Beyond Capitalism: Other Ways to Organise Ourselves

by Sofia

In one of his essays about circular time Jorge Luis Borges quotes Marcus Aurelius: the one who sees the present, has seen the past and the future. Borges adds that the realization that time and history is circular (or rather humans’ existence is unchangeable) is especially painful (or angering) at times of prosperity and renaissance, while at times of decline, circularity is the guarantee that no disgrace, calamity, dictator can belittle us.

Capitalism too, like any other form of socio-politico-economic organization, is sooner or later going to be replaced. We can now see the embryos scattered all over the globe which promise to crack and replace the capitalist mantle. Like most of the transformations, the process might be painful, but it eventually can bring an end to our disgrace (for those considering this a period of prosperity, be ready for decline).

In this post I would like to speak about several alternatives to our current socio-political, economic, moral and other crises. There seem to be many alternative initiatives at the moment, which makes one hopeful about transitioning from crises. I will speak only of several, so feel free to add a sentence or two about others in the comments bar.

Transformation of labour is the starting point. Today’s form of labour is an essential aspect of capitalism. It takes a lot of time from an average employee, leaving little time for personal endeavours. Weekends is the time for oblivion (alone, or with friends and family), while holidays is mostly the period not so much for contemplating about the improvement of the mechanisms and systems which guide our life cycle, but rather catching up with sleep, food, travelling and friends.

So for having any transformation in counter-direction to capitalism, one needs to start from labour. Both our approach to labour (including concepts of success, achievement, competitiveness, growth, etc), as well as labour forms (8 or more hours of work per day, monetary remuneration, hierarchic relations, etc) are in need of a good shake-up. In today’s world of labour a lot has been inherited from the end of 19th – beginning of 20th century. But considering how fast things have changed only in the past 20-30 years, it becomes clear that, like old-fashioned religions, old-fashioned labour too does not meet our physical or spiritual demands.

Managing own time

There are at least two developments in the world that may finally change this situation: considerations on universal basic income (UBI) and 6 hours working day. Universal basic income is perceived to replace complicated benefit systems with its complex conditions by simply paying certain amount of money to everyone – from kids to elderly. This amount of money is supposed to be as much as enough for living. The amount may differ from country to country based on calculations of food and other vital expenses. The amount may also differ based on age, with elderly getting more and the children getting less than the average. Having a job will not deprive someone of universal basic income.

The idea is that universal basic income will not just spare us from the bureaucracy of benefits systems, but it will give us the opportunity for emancipation from continuous search of income sources, rather than doing something meaningful and fulfilling. Universal basic income is thus a chance to put an end to jobs where workers feel disengaged (a huge number of world’s population). It is a chance to start having more control over one’s own time and making decisions on how to spend time more productively for oneself and for the community, rather than increasing the profits of the boss(es). It can also have additional effects invisible at first sight, e.g. economic independence of women which bears in some cases the potential of leading to an end to domestic abuses.

Already in some western communities the experiment with universal basic income is being discussed and put into practice. Finland and Switzerland are even considering making steps on the state level. These experiments will show whether it is a good idea to start on small community/ town levels or the state level. Of course there is criticism that some (or many) people will prefer just spending money without doing any work. But taking into consideration the statistics of people who hate their jobs and how many people dream of doing more fulfilling and useful work, there are higher chances of having more people engaged in some form of productive work as compared to those preferring doing nothing at all. (To read more on Universal Basic Income: Citymetric, DemosHelsinki, FastCoexist)

For those preferring doing fixed-scheduled jobs, there is a development too. While some have been discussing the advantages of a 4-day working week, others, like in Sweden, have moved to 6-hour working day. If one considers those sectors of economy where the presence of staff for at least several hours (like in banks), if not for 24 hours (like in hospitals) is a must, 6-hour working day would drastically improve work-life balance on the one hand and employment for more persons on the other (don’t believe those who say the economy can’t handle several shifts per day). As British philosopher Bertrand Russell said, this is just a matter of good management in case of which, the average person would only need to work 4 hours per day. Probably Mr. Russell was aware of the habits of UK employees who, according to a study, perform about 3-hours of work during 8 hours of working day. He adds that this would let employees spend more time on arts, literature, science. But aside from these activities, less working hours would mean happier and healthier persons, as well as overall increase in productivity. (To read more on 6-hour work day: Independent, Economist, the Guardian, Business Insider)

Managing own potential

Speaking of radical transformations, it is interesting to observe that more often these are happening on the community (rather than state) level, where there is a deeper perception and acceptance of coexistence, solidarity and cooperation. Examples of such self-governed communities are found from South America such as Zapatistas (in Mexico) or Buen Vivir (in Ecuador) to Europe such as Christiania (in Denmark).

These cases may sound very utopian, as some are marked with a very different lifestyle from what we lead, like indigenous communities, or they have a long history of armed resistance, which may sound too radical for many. In other cases achieving the autonomy was possible to achieve in a prospering society with social services all in place. In contrast to these, examples such as the community of Marinaleda in the Spanish province of Andalusia may sound as less of a utopian case, taking into account that the community rose to its feet from complete poverty amidst several crises. And the crises were not just about numbers of high unemployment or debts, but also a crisis of hope, as corruption had penetrated all aspects of life in Spain leaving little prospects for improvement.

