Cooperatives: Platforms, Pitfalls or Strategy?

A review of Cooperatives Confront Capitalism (Zed, 2016) by Peter Ranis, Platform Capitalism (Polity, 2017) by Nick Srnicek and Ours to Hack and to Own (O/R Books, 2016) by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider, eds.

Worker Cooperatives

For almost two decades various pundits, activists and developers have been shoehorning worker cooperatives into a mainstream narrative usually based on the notion of ownership – of course, “democratic” ownership. The intent of mainstreaming this “narrative” is, in part, to extricate worker cooperatives from the flighty, idealistic association with 60s hippiedom – the legacy of the clueless mass media fifty years ago. Nonetheless, popularizing worker cooperatives denigrates, by an act of omission, their vital historic and ideological role in social struggles.

We aren’t simply referring to the Knights of Labor in the 19th century, but also to recent history. For example, the original US regional federation of worker cooperatives in the San Francisco Bay area – the one that every subsequent regional federation modeled itself upon – The Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC, pronounced No Boss!), was organized, more than two decades ago, in part by anarcho-syndicalist members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

To emphasize worker cooperatives as entrepreneurial endeavors conforms to the dominant capitalist project that emphasizes the phony naturalism of Homo Economicus and its locus: market economics. Politics in the broadest sense is dismissed. It comes therefore as a relief that Cooperatives Confront Capitalism by Peter Ranis corrects the record. The subtitle, Challenging the Neoliberal Economy, should leave little doubt of the author’s the orientation. But if doubts linger, the first page references to Marx, Luxemburg and Gramsci would settle the matter. Ranis situates worker efforts to gain control over their productive lives at the very beginnings of the onslaught to confine them to factories and the wage system (wage slavery). The agitation for workers’ control, sometimes moving from a political demand to an economic reality with the formation of cooperative ventures, escalated as the labor movement grew throughout the 19th century, and only declined as a program with the rise of reformist leadership that abandoned radical political goals and created what became today’s union movement.

Occupy and the “movement of the squares” motivated Ranis to write this book, since for him worker cooperatives provide the agency for social change that was missing in these eruptions. Ranis, who has authored several books on Argentine politics and the recuperated enterprises there, updates these cooperative developments and provides his insights as to their significance more generally. He also analyzes the state-supported cooperatives in Cuba to broaden his discussion of worker cooperatives as ventures that need to demand state assistance in the same manner as capitalist enterprises.

For Ranis, the prime way for the state to help create worker cooperatives is to impose eminent domain laws. This is a problematic proposal. Occupying abandoned factories by workers might be relevant in some communities where support can be mobilized, but it hardly serves as a major organizing principle to be generally applied. The three examples of this policy he discusses, all in thriving urban areas, failed for one reason or another. These failures don’t condemn the policy, however they are instructive in that they demonstrate that worker cooperatives need to have a presence in their communities beyond a few sympathetic politicians or “community leaders” to successfully pressure the state to make concessions. They need to think and act politically.

Here is where the experience of Argentine recuperated factories becomes relevant. There, in a few spectacular places, whole communities demonstrated solidarity with the workers against government support for the erstwhile owners. Their struggles are exemplary and at the same time dated in the US context, if for no other reason than that manufacturing has been hollowed out to such an extent that marginal businesses, ripe for sale or relocation, hardly exist. A much better prospect may be the large number of enterprises with senior ownership eager to retire that could be turned over to employees. So far, there has been little activity with this demographic of owners except in New York City where, if reports are to be believed, amazingly thousands of inquiries have been registered. However, often the senior ownership of these, usually small, companies reflect the age of their employees who have little interest in running an enterprise just before they retire.

Ranis briefly discusses the precarious working conditions that have increasingly become the new normal, but he has little to say regarding how worker cooperatives can address the situation.

Platform Capitalism

A new form of rentierism is gaining dominance in the economy. Historically, a renterier was a person who extracted wealth from the use of a resource like land, energy or water. Today the resource that provides the basis for the highest accumulation of wealth is data. So, for instance, Google and Facebook profit by collecting data from their users that they then rent to advertisers. They are intermediaries, as is Uber that brings together riders and drivers for a fee based on an app the company owns.

