Solidarity Economy Survey for Presidential Candidates
Below are 5 questions we are submitting to candidates seeking the office of President of the United States.
The United States has a strong history of local economic development that is grounded in cooperative, democratic, equitable and sustainable values. The solidarity economy is a framework and movement that brings together practices that align with these values in order to build an economy that serves people and planet.
While the official unemployment rate is low, this obscures the fact that many people are underemployed, holding multiple jobs to make ends meet, being one paycheck away from financial disaster. Many more have given up looking for work and are not counted as being unemployed.
Studies show that on average worker-owned cooperatives outperform traditional businesses in terms of industry average wages and benefits, productivity, job stability, and satisfaction.
Worker co-ops are locally rooted and tend to prioritize giving back to the community (7th Cooperative Principle).
Co-ops tend to boost civic engagement, a spillover effect of workers running their own business.
A number of cities (NYC, Madison) are investing millions of dollars in worker co-ops as part of a strategy of inclusive economic development.
A recent $32 million grant was awarded to 4 co-op developers to encourage and support the wave of baby boomer small business owners who are approaching retirement, to sell their business to their workers.
Question 1: Do you support policies that would promote and strengthen the development of worker co-ops (e.g. favorable tax, procurement policies, investment/loan funds, training, research)?
Yes. I helped organize and worked in a worker cooperative in the late 1970s and early 1980s that specialized in energy audits and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency and solar and wind energy. In over two decades in the construction industry, being a member of a worker cooperative was far better than being exploited and underpaid working for other contractors and being overworked doing my own contracting. I the worker co-op we shared the physical and administrative work and received our full and fair share of the net income the co-op generated.
I would promote worker co-ops with the following federal policies:
Establish a US Worker Cooperative Bank to provide low-interest loans, loan guarantees, and technical assistance to workers and unions that want to start-up worker cooperatives or purchase the businesses they currently work in and convert them to worker cooperatives. Bank policy would encourage union co-ops where workers elect a board of directors to hire management as well as a union committee to negotiate with management over wages, hours, working conditions, and benefits.
Establish Worker Cooperative Centers in every state and regional center as branches of the US Worker Cooperative Bank. The Centers will promote the benefits of worker cooperatives the public, workers, unions, and owners who are retiring or want to sell their business to their workers. The Centers will give and administer low-interest loans, loan guarantees, and technical assistance to worker co-op start-ups and conversions in their states and regions.
Give Workers and their Unions the Right of First Refusal, with assistance from the US Worker Cooperative Bank, to buy and convert their company to a worker co-op when it goes up for sale, is closing, or is moving.
Give Workers the Right Convert Their Businesses to a Worker Cooperative. Worker-initiated conversions would be a three step-process. The first step would the signing of authorization cards by a majority of the company’s workers. The second step would be a business plan for conversion developed with the assistance of a Worker Cooperative Center or, for multi-state and multi-national companies, the national US Worker Cooperative Bank. The third step would be a secret ballot referendum in which the workers approve or reject the conversion plan.
Lease Publicly-Owned Factories to Worker Cooperatives. As part of my Ecosocialist Green New Deal, I call for public enterprises in key economic sectors to plan and coordinate a rapid transition to zero-to-negative greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. One of those sectors is manufacturing, where the US needs to rebuild its manufacturing sector in order to build its own solar, wind, and energy storage systems, a digital smart grid, electrified freight and passenger rail transportation, electric-powered road vehicles, and clean-energy, zero-waste manufacturing systems. During World War II, the federal government took over and built a quarter of US manufacturing capacity in order to turn industry on a dime into the “Arsenal for Democracy” to arm the Allies to defeat the fascist Axis powers. We need to do nothing less through the public sector to defeat climate change. After the war, the US gave the public manufacturing assets to private industry for pennies on the dollar. This time, we will keep the public manufacturing sector publicly-owned and lease the factories to worker cooperatives.
Community Land Trusts
In a country as wealthy as the U.S, the level of homelessness is appalling. Over ½ million people experienced homelessness in a single night in 2018. One reason that housing has become unaffordable is because it is being treated as a commodity (something to be bought and sold) rather than a basic need and a right. Speculation (gambling) on the housing market plays havoc with the availability of affordable housing, it also has led to speculative bubbles that have crashed the economy such as the meltdown in 2008.
