Monday, November 28, 2011

Workers of, um, Richmond, Unite!

A couple weeks ago, we wrote about the disastrously misguided thinking going on in the Bay Area city of Richmond. In spite of the crime and high unemployment that continues to plague the town, its leadership is apparently embracing socialism rather than the union-centered crony capitalism so popular elsewhere in California. Recently, the city chose to pander to the Occupy movement by taking steps to divest itself from dealings with businesses that don't pay income taxes, because, after all, why bother with things like context when you have large employers to push out of Richmond? And now, according to the LA Times, they may have discovered the answer to their economic troubles: the workers' cooperative.

We'll dispense with your first question right away: no, we're not kidding. Apparently, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin (a key contender for Golden State Liberty's 2011 Worst Politician in California award) recently saw the future of her city in a visit to Mondragon, Spain. Mondragon is a Basque town dominated by the Mondragon Corporation, a web of cooperatives employing some 83,000 people. Since August, Richmond has paid activist Terry Baird to work on setting up cooperatives in the city's bleaker pockets. These businesses include a hot-dog stand, a small solar-energy outfit, and a bicycle shop.

Our experience with the coop model is rather limited. We went to college in a small town that had a cooperatively owned bar in the main business district; in the time we lived there, it was the only pub in town that went out of business, amid rumors that the worker-owners had given away too many free drinks to their friends. That should tell you something about how much trouble Richmond is in: its mayor is embracing a business concept used by a bar that couldn't make money selling beer to college students. If that's not enough, keep this in mind: Richmond's mayor is embracing Spain as a model for economic growth. That's right: if you like the idea of 20% unemployment and swooning debts that threaten to take down a continent, then Richmond may be the town for you.


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