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Topics of Discussions Past

Past study group topics are listed here in reverse chronological order: most recent at top.

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Worker-Owned Cooperatives & The Cooperative Movement

Any workplace can undergo a profound change in meaning if it shifts from being primarily a mechanism for the generation of profit over which one has no control, to being a community of relationships with an inherent worth of its own. This is perhaps the quintessential difference between the co-operative and the capitalist firm. In one, the enterprise is a means to the human fulfillment of all through the creation of community. In the other, the enterprise is a means for the fulfillment of some through the subordination of others. It is strange how such a simple and self-evident truth seems so foreign in our culture.

Facebook Event Page:

Anti-Austerity Study Group: Worker-Owned Cooperatives & The Cooperative Movement

When: Saturday, January 19, 2013
Time: 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Where: Metanoia Peace Community (Peace House) - 2116 Northeast 18th Avenue, Portland, OR 97212 - (Just off of NE Tillamook.) (map)
Topic: Worker-Owned Cooperatives & The Cooperative Movement
Don't Forget: This is a potluck event. Bring food!

Our fifth in a series of discussions about how people locally and around the world are fighting elite-imposed austerity and building political and economic democracy from the grassroots.

Our goals are to educate ourselves, strengthen our relationships, and develop a shared analysis of austerity and strategies to fight back against economic tyranny.

Our focus was on how Worker-Owned Cooperatives are building alternatives to workplace tyranny by constructing democratically controlled economic enterprises.

Please also check out the extensive list of related resources on our Worker-Owned Cooperatives wiki page.



A Review of Five Books with Radical Critiques and New Ideas

Manufactured austerity is a two-edged sword as far as coops are concerned. One edge is that there is little help coming from government which makes new ventures very tough. The other edge is that the solidarity economy, of which MCC is a mother lode of ideas and experience, emerges precisely when government fails and people have only each other to turn to for mutual aid. The harsh conditions become a spur to radical experiments and strategies for structural change.

Books Reviewed:
  1. From Mondragon to America: Experiments in Community Economic Development, By Greg MacLeod. UCCB Press, 1997
  2. The Myth of Mondragón: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-class Life in a Basque Town, By Sharryn Kasmir. State University of New York Press, 1996
  3. Values at Work: Employee Participation Meets Market Pressure at Mondragón, By George Cheney. Cornell University Press, 1999
  4. Cooperation Works! How People Are Using Cooperative Action to Rebuild Communities and Revitalize the Economy, By E.G. Nadeau & David J. Thompson. Lone Oak Press, 1996
  5. After Capitalism, By David Schweickart. Rowman & Littlefield, 2002

Discussion Questions

  1. The Collective Agency resulted from the transition of a privately owned business into a worker-owned and managed cooperative. What practical lessons, if any, can discussion participants use to transition their work places into worker-owned cooperatives?
  2. A cooperative collectively owned and democratically managed by its workers requires significantly more democratic participation from each worker than is typically required, encouraged or even allowed in standard capitalist firms. What are some of the likely benefits such "democratically enhanced" workers might contribute to their communities outside the workplace?

Suggested Reading, Video, Audio

Think of an article, book, report or video you'd like to suggest? Post a link to it here or on our Facebook page.