CLTs decommodify land and housing by taking them out of the speculative market, thereby creating permanently affordable housing.
CLTs enable low and moderate income individuals/families to own their own home by leveraging grants and subsidies as well as providing a long term land lease at a nominal cost.
Foreclosure rates for CLTs is as much as 90% lower than conventional housing.
Generally, at least 30% of the CLT Board is comprised of community members, thereby ensuring democratic, community control.
Question 2: Do you support policies that would promote and strengthen the development of CLTs (funding, tax breaks, land transfers)?
Yes. I see Community Land Trusts as an economic form that can provide an economic foundation for grassroots political democracy based on citizen assemblies as well as an economic form that keeps land for homes, farms, and businesses affordable.
I would promote Community Land Trusts with the following federal policies:
Establish a HUD Community Land Trust Development Program to provide grants, loans, and technical and organizing assistance for CLT development. The program include funding to pay community organizers to help develop community participation and ensure that professional staff work under the direction of the community, not grantmakers. The goal is make CLT’s a foundation stone for building grassroots political as well as economic democracy, with citizen assemblies being for form for town and urban Neighborhood Governments.
USDA Reparations for Black Farmers. Establish within USDA a program to help black farmers acquire land and develop farms and cooperative farms on CLTs. The reparations provided for in Pigford v. Glick for USDA discrimination against black farmers was slowly and incompletely implemented.
Dedicate a National Land Value Tax to Neighborhood Governments with Community Land Trusts. Establish a national Land Value Tax on the unearned increase in land values due to social investments and improvements. A national Land Value Tax would achieve the same protection as CLTs do from rising land values due to social investments that can price home and business owners off of their land. The Land Value Tax would go to Community Land Trusts where they are organized, thus incentivizing the creation of Neighborhood Governments with Community Land Trusts as a foundation for grassroots political and economic democracy at the neighborhood level.
Allocate a Portion of Federal Income Taxes to Neighborhood Governments with Community Land Trusts. Allow members of Community Land Trusts to give a portion of their Federal Income Taxes to their Neighborhood Government with a Community Land Trust. This tax policy would also incentivize the creation of Neighborhood Governments.
CLTs as a Foundation for Neighborhood Government:
I see Community Land Trusts as a core institution in the creation of a grassroots political and economic democracy based on citizen assemblies as the highest decision-making authority in municipal governments.
CLTs also protect housing, farms, and businesses from rising land values that can price current residents off of their land.
We need to return to CLTs as originally conceived by its founders in the civil rights movement: community control of land, housing, and businesses as a basis for local self-government and empowerment. Most CLTs today, with encouragement from their government and foundation funders, are controlled by professional staffs, not residents. They are focused on affordable housing, not community control.
We should return to the original vision of CLTs as a way to build grassroots political and economic democracy and power. The goal of CLTs should be to empower low-income and working-class people to democratically control the land, homes, farms, and businesses of the communities they live in. CLTs should be a core component of local neighborhood governments governed by neighborhood assemblies of the residents.
CLTs and Affordable Housing:
By separating the community ownership of the land from the improvements on the land, CLTs enable resident home and business owners to build equity while the unearned rise underlying land values due to community development and improvement stays with the community at-large. This framework prevents rising land values in improving communities from pricing existing residents out of their homes, farms, and businesses. It enables community development without gentrification by outsiders and the displacement of current residents.
With community ownership of the underlying land by the CLT, community residents can determine the kinds of development their community needs and wants. This community ownership and economic development can be enhanced by government granting CLTs the power of eminent domain in their territory, as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston acquired for its Dudley Neighbors CLT.
CLTs and neighborhood governments do need professionals for property and financial management, but they should work under the direction of neighborhood assemblies, not grantmakers.