Google and Facebook are advertising platforms, while Uber and Airbnb are lean platforms as defined by Nick Srnicek in his Platform Capitalism. He defines platforms as the mechanisms for extracting data and, specifically, a lean platform is characterized by a business plan that eschews capital expenditures on assets – cars for Uber, rooms for Airbnb and, for both, employees – and forces its outsourced labor to invest in the material side of the business, like auto maintenance and housekeeping services. The lean platform business, in other words, is as risk free as possible with as much of the hazards of the marketplace transferred to its “agents,” or “partners,” or whatever euphemism it employs.

All platforms, and Srnicek defines five types, tend toward monopolization and encroachment on other platforms. Facebook for example wants its users never to leave its platform and so it is devising a search function to rival Google and an e-commerce site to compete with Amazon. And several companies are vying for Cloud users. And everybody salivates over the prospect of an Internet of Things that will exponentially expand personal data to be mined. What we have here is a race for digital enclosures in direct rebuff of the early notion of a “democratic” and free online experience.

Platform Cooperativism

For those who wish to see the internet as a commons – a field for free exploration and communication – the goal of the digital oligarchs, who seek to mine data endlessly, amounts to a dystopian future: a surveillance capitalism. This recognition motivated some to embrace the notion of a cooperative internet, and a major component of which goes by the name of platform cooperativism.

For the sake of clarity, it would be useful briefly to recount the use and definition of platform, as well as, to define precisely platform cooperatives. Originally, the operating system of computers was its platform because it determined which software could be used based on platform requirements. Microsoft promoted one and Apple another, though at the beginning of the Age of Computers there were others. A few remain, most notably, Linux.

Slowly the term gravitated towards indentifying businesses with proprietary software and identifiable hardware that serve as the foundation for software developers and consumers. And now, going a step further, the notion of a platform business has bled into what before had been simply a business in one or another sector. For example, everyone recognizes Uber and Lyft as platform capitalist companies, but if a taxi company equips all its drivers with smartphones and the appropriate software for customers to use to hail a cab without going through a dispatcher, does that taxi business become a platform business? According to present usage of the term, the traditional cab company would become a platform entity. In fact, in two cities, Denver and Madison, traditional taxi companies, both cooperatives, are now considered platform cooperatives.

A recent book delves into the subject – Ours to Hack and to Own. It’s a collection of essays compiled by two editors, one an academic, Trebor Scholz, and the other a journalist, Nathan Schneider. The subtitle of their book is indicative of their enthusiasm for the platform concept: The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, A New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet.

The vision of the pioneers of the internet may not have been lost to history, but it seems to be selectively forgotten by Scholz/Schneider. The pioneers had hoped that the internet would be a lever to propel us to a more democratic space, but instead it is has become a capitalist tool for our enslavement. Not too distant from that early vision, Nathan Schneider recognizes that the ubiquity of social media platforms implies that they act like “public” utilities. And, therefore, he believes that they should be institutionalized as social utilities, presumably decentralized and regulated locally. This would be the “fairer internet” that he envisions.

The co-editor of Ours to Hack and to Own, Trebor Scholz, endorses a “vision for the future of work” but not one that’s too radical. He says:

I’m all on board for Paul Mason’s and Kathi Weeks’ vision for a post-capitalist, post-work future where universal basic income [UBI] will rule the way we think about life opportunities. In the United States, however, unlike in Finland [where a modified UBI is being tested] the chances for this scenario becoming reality over the next two years are not high. The question then becomes what we can do right now, with and for the most precarious among the contingent third of the American workforce, which is unlikely to see the return of the traditional safety net, the forty-hour workweek, or a steady paycheck. (page 21)

What indeed can we do?

Isn’t the prospect of millions of workers joining platform worker cooperatives more “pie-in-the-sky” than the post-work scenarios of Mason and Weeks? They at least recognize that good jobs in an economy divesting itself of labor standards is an impossible demand.

Proponents of new ideas to effect social change often adopt a brand of millenarianism in the pursuit of spreading the good news. Some years back we saw this phenomenon with the so-called Sharing Economy until it turned rancid from the infusion of venture capital. Before that, it was the thriving industrial cooperatives in the Basque section of Spain that became a pilgrimage destination and the goal of cooperative developers.

This process of propagating new ideas isn’t totally delusional. There is always an element of reality that sparks the imagination, but with the desire to amplify the vision some bits of reality are jettisoned, or submerged, or most likely, never fully appreciated and so magical thinking overtakes the narrative.

