Self-Management in Cuba? Part 3
There is something missing from the statements of both Pedro Campos, the proponent of worker coops, and Jorge Martin of the IMT criticism of this option. Campos states that workers in these coops would not get wages but an equitable sharing of the profits. Martin points out that this would led to extreme inequality and competition.
What is the prime function of a cooperative or mutualist organization of any type? It's prime function is to create a product or perform a service – the production of use values, not to amass profits as with a capitalist company. A cooperative eliminates the exploiter, and what profits are made are certainly divided up among the members, but maximizing profit is not the real reason for the cooperatives. Take but one example – a coop store. People join to get good products at a lower price, and also because it keeps wealth circulating in the community rather than being sucked out of it like a capitalist corporation. They also belong because they like the idea of having a say in what the store does, which they would not have with a capitalist institution. Once a year they might receive a small cheque, their share of the store's profits, but this is hardly the reason for their membership.
Marketing coops like for dairy and grains exist to prevent cut-throat competition among farmers, smooth out the market vagaries, eliminate parasitic middlemen and of course, sell the farmer's harvest.
All the worker coops I am familiar with pay wages. The function of worker coops is two-fold; to create a product and to provide jobs for the members. Like with the other coops, the dividend at the end of the year is not its raison d'etre. (2) Sharing out the profits rather than paying wages is more like a capitalist business partnership than any worker coop I am familiar with.
Mutualists and cooperators were aware of the problems of competition and inequality a 150 years ago and found remedies for these problems. Rather than having worker coops ruthlessly competing with each other, driving members into bankruptcy or forcing workers to self-exploit, the coops can associate, just like the farmers in the example above. Indeed, the main function of the worker coop federation ought to be one of solidarity and mutual aid among members. (And from the examples I know, these are among their main functions)
Martin suggests that Campos' worker coops, could through competition and an emphasis on profit taking, evolve back into capitalist companies. Maybe so with the Campos version. But here in Canada we have coops that are more than 100 years old, and they still function as coops - in spite of having to endure an economic environment where the cooperative and non-profit sector is only about 5% of the economy. While it is true, they have adopted many capitalist aspects (1) the core cooperative values are still there - primacy of use values, democracy, localism, and federation. And by being democratic, rather than authoritarian institutions like capitalist companies, these conservative policies can be changed by a simple vote at the annual general meeting, were the members to chose to do so.
I would suggest that Campos consider the creation of worker coops as they have been done elsewhere – de-emphasizing profit-taking and competition, emphasizing solidarity, mutual aid and association - and this would go a good way to eliminate the potential problems that Martin foresees.
Martin, of course, prefers a planned economy, but not a bureaucratic top-down one, rather a democratic bottom-up version. But I would suggest that the existence of a genuine worker coop sector in the small-medium layer of the economy does not preclude planning and organization. (Existing cooperative federations already engage in both.) It is not an either-or situation. Planning and association are not ideals to be imposed no matter what, they are there to improve the economy and the situation of those who do the work in that economy. If planning and association improve the lot of the workers in the cooperative sector, those workers will eagerly embrace it.
1.A number of credit union branches have had strikes in the past decade. See also
2. What is a Worker Co-op?
Worker co-ops are cooperative enterprises that are owned and democratically controlled by the employees... The main purpose of a worker co-op is to provide employment for its members... Members combine their skills, interests and experiences to achieve mutual goals, such as creating jobs for themselves, providing a community service or increasing democracy in the workplace. Taken from; http://www.canadianworker.coop/english/index_e.html