Pubic Housing for Affordable Housing:
Public housing can build affordable housing far more efficiently, faster, and at the scale needed than CLTs, which are a labor-intensive, grant-dependent way to provide affordable housing. As part of the Economic Bill of Rights in my ecosocialist Green New Deal, I call for a 10-year crash program to build 25 million units of public housing in mixed-income developments, with 40% reserved for low-income people in order to meet the demand for affordable housing by low-income people. Instead of the segregated projects for poor people of color that the US built in the 1950s and 1960s before stopping to build much public housing at all after 1970, the new public housing would be quality developments that are mixed-income, with professional, working-class, and low-income people living together, as they do in public housing in Europe. The developments would be cited to increase urban density for walkable communities throughout the metro regions across the city/suburban divide. It would be a jobs program, a clean energy program, a walkable communities program, and a desegregation program as well as an affordable housing program.
New Communities Inc. and Reparations:
I had the benefit of learning about CLTs from the late Bob Swann when he led the Institute for Community Economics in Massachusetts when I lived in New England in the 1970s and 1980s. He was one of the co-founders of the first US CLT, New Communities Inc. in southwest Georgia, which grew out of the Albany Movement of the era’s civil rights movement. New Communities was a farm owned as a CLT and operated by a collective of a dozen black farmers from 1969 to 1985. It fell victim to discrimination by the USDA, which denied them an emergency loan during a drought. New Communities went out of business. The New Communities farmers, as part of a class-action lawsuit by 16,000 black farmers, finally won court-ordered compensation by the federal government in 1999 in Pigford v. Glick, though it took until 2009 for the federal government to pay up. Shirley Sherrod, one of the New Communities founders, had taken a job with the USDA by that time, but was fired by the Obama administration as a result of a right-wing film smearing her with an out-of-context quote. She won compensation from a lawsuit for defamation in that case. Full compensation for the USDA’s discrimination against New Communities and all black farmers requires reparations from the USDA in the form of land and technical assistance for new farmers, with a priority on CLTs to protect farms from rising land values.
Make CLT Professionals Work for Residents:
While New Communities was a victim of racial discrimination by the federal government, many of the other more than 200 CLTs that have been developed around the US are run by their professional staffs who can navigate the government and foundation grant world and provide the property and financial management. But they do so with little, if any, participation and control of residents. I have seen this in my own city of Syracuse, New York, where the city-initiated Time of Jubilee Community Land Trust is run by the staff, with little community participation. In over 30 years, it has built or rehabbed only 90 homes, while administering workforce development, business development, and youth programs, using CDBG funding and foundation grants. Residents have little say in the programming and often do not understand how their CLT leases work. Land values have not risen because the community remains one of the most impoverished in the nation. It is just part of the city’s Democrat’s patronage machine, providing paid jobs for staff, but not much investment in the community. CLT organizing should take care to insure that the staff professionals work under the direction of the community, not just the grantmakers.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects catastrophic impacts on human and environmental systems unless world governments can transform global energy infrastructure within the next 12 years. Despite the existential threat, fossil fuel industries continue to exploit human and environmental resources for shareholder profit, with impacts on the health and livelihoods of low income and other vulnerable communities worldwide. In fact, two hundred years of extracting natural and human resources to fuel a global economy have created dual crises: a climate crisis and a crisis of inequality.
Energy democracy can encompass various strategies and look different in different places, but is driven by a common set of principles and broad vision. By capitalizing on the decentralized potential of renewable energy resources, energy democracy transfers control over the energy economy to communities/stakeholders, for example through community-based public entities or cooperatives.
By democratizing as well as decarbonizing the energy economy, local renewable energy systems make it possible to share the benefits of moving off fossil fuels. Energy democracy can channel energy assets, employment opportunities, and cost savings to disadvantaged communities where they are most needed, reversing histories of dispossession.
Energy democracy requires institutional, social, and economic innovation, which disrupts business-as-usual practices with pathways to a more just and sustainable future.
Question 3: Do you support policies that would promote and strengthen the development of locally owned and democratically governed renewable energy systems? If so, what policy levers would you use?
Yes. I have been active in public power campaigns since I was involved in the anti-nuclear/safe-energy Clamshell Alliance in New England in the 1970s and 1980s. We promoted a model of public-owned, community-controlled energy utilities that was promoted by a group of policy analysts associated with the Institute for Policy Studies, including Jim Ridgeway, Len Rodberg, Jeff Faux, and Lee Webb. A Model State Energy Act by Jeff Faux and Lee Webb was published in the Congressional Record on December 18, 1974 as part of the response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo of the United States. The model was further developed by Jim Ridgeway in two books, New Energy (1975) and Energy-Efficient Community Planning (1979) by James Ridgeway. I have been campaigning for public power in Syracuse for the last 20 years. We got as far as convincing the city council to fund a feasibility study in 2007, but the mayor sabotaged it. That campaign continues.
