QUÉBEC CITY—The problems: stagnant incomes, an economic slowdown, concentrations of wealth and power, and frustration with elected officials.
An answer: cooperatives.
“I am suggesting that many of the issues of jobs, wages and also political corruption can be responded to effectively by the cooperative movement,” former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich told an international gathering.
“Our future in many, many respects is in your hands,” he said.
During an Oct. 12 address at the International Summit of Cooperatives, Reich called on co-op leaders to pick up their game because they can step in where capitalism is falling short.
“Cooperatives offer an alternative model of capitalism that could and, in many cases already does, perform in a way that capitalism as it is now practiced is not performing,” he said.
Reich was secretary of labor from 1993 to 1997. He now is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author and commentator on public policy issues, especially the condition of capitalism.
He told a luncheon crowd at the Québec City Convention Centre that the current median household income in the United States is below its 2000 level, even with a 5.2 percent uptick last year.
“As more and more wealth goes to the top, there is less and less purchasing power in the middle class and in the poor to actually turn around and buy goods and services that are being produced,” he said.
That also leads to frustration among workers who feel they are falling behind, Reich added.
That’s where cooperatives come in, Reich said. Though he joked that he has been told co-ops are a quaint vestige of the 1920s or 1930s, he said nothing could be further from the truth.
“A cooperative takes the ideal of democracy and puts it into our workplaces and our organizations. And cooperatives ideally could be a countervailing power to the large forces of large corporations and the biggest banks and the biggest institutions,” he said.
Reich urged cooperatives to join together and be heard at all levels of government and society.
“Only you can help people understand this. Spread the model because it is not just a matter of communication, it is also a matter of public understanding and a matter of political visibility.”
Steven Johnson is a staff writer at NRECA.