From choosing their work hours to coming to consensus about everyday business operations, employees can act together as their own bosses to combat inequality in the workplace.
Document Collection
The Portland Worker-Cooperative Study Group Document Collection contains thirty-one papers, presentations and other material focused on the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation (MCC) and worker-owned cooperatives in general. Generously provided by George Cheney, author of Values at Work: Employee Participation Meets Market Pressure at Mondragón.
Values at Work is an analysis of organizational dynamics with wide-ranging implications in an age of market globalization. It looks at the challenges businesses face to maintain people-oriented work systems while remaining successful in the larger economy. George Cheney revisits the famous Mondragón worker-owned-and-governed cooperatives in the Basque Country of Spain to examine how that collection of innovative and democratic businesses is responding to the broad trend of "marketization." The Mondragón cooperatives are changing in important ways as a direct result of both external pressures to be more competitive and the rise of consumerism, as well as through the modification of internal policies toward greater efficiency. One of the most remarkable aspects of the changes is that some of the same business slogans now heard around the globe are being adopted in this set of organizations renowned for its strongly held internal values, such as participatory democracy, solidarity, and equality. Instead of emphasizing the special or unique qualities of the Mondragón experience, this book demonstrates the case's relevance to trends in all sectors and across the industrialized world.
Humanizing the Economy shows how co-operative models for economic and social development can create a more equitable, just, and humane future. With over 800 million members in 85 countries and a long history linking economics to social values, the co-operative movement is the most powerful grassroots movement in the world. Its future as an alternative to corporate capitalism is explored through a wide range of real-world examples.
(One copy available at the Multnomah County Library.)
“Imagine a country where the majority of the population reaps the majority of the benefits for their hard work, creative ingenuity, and collaborative efforts. Imagine a country where corporate losses aren't socialized, while gains are captured by an exclusive minority. Imagine a country run as a democracy, from the bottom up, not a plutocracy from the top down. Richard Wolff not only imagines it, but in his compelling, captivating and stunningly reasoned new book, Democracy at Work, he details how we get there from here - and why we absolutely must.”

- Nomi Prins, Author of It Takes a Pillage and Black Tuesday

Wolff discusses some of the material found in his book, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.

Extra Credit

The Worker-Owned Cooperatives page on this wiki contains a number of useful resources about what worker-owned cooperatives are, how they work, where they are currently operating and more.

Study Group Event: Student & Teacher Strikes, Update

Facebook Invite Page: Anti-Austerity Study Group Session #4
When: Saturday, November 17, 2012
Time: 11:00am
Where: New Meeting Place: Sally & Bernie's House - 34th Ave. & SE Clinton.
Address: 2715 SE 34th Ave. Just south of Clinton, first house on right. (map) | TriMet #4
Topic: Student & Teacher Strikes, Update
Don't Forget: This is a potluck event. Bring food!

This study topic is fourth in our series, and is a repeat of our Student & Teacher Strikes from last July. Please see our notes from that study session for assigned articles and other material.

News Updates

Imagine if the US Congress agreed to make higher education tuition-free and funded it by increasing taxes on corporations. Pure fantasy, right? Well the government of Chilé is doing just that. Chilé’s new direction wasn’t conceived by politicians in government offices. It started with students in the streets. Demonstrations began in 2006 during the Penguin Revolution, so named because of the black and white uniforms worn by students declaring that “education is a human right.” Students achieved minor tangible victories, but their ultimate goal of free education remained elusive.
Also See: These Countries Do the Exact Opposite of What America Does When It Comes to Higher Education
The ABA is waging a quiet war on students by actively combating virtually any legislation that would ease their debt burden. With regards to being able to get rid of student loans in bankruptcy, the ABA stated in 2012 that, if allowed to go into effect, it “would tempt students to rack up big debt that they won’t repay [and that] ‘The bankruptcy system would be opened to abuse.” This is rather ironic, accusing that students will engage in irresponsible lending and borrowing habits, when considering the banks themselves engaged in massive amounts of the exact same activity by giving mortgage loans to people they knew couldn’t repay the amount.
Francisco Tapia, who is also known as “Papas Fritas”, claimed that he had “freed” the students by setting fire to the debt papers or “pagarés”.
This energetic documentary by Franklin Lopez recounts the story of the spectacular student movement that rocked the streets of Montreal in early 2012.

Study Group Event: Anti-Austerity Pushback & Policy Responses During The Great Depression

Facebook Invite Page: Anti-Austerity Study Group Round 3
When: Saturday, September 15, 2012
Time: 11:00am
Where: New Meeting Place: Michael Wade's House - 2225 SE Lincoln Street (map) | TriMet #4, #14
Topic: Anti-Austerity Pushback & Policy Responses During The Great Depression
Don't Forget: This is a potluck event. Bring food!