Federal policy can take the lead in promoting local public power utilities and linking them in a democratic federated public power system fore the whole nation by socializing and democratizing the energy sector as a community-controlled national public energy system.
Local public power is not enough. The giant investor-owned utilities like Duke, PG&E, and National Grid are not going to replace their servo-mechanical grids geared to centralized coal, gas, and nuclear power plants with digital smart grids geared to decentralized distributed solar and wind energy sources and to the quickly shifting power demands of automated cost and efficiency optimization by power consumers. The fossil fuel industry—the Exxons and Chevrons, the Enbridges and Kinder Morgans, and the Valeros and Koch Industries—is not going to reinvest its profits in renewables instead of more fossil fuel extraction, transportation, refining, and burning. This large-scale energy infrastructure must be publicly-owned and democratically-controlled in order to plan and coordinate a rapid clean energy transition and to reliably supply local public power systems with clean electricity.
A community-controlled federal public power system would take over the fossil fuel as well as electric power industries. It would buy controlling interests in publicly-traded investor-owned utilities and fossil fuel companies and take over privately-held fossil fuel companies (e.g, Koch Industries) by eminent domain. During the progressive conversion to 100% clean renewable energy, the public power system would reinvest the earnings from the sale of fossil fuels during the transition into clean, renewable energy systems.
The community-controlled public power system would be structured as a federation of local public power utilities governed by locally-elected boards that in turn elect representatives to state boards, which in turn elect a national board. The local public power utilities would do the detailed local planning and administration. The state and federal boards would plan and administer larger-scale infrastructure to support local public power generation and distribution of energy.
Power generation accounts for only 28% of the current greenhouse gas emissions of the US. We must also transform the other sectors of the economy in order to zero out greenhouse gas emissions—transportation (29% of greenhouse gas emissions), manufacturing (22%), buildings (12%), and agriculture (9%).
That means the federal government should expand the public sector into the transportation and manufacturing sectors. The rail systems of the country should be socialized in order to rapidly electrify and expand freight rails, build high-speed intercity passenger railroads, and rebuild the light-rail trolley systems that every city and town once had between 1890s and the 1930s. The airlines should be socialized and integrated into this public transportation system. Local transportation authorities would be integrated into the federal public transportation system using the same principle of federation outlined above for the public power system.
The federal government must also build and own clean manufacturing facilities that will produce not only the renewable energy and transportation systems, but intermediate and consumer goods using zero-waste manufacturing technologies powered by clean electricity. These factories would be leased to worker cooperatives.
We need a major federal public enterprise initiative here on the scale of what the US did during the World War II emergency when the Office of War Mobilization planned and administered this public manufacturing sector. I have called for an Office of Climate Mobilization to perform the same function of planning and coordinating all federal agencies and enterprises to meet the goal of zero-to-negative greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030.
I have provided more details of this vision for public power and related public industries in my Budget for an Ecosocialist Green New Deal.
Privately-owned banks operate to maximize shareholder profit. They frequently invest in projects that accelerate the climate climate crisis and exacerbate income inequality in pursuit of short-term profits. In addition, investment decisions for local communities are often made by Wall Street bankers who have never even visited that community.
A public bank is operated in the public interest, owned by the people through their representative governments. They are a way to democratize public financial decisions.
A public bank can be used to finance climate change solutions, and to make low-interest loans for affordable housing, local businesses and student loans.
Public banks can also reduce taxes because their profits are returned to the general fund, and they do not need to charge interest to themselves. Eliminating interest reduces the cost of such public infrastructure projects as much as 40%.
Question 4: Do you support the creation of Public Banks? If so, what concrete steps would you take to help facilitate their creation? If not, why?
I have long supported public banks at the municipal, state, and federal levels.
At the federal level today, I call for socializing the Big Four—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank. Each of the Big Four holds assets well over $1 trillion. Collectively, they hold nearly half of total US bank deposits. They serve the majority of US personal and business account holders.
