One Not So Easy Step Toward Ending American Corporate Capitalism
Americans who identify outside of the American two-party political spectrum come in two general shades. Libertarian and leftist. Libertarians like the free-market side of Republican values and disdain the legislating of their Christian moralizing. Leftists swing socialist and can’t stand the market-liberalism of the Democratic party. There is a politics that can unite these opposing parties and it’s endorsed by the well-known American intellectual Noam Chomsky. Anarcho-Syndicalism, or Revolutionary Unionism, is an anti-authoritarian political ideology that could act as a bridge to connect politically disenfranchised Americans against establishment corporatist politics.
The ideology is synergy of socialist and anarchist values. In this interview Chomsky describes it as a framework for expressing anarchist values such as free association, worker autonomy, and regional sovereignty in complex societies. This presentation from the International Workers Association is a primer on the principles of Anarcho-Syndicalism. According to the presentation the principles of Anarcho-Syndicalism are Liberty/Freedom and Direct Action, Equality and Free Association, and Fraternity/Solidarity and Mutual Aid. It argues that the ideology combats capitalist republicanism by empowering trade unions in political negotiations.
Organizations representing the ideology, such as the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (1910, Barcelona) and the International Workers’ Association (1922, Berlin), formed in the early 20th Century as models for institutions that could be the backbone of a skeleton for a socialist economy in a democratic society. The practitioners of Anarcho-Syndicalism argued that the creation of a revolutionary framework to reorder the economy was the only way to succeed in its creation. They thought that political parties could not legislate the creation of a socialist economic order because to do so they would be negotiating with the established governing order and the capitalists and they would see themselves as leaders, heroes, and drivers of the new order. The Anarcho-Syndicalists believed that their political power needed to be rooted in the working class for it to represent the working class.1
A Spanish worker-owned cooperative named Mondragon is highlighted as an example of the continued existence of revolutionary unionism. Mondragon is a multi-million dollar, multinational, multi-industry corporation that is managed under a cooperative charter with pay ratios for their workers that limit the compensation of managers to at least a 9:1 ratio from the lowest paid workers. Their Corporate Values, available on the About Us page linked above, are Cooperation, Participation, Social Responsibility, and Innovation. The company was founded in the 50’s to manufacture small gas heaters. They now own over 250 businesses and employ almost 75,000 people in finance, industry, retail, and education.
Mondragon is an exemplary organization for the power of labor. The cooperative business model in general is a useful tool in the battle against excessive corporate power in the hands of a minority of owners and managers. It could also be a good tool in the fight against the push for anti-union right-to-work legislation across the country. Cooperative businesses that treat their employees well and compete with traditional corporations could be symbols for the public to express their support for public power and provide a resource for people to learn about the class struggles going on in their communities and their lives.
The American economy is experiencing growing income inequality and constant attacks on its social safety nets. According to the 2014 Census there were 47 million Americans living in poverty ($12,000 a year for one person, $24,000 a year for a family of four) in that year and it was the fourth year that that number had increased. 47 million people is over two-thirds of the number of people who voted for either party’s’ candidate in the 2016 election. It is also more Americans than should be allowed to experience food insecurity or a lack of access to healthcare or higher education, that number being zero. By aggressively building economic and social institutions around cooperative, democratic principles Anarcho-Syndicalists could mobilize that voting bloc and the millions of other Americans who disapprove of a society run for the profits of a small cadre of powerful people.
Cooperative businesses like Mondragon could end corporate tyranny in America. Please point me and my readers toward individuals and organizations working for these goals.
1 “[The Trade Union structure] not only gives the workers every opportunity for direct action in their struggles for daily bread, it also provides them with the necessary preliminaries for carrying through the reorganisation of social life on a Socialist plan by their own strength and without alien intervention, in case of a revolutionary crisis. Anarcho-Syndicalists are convinced that a Socialist economic order cannot be created by the decrees and statutes of a government, but only by the solidaric collaboration of the workers with hand or brain in each special branch of production; that is, through the taking over of the management of all plants by the producers themselves under such form that the separate groups, plants and branches of industry are independent members of the general economic organism and systematically carry on production and the distribution of the products in the interest of the community on the basis of free mutual agreements.” Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, ch 4