Part number three in our mission list reads as follows:
"Mobilizing poor and working class Black American people for revolutionary change in both the public and private sectors."
This is the meat and potatoes of our overall focus as an organization, and it is why we are partnering up with both Cooperation Jackson (micro project) and Symbiosis (macro project), who are already working to develop a national network of, and infrastructure for, Worker Self-Directed Enterprises (WSDE cooperatives) and communes here in America (building dual power).
Here is the short of the vision:
What are WSDE (Worker Self-Directed Enterprise) co-ops (cooperatives)?
Think of them as a democracy in the workplace or, from a more micro perspective, tiny pockets of Socialism (we live under global Capitalism, but this description makes sense in that within WSDEs, the workers democratically control the means of production).
Within WSDE co-ops, it isn’t a group of private shareholders (the real dictators) at the top dictating who does what and scraping off profits only to leave most workers with scraps; all of the workers and those within the community democratically decide what happens in the workplace, as well as with the profits.
Within WSDE co-ops, the managers don’t hire and fire the rest of the workers under orders from the top, or due to petty differences; the bulk of the workers democratically hire and fire those in leadership positions based upon an agreed criteria for what works best for them under the base values of the WSDE.
WSDE co-ops ensure that workers have the right to vote (one vote per employee; not per share), the right to serve as leaders (i.e. board directors), the right to information (i.e. open-book management), and the right to speak their minds.
WSDE co-ops are not designed to maximize profits, nor returns to investors.
They are not owned by outside shareholders or a small group of founders/partners, but by all of the employees in equal portions (top-level managers and entry-level employees alike own an identical share and receive an equal share of any profits or losses).
These "worker-owners" both elect the Board of Directors and fill a majority of Board seats (some are filled by "consumer members" of the community that the WSDE co-op is in, depending on the type of WSDE co-op it is); the Board in turn is responsible for hiring and supervising management.
Everyone is accountable to someone else.
Ideally, under WSDE co-ops, those at the "bottom" of the organizational chart are, as owners, also at the "top" of the same chart.
Key Question: Under our greater plan and strategy, what’s to stop WSDE co-ops from wanting to compete with each other or causing ecological devastation in the pursuit of profit maximization?
Unfortunately, Mondragon isn’t as refined and politically focused in their broader activities, the core of their founding philosophy not being centered on a push toward international democratic and libertarian Socialism, but merely... more employment. They have therefore made mistakes in that they are not entirely worker-owned, and they are not adequately worker-directed. Add this to the fact that they depend upon the exploitation of workers (who aren't owners) overseas as a means to compete in the international market(s), and it becomes clear that they have given in on some of the challenges brought upon them by global Capitalism (it is not a utopia).
While we acknowledge the difficulties that lie ahead in challenging capitalist relations here in the United States, we cannot afford to move on this front without an explicitly political aim and focus that is international in scope.
Without an explicitly political aim and focus in our activities, there is no building of “dual power.”
None of this can happen without a greater educational and cultural shift, and believe us when we say that time is of the essence.
As of now, most people can’t even conceive of alternative relations within their own workplaces. Luckily for us, with our strategy, we get to show people what Socialism is about in real time, and at the micro level.
Although building dual power will be a huge challenge, we know that with greater unity and political focus within the solidarity economy movement, we can have the financial support networks/systems necessary for us to not only hold strong against the global capitalist system, but to challenge and ultimately dismantle it.
We must resist the notion that certain internal and external forces must “handle it for us” at work, unchecked by the collective; we can and must democratically control things directly.
If we fail to realize this, then we open ourselves up to more bureaucratic waste, more centralization of power, and even capitalistic theft.
Key Question: How do WSDE co-ops get started? Where do they get their startup capital? What if I want to start building on this mission right where I am and in a particular field?
Just as is the case with most looking to start different kinds of businesses today, when folks really want to start a WSDE co-op, they can usually find the money to do so through bank loans, loans from friends, personal savings, inheritance from family, and more. This has historically been more difficult for Black Americans, but we at BSA are going to work hard to change this in a significant way.
Here are some well known Cooperative Development Fund Institutions (CDFI):
Here are the four main ways that WSDE co-ops usually get started:
1. By people self-organizing a response to economic crises, like the worker-owners at New Era Windows in Chicago, who started their cooperative factory when the owners of their former factory shut down production and closed the doors.
2. When retiring owners (Capitalists) sell their businesses to their own workers, like they did at Select Machine in Ohio, instead of closing down or selling to a competitor with no regard for the well-being of their employees or the community.
3. By people looking to build wealth for low-income communities through the development and incubation of new worker-owned businesses; for instance, Prospera helps immigrant women in the SF Bay Area start co-ops in housecleaning and other industries.
4. By people who share a desire to make the world a better place, like the worker-owners at Equal Exchange in Massachussetts, who created a cooperative business to better reflect the values they wanted to put into practice as pioneers of fairly traded coffee (see video below).
The Symbiosis Research Collective has written a thorough paper on the core bits of our strategy, Community, Democracy, and Mutual Aid: Toward Dual Power and Beyond, which received first prize in the non-student category of the Next System Project’s national essay competition. Kali Akuno (of Cooperation Jackson) and Ajamu Nangwaya provide deeper insight into what our greater strategy entails within the book Jackson Rising.
BSA has amassed a social media following of over 30,000 people in just a matter of months, and our rate of growth is only increasing. We have an internal working group made up of over 10 core BSA volunteers already dedicated to our overall mission, and hundreds volunteering through our sign-up form. Once we have more things together on the infrastructural side, we anticipate significant growth. Not only this, but we are a part of a developing rainbow coalition that will include Socialists from a variety of ethnic groups who share our same focus and strategy; as of now, the following sibling organizations are already in development:
• Jewish Socialists of America
• Appalachian Socialists of America
• African Socialists of America
Our plan is to not only raise class consciousness within our own communities, but to begin to funnel our organizers into specific and localized initiatives focused on bringing democracy to the common sector in very concrete and tangible ways and, through Symbiosis, connect more poor and working class Black Americans with WSDEs and communes throughout the country who have made a commitment to our vision for a democratic world.
We are working through the ethnic divides of America in order to bring everyone to a multi-ethnic plane of direct action.