On the co-operative University as a field of opportunity

Yesterday @chunkymark interviewed @aaronjohnpeters. Peters made the important point at 12.31 in the video that the lead-into and beyond the next General Election in 2015 offers a relatively unique “field of opportunity” for recasting a politics of opposition and alternative to those of austerity. The question Peters then poses is: “how do we respond to that [field of opportunity]?” He goes on to state that we need to find “sustainable forms of opposition”, which lie inside-against-and-beyond traditional party and union structures and that refuse to outsource renewal and change to those in power. If we are to delegitimise those who have delineated a politics of neoliberal accumulation by dispossession, then we need alliances and allegiances of “constructive engagement” that enable us collectively to define our power-to create the world. At least this is my interpretation.

Peters reinforces this with the cry of “They all must go!” (¡Que se vayan todos!) that emerged from the social struggles againstArgentina’s debt crisis a decade ago, including protest, outing represssion, delegitimising of those in-power and relegitimising other forms of working and co-operating, the recovered factories movement, neighbourhood assemblies, and so on. Naomi Klein sought to stich a sense of global solidarity into that movement by making explicit connections for instance to the Icelandic protests against transnational elites of politicians and CEOs in 2002. She argues that “governments that respond to a crisis created by free-market ideology with an acceleration of that same discredited agenda will not survive to tell the tale.”

The social struggles against the restructuring of Argentina have been mapped in an edition of affinities from 2010 on The New Cooperativism. It is clear that Central and South America provide a rich-veing of possible stories of solidarity, democracy, and autonomy, which are themselves predicated upon different organising principles of production. As Lebowitz notes for Venezuela this is then predicated upon the interests of a whole society and not those in-power, and it demands that we find ways to critique private property, the exploitation of labour, and production solely for profit, in order to redefine units of social property, forms of social production organised by workers, and production for the needs of communities. Lebowitz argues for co-management between workers in enterprises or firms, and society/communities.

Co-management implies a particular kind of partnership–a partnership between the workers of an enterprise and society. Thus, it stresses that enterprises do not belong to the workers alone–they are meant to be operated in the interest of the whole society. In other words, co-management is not intended only to remove the self-interested capitalist, leaving in place self-interested workers; rather, it is also meant to change the purpose of productive activity. It means the effort to find ways both to allow for the development of the full potential of workers and also for every member of society, all working people, to be the beneficiaries of co-management.

We might also take something here from the experiences of Cuba, in raising healthcare (witnessed in Haiti and Venezuela) and educational attainment, at lower levels of GDP and environmental impact. As George Lambie (p. 35) notes in his deconstruction of the Cuban Revolution in the Twenty-First Century ‘The problem is that territorially restricted capital is less able to compete with its transnationally mobile counterpart.’ Thus, in the face of the neoliberal refrain of social mobility communities need new ways to exit the drive to compete with transnationally mobile capital, and to define new methods of working and producing life. This includes the role of the University in supporting those communities and societies in widening their own field of opportunity and inscribing sustainable forms of opposition and alternative.

Lambie (p. 47) argues that this is crucial because purchasing power parities now show global inequality to be significantly greater than the most pessimistic had thought. Poverty in tied to a lack of mobility and opportunity, limited access to social services, deteriorating working conditions, insecure employment etc., and a disconnect with politics that is framed corporately and where power is located in supra-national classes of actors. For De Peuter and Dyer-Witheford this means that we might refocus the core institutions of everyday life around “an organizational commons, [where] the labour performed is a commoning practice, and the surplus generated, a commonwealth.” They argue for “an acknowledgement of the contribution to collective productivity of every life” and forms of “self-organised associated labour” that can enable a circulation of the commons and the value of commoning.

At issue is the governance of the University as a form of self-organising associated labour, which is able to create sustainable forms of opposition and alternative, in the face of the politics of austerity and dispossession, and more long-term, in the face of the crisis of accumulation. Is it possible for the University to be a public good that helps to legitimise and reterritorialise local forms of social production? On what basis might the University as co-operative endeavour help to liberate communities from the corporate power-over them?

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