Spotlight on Economic Democracy as a Strategy for Inclusive Development

Since the early 1980s, Manufacturing Renaissance has been inspired by and a student of worker ownership models, recognizing their potential for expanding wealth creation opportunities for communities that have traditionally been excluded from business ownership and wealth creation, especially in the manufacturing sector. Over the years MR has provided leadership in efforts to raise awareness of the importance of worker ownership, and support its development in Chicago. MR continues to take advantage of every opportunity and strategic partnership to keep learning and finding ways to make local connections between international best practices and our work anchored in the Chicagoland region. Most recently:

On May 17th, Erica Staley was one of 20 Chicago leaders asked to join the City of Chicago’s Community Wealth Building (CWB) Advisory Council. This resulted from over a year of work by Mayor Lightfoot’s team to explore shared ownership models as part of supporting more equitable economic development. Mayor Lightfoot committed $15 million in the City’s budget in November 2021 towards developing a CWB pilot project. The CWB Advisory Council is convened through the Mayor’s Office of Equity and Racial Justice and staffed by the Mayor’s Chicago Recovery Plan Team to guide the development of the pilot project. Over the next two years the pilot intends to prove 3 things: 1) The power of community-led, democratic decision-making; 2) The power of a strong CWB ecosystem; 3) The power of CWB models. As MR’s Executive Director, Erica is proud to support this important initiative and support the work to continue developing opportunities for more employee ownership in the manufacturing sector space.

On June 13th, we were visited by Ibon Zugasti, the Managing Director of Propektiker—a cooperative consulting firm in Mondragon.  Ibon’s role is serving as an international recruiter and advocate for the Mondragon model.  He’s internationally connected and is a leader in the Millennium Project that informs the UN community, He defines his field of interest as complexity and systemic change. We took him on a tour of the West Side and then had a substantial meeting at the CTU offices.  A couple  of the key issues where we had agreement:

    • Advanced Manufacturing and Economic Democracy:  The overwhelming number of advocates of the Mondragon model have little interest or focus on manufacturing.  Their focus in cooperative development is on the service and retail sector.  Typically, the companies are very small and are start-ups.  Mondragon (like the other model—Emilia Romagna) is anchored and profoundly focused on advanced manufacturing.  They see manufacturing as the essential foundation for sustainable communities as do we.
    • Engaging the political process and scale:  Most in the cooperative movement and what is called the social economy see their approach as a third way that seeks autonomy within our society.  We are interested in a model that seeks full hegemony in the market, the state, and in civil society and goes to scale—a new paradigm of development.

 Going Forward:  We have plans to follow-up and discuss the possibility of convening other like-minded organizations developing projects at the intersection of manufacturing and economic democracy. More to come.