Creating a New Economy

Yesterday, I talked about the potential reality that the Budget Despair Bill and the Corporatist Agenda (the 2011-13 Budget) will become a reality. We need to think about how to deal with this.

Steve Herrick, from the Interpretor’s Co-operative offered this comment:

“There are three things we need to do, in broad terms, and they all dovetail. My approach is to make re-entry into the corporate economy optional.

First, we need to ramp up use of existing community resources. Strike funds are important, but we should really focus on resources that are self-replenishing. The TimeBank is a good example. Community gardens are another. Community Car is a third.

Second, we should be teaching each other how to live extremely frugally. We need to learn gardening, cooking and baking, fermenting, and so on. We should also learn the basics of carpentry, first aid, sewing, fixing household objects, etc.

Third, we should be actively creating paying work outside the corporate economy. People need help setting up sole proprieterships and worker co-ops close to home, or even in their homes.

To put it another way, the general strike should become a way of life. When we walk out, or get booted out, we shouldn’t be thinking of how to get back in, but how to build a new economy.”

The reality of the bill may so mess up the ability of organic farming that the consumer co-operatives will have to find a different source of organic foods. If Wisconsin ceases to be a “fair trade” state, then it is unlikely that the Organic farms will find a sustainable market that can support them. It may mean that people sell their excess vegetables and fruits to the Co-op.

Of bigger concern will be the basic city services. If Madison loses 20% of Shared Revenue (as projected, about 11 million dollars) and the School District loses about 22 million, and Madison Metro loses 10% or more of its State funding, the ability to provide basic transportation and other services will be severely limited. How could the City use the co-operative model to address this?

I don’t know what law might prevent this, but it does seem that the Governor is in love with “private-public partnerships”. I would suggest the following concepts:

  • We would need to revision city services on a concept where the city provides a “base level service” and consumers pay for added services.
  • Every stakeholder group should have an equal voice on the board
  • Every “member” would have one-member one vote
  • Any organization providing city services with City equipment/capital would need to be a mutual or co-operative organization (Ch. 185).
  • Labor unions would be able to interact as both the collective bargaining agent for the workers, but also as an institutional member whose capital could help the co-operative providing services meet consumer demand.
  • When possible, whole departments could be outsourced to the mutual organization: EdVisions is a great example of a school system run by a worker co-operative. Could we find a way to make this the Madison Model?

Here is an example concept:

Madison Metro Co-operative

  • Member Classes: 1) Riders 2) Workers 3) Institutions
  • A board of 15 with each membership class electing 5 directors.
  • The City leases the capital equipment on a $1/year basis for a long-term lease (say 20 years).
  • The City “buys” basic service. This would be the essential routes to serve cross town city traffic (the 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 routes plus certain others).
  • The Bus Company creates premium routes (The 10 and 38 comes to mind)
  • Each membership class would have their own capital buy-in rate, and standard fare rate. For instance, East Towne could buy their membership (say $20K) and then the people who work at East Towne would be able to purchase monthly passes at that rate.

The real point is that we are in for a world of hurt. We should expect, should these bills pass, that they ability of government to provide services will be severely limited. The bills need to be stopped, however, if they succeed, we should figure out a way to make Madison’s economy and co-operative economy and not let the corporations raid our assets and destroy what Madison is.

Steve offered some really great ideas–i hope people like mine–we are anxious to hear yours.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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2 Responses to Creating a New Economy

  1. John (and Steve) some great ideas!

    Is Madison on the verge of becoming the Paris Commune of the 21st century? When the people of Paris seized the city they did exactly what you are envisioning… they seized the economy. One detail I would add. Force the banks to extend loans and 1 or 2% interest, as they did in Paris. If they won’t then the people withdraw their funds. Start paying their loans/mortgages to a community fund.

    It comes down to more than digging into your backyard dirt (as satisfying as that is), it means breaking THEIR damn laws! Forcing them to take on the people. Or not. Under pressure of a threat on a mass level, will they be so willing to use the law, their law, against the people?

    btw… as we all know the Paris Commune ended in a massacre, but the history of the people taking their lives into their hands is nonetheless heroic and worthy model. See the Peter Watkins’ docudrama for details.

    In solidarity,


  2. Mike V. says:

    Your outline for a Madison Metro Co-operative sounds similar to the 31st Street Bus Co-op, a project being worked on by the Chicago branch of the IWW. Here’s some more info:

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