden and non-tipped workers at McDonald's and Wendy's, nearly 60 percent of the $600 billion restaurant industry's employees are low-wage workers -- meaning they are twice as likely to be on public assistance as the rest of the population. The National Employment Law Project estimates that the public assistance provided to fast-food workers costs taxpayers at least $3.8 billion a year. Taxpayers fund McDonald's employees to the tune of $1.2 billion a year in public assistance. The majority of restaurant workers are adult women, many with kids to support.

While moms and kids are struggling, restaurant CEOs are enjoying eye-popping salaries subsidized by the taxpayers. According to a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, big restaurants have exploited a tax loophole to write off more than $200 million in executive "performance pay" over just the past two years. In other words, we as consumers are not only stuck with paying restaurant workers' wages, but we as taxpayers are stuck subsidizing the industry's profits with public assistance programs for their underpaid employees and corporate welfare for their overpaid CEOs.

A Side of Revolving-Door Lobbying and a Dash of Front Groups

The NRA's political giving is served with a side of influence-peddling. Between 2008 and 2013, the NRA more than doubled its count of registered lobbyists, from 15 to 37. At least 27 of the NRA's lobbyists have come through the "revolving door," meaning they jumped from Congressional jobs to lobbying gigs, and then play off their contacts inside the government to advance the restaurant industry's interests. What's more, the NRA's top member companies -- Darden, YUM! Brands (parent of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut), Walt Disney, McDonald's, Marriott, Sodexo, Aramark, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola -- added another 127 registered lobbyists last year. That's a lot of lobbying power.

In addition to its own paid lobbyists, the industry employs a crew of surrogates to do its dirty work in the public sphere. Salon just reported that the NRA is meticulously tracking the activities of fast food worker advocates and worker advocacy organizations. Salon reports that the Other NRA approved an "additional" $600K to attack ROCUnited. The Other NRA also appears to back groups like ROCexposed.org (a front group linked to notorious astroturf flak Richard Berman), as well as prominent economists like Douglas Holtz-Eakin who push anti-minimum wage rhetoric.

Another example of restaurant industry astroturf is the Employment Policies Institute, which poses as a "think tank" and commissions reports and runs ads and op-eds opposing minimum wage hikes. But EPI is run out of the offices of Berman & Co., Berman's PR firm, which represents the restaurant industry -- although over 80 percent of journalists fail to disclose those ties. Other Berman projects also advance the restaurant industry's agenda: front groups like the "Center for Consumer Freedom" have fought for years against indoor smoking bans and nutrition labeling requirements, which the industry has long opposed.

NRA "Made a Huge Difference" In Blocking State Minimum Wage Increases

And that's just on the federal level. The NRA and its state chapters have given millions more to state and local candidates, and spent countless millions more on state-level lobbying. And in recent years, the NRA has been at the forefront of the push back against state and municipal efforts to enact their own minimum wage increases and paid sick day requirements.

Last June, the NRA boasted that its state chapters "made a huge difference" and "played an active role" in blocking higher wage laws in over a dozen states. And, it has been the biggest opponent of paid sick day laws in states across the country -- it has even pushed a bill at ALEC to prohibit local governments from requiring employers provide paid sick days to their workers, which has since spread across the country.

Most recently, the Oklahoma NRA affiliate helped push SB 1023 to crush local efforts to guarantee a fair wage and paid sick days in that state; it was signed into law in April by Governor Mary Fallin, an ALEC alumni who gave the keynote at ALEC's spring meeting last year.

Despite broad popular support for an increase in the minimum wage among both Democrats and Republicans, the Other NRA has managed to stick a fork in the measure in the U.S. Senate for now. Stay tuned, however. Advocates are planning more street heat this summer and during the fall election cycle to convince Congress that America needs a raise.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 0 points by nazihunter (215) 4 months ago

Good write-up Leo, ..and honest.