All the contributions to Ours to Hack are short – not more than three pages – and there’s a great diversity of topics covered. The downside of compilations like this is that variety morphs into confusion, which comes close to being the case here. We learn from the book that platform cooperativism while incorporating worker co-ops (and the best contributions are from developers and academics in that sector) is more about transforming the internet, as Schneider says, into a utility.

The editors apply platform cooperativism to as many co-ops and cooperative projects as possible in a desire to align them with their larger program. Some confusion ensues from this practice. As an example, the most successful cooperative that self-identifies as “platform” is Stocksy, which is a multi-million dollar cooperative agency for photographers, but its business is similar to Magnum, a cooperative photo agency co-founded by Cartier-Bresson in 1947, which is oblivious to the term as far as their website is concerned.

However, despite this attempt to expand the idea of platform cooperativism within the worker cooperative context, it turns out that the most significant social platform development, measured by the size of the population affected, are the interactive digital bulletin boards in Hong Kong, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Spain and a few other cities. In Hong Kong, neighborhood cooperative platforms have been developed by single mothers to serve hundreds of families bordering the poverty line by introducing them to community services through a new app. And Barcelona took advantage of an EU financially supported effort in 2016 to create online tools to promote and enhance citizen participation. In Zaragoza, La Colaboradora functions as an online forum to determine the most popular projects to be undertaken by the city in conjunction with the citizens.

The potential for enhancing citizen participation cannot be discounted as a fad, however, we must recognize that when it comes down to actually having an effect on the power structure, people need to show up. In Italy, the Five Star Movement has taken the digital potential of platformism the farthest with online party votes on leadership and policy. But the movement has had the greatest effect in cities where the membership actually assembled in city squares to agitate for their demands.

These developments in Europe influenced the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, to adopt platform cooperatives in his Digital Democracy Manifesto,  which states in part:

We will foster cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services. … We will introduce new laws guaranteeing a secure employment contract and the inalienable right to trade union membership to everyone who earns most or some of their livelihood from digital platforms. We will apply the best practices and adopt the technological innovations of this cooperative upgrade of the sharing economy to improve the provision, delivery and utilization of public sector services at the local, regional and national levels.

We have here the program to create the public utility that Schneider wants.

Platform Worker Cooperatives

These examples of platforms as community organizing tools will proliferate as organizers learn how to integrate them with traditional methods of organizing and it is not necessarily a misnomer to characterize them as cooperative platforms. However, the editors of Ours to Hack and to Own published their book to introduce platforms as a means to create a more just economy. Their central emphasis focuses on using internet tools to develop democratic economic institutions, with the worker cooperative as an exemplary model.

One of the best presentations of the issues related to worker cooperatives, platform or not, comes from Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and advocate of the digital commons for three decades. Benkler comes to cooperatives from his study of commons-based peer production, which explains his emphasis on governance as opposed to ownership. His statement is explicit:

Cooperativism is not simply shared ownership, as are many employee-ownership plans [the retirement plans some companies install that transfers a percent of stock to employees, ESOPs]. It is, first and foremost, shared governance. … The primary resource for platform cooperativists must be the rich literature on commons governance pioneered by Elinor Ostrom, which did in fact focus on collaborative communities managing their livelihood resources together without property rights or government laws. (94)

Given the title of the book in which his essay appears, we can only assume that the editors have not absorbed his lesson re the false primacy of ownership – a lesson that precedes Ostrom’s study of commons-based resource management. William Thompson, a late 18th century Irish political theorist and social reformer had already noted the confluence of cooperatives and the commons.

Benkler’s model of participation is the peer production exemplified by Wikipedia, though he alludes to other open source projects, and he notes that with cooperatives “[t]he biggest divergence from peer production will be the need to define membership more strictly.” (95)

In cooperativism, as with commons-property-regimes, it will be important to clearly define who members are, and place a higher barrier on membership than peer production has done. (95)

It is unfortunate that the participants in worker cooperatives, who until the late 70s were called members, began to use the term “owners” as in worker-owner cooperatives. To give primacy to property relations as opposed to membership obscures the vital day-to-day practice of radical communication that must occur in successful cooperatives, for essentially an abstract notion as promoted most recently by the website Internet of Ownership.

