Economic Democracy in Cleveland

Cleveland and its people have been hit hard over the last several years and decades by the decisions of corporate dictators. Steel corporations and their factories left town. Then it was automobile corporations. Banking corporations and their adjustable rate mortgages have hit the city like a cyclone. Jobs were lost. Homes were abandoned. Money disappeared. People fled. Poverty is rampant.

The economic desperation accounts, in part, for those schooled in traditional corporate formulas of economic development (i.e. abatements, tax credits, other give-a-ways) to try a new idea.

Economic democracy.

Namely economic cooperatives.

Sowed by the Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University and the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland and bankrolled by the Cleveland Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, and other local, state and national institutions and organizations, the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry was officially launched today in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland before several hundred people. Evergreen is an industrial laundry that has secured contracts from several area health care, nursing homes and hotels

What makes Evergreen Laundry unique?

It’s not its location — in a poor inner city neighborhood

It’s not its employment policy — hiring residents from low- and moderate-income neighborhoods of the University Circle area.

It’s its business model — employees not only paid living wages and benefits but who own the business where they work. They make the business decisions. They share in whatever wealth is generated.

There’s no chance Evergreen will relocate to Evergreen, Washington or Ecuador.

There’s a good chance Evergreen will treat their employees fairly and be genuinely concerned about their community

Evergreen Laundry is one of three employee-owned business of the Evergreen Cooperatives. Ohio Solar will install solar panels on the roofs of some of the larges nonprofit insitutions in town, including the Cleveland Clinic. Green City Growers will produce several million heads of lettuce and herbs to Cleveland health care and other institutions.

Up to 20 additional cooperatives may be launched and join this network.

Economic cooperatives exist all across the US and around the world. Cooperatives are widespread and numerous, are of every size, operate in virtually every industry in more than 100 countries, and serve more than 750 million members. In the US alone, there are 30,000 cooperatives, employing 2 million people, generating $652 billion in revenue, $3 trillion in assets, and $133 billion in income.

Evergreen Cooperatives has a chance to succeed quickly because of its support from traditional “establishment” institutions and the effort to develop a network of cooperatives, not simply one here or there.

The Populists of the late 19th century understood that challenging corporate power involved both reshaping macro structures and institutions (corporate and governmental) and creating alternative micro structures and institutions that they controlled which met their needs — like cooperatives.

Political democracy can never be realized without economic democracy. Workers running their own economic lives doesn’t happen very often as our economy is dominated by a corporate business model that is dictatorial, secret, undemocratic, committed to externalize as many costs as possible, and is driven by profit maximization.

The Evergreen Cooperatives present a different framework — one that is more humane, sustainable, and inclusive.

It is a part of what democracy looks like.


Other examples across Ohio of people taking charge of their own communities by building and maintaining a democratic infrastructure:
This is What Democracy in Ohio Looks Like!: Ohio’s democratic/self-determination “infrastructure’
Updated: July, 2009

1 thought on “Economic Democracy in Cleveland

  1. I am not so sure that Evergreen Cooperative presents a different framework – nonprofit corporations are corporations nonetheless. Corporations, whether for-profit or non-profit, present themselves to the humun social order as persons themselves, seeking full protection of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights. Yet, they are not persons; rather, they are children of the State (and as such, they are just as bureaucratic and inefficient). The State has said that when humans organize themselves to do business using the State-approved structure of a corporation (whether profit or nonprofit), those humans are not responsible for their actions in the marketplace; the corporation as an artifical person is responsible instead. Herein lies the flaw in the structure called 'corporation' as a means for humans to engage in exchange with fellow humans, to wit – those humans are not responsible for their actions.

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