This past Sunday I spent 2 hours participating in an online book salon on Firedoglake discussing Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism with author Naomi Klein. Extremely cool format, extremely cool conversation.
Several of the people asked, 'so what do we do' (about the fact that conservatives use natural disasters or create economic disasters or launch coups in order to implement their draconian economic program). Naomi Klein's answer was, 'look south.'
Latin America is furthest ahead when it comes to developing alternatives to this vicious economic model, so it would seem to make sense to look south for ideas. A few years ago I helped make a documentary called The Take. It is about groups of laid-off workers in Argentina who decide to occupy their shuttered workplaces and turn them into democratic cooperatives. More broadly, I think the lesson of what is happening in Latin America is that the first stage is building strong and militant social movements, that have the power to keep politicians honest once they take office.
So I checked out The Take and it's this extraordinary documentary about a group of factory workers who decide to expropriate a factory on their own. Let's call it micro-expropriation.
Which is fascinating and a thrilling development on its own but then it gets more interesting. On The Take website is a bit of text that says:
Brendan Martin, a young New Yorker, saw The Take in September 2004 and two months later started this nonprofit organization that makes democratic loans to the recovered companies in Argentina.
And it links to a website called The Working World which is basically a socialist venture capital company--it funds worker owned cooperatives.
And then, on their website, I read a life-changing idea:
Introducing true trade: fair trade with complete transparency.
With most products you buy, at least 80% of the price goes to marketing and branding - convincing you that you need the product, and telling slick stories about the company's 'identity' and 'values'.
The whole process of production - the raw materials, the factory, and the workers who make the product - can account for less than 10% of the price you pay.
This expensive project of corporate branding has re-shaped the global economy, replacing relationships between producers and consumers with relationships between consumers and brands. The producers, and the reality of their working conditions, have been disappeared.
It's time to change that.
At the Working World, we treat the middle man (us) as nothing more than a tool to connect human producers and human consumers. And everything on this site is made by people who run their own democratic businesses. This is a story we are writing together, in real time: the story of the solidarity economy.
With the expensive middlemen and their overpriced hype gone, we can cut the price in half. And for everything you buy, you'll see exactly where the money goes: the vast majority of it straight into the pockets of the people who make the products.
Meet the people behind what you buy. Share the alter-globalization of true trade with a friend. Change the equation.
So let me just try to break it down. Imagine you go to buy a t-shirt at your local Macy's. And on the label, it says where it was made and how to wash it and how much cotton and polyester is in the shirt (just as it does now). And then imagine a tag that shows you how much of the purchase prices goes to the laborer who made the shirt, and how much of the purchase price goes to the store, how much of the purchase price went to transportation, and how much of the purchase price went into advertising (and telling you that you're a lame piece of shit unless you buy this shirt).
Previously it would have been impossible to get this information. But the internet changes all of that. By connecting consumers and worker-owned companies (committed to true trade), the internet makes this sort of transparent economic transaction possible--benefiting consumers and those who make the goods and screwing those who previously added enormous cost but didn't add any value to the product anyway (Madison Avenue advertisers).
Check out how they do it at The Working World:
One of their cooperatives sells glassware made from recycled glass. They offer 6 hand blown champagne glasses (made from 70% post-consumer recycled glass) for $11.74 and fill out their tag like this:
|Real middle man cost||1.75|
If such a True Trade system were implemented it would completely destroy the concept of the luxury brand -- to the enormous benefit of consumers and laborers (you and me). Luxury brands today are based almost entirely on the illusion that by paying more, you are getting higher quality. In fact, when you are buying a luxury brand these days, what you are paying for is the marketing of that brand--marketing that tells you that you are ugly and no good and that you will be sexy and everyone will love you if you buy this brand. But the product itself is probably produced at a sweat shop where the workers are paid poverty wages and ill treated and forced to rush and cut corners in making your supposed luxury product.
True Trade changes everything. It creates a workers' paradise without a a violent revolution (because people will naturally want to buy products produced by the highest skilled craftspeople--and the highest skilled craftspeople will naturally want to work for the companies or cooperatives that return the most money to the craftspeople). True trade takes domination out of the economic system and replaces it with skill. True trade takes violence out of the system and replaces it with fairness. True trade makes the world a better place.