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Please begin with an informative title:

The Occupy movement is planning Occupy the Economy, a series of demonstrations in the headquarters of major corporations which will culminate in a convention to establish a Right to Industrial Democracy.

This is of course fantastic but it also brings up logistical problems; namely, how to convert businesses, and especially large businesses, into worker-owned cooperatives. So far as I can tell there are three different approaches in doing so. Put broadly, this can be thought of as the economic, strike and legal approaches.  

The economic approach

So far the steps to convert an already existing business into a co-op generally go like this:

1. Buyout shareholders who are opposed to the idea
2. Create a new business for the co-op
3. Transfer all assets from the former business to the co-op
4. Close former business
Of course this is difficult just for small businesses, let alone the major corporations. Take a look for example at some of the biggest companies and what it would take to buyout their assets:
* Bank of America ($2.209 trillion)
* General Electric ($685.300 billion)
* Wallmart ($193.406 billion)
* Apple ($176.064 billion)
Needless to say even the combined wealth of those at the bottom of the economic latter would not be able to buyout the largest companies.  

The strike approach

One answer that's been floated around was that workers should take over (or occupy) their workplaces via one or more strike. Like sit-down strikes in the 1930s or 1890s these would force managers to give up their power.

There are generally two critiques to this: (1) that it amounts to coercion and theft of capital and (2) that it would be impractical. The first is only valid insofar as you hold the system now to be valid. For instance, right-wing philosophers like Robert Nozick and Walter Block, have quite literally defended feudalism and slavery as being mere extensions of private property, and therefore attempts to usurp or abolish them would be considered "coercion." Needless to say, it is not one that holds sway.

The second critique however does. To organize workers in major companies to engage in strikes would be difficult enough for unionized workers, let alone those that aren't.

One aspect to look at is those at are already within co-ops. As Gar Alperovitz points out:

Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.
That means 8.3 percent of the US workforce is already under (semi-)worker control with a figure of 12.2 percent organized workers if we include unions. While these figures are small they are substantive when it comes to a general strike.  

The legal approach

That leaves a legal approach, or legislation or constitutional amendment to guarantee worker's self-management. This could be done in the same way unions are ratified; with a vote of a majority of the workers, it would legally convert the business into a co-op.

This approach has a kind of catch-22: if it is done locally then employers might use capital flight (moving a workplace somewhere else) to avoid it, thus it would need be national; however, it would be close to impossible to implement nationally without local support.  

Thus the solution should be to do it locally using legal framework that treats the workers both as a co-op and a union. As of now, unions are legally protected from strikebreaking so employers can't move a workplace if workers are trying to unionize. After more and more parts of the country have the right available it will be able to be done nationally.

Women's suffrage before and after the 19th amendment
Many states had some form of women's sufferage before it was implemented nationally via the 19th amendment.

It is important to note that this is how almost all struggles for freedom have taken place, from abolition to suffrage to civil rights: after many sustained local reforms a national program or amendment was able to be implemented. That is also not to discount the other approaches, each can be useful given the right situation, but what is important is we know the end goal.  



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Originally posted to Jeff Moniker on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 03:04 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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