Daily Life in worker cooperatives

It should come as no surprise, given that it seems as only two of the 40 book contributors are currently members of a worker cooperative, that there is no discussion of the day-to-day life of cooperative ventures. Cooperation is more than an organization construct with a noble set of principles and values. It’s a process: a process of implementing those values to decondition the dominant paradigm of hierarchy and greed.

Ranis recognizes this process when he speaks of cooperative members as –

. . . a workforce that is potentially far more than workers producing a product. They can reappropriate their lives beyond their existence in production. They are cultural beings, not simply cogs in a machine or a service provider. Cooperatives and recuperated enterprises bring the whole life of the worker beyond his/her simple place as a worker for someone else into play. (155)

What Ranis is describing here is the emergence of a radical subjectivity as a political project.

Yochai Benkler sums up the daily life in cooperatives this way:

Decades of studies of cooperation tell us that communication among members – particularly communication that humanizes members to each other – is central, as is developing a shared identity. A strong core of moral values, avoidance of an ethic of “I’m just here for the extra few bucks,” and a clear commitment to fairness among the members will be necessary to overcome the inevitable tensions associated with work and income sharing. Framing is important, and while self-interest undoubtedly plays a role in any community, no effort that appeals primarily to that self-interest will likely survive, let alone out-perform explicitly self-interested models of investor-owned firms. (95)

The Benkler’s focus here is with resolving the tensions between members in a cooperative, but there is additionally the fact that members’ values, as embodied in the cooperative, are challenged by their situation in the capitalist market place. The most successful cooperatives create a niche in a local economy (Cheeseboard Bakery in Berkeley), and in a few rare cases nationally (Equal Exchange Coffee Roastery in Boston), but it is not a rare occasion that the most devastating critique of cooperatives – that members self-exploit themselves – arises when financial success is dubious. The members of a worker cooperative need to balance vision (politics) with pragmatism (business) if not on a daily basis, then often, and how they sustain their emotional equilibrium determines the quality of their work-life. And to act effectively in society outside the cooperative, that is, politically, that balance is necessary.

At Mondragon, the federation of cooperatives in the complex supports a unit in their bank that develops new cooperatives. Often these new ventures are spun off from current co-ops with a core group of workers approaching the developers for assistance. The fact that this group has worked together and has attained a level of camaraderie is essential for the bank to support further study of their plans. What we have here, with the new cooperative venture, is the positive aspect of what is referred to, often negatively, as the founders’ syndrome. That is the early members of a cooperative have a bond between them that newer members lack unless the founders are explicit in welcoming them. This is similar to the experience of start-ups in the tech field, where various perks (though no meaningful control) are used to entice new employees to commit to the business that the founders created.

Worker cooperatives have devised many communication tools to strengthen member affiliation to cooperative goals, to achieve a high level of transparency and to facilitate decision-making. There is beyond some of the obvious communication tools, another more elusive area of cooperative work-life that is not easily documented. Richard Sennett mentions it in passing in his book Together when he relates his experience during a visit to a crafts workshop. In this the workers need to dance around each other in their cramped quarters to use available tools and machines. Sennett sees their activity as finely choreographed but not consciously so. Their habits of work take into account their fellows and their needs and the result is a mode of working that almost transcends the work itself and broaches what a Buddhist might call group meditation.

This work-that-isn’t-work can be discovered outside the world of crafts. One can see it in research labs and small industrial plants – any place where the workers respect each other and the tasks that they must complete. Obviously, most work is not like this. In cooperatives, however, it must be the norm. There must be a ludic aspect to the work or the cooperative will fail. The egalitarianism of cooperative ventures coupled with practical control of the workplace are the preconditions for a playful environment conducive to cultivating one’s personality in a group setting.

The corporate world recognizes the bottom-line benefits of workplace élan and hire consultants to create it – often without much success. This comes as no surprise since a ludic environment doesn’t arrive in the briefcase of the game-playing professional; it is organic to the institution and must develop authentically over time in an empathetic workplace.

Worker cooperatives and political involvement

Of the larger social issues, like climate change and unbridled growth, they are ignored in both books on cooperatives. And on the increasing degradation of work, which explains the rise of platform capitalism better than the mythology of dynamic, innovative entrepreneurialism, the topic is not emphasized. This is unfortunate. Without the surplus population of underemployed workers – the precariat – platform capitalism, which depends on cheap labor costs, would never have achieved explosive growth. And worker cooperatives, no matter how much they dream of expanding their sector, cannot absorb this surplus, but will necessarily  have to compete with companies that thrive because of the labor surplus. The precariat’s misery cannot be alleviated by the politics of Ranis or Scholz/Schneider.