The third in a series of discussions about how people locally and around the world are resisting austerity and building strong coalitions to protect public services, education, and the safety net. Our goals are to educate ourselves, strengthen our relationships, and develop a shared analysis of austerity and a shared orientation to strategies that work.

Our third meetup topic is on unpacking the Great Depression. Discussion topics:

  1. Timeline of events, organizing, and victories.
  2. Economic context of pre-depression and early depression years.
  3. Role of the left in building the massive movements that fought for the 99%.

We started out with a potluck brunch and spend time getting to know each other. We devoted some discussion in the large group and then broke into small groups for more in-depth conversations using the discussion questions provided as a starting point.

Assigned Articles

The year 1934 marked a turning point for the working-class struggle during the Great Depression, with three strikes in three cities--Toledo, San Francisco and Minneapolis--that showed workers could fight back and win.
  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

Extra Credit

Study Group Event: Austerity in Spain

Facebook Invite Page: Anti-Austerity Study Group
When: Saturday, August 11, 2012
Time: 10:00am
Where: 214 NE Thompson Street (map)
Topic: Anti-Austerity Movements in Spain.
Don't Forget: This is a potluck event. Bring food!

Study Assignments

Indignados Storm City Hall in Vinaròs, Spain
Entrada de la població vinarossenca a l'ajuntament de Vinaròs
¡Indignados! Los vecinos de Vinaròs asaltan el Ayuntamiento
Un grupo 'okupa' el Ayuntamiento de Jódar para exigir tierra y trabajo
Questions to Ponder
  1. Power relations--the 1% vs. the 99%. What does austerity look like and why?
  2. Who is fighting back? How?
  3. Where might this fightback go?
  4. How does the situation in Spain relate to our situation here?


When energetic and determined people cry out, injustice trembles.
Assigned Articles
By drawing attention to the systematic violation of human rights, the indignados have helped to shine a light on the illegitimacy of the financial structure.
Enough statistics. Look at people, look them in the eyes. If the government can’t look its own people in the eyes, if it always imposes austerity on the poor, then it’s illegitimate and should step down. It presented itself to elections with a program, and it’s imposing exactly the opposite.
Spanish government imposes austerity measures and offers paltry stimulus. Markets respond positively but "country thrown into chaos."
Thousands of public school teachers went on strike Tuesday in Madrid to protest staff cuts as anger over government austerity measures spread to Spain's education system.
Tens of thousands of angry Spaniards protested in 80 cities throughout Spain against the government's latest austerity package, blaming officials for "ruining" the country.

