I do claim that what is sold to us today as freedom is something from which this more radical dimension of freedom and democracy has been removed — in other words, the belief that basic decisions about social development are discussed or brought about involving as many as possible, a majority. In this sense, we do not have an actual experience of freedom today. Our freedoms are increasingly reduced to the freedom to choose your lifestyle.
— Zizek (via palewidow)
If Vodafone was a mutual
What would happen if Vodafone was a mutual, owned by everyday people rather than shareholder investors?
Vodaphone announced recently that it was selling its 45% stake in the US mobile company, Verizon Wireless, for over £80 billion. With much praise in the press, Vodaphone said that £66 billion of the sale will go to its shareholders. With nearly 50%of its shareholders in the UK, this will give a much-needed boost to the UK economy, equivalent to around 2% of GDP and some in the press said, akin to quantitative easing.
That’s a lot of money, no doubt, and it shows the ability of businesses to generate and distribute wealth.
The thing is, though, over 75% of Vodafone’s shares are held by ten investment institutions. So only a small amount of money will go into the pockets of real people or into the economy in any meaningful sense. Most of the pay-out will be re-invested in the markets with little tangible impact for economic wellbeing and the wider economy.
If it was a mutual things would be different.
If Vodafone were owned by its 19.3 million UK customers, rather than shareholders, each customer owner would get around £3,500, giving them a significant chunk of money. If Vodafone were owned by its 84,000 staff, the share each would receive would be considerably larger.
Not only would a mutually owned Vodafone put money in people’s pockets and boost the economy, it would share the wealth generated by the business amongst around 40% of the UK adult population.
And that’s without even mentioning tax. Which, it turns out, Vodafone will pay very little of because of its clever tax arrangements. But that’s a different story.
A piece from Willie Osterweil about our roots and how we work. We’re learning new methods of investing that makes sense: our investments create zero debt and build worker-owned businesses. We’ve developed techniques that help us accompany these loans to success, and we’re growing quickly. Read a little bit more about how we structure our work!
Over the last year, I’ve had the chance of working with the coops in Argentina where I met The Working World. Now I work at TWW, building cooperatives in the US through the same successful model I saw in Argentina. I couldn’t ask for more exciting, impactful work.
What we need today is a Thatcher of the left: a leader who would repeat Thatcher’s gesture in the opposite direction, transforming the entire field of presuppositions shared by today’s political elite.
Capitalism and mutualism beyond borders
Listening again to one of Zizek’s lectures, he makes a great point - that the Occupy movement’s major insight and motivation was that national democratic institutions are insufficient for controlling global finance and capital because the latter go, by definition, beyond borders.
It takes a prod like this to remind you why economic democracy is a good thing - it means that democratic control is structured around business and economies not around historically constituted geographic units.
So, one way to give the people some control of global finance is through co-operative and mutual structures that give people a democratic say and control over the businesses that affect their daily lives.
It’s not everything, it’s not sufficient on its own and there are big questions about size, scale, how it’s organised, local control …
But it’s a reminder of why economic democracy is a key element response to the control of capital that ignores borders.
We have had [in England], ever since 1876, a chronic state of stagnation in all dominant branches of industry. Neither will the full crash come; nor will the period of longed-for prosperity to which we used to be entitled before and after it. A dull depression, a chronic glut of all markets for all trades, that is what we have been living in for nearly ten years. How is this?
‘Workers’ Opposition’, Chicago, first issue, early 1970’s. Not an official publication of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), ‘Workers’ Opposition’ was published by members of the IWW’s Metal and Machinery Workers Local 440 and Furniture Workers Local 420 to further understanding of the IWW’s ideas and principles.
Formal and radical democracy at work
There are so many ways of looking at democracy, but here are two (connected) ones in the workplace:
Formal democracy in the workplace provides employees with a way of expressing their ideas and passions, and venting their frustrations. They range from staff surveys and techniques of engagement right through to non-hierarchical decision making in worker co-operatives.
Without (and, in fact, with) formal democracy, you find an emergent or radical democracy where employees not given a say or any channels for expression make themselves heard and counted. This ranges from tiny acts or resistance like spending work time on Facebook to making collective demands of management.
In a way, democracy is inevitable. The question is whether it’s mainly through formal channels or through acts of democratic resistance.