All these issues, or better, crises, can be analyzed from the perspective of the internal radical democratic practices of cooperatives. Ranis recognizes some of the political potential here, but chooses to concentrate on eminent domain as the prime tool for expanding the worker cooperative sector – a politics of growth. The larger politico-economic context of numerous crises, including an increase in the numbers of the precariat, is passed over without developing a strategy to contend with them.

With their omission of a political strategy, we must assume the authors of these books think that by creating more worker cooperatives a critical mass will be achieved and transform society. This is strange expectation. It is as if the old syndicalist phrase “creating the new society within the shell of the old” is assumed to be an organizing principle. Are we to expect at some moment a critical mass will coagulate and the new society will burst forth from the belly of the old?

Some worker cooperatives are successful, decades-old enterprises and if they were capitalist businesses one might expect that they would by now franchise their operation, but none have. A few cooperatives have grown by modestly expanding services and their membership, but most have taken a very slow path to growth, if grown at all. An innovative way some cooperatives have expanded is by spinning off replicas of themselves in adjacent cities. And successful cooperatives in one place have served as models for other to adopt in their localities. On the whole, however, cooperatives have been cautious of growth.

A few cooperative developers lament this fact, though slow growth has served the cooperative membership well given that they are caught within a hostile market environment. When presented with a major expansion scheme, cooperative members often decline to accept an increase in stress levels for dubious benefits. Cautious expansion plans may conflict with the desire of some to see the cooperative sector grow as noted above, but too bad for them if they can’t find acceptance of their plans. A slow growth, or even a no growth, business plan is not necessarily an indictment of the membership as selfish. More, it is a reasonable avoidance of risk in an uncertain economy.

An argument for a larger cooperative presence in a community based on worker cooperatives as models for job growth may be the least effective strategy. One could call it a non-politics of growth. There are other avenues for cooperatives to steer their influence in communities, but these depend on a political strategy. For example, cooperatives can serve as hubs for social organizing in all sorts of arenas. Because cooperatives participate in the local economy objectively as businesses, they have the credentials to leverage their presence to challenge other businesses to take the high road on workers’ benefits, on living wage demands, on environmental issues and on cultural matters including education. All of which are political issues of concern to the wider society.

As viable economic institutions (businesses) in their communities, cooperatives establish legitimacy and command recognition in a way that political entities cannot. They have “creds” in other words that they should use to influence (or, pressure) local politicians, journalists and other members of their local power structure. Cooperatives are also unique economic actors and they can effectively use what makes them special – their practice of micro-democracy – to ally with the most progressive elements of their community, including labor unions that uphold workers’ rights. In fact, more cooperatives should join the growing numbers recently who have affiliated with unions. Establishing a (principled) presence with other economic players in the community will facilitate better financial results from local banks or other sources of finance. Worker cooperatives need to be seen as peers by other, traditional, businesses and not weird, fringe institutions.

Besides influencing local businesses, cooperatives are natural allies of the environmental movement. This is most evident in the cooperative consumer sector where food cooperatives took the lead in supplying toxic-free food for generations. There are however other areas, like sustainable energy ventures where specifically worker cooperatives have made inroads. A pressing political project that the cooperative community could undertake is to agitate for old electrification/utility cooperatives sprinkled all over the Midwest to adopt renewable energy sources and abandon coal and gas.

Though it may surprise some, worker cooperatives can have influence is the cultural realm. Here we must include education, besides the arts. There’s a small but vital community of cooperative schools throughout the country ranging from pre-school through high school and there is a larger, but related, grouping of alternative schools practicing cooperative pedagogy. These schools may not be legally organized as cooperatives, but with staff-based control, the function as cooperatives. And in the arts all sorts of cooperative associations exist, many are established as cooperatives like orchestras, art galleries and craft workshops. The politics of these institutions may not be explicit, for commercial reasons, but they should be encouraged to rethink their hesitations.

What’s been hastily outlined here is just a taste of the diversity of cooperative ventures, beyond worker cooperatives. Added to this list could be housing cooperatives, which in some geographic areas provide homes to a significant portion of the population, from students, to apartment dwellers to, increasingly, mobile home residents. If we add in food cooperatives and credit unions, a significant political and economic force is evident.