<videoflash type="vimeo">92409104|500|281</videoflash>

This film tells a story of the massive mobilization that saw millions of people converge on Madrid on March 22nd 2014, the story of the proliferation of social centers, community gardens, self-organized food banks, and the story of large-scale housing occupations by and for families that have been evicted.
Extra Credit
The 15-M movement seems to be at an impasse, unsure of how to make use of its multiple victories and enormous public support. To break out of this situation, numerous organizations, assemblies and collectives are repeatedly appealing to the ideal of unity (amongst the political left, the movement, the “bottom 99”) as a means of reaching the necessary levels of coordination needed for standing up to, and defeating, the government and markets. However, so far it doesn’t seem like their ideals-inspired efforts have led to any noticeable improvement in the organisational capacity of the movement. Prior to the birth of 15M, it was not uncommon to see initiatives by the political left coalescing around ideals of convergence, coordination and unity, with generally poor results. Our hypothesis is that these traditional modes of political organisation have grave shortcomings, needing urgent revision. What can we do when the old ways aren’t working anymore? Do we forfeit our experience? Go our separate ways? Surrender to the idea that revolution can only be chaotic and spontaneous?
Hundreds of thousands take to the streets to denounce austerity and defend democracy as corruption scandals shake Spanish royal house and government.
The Citizens Tide manifesto as released by organizers of the 23F movement in Spain. Citizens Tide United against the cuts and For True Democracy
For Spain’s ruling politicians he is a criminal; for his supporters he is Robin Hood, stealing from supermarkets and redistributing the food to the poor.
This struggle is not about being granted rights by government; it is an uprising in which people determine and exercise their rights for themselves.
The indignados are attempting to create their own communal spaces under the principles of solidarity and self-organization. They are experimenting with new ways of ensuring human rights as part of a larger political struggle. They have unleashed a radical imagination with the aim of liberating the collective consciousness of every sector of society to challenge the current structure of power, and replace it with civilized, horizontal, and self-determined alternatives.
Members of the Andalusian fieldworkers’ union expropriate cartloads full of food from Carrefour and Mercadona, and give it to the austerity-stricken poor.
A Spanish mayor who became a cult hero for staging robberies at supermarkets and giving stolen groceries to the poor sets off this week on a three-week march that could embarrass the government and energise anti-austerity campaigners.
Citizens, 15M/Indignados assemblies and various social networks and organizations around the country are building the Citizen Debt Audit Platform to demonstrate the illegitimacy of debt, identify those responsible of the crisis and demand not to pay an illegitimate debt.
This article is part of a Huffington Post series on the global impact of austerity -- "A Thousand Cuts" -- from affordable housing funds lost in San Francisco to increasing class sizes in New York, food inspector cuts in Canada, disability benefits taken away in the United Kingdom, decimation of France's solar industry, and more.
The economic crisis has brought low the middle class, which emerged in the 1980s after decades of dictatorship and flourished during the construction boom of the 1990s.
As the Spanish government got its €65bn austerity package passed in Parliament, millions of people took to the streets in unprecedented demonstrations against cuts on July 19. The day after, as the Valencian regional government asked for a central government bail out (of 3.5bn euro), the risk premium on Spanish bonds hit a new record, while 10 year bonds were yielding 7.3%. The Spanish economy is on the verge of a full bail out.
A SWEEPING $80 billion austerity program pushed by Spain's right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been met by a new surge of workers' resistance, with miners leading the way and public-sector workers joining the battle with street blockades in the capital city of Madrid.
Struggles converge as miners, firefighters, judges, public employees, the unemployed and even the army step up their resistance against EU-enforced cuts.
"This rejection of representative democracy has to be understood as part of a growing popular skepticism that raises some of the most fundamental questions about the future of society. People everywhere are starting to share and propagate the idea that democracy is not about voting or about elections, but about ‘the people’ having real power over the decisions that determine whether they will have a place to live, the ability to feed their families, or a basic education. More importantly, this shift in meaning is being backed up with large-scale decentralized general assemblies that are building the inclusive structures necessary to enact these new forms of democracy."
Spain's government imposed more austerity measures on the beleaguered country Wednesday as it unveiled sales tax hikes and spending cuts aimed at shaving (EURO)65 billion ($79.85 billion) off the state budget over the next two and a half years.
Workers in Spain have been mobilizing for a series of protests since the right-wing government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the People's Party announced a Greek-style austerity program of cuts in social spending that targets workers and the poor. These policies are the result of an agreement, known as the "Memorandum," that the Spanish government signed with the European Union, which, along with the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, is known as the troika.
Just Not the Way Policy Makers Wanted It to Work
This documentary examines the rise of the 15M movement, a year later from six people who lived in the Barcelona occupation of Catalonia Square. They meet again to discuss the beginning of the movement, what happened to the country this year and what role should the movement play in the future.
After an 18 day march from Asturias to Madrid, miners confront riot police on the streets of Madrid when the Minister of Industry refuses to meet with them. Fighting to save there communities from destruction, the miners have nothing to lose.
From May 12-May 15th, protesters throughout Spain marked the first anniversary of the 15M movement by re-taking the streets and squares of over 80 cities. The 15M movement inspired people all over the world to occupy their local squares, to self-organize general assemblies and to build networks of solidarity in the face of severe economic policy. This short documentary documents the 15M anniversary protests in Barcelona.
On March 29, 2012, millions of people across Spain went on strike. The strike, which was the first general strike since September 2010, brought the country to a near halt. The situation in Spain has grown increasingly difficult with 1 in 4 people out of work and many struggling to make rent or mortgage payments. This short film is about what happened in Barcelona on that day.
In the midst of rising unemployment rates, extensive austerity measures and increased privatization, many Spanish people are losing faith in electoral politics.

