An interesting debate is happening here in Madison. What role should government play in helping to build the co-operative movement? In the backdrop of the corporatist take0ver of Wisconsin, many might be rather skeptical of the government. Certainly, trusting the Walker administration would be a fool’s errand; however, governments do assist economic development and I think that we would be mistaken to shun that assistance.
The government in the United States (and most of North America and Europe) exist as liberal democracies (liberal in the sense of economics and to some extent social politics). These governments, at least on paper, operate with many of the same principles as the co-operative movement: universal suffrage (one person, one vote), democratic control, voluntary and open membership (although the immigration rules run counter to this), education, information and training, etc.
I think that part of the reason that governments don’t seem to be on our side stems from the basic fact that the co-operative movement is largely invisible to most elected officials. I interviewed Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz a few years ago and he made it very clear: if worker co-operatives want to be a force in the economy, then they need to show up. They need to engage the city and regional planners and educate them as to the value of a strong worker co-operative sector to a local economy. If we aren’t willing to do this on a local, regional and even national level, then we will continue to be a small, unorganized, and easily discounted movement. A novelty instead of the mainstream.
Things are changing, however. This can even be a non-partisan effort. In fact, it should be a non-partisan effort. On March 29th, Republican Representative Jo Ann Emerson (Missouri-8th) and Democrat Chaka Fattah (Pennsylvania 2nd) will be hosting an educational forum for Congress about the co-operative model. This will happen on March 29th. We should all asked our Representatives to attend. In fact, we should approach our local bodies (municipal councils, county boards, etc) and seek to hold similar sessions.
Good people on opposite sides of the nation’s debate tend to share some slogans. One popular one is “I love my country, but fear my government.” However, our government is us. Most of the people in Congress and the Senate (and even the White House) started out in local government. If we fear our government, it might be the result of our lack of engagement. If we really want to change our world, then we need to be, as Ghandi said, the change we want to see. It means real engagement with our local elected officials and all the way up the ladder.