Co-Founder, The Democracy Collaborative
The New Alliance: Organizing for Economic Justice, Building a New Economy
Clearly, community and labor union activists organizing for economic justice face many tactical problems in our current economic and political environment. Economic hardship and Republican strategy have increasingly redefined basic elements of the social safety net—welfare, Social Security, Medicare, and other programs—as “entitlements” to be challenged and cut. Tax policy has become more regressive. The pressures of fiscal austerity mean that essential public services that help equalize opportunity for all Americans—especially schools—are increasingly underfunded, to say nothing of the risk of outright privatization. Economic inequality is at extreme levels not seen since the Gilded Age. The position of economic justice organizers here is essentially defensive; fighting a rearguard action for the survival of underserved communities, on terrain which is becoming less and less favorable. The following argument is based on the judgment that it is necessary ultimately to be in a position that goes on the offensive—and that there are powerful ways to do this.
In particular, new strategies of worker ownership within a community framework can function as the linchpin of an approach capable of uniting economic justice organizers, progressives, labor, and environmental activists while at the same time presenting an attractive economic development option to municipal policymakers. Moreover, such an approach can help build economic power in communities struggling against concentrated poverty. More generally, a position that offers an alternative vision of the municipal and regional economy, oriented towards local multipliers at all possible scales, can provide a robust platform for a range of organizing work that points towards larger transformations in the economic system.