Consider the case of Wisconsin…

Brian T. commenting on Matt H.’s “Neoliberalism and the Politics of Social Ecology”:

Right wingers continue to attack ‘big government’ and aim to drastically reduce its size while, with few exceptions, supporting the continuing build-up of the repressive apparatus. My question is whether it’s conceptually feasible to do the opposite: to support the safety net, and also public services in general: to defend the public sector just as Murray emphasized the integrity of the public sphere in society. Can we make a meaningful separation between the public sector and what we commonly refer to as the state, which in the antiauthoritarian tradition focuses mainly on its military and police functions?

Our preference may always be for locally controlled and administered efforts, but we also want to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks in places where reactionary forces are (we hope temporarily) in control. Consider the case of Wisconsin, where a new right wing governor seeks to balance the state budget at the expense of state workers and has threatened to call out the National Guard in response to any labor action or ‘meeting.’ I don’t know if there are any active social ecologists in the Madison area (as there have been in the past), but if so, I hope they would be united in support of the state workers, teachers and students who have been out in the streets and packed the state house in large numbers this week.

“Wisconsin in near-chaos over anti-union bill” from the LA Times.

6 Replies to “Consider the case of Wisconsin…”

  1. It is not possible to both stand for a stateless society yet demand a safety net and public services. Rather, it is necessary to understand that these functions can only be abolished if poverty and want are no longer a threat. Only when the abolition of the State at the same time makes the abolition of poverty and want possible — which is to say, until that point where the State itself is responsible for poverty and want — does the abolition of the State become possible.

    We are now at that point: The State itself is the absolutely necessary condition for poverty and want; it is the promotion of scarcity as the goad to further concentration of wealth and inequality. Without the State the present levels of inequality, and, hence, the utter dependence of one segment of society on it self-enslavement, would be impossible.

    The whole of economic policy is nothing more than a constant search for means to impose unnecessary poverty and want on working people in conditions of actual material abundance. The so-called safety net itself presupposes a level of actual material abundance consistent with the abolition of poverty in its entirety.

  2. @Jehu,

    It is not possible to both stand for a stateless society yet demand a safety net and public services. Rather, it is necessary to understand that these functions can only be abolished if poverty and want are no longer a threat.

    In stateless societies (plural–I have real concerns and doubts about the prospect of a universal, monolithic society ever existing) there would be different ways of accomplishing the same functions of a “safety net” or “public services.” What “public” would look like will vary, at least to some degree, based on the context.

    So I disagree, at least partially. I would point to capitalism more so than the state as the primary cause of “poverty and want.” However, by no means am I meaning to suggest that the state, as such, should be criticized and transcended. There are a lot of “anarcho-capitalists” who envision a stateless society that retains poverty and want…

    The whole of economic policy is nothing more than a constant search for means to impose unnecessary poverty and want on working people in conditions of actual material abundance. The so-called safety net itself presupposes a level of actual material abundance consistent with the abolition of poverty in its entirety.

    Agreed. Artificial scarcity is being maintained…

  3. TYPO:
    However, by no means am I meaning to suggest that the state, as such, should NOT be criticized and transcended.

    (sorry, that is poorly worded in addition to the typo)

  4. Thanks, Jehu, but what does that mean for our praxis? Also, the welfare states and advanced industrial economies of northern Europe are counter examples to what you posit here. There are examples of “The State” essentially abolishing poverty and want. Social ecologists must develop viable strategies that take into account the everyday lives of poor folks today. In this regard, I think the ZNet folks have a much better articulated political strategy than social ecologists.

  5. I want to agree in principle with Jehu, but in a time of unprecedented concentrations of private wealth, it’s not hard to envision a quasi-stateless society where poverty and inequality in fact increase. Unfortunately that’s just the scenario that the false libertarians of the right are de facto advocating for, as I tried to point out in the earlier discussion around Matt’s paper.

  6. Workers Rights and/or Workers Factories.

    Moments of social crisis may provide us with opportunities for social change: and of course, social changes can initiate social crises.
    At the moment we are all subject to a ‘credit crunch’; a banking crisis; a financial collapse and economic recession leading to a global depression and deflation and debt. Owners are closing work premises. Banks and finance houses are collapsing as their customers and investors withdraw their cash, and clients default on their loans. At this time, 2011, factories and offices and shops are closing down and becoming vacant lots. Their workers and officers and managers are being made redundant, and unemployed, to become the responsibility of the State and the benefit systems.State Authorities in the USA are taking the opportunity to reduce their debts by denying workers rights.

