Can the broad left grow together? Can we create ways to meet the monumental challenges that the American left faces today?

October 23, 2012

The far left is continuing to grow in North America and around the world. From the conversations we’ve been having with lifetime leftists and activists around this country that much is clear. People like leftist economist Richard Wolff and Baltimore community leader & Black Panther Reverend Annie Chambers are telling us that the left in America & around the world is growing at a rate they’ve never seen before. Things are possible now that haven’t ever been possible before in their lifetimes. You’d have to go back to the Depression-era left to find a time in North America with a left as swelling as ours is today, they say. That’s inspiring.

With capitalism in crisis and an empire stretched to capacity, high unemployment and low prospects for a future for the indebted youth, we have unprecedented opportunities and unprecedented challenges on the left today.

One of those challenges is the tendency of the left to fracture, disagree and eventually self-destruct. There are many factors that influence a sectarian left; any group of people who desperately want to create a new, better kind of world but genuinely disagree about the means by which we might get there are going to have passionate quarrels. The differences between progressives, anarchists, communists and socialists are many but so are the similarities. And it’s in that similar space - the desire to destroy corporate (and for many, capitalist) influence - that we can work together and grow together.

Another pressing challenge for the left is the need for spaces in an alternative society - the need for leftist organizations, collectives, co-operatives, and Workers Self Directed Enterprises to prepare room for growing numbers of people newly disenfranchised with the system of capitalism, who need a place to plug into that doesn’t just suck energy from them, but spaces that also nourish, empower and encourage them in the fight against capitalism. We need welcoming institutions that comfort and educate those who are broken from the horrors of capitalism and institutions that simultaneously channel energy into attacking the system that is at the root of the world’s most horrific problems.

One such institution working on just that is Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse in Baltimore. It consciously aims to meet both of the above needs through collective decision-making, left-infrastructure building, and by building spaces that are inclusive to and encourage dialogues among the broad left.  Red Emma’s isn’t your typical bookstore/café; it welcomes the homeless, provides free computer use for the community, provides anti-capitalist education and hosts leftist readings & conferences.

But it isn’t your typical anarchist bookstore either. Red Emma’s expressly aims to bridge the gap between Marxist-socialists and anarchists, and all others among the fractured left. When asked what concerned her most about the left, collective founding member Kate Khatib said the fear of sectarianism was what kept her up at night. It was important to her and to many members of the collective, to focus on projects like Red Emma’s and the Baltimore Free School (one of the divergent projects of Red Emma’s) that aim to appeal to the broad left.

And Red Emma’s is growing, allowing those getting involved to plug into a community of leftists, to stay educated and to make a small amount of money in order to live to fight another day. Creating sustainable infrastructure on the left is at the core of what Red Emma’s hopes to accomplish.

What Red Emma’s is building, in the same vein as the movement Democracy at Work is building, answers some of the biggest problems on the left today.

The People’s Record also hopes to play a part in building infrastructure for disenfranchised citizens and aims to aid the fight for a new united left through a few different projects we’ve been working on. Please take a look at what we’re doing and contact us if you have any interest in getting involved with any of our projects.



Watch the trailer for “Shift Change.” (I haven’t seen the documentary, but learned a lot just from this 7 minute video).

“At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks and big business, the economic crisis and growing inequality in our country, employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities. Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work is a documentary (released in fall 2012) that highlights worker-owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, Spain.”

Here’s a Q&A with the filmmakers about How Worker-Owned Companies Work.


The People’s Record news update: This week in co-operative workplaces
February 25, 2013

The North West (a province in South Africa where mostly Tswana people live) is to empower youth through the establishment of cooperatives.

Nineteen youth cooperatives are to be established as part of youth empowerment through entrepreneurial and occupational skills development prioritized by the North West Provincial Government, Premier Thandi Modise announced in her State of the Province Address delivered in Mahikeng on Friday.

Premier Modise announced that 250 youth will participate in National Youth Services for skills development as part of the youth empowerment programme.

Other projects announced by the Premier to benefit young people include sustainable livelihood and entrepreneurship development programmes with financial and non-financial support for job opportunities to be created.

To take forward youth development, representatives of youth around the province will participate in dialogues to be hosted by the province during youth month.


Blueprint for a co-operative decade

The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) has recently crafted a plan for the global co-operative movement to advance cooperativism as the alternative development paradigm to address environmental degradation and to put people at the center of development processes. The blueprint outlines a strategic agenda that positions the cooperatives as builders of sustainability.

