Elements of the Democratic Economy

For the sake of our communities and our environment, our economy will need to transform. But how? The language of “economic democracy” points us in a direction, but in order to make concrete advances and replicate successes, we need to be clear about just what a democratic economy consists of.  A new resource from The Next System Project can help guide the way:

Traditional policies and approaches are demonstrably failing to alter deteriorating long-run trends on income inequality, concentrated wealth, community divestment and displacement, persistent place- and race-based poverty, and environmental destruction. As a consequence, we have witnessed in recent years an explosion of interest in and practical experimentation with a variety of alternative economic institutions and models of ownership—from worker cooperatives and community land trusts to public banking and community development financial institutions—that are capable of fundamentally altering patterns of ownership and producing dramatically better distributional and other outcomes as a matter of course.  New hybrid forms are emerging, as well as ideas as to how innovative combinations might produce still more powerful results.  Taken as a whole, these institutions and approaches form the mosaic of a new democratic economy in the making, suggesting the contours of a next system beyond corporate capitalism and some pathways for getting there.  

Elements of the democratic economy distills this landscape of theoretical exploration and real-world practice into concise summaries describing each of the institutions involved, assessing their transformative characteristics and potential impact, and providing on-the-ground examples and a sense of the challenges yet to be overcome. The series is intended as an entry point for all those looking to understand the various building blocks of the democratic economy currently being constructed from the ground up in communities across our nation and around the world.

Explore sections on community land trusts, democratic energy utilities, resident-owned communities, limited equity housing cooperatives, and green banks. Check it out here.

Taking Back the Wheel: On Labor’s Future

How do we understand the future of labor? Will it be one of total automation and increasingly precarious workers? Perhaps if Uber has anything to say about it. SLU’s Kafui Attoh has co-authored an article with Declan Cullen and Kathryn Wells in Dissent that tackles some of these thorny questions called “Taking Back the Wheel.” Here’s an excerpt:

Uber argues that its biggest boon to “driver partners” is to present them with independence, flexibility, and more-than-competitive compensation. In this argument the on-demand economy ushers in a bright new future and an ostensibly new labor category: the flexible worker. In a twist on Marx’s utopian dream, such a worker can, Frank Pasquale pithily comments, “knit Etsy scarves in the morning, drive Uber cars in the afternoon, and write Facebook comments at night, flexibly shifting between jobs and leisure at will.”

Of course, the neoliberal utopia of a sharing economy operated by highly contingent workers has been shaken by a multitude of analyses telling a markedly different story. These studies, including ours, emphasize precaritysurveillancecontrollow earnings, and insecure conditions. If the Uber model is the future of work, they tell us, that future looks bleak.

Behind all these debates lurks a deeper premise: that the future of work is actually no work at all. 

But according to Attoh and his co-authors, that future isn’t inevitable:

We should resist this logic of inevitability and see platform capitalism for what it is: a means to mobilize a reserve labor army, overcome barriers to accumulation, and fight declining rates of profit. We are not yet on the road to Uberworld. There’s still time for us to wrest back control, not just of the future, but also of the present.

How might we do that? Read the article here for an accounting of the stakes and possibilities — and learn why Uber is less in control of the future than we might be made to think.

Photo by Maurizio Pesce via flickr (CC-BY)

Debating the Merits of a Job Guarantee

By Steven Attewell

This Labor Day, many people no doubt gave thanks for the low unemployment rate (while perhaps bemoaning wages that aren’t keeping up with inflation). Yet at the same time, at many Democratic Party Labor Day BBQs, presidential candidates and other elected and activists touted proposals for a job guarantee to ensure full employment.

What explains this seeming contradiction? Part of it is that low unemployment doesn’t seem to be resulting in the wage gains that it used to. Part of it is that progressives want to be prepared for the next recession, so that we don’t have to wait years and years for full recovery. Part of it is that progressives want some way to appeal to working class white voters without throwing people of color under the bus.

This sudden flood of proposals on job guarantees has provoked a lively discussion on the merits of these proposals. One of the common refrains in this debate is a skepticism about whether the Federal government could employ so many people so soon. Continue reading Debating the Merits of a Job Guarantee

New Labor Forum Student Essay Contest

Are you a student or recent alumni of the Murphy Institute? Well we want your essays!

New Labor Forum, the Murphy Institute’s journal of ideas, analysis and debate, is excited to announce a new Essay Contest for currently enrolled students and alumni that have graduated in the past two years.