Study Group Event: Student & Teacher Strikes

Facebook Invite Page: People's Budget Movement Building Study Group
When: Saturday, July 14, 2012
Time: 10:00am
Where: 214 NE Thompson Street (map)
Topic: We'll be reading 3 pieces about 3 different communities in struggle: students in Quebec, teachers in Chicago, and youth in Chile. We will start out with a potluck brunch and spend time getting to know each other. We'll have some discussion in the large group and then break into small groups for more in-depth conversations using the discussion questions provided as a starting point.

Discussion Questions

  1. What makes this particular movement / uprising powerful?
  2. Who is involved (students, workers, disenfranchised, etc.)?
  3. How do they confront power?
  4. How does this movement connect to the broader social ills / issues (beyond single issue)?
  5. How does this movement compare / contrast with ours?

Study Assignments

Revolutionary Education
Since they are producers of knowledge, students are no longer a workforce in apprenticeship, but are immediately workers, and precarious workers. In fact, there is a continuous overlapping between the education market and the labor market (think of “lifelong learning” or the accreditation system). It’s not by coincidence that the issues of labor (precariousness, devaluation of the workforce, impoverishment, crisis, etc.) have been central in student and university struggles in the past few years. And for this reason, the university struggles have a potentiality of political generalization across the whole class composition.

Chicago Teachers Union Strike

Luis Recommends
The most comprehensive article out there about the Chicago Teachers Union strike is the ISO's piece.

Chile Rising

Megan's Suggestions
There were lots of articles reporting events, but I thought this one was a good balance of history and practical info on student strategy and tactics. The video is not too long, and it’s so exciting.
“we are looking at a revolutionary, anti-neoliberal movement”

Quebec's 'Maple Spring' Protests

Dave's Assignments

Please Note: The kindly Karen from We Are Many restored access to the Maple Spring: The Québec Student Strike podcast again. Please "like" the We Are Many Facebook page.

Here's a backup link to the .mp3 file (just in case)...
Extra credit -- A still-expanding list of other material on the Quebec student strike.
I will remember all that happened here; I will remember what we are capable of; I will learn from past mistakes; and I will push for a better future.
What conditions have produced these 100 days of increasingly widespread and increasingly ambitious clamor? Can these conditions be replicated by others elsewhere?
Clanging pots and pans are sounding across the streets of Montreal as hundreds of thousands of Quebecers take part in what is being termed the "Maple Spring" - Canada's largest and longest protests ever. It all started three months ago when the provincial government announced an 75 percent increase on university tuitions.


What started as a students-only protest is spilling over into a much broader debate about inequality and, ultimately, the future that peoples' leaders appear to be offering. But this is also part of a larger trend. It's amazing how quickly these regional and specific discussions -- police brutality in Tunisia, income inequality in the U.S., college tuition in Quebec - spill over into some of the same themes we see globally. A government, possessing economic and military authority, makes a move that finally angers people enough to send them into the streets.
“The most powerful form of solidarity that we can show to our comrades in Quebec is to learn from them and effectively mobilize our own struggles – to organize ourselves and spread the movement.”

Student Debt

Talk to any of the 38 million Americans who have outstanding student-loan debt, and he or she is likely to tell you a story about how a single moment in a financial-aid office at the age of 18 or 19 -- an age when most people can barely do a load of laundry without help -- ended up ruining his or her life.
Our young people are drowning in a sea of debt, and it all started with Reaganomics.
The federal government has made it easier than ever to borrow money for higher education - saddling a generation with crushing debts and inflating a bubble that could bring down the economy.
"We have to get way out of the box if we're going to get serious about getting young people into college and out of college without burdening them with a lifetime of debt," said Mark Hass, a Democratic state senator from Beaverton, Ore., who leads the chamber's education committee and who championed the bill. The legislation was supported by the Working Families Party.
Debt is the tie that binds the 99 percent. From the underwater and foreclosed-upon homeowners who were first pummeled by the economic crisis, to the millions of debt-strapped students who are in default or on the brink, to all those driven into bankruptcy by medical bills, to workers everywhere who have been forced to compensate for more than thirty years of stagnating wages with credit card debt, to the firefighters and teachers who have had to accept pay cuts because their cities are broke, to the citizens of countries where schools and hospitals are being closed to pay back foreign bondholders. Given the way debt operates at the municipal and national levels, the issue affects us all—even those who are fortunate enough to be debt-free, as well as those so poor they don’t have access to credit. Debt is one of the ways we all feel Wall Street’s influence most intimately, whether it’s because of a ballooning mortgage payment or a subway fare hike or a shuttered clinic.