Why? Well, the ICA and cooperatives worldwide have ‘witnessed the growing social unrest, economic stagnation and the insecurity that future generations face in terms of jobs, essential social services and even just meeting their basic needs.’

Indeed, there is a need for a paradigm shift as it has become imperative to debunk the dominant paradigm that is only successful in sacrificing people and the environment to the altar of greed and profit.


New study reveals how co-operatives boost the local economy

Research shows that money spent by customers in the Lincolnshire Co-operative increases in value by going to local suppliers, to customers as a dividend and to employees in wages, who in turn spend a proportion of their money locally.

On conservative estimates, using internationally accepted benchmarks, the co-operative generates an additional £40 for the local economy for every £100 spent by a customer.

Overall, this means that Lincolnshire Co-operative, rather than generating profits for outside investors or national or even global suppliers, generates nearly £100m annually for the local economy.

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK said: “Money spent in a co-operative is sticky money. It stays local, because co-operatives employ local people, are owned by local people and tries to sources from local firms that do the same.

"Every pound spent in a co-operative shop is a real boost to the local economy. In fact, every pound spent in a co-operative store changes hands five times, at diminishing levels, until the final penny leaves the local economy. This adds a wonderful life to any local community.”


Question for Richard Wolff: Are Workers Self-directed Enterprises ends in themselves, goals that, when achieved, will bring about the better society so many seek?

No, a social movement such as Democracy at Work aims for a transition to Worker Self-directed Enterprises (WSDEs) but they are not ends in themselves.

The stress we give to such a transition to WSDEs in our work is driven by the studied neglect of them in by so many who work toward other social goals we agree with heartily.

In other words, for example, we stress transitioning to WSDEs precisely because we think ecological sustainability, a genuine democratic politics, and a far less unequal distribution of wealth, income and cultural access are social goals that would be significantly advanced by an economy based on WSDE’s rather than stymied, as they have been, by a system of capitalistically organized enterprises.


Read an article The People’s Record’s Graciela wrote for Truthout: Collective workplaces spell job security, fair treatment and real-life democracy


SHIFT CHANGE - This business model needs spread like wildfire - The things these folks do is incredible & I think the future of a more just world. 


Join the Democracy at Work movement

Democracy at Work is a project, begun in 2010, that aims to build a social movement. The movement’s goal is transition to a new society whose productive enterprises (offices, factories, and stores) will mostly be WSDE’s, a true economic democracy. The WSDEs would partner equally with similarly organized residential communities they interact with at the local, regional, and national levels (and hopefully international as well). That partnership would form the basis of genuine participatory democracy.

Utilizing media, from short video clips that go viral to our already well-established weekly and increasingly syndicated “Economic Update” radio program (WBAI, 99.5 FM, New York) and from podcasts to articles to blogs, this interactive website reaches and engages a fast growing audience.

Open to and interested in democracy at work, that audience also wants to move actively with beyond today’s dysfunctional economic and political systems while mindful of mistakes made by earlier efforts to go beyond capitalism. This interactive website will serve as the central location for these forms of media, a database of research and resources that support and strengthen the movement, and the open discussions shaping that movement as it grows. We begin with a definition of workers’ self-directed enterprises. In some ways, they are similar to co-ops, worker owned enterprises, and other organizations of production that reject the old, top-down, hierarchical capitalist model. Yet in crucial ways, workers’ self-directed enterprises are also unique.

Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises (WSDE’s): WSDE’s are enterprises in which all the workers who collaborate to produce its outputs also serve together, collectively as its board of directors. Each worker in any WSDE thus has two job descriptions: (1) a particular task in the enterprise’s division of labor, and (2) full participation in the directorial decisions governing what, how and where to produce and how to use the enterprise’s surplus or profits.

Simply put, in place of a hierarchical, undemocratic, capitalist production organization giving those decisions exclusively to a small minority – major shareholders and the board of directors – WSDE’s institutionalize democracy at work as the economy’s central principle and society’s new foundation.

We believe that now is the time for a comprehensive new strategy and new movement for social change. We invite you to join with Democracy at Work to work toward those goals.


I want democracy at work. I’d love to build a movement around that idea, and love that Richard Wolff takes the ideas of Marx and others and frames them with modern language and puts them in a modern context. <3 

EDIT: Also, follow these guys on tumblr