    This is not the first time that such crises have occurred.
    Year 2000, in Argentina, and Bolivia and Colombia in response to the collapse of their economies, and the bankruptcy of the owners and shareholders, some unemployed groups moved to create workers factories, TOMAS, to Occupy! Resist! Produce! The empty lots, factories, offices, hotels, shops, had been abandoned by the owners and locked up. The rationale behind the TOMAS had been the preservation of jobs, with workers entrenching themselves in factories and physically occupying them, resisting ejection by the police. Some of the workers decided to occupy the lots, takeover the companies, and to start up again as cooperatives…….[ a co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise with voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information ; co-operation among co-operatives; and concern for community.]
    Most of the workers in TOMAS had to develop co-operative relations, engender solidarity and seek autonomy as a result of practical needs, rather than acting out of a predefined ideological or political strategy. These workers gathered together as committees to make decisions about how to run the enterprises. Most of their takeovers were later developed as ‘cooperatives’. They knew how to operate the enterprises, the machines and processes, but not how to finance them. They had occupied the premises, and got them working again. But under the law, they were trespassers. They were not running a legal entity. In fact the enterprises were bankrupt, debt ridden and could not be recognized for the purposes of contracts and loans. Initially, the TOMAS appealed to the national governments for finance, and to legalize their occupation. The experiences in Argentina show clearly that each worker enterprise, ‘TOMAS’, required financial aid, legal aid, and skill training programs in order to survive as a going concern. It was only later in 2004 under a different government that the rules were changed, and government aid was offered to support them as ‘workers cooperatives’. A recent report by Ana Dinerstein indicated that of the 161 ‘TOMAS’, most operate at only a fraction of the full capacity (in relation to the volumes produced before the crisis), primarily as a result of a lack of capital investment, poor labor utilization and the weaknesses of management. In addition there are difficulties in the marketing the products and capacity to compete in national markets.

    We have already seen that across the capitalist world, 2008/9 governments have been more than willing to bailout the owners and shareholders of bankrupt corporations and banks to the tune of trillions of dollars. But they have been unwilling to pay monies to the workers to operate these enterprises. If we assume that the workers would rather be employed than not, and feel able to run the operation without the owners, then they can all be available to operate them as worker enterprises or worker cooperatives or as social businesses. ‘Worker factories’ can be conceived as a new social policy.
    Any government, in the developed world, will be paying thousands of unemployed people various benefits, which will cost millions of dollars with no tax returns. But this money could be spent instead to support the establishment of worker enterprises; to allow the workers to take over the enterprise, and operate as a cooperative or social business with legal rights and access to loans to invest in new equipment. The government would sponsor the legislation necessary to allow takeovers by occupation, or negotiation, and prevent owners or previous bosses from reclaiming the enterprises, once back in profit. Efforts are directed at establishing new minimum conditions for production and decision-making, overhauling the work-space, machinery and equipment, re-establishing services that have been cut off, as well as settling legal arrangements and negotiations with the government and creditors, clients and suppliers.

    The Cooperative movement represents an alternative way of organizing employers and employment. Co-operatives provide over 100 million jobs around the world, 20% more than multinational enterprises.
    In Argentina, there are 12,670 co-operative societies with over 9.3 million members – approximately 23.5% of the population. Co-operative enterprises provide direct employment to over 233,000 individuals.
    In Bolivia, 2,940,211 people or one -third of the population is a member of the 1590 co-operatives. . Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito “Jesús Nazareno” Ltda. (CJN) handled 25% of the savings in 2002. 1590 co-operatives provide 32,323 direct jobs and 128,180 indirect jobs.
    In Colombia over 4.8 million people or 10.6% of the population are members of the 8,124 co-operatives in the country. The movement reports an annual growth rate of 7.78% with 348,249 new members joining co-operatives in 2009. Co-ops provide 91% of all micro-credit in the country. The co-operative movement provides 137,888 jobs through direct employment and an additional 559,118 jobs as worker-owners in workers co-operatives – providing 3.65% of all jobs in the country.

    Many writers seem to consider that cooperatives, in supporting the capitalist business model, do not mark any significant change in economic enterprise. At this time, 2011, to do otherwise would be difficult, in view of the fact that capitalism in various forms is the dominant system of economic organization across the globe, from China, to the USA, to Japan, the EU, Russia, India, Brazil to Argentina, the Middle East to North Africa, South Africa,
    What is significant is that the majority of worker occupations and takeovers of factories and offices in South America, the UK, EU, and USA, whatever their original intentions, eventually re-establish themselves as ‘cooperatives’- enterprises that are owned by the workers, the customers, in association with the government or local funding authority. These enterprises are dependent for funding in order to continue to make products and offer services. They are required to make profits so as to repay the loans, as well as the members of the cooperative; as well as to pay their workers, and fund the benefits such as pensions. Enterprises, cooperative and corporate and state, depend upon funding agencies.
    Capitalist enterprises are privately owned and operated for private profit.
    A cooperative enterprise is planned to make profits to share among the workers and members: joint ownership with profit-sharing.
    Whether the enterprises are cooperative or private, they are all funded by these investment funds. The fundamental question remains: what should happen to the profits?

    Go to
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    Robert Owen 1813: A New View of Society International Development Non Governmental Public Action Programme 2006 NGPA Research Paper 8
    Go to
    Go to ‘Discourse: Social Ecology’

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