This doesn’t mean, as some promoters of alternative institutions like to think, that we have an overwhelming significant political force. Counting all the members of utility cooperatives, credit unions and marketing cooperatives as conscious cooperators is absurd. So the question is:  how do we begin to create a political dynamic that can build on the modest economic reality of the cooperative sector? If we discount what appears to be the current political strategy – grow the worker cooperative sector until it reaches critical mass – what can be offered in its place?

Given that worker cooperatives practice the most effective radical democracy of any institution in our society, it seems obvious that it is up to them to recognize their position as agitators. This is the first hurdle, and it is not inconsequential. The next step would be to invite all the cooperatives in their geographic area to a conclave to agree on principles to strengthen their sector. Some of the measures arrived at might be internal like better communication and financing, and some would involve outreach. These internal, business, aspects may not present many problems, but outreach means entering a field of play that most cooperatives are unfamiliar with. This would be the political aspect of a federation of cross-sectional cooperatives.

Along with the cooperative agenda, worker cooperatives need to develop relations with the myriad of grassroots economic, social and cultural activities that are mainly organized along non-profit lines and/or based on volunteers (or friends) again to develop both internal and external aspects and to increase alliances were possible with the cooperative movement. Possibly a major connection could revolve around housing, where credit unions, consumer cooperatives and worker cooperatives could take the lead in discovery innovative financing to provide affordable housing. In many communities housing issues affect large constituencies with little leadership apparent from politicians. The cooperative sector, including all its sections, could promote innovative approaches without the restrictions of profit-making that the real estate marketplace demands.

The goal of this cross-sectional organizing is to develop in common agenda of values and intentions to benefit the participants of the alternative (oppositional?) economy. Formulating this agenda is the beginning of a cooperative politics and it’s the first step to taking a seat at the table of the local power structure. Building this constituency must occur before, for example, Ranis’ eminent domain suggestion can be implemented as municipal policy.


The irony of platform cooperatives developing solutions to a situation of social atomization cannot be ignored. What we have here with a strategy of cooperative growth is an economic solution, when we need a political one. There are no more economic solutions to the disintegration of society. Or, to put this another way, economic “solutions” are already the problem.

We have a society under severe stress. Its members are killing themselves in unprecedented numbers. And what is the response? Bernie Sanders called for a political revolution. But given our circumstances, it seems more appropriate to demand total revolution.

The last essay in Ours to Hack and to Own is by Astra Taylor, a documentarian, writer and activist, who with minimal cooperative experience manages to have gleaned the essence of the conundrum cooperatives need to contend with:

But ultimately this isn’t just a war of ideas; cooperativism demands we put our principles into practice.

Taylor goes on to discuss the practical projects of self-help that emerged from the history of cooperatives. And she provides the evidence that cooperative values can be realized and sustained – until power seeks its revenge. Cooperatives are like an inoculation against the virus of capitalism – sometimes a booster shot is needed, to checkmate power. Sadly, the vast majority of cooperators don’t view their activity this way. Taylor thinks they should.

The goal of cooperative politics, as Taylor sees it, is confrontation:

[. . .] we need an inside/outside strategy: building cooperative alternatives on the margin while challenging the existing structures at the center. I’d like to see positive cooperative experiments combined with strategic campaigns of non-cooperation, of resistance to the financial system that promotes selfishness over solidarity.

Astra Taylor must be congratulated, as the only contributor to Ours to Hack, who introduces the notion of a cooperative political strategy, even if she gets the emphasis wrong. There can be no argument with the positive side of her strategy – challenging power – however, worker cooperatives don’t undertake “experiments,” they seek pragmatic, economic responses to real needs and opportunities. And further, her strategy of “non-cooperation” cannot be the primary means to effect change. As outlined above, the prime strategy is one of inclusion – a positive strategy of encompassing the whole of the alternative economy in a region to build an oppositional power base. Confrontational politics must be included in the palette of strategies, as power never concedes without a fight, but for confrontation to be effective the solidarity and justice battalion needs more than banners, it needs numbers.

The strategy outlined here opts for building a solid core of alternative institutions to attract support from the wider community based on the practical realization of human-centered values.

Bernard Marszalek, editor of The Right to be Lazy (AK PRESS) can be reached at He was a member of a worker cooperative for seventeen years. Essays at