Can the ‘new economy’ and labor movements come together again?
There is a vibrant, growing movement advancing community-oriented, alternative ways of economic development.
This includes cooperatives and credit unions, community land trusts, municipal participatory budgeting, local renewable energy and various community organizing initiatives to build local power, all within a grassroots, intersectional and anti-oppression political framework. This kind of work is often referred to as the “new economy” or “solidarity economy.”
The New Economy Coalition, or NEC, is a network of about 160 organizations that is developing the capacity to coordinate this work and share information and best practices. Its recent “CommonBound” conference in Buffalo, New York drew nearly 1,000 activists and organizers, demonstrating the growing energy and momentum of this movement.
Much has been written over the years about the need for U.S. labor to restore its radical imagination and embrace a more socialist economics. As capitalism continues to undergo economic and environmental crises, more common projects between the new economy and labor movements may lead to a revival within mainstream labor of the old cooperative commonwealth concept.
Among labor leaders these days, there is little interest in pursuing alternative economic arrangements, and these ideas exist largely within pockets of the union rank-and-file, and perhaps, union staff book clubs. This shouldn’t be surprising as unions, like many institutions, have pressing day-to-day concerns about representing their membership and are largely focused on survival during a decades-long decline. Furthermore, with rare exceptions, unions are fully enmeshed in the current system, with extensive political and contractual relationships and significant assets that few leaders would be willing to risk. The alternative “workers center” movement may be ideologically more amenable to new economy work, but these groups survive largely on foundation funding which makes a political break with the system challenging.