Can We Do It Ourselves? A Film About Economic Democracy
Patrick Witkowsky, Jesper Lundgren, Andre Nystrom and Nils Safstrom (2015)
Swedish with English subtitles
“Economy democracy” describes a system in which workers control the workplace and determine the policies under which it runs. The workers cooperative is the best known model of economic democracy.
The filmmakers begin by differentiating capitalism from a free market economy and economic democracy from socialism – as many people confuse these terms. Under capitalism private capitalists own the capital to run a business and enter into a rental contract with workers to perform the labor. Under this system the capitalists own and control the business and keep all the profits.
With a worker cooperative, workers own and control the business and enter into a rental contract with labor to provide capital. They pay the capitalists for using their money but maintain ownership of the business and control of production. They also decide how profits will be distributed.
Under socialism, the capital is “socialized.” Theoretically this means workers own an equal share of the entire economy. In practice, this has generally translated into state control of the workplace, as opposed to worker control.
This film focuses on the day-to-day operation of two 30-year-old American cooperatives. The first is Massachusetts-based Equal Exchange, founded in 1986. The second is New York-based Cooperative Home Care Associates. The latter was founded in 1985 and has 2,300 member-employees.
The filmmakers also interview various academics, activists, business leaders and trade unions officials regarding their research and experience with cooperatives.
The part of the film I found most interesting was an analysis of how monopoly capitalism distorts the free market. Our present economic system actually consists of three markets: the consumer (goods and services) market, the labor market and the capital market. Only the consumer market operates democratically, in being driven by consumer choice. The goal of economy democracy is to democratize the labor and capital markets, which are controlled at present controlled by a tiny capitalist elite.
Because workers have virtually no say into their work and receive minimal direct benefit from it, capitalists must use the fear of being fired to force them to work. This is only possible in economies with high levels of unemployment and poverty. Historically the corporate elites have deliberately manipulated monetary and fiscal policy to keep unemployment rates high.
Once workers own and run their own companies, unemployment and poverty are no longer necessary to motivate them. Thus full employment is one of the most important benefits of economic democracy.