Get out on the streets! Why May Day matters
1st May – May Day, Labour Day, or International Workers' Day – is commonly seen as a day of struggle and celebration of the trade union movement. It has its origins in the strikes demanding an 8-hour working day and the Haymarket massacre in Chicago in May 1886. The international workers' movement later declared 1st May as a day of celebration of workers' struggles and rights. May Day has its roots in the confrontation between capital and labour.
As workers in a co-operative, we do not face the same exploitation by employers as workers employed in traditional companies or public administrations. We are our own bosses. If we are exploited then we only have ourselves to blame! So what does May Day mean for us when - as workers who are also their own bosses - it makes no sense to fight against ourselves?
I see the co-operative movement as a twin or close companion of the trade union movement. Both aim to not only better the economic and working conditions of workers, but – in the long run – to establish workers' control (well, I wonder how many of today's unions still remember that?). Trade unions, at their best, are about more than just higher pay, more holidays, and shorter working days – they can (and should) concern themselves with the content of the work itself, and with establishing more control by workers. We have seen many examples of workers occupying their workplaces when the owner of a company intends to close it, sometimes taking the management into their own hands, effectively transforming it into a co-operative. This happened in Argentina after the financial crash of 2001 and is happening a lot in Greece now .
The Co-operative movement is the other side of the coin: rather than fighting employers, we begin with workers' control, putting into practice our vision of a better society, and of organising work and the economy differently. In doing so, we gain the experience of managing our own work, managing our co-op, putting our – the workers' – and society's needs before profit. Working in a co-op – and the management of a co-op – requires a paradigm shift, where profit-oriented business and management practice and theory might be of little value to us. Self-organisation – autogestión in Spanish – is something we need to learn and practice now if we are genuinely serious in our aim for a self-managed and self-organised society. It is about empowering ourselves, about taking responsibility for our work (and the outcomes of our work), but also for our well-being at work. It is about co-operation instead of competition, about co-operative and democratic decision-making. While all this might sound a lot of effort (and it surely is), it also makes for much more fun and satisfaction at work.
We are still a long way away from a self-organised society - and our experiments with self-organisation in co-ops are incomplete and full of contradictions. To survive in a capitalist and competitive society, we too need to compete in the market, sometimes contradicting the co-operative values we (try to) practice. However, at Netuxo we also try to extend our practice of co-operation as much as possible in our external relationships too. We use and contribute to free and open source software (such as Drupal), which are made possible by voluntary co-operation, and we give back to the co-operative movement by putting into practice Principle 6 (of the Co-operative principles): “Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.” Check out our special discount for members of European member organisations of the International Co-operative Alliance at http://netuxo.co.uk/discounts.
While we may be without a traditional boss or business owner, as a worker I will be out on the streets on May Day, showing solidarity with other workers' struggles worldwide. Will you join me?
- The Rise of Worker Cooperatives in Argentina - http://atlismta.org/online-journals/0809-journal-intervention/the-rise-of-worker-cooperatives-in-argentina/
- Argentina's co-operative sector continues to grow - http://ica.coop/en/media/news/argentinas-co-operative-sector-continues-grow
- The Greek co-operative movement during the fiscal crisis - http://www.thenews.coop/93082/news/banking-and-insurance/the-greek-co-operative-movement-during-the-fiscal-crisis/
- Promoting cooperatives and the Social Economy in Greece - http://www.cooplife.org/index.php/resources-advice/248-promoting-cooperatives-and-the-social-economy-in-greece
- Del anarcosindicalismo a la autogestión: propuestas ante la crisis en clave revolucionaria. - http://estudios.cnt.es/del-anarcosindicalismo-a-la-autogestion-propuestas-ante-la-crisis-en-clave-revolucionaria/