Human Dignity

“We should begin by considering all humans as citizens of equal dignity and destiny.”

“The destiny of each one of us is linked to that of others”

–Don José María Arizmendiarrieta

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. –John Donne

The common line between all worker co-ops around the world lies in the connection to each other as humans. All workers are essential precisely because they are human.

The role of worker cooperation exists primarily to connect each other through our labor and create a community of equals. Engaging in a worker cooperative is living the value of solidarity. However, the connection to other workers doesn’t stop at the borders of our cooperative. Even though co-op members have the ability to control their labor and manage the wealth that they create, they must still recognize their role in the larger labor movement.

I would love to see a world where all workers control their companies, link together within their industry to build networks, and create a pathway to a truly democratic economy with a commitment to human dignity and social justice. Some of you might see this and think “Mondragón“, but I am also thinking the ideals of the Industrial Workers of the World from more than a century ago.

Regardless of the structure that becomes created, all workers deserve dignity. Even those workers who don’t work for a cooperative or work for a co-op that competes with a worker co-op. A caregiver faces the same struggles in their day-to-day whether they are members of a home care co-op or work for an agency or as an independent contractor. Likewise with grocery workers, cab drivers, and down-the-line.

Ideally our worker co-ops can grow in a sustainable way to keep their identity while also building a community that brings human dignity to all the workers in their industry. This may seem like a given, but at this unique point in time, while our world facing a raging pandemic. It is important to remember that our struggle to recover and repair our economy lies with supporting all workers. Today, we are “all in this together”, but as workers we will always be all in this together even if, in the day-to-day, we are forced to compete with each other for scraps. We need to move forward to build a labor movement that combines the labor power of unionism and the identity of cooperation.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op 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. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the late, great Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle for Sociocracy for All. He has taught on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College and Presidio Graduate School.
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