Owning a Better Future

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

     In an era of stagnating wages, persistent unemployment and underemployment, rising costs of living, health epidemics and climate change, one might come to believe that Walden’s observation of quiet desperation and resignation is as true today as it ever was. Even though that desperation might not always be so quiet, it is the creeping pervasiveness of resignation that poisons our reservoirs of hope.

      Resignation that we are stuck in a quickening race to the bottom by working harder every day for less pay and fewer benefits, with little job security, all aimed at being “competitive”. Resignation that we get to buy cheap stuff, because that’s all we can afford, by allowing companies to exploit workers and pollute the environment elsewhere in the world. Resignation that billions of us live in poverty. Resignation that the wealthiest 85 people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 BILLION people. Resignation that our most of kids will have to take on decades of debt to pay for four years of college, while half of them will end up unemployed or underemployed when they graduate. Resignation that maybe the American Dream is dead.

      Perhaps poisoned with cynicism and resignation, there is still hope. Take a minute and imagine. Imagine the world you want to live in, the world you hope for. Did you hope that you can provide your kids with a better life? Hope for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Hope that you will have a job that not only provides a good wage and good benefits, but also is enjoyable and fulfilling? Hope that someday you will be able to retire with dignity and good health? Hope that you will be able buy a nice home in a good neighborhood? Hope that you can send your kids to college? Hope that your kids will have the opportunity and freedom to be who they want to be and to do what they want to do?

     Hope is the foundation of the American Dream. A world full of inequity, poverty, disease, prejudice and pollution is not what any of us hope for, it is the world we have resigned ourselves to.

We can own a better future.

     How? By not only having the hope that things can be changed for the better, but also the courage to make change happen. There is no silver bullet, no road map, and no guarantees, but certainly we can keep working to make inroads and together begin to shift the momentum towards a better world. One such inroad might be to start reclaiming ownership of some of things that now see beyond our control. A community standing up to a polluter to reclaim ownership of their environment. A neighborhood that others have resigned to be a ghetto, coming together to reclaim ownership of vacant lots in order to plant community gardens. A laid-off worker reclaiming ownership of their livelihood by starting their own business.

      Why ownership? Because if it’s your land, you’re not going to pollute it. If it’s your job, you’re not going to give it to the lowest bidder.

    Worker owned businesses, including worker owned cooperatives, root jobs and money in their communities. The community, in turn, supports the worker owned businesses. Two important examples of this ecosystem are the Mondragon cooperatives, located in the Basque region of Spain, and the thousands of worker owned cooperatives in the Emilia Romanga region of Italy.

     Although unemployment in Spain is currently 26%, the unemployment rate in the Basque region is half of that. Why? Because the worker-owners in the Mondragon cooperatives prioritize their own employment over the maximization of their profits, layoffs and closures are the absolute last resort rather than the first option. Rather than syphon off profits to anonymous global shareholders, worker-owners in the Mondragon cooperatives keep their profits and give 10% to their communities. Because money stays in the community, it supports other jobs in the community as it recirculates from one community-based business to another.

     Owning our own jobs, our own livelihoods, gives us the power and ability to work for the kind of world we hope for. As worker-owned cooperatives, we can share the risk of ownership in order to minimize it, without giving up the power of ownership. The power of ownership, the control of our own lives, becomes a power antidote to the poison of resignation and desperation.

To learn more about worker ownership and union co-ops, visit: