fresh voices from the front lines of change







The Nation published this week a fascinating report of a new model of worker cooperative that could attack the jobs crisis and the climate crisis, called “The Cleveland Model.”

Cleveland’s “Evergreen” network of large-scale co-ops, backed with a multi-million dollar development fund and a sister organization providing management assistance, employees are also owners with equity stakes built through small payroll deductions, and 10 percent of pre-tax profit goes back to the development fund “to help seed the development of new jobs through additional co-ops. Thus, each business has a commitment to its workers (through living-wage jobs, affordable health benefits and asset accumulation) and to the general community (by creating businesses that can provide stability to neighborhoods).”

Initial funding is coming from both local government, non-profit foundations and area banks. An idea this ambitious needs a push from the public sector.

The Cleveland co-ops are creating jobs in a variety of industries: clean energy, food production, laundry and journalism. But the authors of The Nation report Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard and Thad Williamson are particularly intrigued how the “Cleveland Model” could apply nationwide to revolutionize transportation:

Consider what might happen if the government and the UAW used the stock they own in General Motors because of the bailout to reorganize the company along full or joint worker-ownership lines–and if the new General Motors product line were linked to a plan to develop the nation’s mass transit and rail system. Since mass transit is a sector that is certain to expand, there is every reason to plan its taxpayer-financed growth and integrate it with new community-stabilizing ownership strategies. The same is true of high-speed rail. Moreover, there are currently no US-owned companies producing subway cars (although some foreign-owned firms assemble subway cars in the United States). Nor do any American-owned companies build the kind of equipment needed for high-speed rail…

…All of this raises the prospect of an expanding economic sector–one that will inevitably be dominated by public funds and public planning. In the absence of an effort to create a national capacity to produce mass-transit vehicles and high-speed-rail equipment, the United States in general, and California and other regions in particular, will likely end up awarding contracts for production to other countries.

It may be hard to consider, seeing the timidity of policies coming out of the Senate lately. But big thinking has to somewhere. And right now, Cleveland has a leg up on Washington.

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