We invite original essays (neither previously published, nor under consideration for publication elsewhere) on a wide range of topics regarding contemporary working-class life and communities, the politics and policies bearing on those communities, and worker organizing taking place in and outside of organized labor.

Essays may be first person accounts, or scholarly and analytical pieces. We encourage fresh thinking on crucial challenges, provocative and well-grounded arguments, and/or efforts to wrestle with new and concrete information. Contributors should avoid jargon, assumptions, technical language, “academese,” and well-worn rhetoric. For examples of past NLF articles, visit our website.

Editorial guidelines:

Interested students should submit to Samantha[dot]Valente[at]cuny.edu by

December 21, 2018:

  • An original essay between 1,500 to 2,000 words,
  • Short author bio
  • Submissions must be double-spaced and in 12-point Times New Roman font.
  • Please spell out full titles and put acronyms in parentheses at their first use, including commonly used union acronyms.
  • Where endnotes (please do not use footnotes or references) are necessary, please refer to the Chicago Manual of Style.

The winning essay will be published in the May 2019 issue of New Labor Forum and will be featured on the NLF website. The winner will also receive a one-year subscription to New Labor Forum.

The winning author will be notified by March 8, 2019. The winning essay will be judged by the journal editors. All decisions made by the judges regarding the winners will be final.

For more information, please contact newlabo[at]slu[dot]cuny[dot]edu

New Labor Forum Highlights, Labor Day Edition

The New Labor Forum has a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

New Labor Forum’s September 2018 print issue is rolling off the press now. It contains as good a reason as there is to subscribe now:  thoughtful analysis and lucid writing on a wide range of issues vital to anyone who cares about the prospects of workers and working-class communities in the U.S. and throughout the world. Articles in the new issue: assess the options available to blue collar women and female care workers seeking to combat sexual harassment; ask if there is a deep state and what interests it serves; argue that the labor of Palestinians in building the Israeli nation magnifies their claim for full citizenship rights; and trace the remarkable rise of Jeremy Corbyn, once a marginal figure, held in contempt by UK Labour Party elites, now leader of the party and with a chance to lead the country.

On this Labor Day, we highlight two proposals to organized labor. In the first, Larry Cohen argues for a new national system of collective bargaining, modeled on the sectoral bargaining that sets industry-wide wages and working conditions for workers from Norway to South Africa. Moshe Marvit and Shaun Richman make the case for new “Right to Your Job” legislation that would end our “at will” employment regime and force employers to prove that terminations are related to work-performance. Because this legislation stands a fair chance of passing in a number of municipal and state legislatures, Marvit and Richman insists it should become a policy priority for organized labor and its allies.

And we announce that the CUNY Board of Trustees has voted to establish the Murphy Institute, publisher of New Labor Forum, as the new CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. The School’s inaugural round of fall public programming, begins with a public forum on September 14th, entitled A Failing Marriage: Democracy & Capitalism.


Table of Contents

  1. The Time Has Come for Sectoral Bargaining/ Larry Cohen, New Labor Forum
  2. The Case for “A Right to Your Job” Campaign/ Moshe Marvit and Shaun Richman, New Labor Forum
  3. Save the Date-Is A Democratic Capitalism Possible?/ Murphy Institute, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies

Photo by Garry Knight via flickr

Event: Is a Democratic Capitalism Possible (9/14)

Friday, Sept 14th, 8:30AM-10:30AM
CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies
25 W. 43rd Street, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10036

RSVP HERE

Inequality is accelerating at an alarming rate as corporate political power is expanding and worker rights and protections are shrinking. The hyper concentration of wealth in the hands of a financial elite has come to dominate politics and shape policy in a manner that has eroded democratic governance at the federal, state, and the municipal levels. Can democracy be saved from the grips of capitalism? What factors most threaten meaningful civic engagement and what changes are needed to bolster our democracy and create a more equitable society?

Speakers Include:

  • J. Phillip Thompson, NYC Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, including the Mayor’s strategy to encourage greater voter participation and improve the way the city carries out elections, DemocracyNYC; and author of Double Trouble: Black Mayors, Black Communities and the Struggle for Deep Democracy
  • Kim Phillips Fein, Associate Professor, NYU Gallatin School, and author of Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal and Fear City: The New York City Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of the Age of Austerity
  • Maurice Weeks, Co-Executive Director of Action Center on Race & the Economy (ACRE)
  • Moderator: Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, CUNY Graduate School, Distinguished Lecturer in Labor Studies, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies

A conversation about workers, communities and social justice

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