And yet, the community in Marinaleda showed an alternative. The idea that the land should belong to those who cultivate it was put into practice. Occupation of lands which would be of more use for the community, rather than the aristocracy or the military, was a starting point. Growing crops that would demand lots of human labour and thus create jobs was another step. Creation of a town cooperative as well as encouraging small businesses while blocking big corporate chains followed. Now this is a community with full employment and labourers of town’s farming cooperative receiving more than double the Spanish minimum wage. Other communities like the one in Somonte (not far from Marinaleda) seem to follow this case. (To read more on Marinaleda: Films for Action, the Guardian)

Cities in Spain have also decided to take the initiative in their hands. As the central government has often been unable to respond to the needs of the locals, many social activists have taken the city governments in their hands in Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, and more. Ever since anti-evictions activist Ada Colau became Barcelona’s Mayor in June 2015, steps have been taken to force the central government to close the city’s immigrant detention centre. The city new government has also been promoting the creation of social houses. Additionally, citizens are now able to vote for individual district representatives. Monuments to those public figures who were involved in slave trade are being taken down. Even high ranking police officers had to resign, as one of the representatives of the city new government – Jaume Asens – was previously involved in prosecuting Catalonia’s biggest corruption scandal, as well as uncovering cases of torture by the police and defending squatters, sex workers, anarchists, demonstrators. Notably, all of this transformation has taken place parallel to mainstream media creating a negative image of those going against the interests of the elites. However, alternative independent media has emerged to disperse the hostile atmosphere through its investigative materials. (To read more on Spain’s rebel cities: Roarmag)

Managing own production

Community resistance has also played a significant role in the protection of the right to work:  in many parts of the world recuperation of workplaces – that is returning workplaces to the workers, has been an emerging response to delays in wage payment, closures of factories, unjust conditions of work, etc. This type of occupation of workplaces, very much like occupation of arable lands, is a step further in resisting the crisis. It is taking the production itself in the hands of those who produce. Many examples can be found throughout Europe and South America -Vio.Me in Greece, Ri-Maflow near Milan, Officine Zero in Rome, Kazova in Istanbul, Fralib in Gémenos and La Fabrique du Sud in Carcassonne (France). (To read more on recuperation of workplaces: Roarmag)

The process of taking back the factory or other production unit may face obstacles not only in the face of the owner backed by the police, but also if the factory had incurred huge debts, as well as if there are intentional damages to the factory equipment or even its sale leaving the workers with little to continue production. But cases like Kazova factory in Istanbul show the positive outcome of solidarity and collective action. The recuperation story of this textile factory is a common one: first, workers were not paid their salaries for months, later they were all fired. While the workers were thinking what to do, the boss disappeared with all the goods produced by the factory additionally damaging the machines. Workers started their protest marches. They were attacked, detained and accused during their resistance, but they also received support not only from neighbours and other workers, but from all over the country. Soon the workers occupied the factory and re-launched the production of sweaters with old machinery. Solidarity has been a key for the recuperation process, as well as for marketing the products as sweaters were sold in solidarity forums. When the money was collected, the broken machines were repaired and put into practice. (To watch more on Kazova: a film by Fatih Pinar)

This process of responsible attitude to self-management has been advantageous not only for recuperated workplaces, but also for already well established businesses, especially because there is now an alternative way to recognize the accountable companies. A group of people who created non-profit B Lab administer B Corp certification process. They issue this B Corp certification to those companies, who benefit not only the owners of the company, but also their workers, the society and the environment. To get the B Corp certification, a company has to answer B Survey – questions regarding its social and environmental performance (including energy, waste, water use), accountability, transparency, worker compensation, diversity etc. Overall the B Survey takes from 60 to 90 minutes to complete. However, for receiving the certificate, not only the company has to get ratings over 80 (out of 200), but it also has to provide documented evidence to their responses. Even after receiving the B Corp certification, every two years B Lab audits 20 percent of its member companies.

B Lab also helps companies to change their laws that will focus not only on interests of company’s shareholders, but also their employees, communities and the environment. In contrast to what some may say, this system has not scared off businesses. There are now around 1500 certified B Corp companies in 42 countries. Moreover, bigger companies are starting to show interest, such as French food company Group Danone. It plans to work with B Lab to make B Corps also applicable for the multinational corporations. Honesty, time and good management of B Lab can thus support the process of ending corporate greed by bringing big companies onto a socially responsible path. If not, the team will have to continue working with smaller businesses, this way highlighting the incapability of the big corporations benefitting the wider society and environment. This would underline the urgency to take them down as an excessive luxury no one in the bottom-line can afford. (To read more on B Corp: the Guardian, Stanford Social Innovation Review)

If you are eager to read more about other alternative initiatives, here are some links for thought and action: Economy for Common Good, Degrowth.

Join the changes. Walk out from the mass of onlookers and play your part in the transformations.

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