General Articles & News Reports on the Current Student / Education Crisis

On April 11, 2013, more than 100,000, some say 200,000 people marched all around Chile to show the political resurgence of the student movement. They demand an improved and free education.
From report: While they started for different reasons, Mexico's Yo Soy 132 is similar in many ways to a number of other emerging student movements, from Santiago, Chile, to Berkeley, California, to Montreal, Canada, where students have attempted to capitalize upon growing discontent with the political process, reaching out to people strangled by debt and confronting the process of privatization and austerity.
Higher education is not what it used to be, and that's no accident.
The Student Uprisings panel at the CUNY Graduate Center on October 15 represented a continuation of cross-cultural exchanges of knowledge of social movement building in the spirit of the World Social Forum. To the excitement of New York City activists, students and educators, the event focused on how students can shape, lead and participate in social movements that advocate for democratic and accessible education for all.
The financial aid award letters that colleges send to prospective students can be confusing: Many mix grants, scholarships and loans all under the heading of "Award," "Financial Assistance," or "Offered Financial Aid." Some schools also suggest loans in amounts that families can't afford.

Role, Assumptions, Content, Outreach, Next Steps

1. Role

Draw in leaders and rank and filers; be inclusive.
Relationship building.
Help us all think through strategies, collectively.

2. Assumptions we are making about “change,” and about what it takes to build social movements.

Change and “sudden leaps of consciousness” often happen based on an event; we need to help lay the groundwork, “prepare the soil” in the meantime.
Wisconsin marked a shift in consciousness, that led to concrete political action.
A key part of preparation is to present an alternative model.
People are often duped into the theme of “There is NO alternative.” While they feel discontented, they aren’t sure how to proceed. They will join our fight when they see an alternative.
Effective systemic analysis is central to preventing infighting.
No action is radical unless it confronts power.
At some point, a movement has to set up alternative structures.

3. Content For July 14 (initial session) and beyond, we should focus on the movement building since 2008.

  • Wisconsin-- what worked, what didn’t, why, what can we learn?
  • Measures 66 & 67—what worked, what didn’t, why…etc.
  • Occupy Wall Street / Occupy Portland—what worked, what didn’t…etc.
  • Greece anti-austerity—what works…etc.
  • Spain / Madrid
  • Chile’s student movement / occupations
  • Chicago teacher’s strike
  • Montreal student strike
  • Britain—student movement

Possible questions we might discuss with each topic:

  1. Why did this movement emerge when it did?
  2. Why was / is this movement powerful?
  3. What groups are involved? (on both sides)?
  4. How did this movement confront power?
  5. How does this movement connect to broader social ills?
  6. How can we apply insights from this movement to our current organizing?

4. Outreach

“Each one reach one.” We will each do direct recruiting of someone.

5. Miscellaneous

Recommendations: Richard Wolf’s “Occupy the Economy.”[1]

6. Next steps:

  • Luis will send suggestions for articles on Chicago.
  • Megan will send suggestions on articles about Chile.
  • Dave will send suggestions about Montreal.
  • Trudy will create a draft worksheet for the July 14 discussion group.

Related Events

Portland Student Organizing Meeting #2
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 7:00pm
Student loan debt is a looming disaster that concerns all of us. As a trend that continues to fuel the creation of a generation of indentured servants, the growing debt will follow us as long as we live, or only as long as we let it.

See Also


  1. Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism (Richard Wolff, David Barsamian)