They are too big to fail. Their massive risk exposure puts the whole economy at risk. They are too big to jail. Their executives have been insulated from personal accountability for serious corporate crimes because their banks have too much systemic power.
The Big Four should be turned into a public banking utility that operates at cost for public benefit instead of for private profit. This federal public banking system should be operated as a federation of public banks at the local, state, and federal levels, with each level participating in lending for personal and business customers and public projects at their own level. This community-controlled national public banking system would be governed, as with the public power and transportation systems described above, locally-elected boards that in turn elect state boards, which then elect the federal board.
I also support making money a public utility by having the federal government create debt-free public money instead of creating money by the Treasury selling securities and banks creating loans. The public money reform would entail nationalizing the Federal Reserve into a Monetary Authority within the Treasury Department with the sole power to create new money as debt-free greenbacks (in the forms of digital money as well as paper United States Notes). The federal government would create debt-free money and spend it into the economy through the federal budget, instead of the current process creating debt-linked money (in the forms of digital money and paper Federal Reserve Notes) by borrowing money from Wall Street by selling treasury securities. This proposal is a modern version of the greenback demand of the farmer-labor movement and its Greenback Labor and then People’s parties in the late nineteenth century.
Pending the public money or greenback reform, the public banking system would extend credit by fractional reserve lending as all banks now do. When the greenback reform is enacted, then the federal government would provide money to the public banking system through the federal budget to provide loans on a full reserve basis.
Public budget decisions have enormous impact on our lives, but the process for how those budgets are created is incomprehensible and inaccessible to most people. Budget decisions often fail to address community needs, and Instead meet the demands of those with the most power or loudest voices. This disconnect fuels some of the biggest problems with our democracy, especially record-low participation and trust in government.
Participatory budgeting ensures that all voices have a place at the table by allowing participants to work together across partisan divides for the good of their communities, while increasing government accountability.
Participatory budgeting makes government more effective, fair, and innovative. It connects residents’ local knowledge with technical expertise, directing resources toward public priorities. Low income people, people of color, and youth participate at higher rates than in typical elections, and learn valuable civic skills and knowledge. This participation often leads to creative new projects that push broader policy change.
People all over the world are using participatory budgeting, proposing, developing and voting on legislation. Some are using “citizen assemblies” to change the way government works. In the US, many cities have allowed hundreds of thousands of people to directly decide how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds via participatory budgeting.
Question 5: Do you support the implementation of participatory budgeting and other participatory practices? If elected, how would you help agencies adopt a co-governance, direct democracy approach to move our governing practices toward more bottom-up, equitable policies and budgets?
I support participatory budgeting and policy-making grounded in citizen assemblies as institutions that are structured into municipal governing charters.
We have a form of citizen assemblies in many New England towns in the form of Town Meeting, which adopts ordinances and town budgets and elects town councils to administer the ordinances and budgets between town meetings. The same principle can be applied to larger cities by making neighborhood assemblies part of the structure of city governments, where the neighborhood assemblies have their own areas of authority within their neighborhoods and the power to instruct the people they elect to represent them on city council.
The scope of participatory budgeting in many cities is now too limited. They are are often once-off community meetings that only have a say in the use of a portion of federal Community Development Block Grants. We should work to expand the scope of participatory budgeting to the point where institutionalized citizen assemblies can instruct their council representatives on their priorities of the whole city budget. The citizen assemblies should also have a say in policy-making in all areas, not just budgets.
To make the delivery of public services and utilities more grassroots-democratic, we should have locally-elected boards to govern their local administration, as described above for a public energy system and a public banking system. To take another example, I advocate for Medicare for All as a community-controlled National Health Service where delivery as well as payment for medically-necessary services is socialized and democratically accountable. Hospitals and clinics would be publicly owned. Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers would be salaried public employees. The National Health Service would be governed by local health boards, two-third elected by the public and one-third elected by health care workers, that federate at the state and national levels for overall planning and coordination. This governing structure would enable communities currently underserved by healthcare resources to advocate for their needs.
This kind of federated structure, grounded at the base in citizen assemblies, is how we can practice participatory budgeting and policy-making in all areas of public affairs.